The Cognitive Perspective

external image The_Thinker,_Auguste_Rodin.jpg

The Thinker, Auguste Rodin

Cognitive learning theories differ from behavioral theories because they are developed about human perception, thinking and learning. In this chapter, you will find information on the initial cognitive perspective, Gestalt Psychology and cognitive perspectives on metacognition and problem solving.

The Cognitive Perspective "examines internal mental processes, such as creativity, perception, thinking, problem solving, memory, and language. Cognitive psychologists are interested in how a person understands, diagnoses, and solves a problem, concerning themselves with the mental processes that mediate between stimulus and response. In recent years cognitive psychology has become associated with computer information processing and artificial intelligence, studying parallels in the ways that both brain and computer receive, process, store, and retrieve information." Kasschau, Richard A. Understanding Psychology. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995.

Gestalt Psychology
Major contributers to Gestalt Theory include Max Wertheimer, Kurt Koffka and Wolfgang Kohler

The focus of Gestalt theory is the idea of "grouping", i.e., characteristics of stimuli cause us to structure or interpret a visual field or problem in a certain way (Wertheimer, 1922). The primary factors that determine grouping are: (1) proximity - elements tend to be grouped together according to their nearness, (2) similarity - items similar in some respect tend to be grouped together, (3) closure - items are grouped together if they tend to complete some entity, and (4) simplicity - items will be organized into simple figures according to symmetry, regularity, and smoothness. These factors are called the laws of organization and are explained in the context of perception and problem-solving.

What do you see?
Do you see the word liar or a face?

Learning Process Theory

Conditions of Learning

Human learning is both complex and diverse. It is an important causal factor in development and is cumulative.
Conditions of Learning is a theory that states there are several types of learning. Each type requires different types of instruction. Internal and external conditions are necessary for each type of learning.

Robert_Gagne.gifRobert Gagne
Robert Gagne was born in 1916. He attended Yale University as well as Brown University. Gagne's extensive teaching resume include the following. He was a teacher at Connecticut College for Women and Pennsylvania State, Research Director for the United States Air Force, Consultant for the United States Department of Defense, and Professor at Florida State University.

Gagne believed that certain principles were needed in order to learn effectively. These are based on a hierarcy of learning:
  • Provide instruction on a set of tasks that build toward the final task.
  • Ensure each task is mastered before moving to the next.
  • Sequence the tasks to ensure optimal success of the final task.
Gredler, M. (2009). Learning and instruction: Theory into practice. Pearson Education, Inc.: New Jersey.

Main Ideas of Gagne:

  • Different types of behavior are acquired through learning.
  • Human capabilities are diverse.
  • Learning and instruction are not separate.
  • A process is required for learning to happen.
  • Instructional steps support each step of learning.
Gredler, M. (2009). Learning and instruction: Theory into practice. Pearson Education, Inc.: New Jersey.

Five Varieties of Learning

  • Verbal Information
  • Intellectual Skills
  • Cognitive Strategies
  • Motor Skills
  • Attitudes

Gagne believes there are five varieties of learning: Verbal Information, Intellectual Skills, Cognitive Strategies, Motor Skills, and Attitudes. Verbal Information has the greatest emphasis. It is not merely a repetition of words, but a learned capability where one understands that words have meaning. Intellectual skills are also important. These skills help people function within a society. They cannot be learned by hearing only--the person must actually respond to situations. Within these skills, people learn rules and problem-solving skills. Cognitive strategies refers to metacognition and the mental processes of people. It teachers how to learn, remember, and think. Cognitive strategies help manage verbal and intellectual skills. Motor skills are physical abilities that were never present before the learning took place. There are three phases to learn motor skills: Sequence the movements in the skills, Fit parts of the skill together and practice, Improving timing and smoothness. Attitude refers to the inferred states that influence behavior. A person's attitude makes certain actions more or less likely to occur. According to Gagne, each of the five varieties of learning include: Internal conditions and External conditions.
Gredler, M. (2009). Learning and instruction: Theory into practice. Pearson Education, Inc.: New Jersey.

