Cognitive Learning Theory

Cognitive Learning Theory

4439 views | Alice | 02-01-2020

Originally published on Jan 2 2021, Last updated on May 3 2021

Cognitive learning is a style of learning that maximises the brain's potential. It actively helps the brain to gather new information, connect it with the existing knowledge and deepen the retention capacity. Cognition is the ability to absorb and retain information through experience, thoughts and senses. Cognitive learning theory explains how internal and external factors affect the learning process.

Traditionally, the learning process focused more on memorisation rather than understanding or mastering a particular subject. Following are the fundamental aspects of cognitive learning: 


Comprehending the reason for learning a particular subject is the most important aspect of understanding it. For instance, you first must comprehend that you want to become a qualified beauty trainer for which you should sign up for the Level 3 Award in Education and Training course.


The level of understanding plays a vital role in helping you choose a profession. Memory is secondary when it comes to the retention and application of knowledge. For instance, if you aim to become a qualified construction worker, you first need to have a clear understanding of the profession. Later, retaining the theoretical knowledge would be easier if you have a good understanding of the concepts.


The third and most important abilities are to practically apply the information in real life or develop the required problem-solving skills.

Application & Strategies of Cognitive Learning in Classrooms

Cognitive learning enables learners to think critically, efficiently and effectively. Using Cognition while learning increases a learners ability to retain concepts for a longer period of time. Cognitive learning is not limited to memorisation. It is about developing an understanding and knowing the most suitable Learning Style of your learner.

Here are a few Cognitive Learning Strategies:

  1. Aid learners’ in finding multiple solutions to a problem
  2. Allow learners’ to reflect/re-evaluate their own experience
  3. Enable learners’ to form connections between two different concepts
  4. Promote topic related discussion/open mic in the classroom
  5. Use of multiple resources (VAK) during lessons to help learners’ understand and recall concepts
  6. Making learners’ explain and justify their own thinking
  7. Choosing the right Learning Style of each learner and incorporating it in the Effective Lesson Plan.
  8. Teaching learners approaches that help them create a bigger picture from small concepts/ideas they learned in the classroom.
Cognitive delay

This is a condition where one is unable to complete the process of cognition. This includes attention, observation, recalling from long-term memory and categorisation. This is one of the most researched topics in different theories. 

Jean Piaget, a scientist identified the role of the external environment in structuring the internal cognitive. Cognitive learning is divided into two categories:

1. Social Cognitive Theory

This is one of the external factors that highlight how the environment influences cognition. One of its major components is observational learning. It implies how people learn certain behaviours from their environment. It is a quick way to learn from the information that’s in your surroundings. Peers, teachers, models or even fictional characters are sources to learn behaviour from. 

The learning can be desirable or undesirable. For instance, when you were a student, you observed how your teacher negatively reacted to a question asked by your peer. That reaction may have shaped your future behaviour of not asking questions in the classroom or taught you to be rude to people when they ask questions. Learning from behaviour on the orientation day when new recruits are taught how to respond in case of an emergency is another aspect.

2. Cognitive Behavioural Theory

Cognitive behavioural theory, as the name suggests, refers to the mental process that includes thoughts, perceptions and interpretations of events. In layman language, it refers to how behaviour, thoughts and feelings interact with each other to bring out a certain response. 

In order to change behaviour, we need to first change our thoughts that ultimately lead to a change in emotion. For instance, if as a student, you thought mathematics was a difficult subject, your brain automatically associates negative feelings towards the subject which made you perform poorly. This is what cognitive learning theory is about. 

CBI is usually practised in classrooms where the trainer/teacher make the learners control their own behaviour rather than trainers directing them with external reinforcements. Cognitive strategies help learners in learning ‘how-to’ rather than ‘what-to’. Critically thinking is promoted and teachers ensure that their learners’ cognitive behaviour modelling is done through their own self-control rather than external reinforcements.

Once the learners make a sensible choice of choosing positive over negative behaviour, it’s time to put a hold on cognitive modelling. You will know when to stop when the learners control themselves, adopt pro-social behaviour and reduce disruption, aggression and hyperactivity. In all, the students will eventually learn to make informed behaviour choices even when they are not under supervision.


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