Understanding Cognitive Learning Theory with an Education Degree From University of Phoenix

From kindergarten through college, a high-quality education is invaluable. By combining hands-on classroom experience with proven psychological concepts, educators at every level can optimize their approach and give students an optimal learning experience.

In the field of educational psychology, there are five main learning theories: behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism, humanism and connectivism. Cognitivism, or cognitive learning theory, is one of the most adaptive approaches to learning with applications for all ages and learning environments, from education systems to the workplace.

In this brief introduction to cognitive learning theory, we’ll explore why understanding cognitive orientation is important to teaching and how studying for an education degree with University of Phoenix can help prospective educators prepare for a career in the classroom.

Introduction to Cognitive Learning Theory

Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, known for his work on child development, established the earliest theories on cognitivism in the 1930s. In contrast to behaviorism, the leading theory of the time, cognitivism is concerned with external events, actions and behavior and focuses on the internal processes associated with learning.

Piaget believed that humans organize and store information in a multistage process of knowledge-building that begins from birth. Infants are primarily concerned with mastering basic motor functions, the kind that allows them to hold objects, crawl or walk, before they move on to more complex skills such as speech and reading. By adulthood, early learned behaviors and skills have typically become second nature, allowing room for more advanced concepts like philosophy or mathematics.

To make sense of this process, Piaget developed the concept of the schema, a single basic unit of knowledge. Multiple schemata form the basis of every human cognitive process, including learning.

What Are Schemata and How Are They Formed?

Piaget defines a schema as “a cohesive, repeatable action sequence possessing component actions that are tightly interconnected and governed by a core meaning.”

This action sequence begins with the perception of some object, event or experience. Through repeated exposure over time, the human mind will come to recognize this object, event or experience and develop concepts and reasoning that make sense of it and relate it to the wider world, forming a core meaning. Throughout their life, a human will constantly form new and increasingly complex schemata that build on those they have previously developed.

Schemata form through a four-step process: assimilation, disequilibrium, accommodation and equilibrium.

1.    Assimilation

This first step involves the human mind associating new information with some prior knowledge, whether innate like breathing, or something learned previously.

2.    Disequilibrium

To distinguish concepts from one another, schema may pass through a stage of disruption or disequilibrium. For instance, a child may come to recognize a cow as a four-legged animal that eats grass and lives on a farm. However, these criteria could apply to other animals, such as sheep or horses. When a child encounters an animal they expect to be a cow but new information signals that it is not a cow (for instance, the animal makes a “baa” sound rather than a “moo” sound), disruption to the original schema occurs.

3.    Accommodation

Next, the mind attempts to resolve disequilibrium through the process of accommodation. In other words, the existing schema will adjust to recognize some new component, and the mind will produce a new schema to accommodate this information.

4.    Equilibrium

Finally, an individual reaches an equilibrium when during perception and recognition of an object, event or experience they realize that no schemata need readjustment.

If at any point the mind encounters new information that causes disequilibrium, the schema-forming process may begin again, something that will continue throughout a lifetime. This same process allows the individual to build on existing knowledge and categorize schemata to allow for more complex ideas.

Cognitive Learning Theory in Education

While cognitivism has important applications in the world of business as a learning theory, it has much relevance in a classroom setting. The guiding principle behind cognitivism in the classroom is to incorporate a student’s experiences, perspectives and existing knowledge into the learning process. As well as helping students learn more effectively, this approach can make pupils of any age feel respected, valued and heard. This is important as providing a positive classroom experience can cultivate a lifelong passion for learning.

Some practical examples of cognitivism in a classroom might include:

  • Asking students about their lesson experiences
  • Emphasizing the connection between old and new ideas
  • Designing a curriculum to include group discussions or a question and answer session
  • Inviting numerous opinions and perspectives on one subject

Understanding cognitive learning theory is helpful when it comes to providing a quality education. Educators looking to equip themselves with effective classroom skills might consider an education degree from University of Phoenix. The University’s online degree programs help prospective teachers develop the skills to maintain educational standards, innovate lesson plans and deliver personalized instruction to students, ensuring future generations learn well, grow and thrive.

About University of Phoenix

University of Phoenix promotes the educational goals of adult and nontraditional learners and assists students in navigating the career options and degree programs that best suit their interests. The University’s degree programs align with many in-demand career paths including those in the fields of education, nursing and cybersecurity. It may be possible for those with busy lives to earn a degree through the University’s online classes, flexible start dates and scholarship opportunities. Meanwhile, University of Phoenix’s Career Services for Life® commitment to active students and graduates provides the resources needed to be prepared when entering the workforce for no additional charge. These services include education and networking opportunities, career guidance, resume building, interview preparation and job search support. To learn more, visit www.phoenix.edu.

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