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Cognitive Learning

Cognitive Learning

Author: Erick Taggart

Identify key characteristics of cognitive learning.

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Hello, class. Now remember when we're talking about learning within psychology, we're referring to an internal as well as an external process that results in changes in a person's behavior. And there are two aspects of that learning to focus on.

The first one is what we call associative learning. And this is learning that occurs in connection to external stimuli in the environment to the responses and the behaviors of the individual. In other words, you see something, you do something. And this includes the behaviorist approach to psychology and the ideas of classical and operant conditioning. So that's all associative learning.

Now, on the other hand, we also have cognitive learning. And cognitive learning is the internal mental processes that result in things like thinking, understanding, and the construction of knowledge. This is usually what we refer to when we think about learning, the stuff that's going on up there and places like school.

An example of how cognitive learning is a bit different as well as to highlight some of these internal processes is an idea of a cognitive map. And a cognitive map is an internal mental representation of spatial knowledge that allows a person to learn how to navigate within a place. So when you walk through a place, you don't just continue to make the same wrong turns over and over until you find where you need to go each time. You can learn the correct directions.

So the associative learning side might refer to this kind of learning as a trial-and-error process. Whereas the cognitive learning side says, no, in fact, what you're doing is you're creating this internal idea of what the space looks like. So experiments with rats that were placed within a maze that were familiar to them, that was a maze that they had already done before, were shown to go through the maze much faster than rats that hadn't gone through the maze before. And this is because they had created a cognitive map of the maze and learned its structure. And this is also why you can internally visualize a place as well as receive directions from others when you haven't ever seen a place before because you're creating that idea of what it looks like, and you can also read and create maps hard to understand the space itself. So you're visualizing what's occurring inside your mind.

To further elaborate on and highlight the importance of cognitive learning in response to associate learning, let's talk about what are the actual best ways to learn. Now, a sort of behaviorist approach, or an associative learning approach to learning, might say that rote learning would be best. And this is learning through repetition and memorization without necessarily making connections to meaning.

So, for example, when you learn your multiplication tables, you just sit and memorize it. You go 1 times 1 is 1, 1 times 2 is 2, 1 times 3 is 3. This is also referred to as parroting or cramming or regurgitating.

So there are generally pretty negative connotations attached to this. And it's used for quick, efficient learning. So it actually can be effective in learning things, especially that are more factual or formulaic, things like math or science or learning grammar rules. But it doesn't tend to lead to a long-lasting understanding and learning. And it's a lot less flexible. You only really know how to do it within a certain context initially.

Now, for more longer-lasting learning and more comprehensive learning, you need to include critical thinking, which is a say, where the student uses the information in meaningful ways like doing problems and practice work or going out and actually applying it in some kind of way. Now, discovery learning is an approach that uses critical thinking. And it's learning that's based on understanding and on insight.

So the idea is it makes a student an active participant in the learning process so they're not just sitting there memorizing over and over and over. They're doing something with the information. So they have to learn the information well enough to use it and apply it in other situations, which makes it a lot more likely for the student to remember it over a longer period of time as well as to be more flexible with the use of the knowledge so they can apply it to lots of different situations. So you can see under this approach which one would generally be the most valuable out of the two. Although remember, rote learning does have its place under certain types of learning in certain subjects.

Terms to Know
Cognitive Map

An internal mental representation of spatial knowledge that allows a person to learn how to navigate a place.

Rote Learning

Learning through repetition and memorization without making connections to meaning.