Nine Events or Phases of Learning

external image leon.fig07.jpg
According to Robert Gagne, there are nine events that activate processes needed for effective learning. Each event (called a "phase") is placed under a "stage of learning":

Stage 1:Preparation for Learning
Phase 1:Attending—Learner is alerted to stimulus
Instruct by:gain attention through unusual events or questioning

Phase 2:Expectancy—Learn about goals
Instruct by:inform of objectives

Phase 3:Retrieval—Recalling
Instruct by:recall prior knowledge or skills

Stage 2:Acquisition and Performance
Phase 4:Selective perception of stimulus feature—store to working memory
Instruct by:presenting distinctive features

Phase 5:Semantic Encoding—information from working memory to long term memory
Instruct by:providing guidance

Phase 6:Retrieval and Responding—retrieve info and activates response
Instruct by:elicit performance

Phase 7:Reinforcement—confirms goal
Instruct by:providing feedback

Stage 3:Transfer of Learning
Phase 8:Cueing Retrieval—additional cues for recalling later
Instruct by:assessing the performance

Phase 9:Generalizability—Enhances transfer of learning to new skills
Instruct by:elicit performace with new examples

This type of instruction needs careful planning to facilitate learning. The plans should include both short term and long term goals and carried out through a sequential approach, individually based on how each student learns.
Gredler, M. (2009) Learning and instruction: Theory into practice. Pearson Education, Inc: New Jersey.

Awards and Publications

Gagne was cited in 1982 with the American Psychological Association Distinguished Scientific Award for the Applications of Psychology. The link below provides additional biographical information about Gagne, as well as a chronological listing of his publications. He was known as a very prolific writer of scientific articles.

Information-Processing Theory

Gestalt psychology focused on the changes in perception which allows the learner to organize information. In order to address the limitations of Gestalt findings, a group of theorists examined cognitive processes in various areas. These theorists, including Noam Chomsky, Allen Newell, Herbert Simon, and George Miller, collectively developed information-processing theory.

Assumptions supporting Information Processing:
  • Human memory is actively involved in the construction of knowledge.
  • Prior knowledge drives learning.

Human memory
The early conception of human memory was that it served as a passive collector of information.Beginning in the 1960s, researchers began to understand that human memory is a complex system that processes and organizes knowledge (Gredler, 189).

Various views of human memory (Gredler, pp.189-195):
  • State concept - identifying information as active or inactive
  • **Memory system concept**- episodic memory, semantic memory, procedural memory.
  • Levels of processing - three types of processing: sensory analysis, pattern recognition, and semantic association
  • Connectionist networks/Parallel distributed processing - a neural network approach that stresses the parallel nature of neural processing and the distributed nature of neural representations.PDP is the dominant form of connectionism.

external image 1-9.gif

Multistage Model (continued)

Sensory Memory

Sensory memory contains information received immediately from a person's senses into the human brain.
  • Iconic Memory (visual sensory memory) – lasts less than one second
  • Echoic memory (auditory sensory memory) - less than four seconds.
  • Less than 1 percent of sensory information is passed on to short term memory.

Short Term Memory

Short Term Memory is also known as Working Memory

  • Short term memory is only able to contain at the most 7 ± 2 pieces of information.
  • The information is able to last anywhere from 3 to 20 seconds.
  • Decay appears to be the primary mechanism of memory loss.

Two methods of keeping information in the short term memory are:
Component – classification by category or concept
Sequential – chronological, cause/effect
Relevance – central unifying idea or concept

Repetition or rote rehearsal
Wait a few moments to repeat the information to yourself.
Memorizing something is different than learning the information.

The short term memory has a capacity which has been defined by Miller's Magic Number.
This capacity of 7 ± 2 refers to the number of items or “chunks” that an be held at any one time unless the learner takes action to retain the information.
  • A chunk varies in the amount of information it contains.
  • Three chunks can be a phone number, the first chunk is three digit area code, the second is the second group of three numbers and the last is the grouping of four numbers.

Long-term memory
In contrast with short-term/working memory, which is involved in the selection, initiation, and termination of processing information, long-term memory is a system for permanently storing, managing, and retrieving information for later use. Also unlike working memory, long-term memory has an unlimited capacity.

  • Dual-code model: information is stored in verbal and nonverbal form.
  • Verbal representations:
Declarative knowledge –information that can be discussed or declared and is descriptive (Gredler, 197).
Procedural knowledge – knowing how to execute a particular task or activity (Gredler, 198).
  • Two categories of knowledge:
  1. Tacit knowledge – “implicit and operates below the level of conscious awareness” (Gredler, 198)
  2. Explicit knowledge – is the object of thought and consciousness

Summary: Memory

How Memory Works

Cognitive Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience/Memory

Sensory Memory, Short Term Memory (STM) or Working Memory (WM), and Long Term Memory (LTM)

Components of Learning
Within the information-processing theory, new learning depends on prior knowledge and the nature and organization of the information to be learned.The processes include perception, encoding, constructing meaning, and retrieval.
  • Perception – information is perceived based on the learner’s prior knowledge and attention.Attention has a limited capacity.
  • Encoding – acting on perceived information; a process that occurs in working memory.

