We hear the term “cognitive learning” used much more broadly these days. It used to primarily be an academic term that interested mostly educators and was rarely heard in any other context. Today, you may hear it frequently used in any discussion regarding general learning; whether that be in the conversation of business, school, skill acquisition, or self-help. The absorption and integration of information is the commonality connecting these different realms. If we find ourselves pressed with the task of mastering anything new or forgotten, cognitive learning becomes extremely valuable. In other words, cognitive learning can be used to literally improve any are within our lives!
So, what exactly is cognitive learning? In its broadest sense, cognitive learning refers to the use of reason and awareness to integrate new knowledge. It is taking something presently unknown to oneself, becoming aware of it, reflecting on it, conceptualizing it, on it How well one can perform learning tasks are called one’s “cognitive skills.” How developed a person’s cognitive abilities may depend upon several factors. For example, the culture you were raised in, the manner in which you were educated and your individual motivation to learn help to determine one’s cognitive learning skills. The goal of studying cognitive learning is to improve the means by which people learn new things and adopt new behaviors.
The ultimate goal of cognitive learning is to teach people to work out the answers to their problems for themselves. Ideally, what happens with cognitive learning is that when you are taught something new, you will then reason/think about it, understand it well enough to put it in your own words, and then fit this new knowledge in with what you already know. This fully integrated way of absorbing new information is considered the highest form of learning. Cognitive learning is a process, usually consisting of three distinct forms of acquiring knowledge:
This form is the most basic means of acquiring new information, and it is especially effective when it consists of learning basic facts and figures. For example, learning the multiplication tables or that the American Revolution began in 1776 are the sorts of information one can easily acquire through memorization. However, the drawback of memorization is that it does not teach you much beyond the dry data itself, which is why many learners find memorization boring.
This form of learning is more meaningful than memorization because it relates the new information to information that you already have. For example, you might see the ways in which knowing the multiplication tables might apply to relationships between the numbers or grasp what is meant by a political revolution. While understanding represents a higher form of learning, it is still knowledge grasped only at an abstract level. The learner is still dealing with concepts, as opposed to things in the real world.
The highest forms of cognition are achieved when the learner can actually take what they have memorized and understood and then apply it to things in the real world. This would occur if one used the multiplication tables to find an answer involving relationships between actual objects you encounter in everyday life, or used what you learned about the American Revolution to form an opinion about a current political issue. The real test is whether the learner can use the new knowledge they have acquired in situations that they have not previously encountered or can see familiar situations in new ways.
The bottom line is that one’s cognitive learning skills will largely determine whether you are a good learner or whether you will struggle to learn. When children do not develop good cognitive learning skills, they are certain to eventually fall behind in school because they cannot integrate new lessons with previous ones. The problem becomes worse when, as too often happens, children are passed to the next grade without having mastered the previous academic material because of a lack of cognitive skills. Adults without such skills will have a hard time competing for or performing in high-level jobs and will have lower lifetime incomes. They are also likely to be less effective in handling social interactions or altering their own behavior for the better.
Your professional and social prospects are why cognitive learning is so important. If you cannot learn information, make sense of what you have learned and then apply what you have learned to real life situations, then your career opportunities and degree of successful social interaction, along with your ability to perceive and appreciate the people and things in your environment, will all be lessened. That is why so much research and experimentation in how to develop cognitive learning skills is currently underway, and why the subject is one that no person concerned with effective education or improving society can ignore in the years to come.