Application of information-processing on instruction
Application of information-processing on instruction
1. Enhance prior learner knowledge
·Discourse knowledge – knowledge of text structure
·Domain knowledge – a learner’s knowledge base.“When learner knowledge is incomplete, naïve, or misleading, interpretations will be incomplete or faulty” (Gredler, 207).
2. Organize material to be learned
·Advance organizers facilitate the encoding of new information.
3. Facilitate attention
·Pre-teaching activates prior knowledge and focuses attention on the material to be learned
·Instructor should attend to learner characteristics
4. Encoding and construction of meaning
·mnemonic devices

. Strategies to enhance understanding
·transfer of learning and how-to-learn strategies

Disadvantages of the Information-Processing Theory:
The theory lacks a theoretical foundation.Instead, the theory is based on an array of theoretical perspectives.Also it may not be valid to compare the human brain to the computer model of perceive, encode, remember, recall and apply information.

Contribution to the classroom:
The information processing theory identifies the importance of cognitive processes for learning.

Research into Practice


1. Metacognition - Identification and assessment of the cognitive abilities that one should work on to guide one's learning of complex tasks, monitor one's progress, and change course.

2. Self-efficacy - Beliefs in one's capabilities to organize and execute the actions necessary to manage and be successful in particular situations (Bandura, 1995, p.2).

3. Conditional Knowledge - Students lack the knowledge about when and where to make use of different stategies (Paris, Lipson, and Wilson, 1983).

4. Cognitive Maturity - Developing knowledge about the internal mental world, including the fact that people possess minds; mental processes are distinct from feeling and emotions, and a person can understand and react to his or her mental states (Wellman, 1985).

5. General Problem Solvers (GPS) - Has three main steps in problem solving:
a) represent the problem, the givens, and the subgoals
b) establish goals and subgoals and begin solving for the subgoals
c) use means-ends analysis to assess progress and redefine

6. Heuristics - A series of strategies that can be used to tackle problem solving (Erlandson, 2005)
7. Adaptive control of Thought - ACT-R - Integrated cognition that includes several mental operations (Anderson & Lebiere, 1998)

8. Problems - 1) givens 2) a goal 3) allowable operators (Anderson, 1985; Davidson & Sternberg, 1998)

9. Routine Problems - Experience of the problem solver. Individual has solved in the past and for which she/he instantly recognizes a solution (Mayer, 1992; Mayer & Wittrock, 1996).

10. Nonroutine Problems - Experience of the problem solver. Individual hasn't solved previously and for which he/she cannot generate a preexisting solution (Mayer, 1992, p.4).

Major Themes:

I. Metacognition- Open the MSWord document below to see a graphic organizer with the main components of metacognition.

II. Problem Solving- Open the MSWord document below to see a graphic organizer with the main components of problem solving.

Problem Solving

Problem Solving

This document shows a comparison between the novice learner and the expert learner. It also compares it to the younger learner and the older learner. By no means does this comparison mean that the younger learner is a novice or that the older learner is an expert. However, it does show the differences and similarities. For example, I am a novice learner when it comes to working with technology, but I am older. I still have some problem solving skills of a older person, but I am a novice working with techology.

Open the MSWord document below to see a graphic orgaziner with the main components of problem solving.

III. Application
Principle of instruction focuses on four main points. First is teaching student strategies for constructing meaning. Second is structuring the framework of learning to facilitate the learner's attention. Lastly is to facilitate the encoding of the instruction. It is the instructor's goal to reach all learners using various tools and to make sure that their learning is in their long term memory.

Open the MSWord document below to see a graphic organizer with the main components of problem solving.

Application to Theorists and Learning Theories:

Application to Teachers:

external image cf_8.JPG
Anno's Hat Tricks is a children's book written by Akihiro Nozaki, a well known writer who has taught both mathematics and computer science at several universities in Japan. The book is illustrated by Mitsumasa Anno who is famous for his original and thought provoking picture books. In this picture book, the concepts of binary logic, which is the basis of computer "thinking" and mathematical problem solving are introduced to young readers. The reader (you) becomes the central character called the "Shadowchild" and along with the other characters in the book, you must try to figure out the answers to the logic questions.

This book can be used for a read aloud or it can be acted out with props to make the problem solving more interactive and engaging for students. This book incorporates use of both problem solving and metacognition as the reader is asked to think about their own thinking and the thinking of the other characters in the book. The author prompts the reader to monitor their problem solving strategies and evaluate their understanding as the logic problems increase in difficulty.

Do you understand it, Shadowchild? If you really do, then turn the page.
If you're still not sure, please go back to the beginning of the book and start reading again.
If you truly want to understand these tricks, you need to read slowly and carefully. (p. 39)

Students are prompted to build upon their problem solving strategies by using logic from the previous pages of the book. Teachers can facilitate a class discussion and include explicit teaching of metacognitive strategies by asking questions such as, "Why do you think that? Can you explain your thinking to us?"

Click on the MSWord document below to see a lesson plan including class discussion questions.