What is cognitivism?

Posted by Greten on 10 Jul 2023 under Terms, Theories

Cognitivism is a theory of learning that focuses on the mental processes involved in acquiring and utilizing new information. It recognizes that our learning experiences are shaped by how our minds receive, store, process, and retrieve information.

Also known as cognitive learning theory, cognitivism offers valuable insights for developing effective learning programs. By researching the brain and mental processes related to acquiring and utilizing new information, cognitivist educators contribute to creating better learning experiences. You can benefit from building a solid understanding of cognitivism if you are teaching or should you aim to teach new concepts or information to others.

Cognitivism has broad applications in teaching, ranging from young infants to adult learners acquiring new skills in professional settings. It is considered a mainstream approach in research and the foundations of learning design, emphasizing its significance in shaping effective educational practices.

Advantages of cognitive learning

Cognitive learning is an active learning approach that focuses on helping learners maximize their brains' potential.

This means that cognitive learning is not just about memorizing information but rather about understanding and applying it. It involves actively engaging with the material, connecting new and existing knowledge, and using critical thinking to analyze and evaluate the information.

A brain in a jar surrounded by gears and computer circuits.Cognitive learning strategies can help learners to better understand and retain new information. These strategies include techniques such as elaboration, organization, and rehearsal. In elaboration, learners expand on further information by connecting it to what they already know. There will be more discussions on elaboration in the latter paragraphs. In organization, learners group related information to make it easier to remember. Lastly, in rehearsal, learners practice recalling new knowledge to improve their memory.

Cognitive learning also makes it easier for learners to relate new information with existing ideas. Hence, deepening their memory and retention capacity.

When they learn something new, their brains try to connect that further information with what they already know. This process is called elaboration. Connecting new and existing knowledge can create a more meaningful and coherent understanding of the latest information. This can help you remember new information more quickly and for a longer time.

Elaboration is essential for teaching and learning new concepts and can set the stage for long-term learning. For our brains to process information and cement it in our memories, our neural networks need to connect new knowledge to old networks. When that connection is made, there is a distinct learning advantage.

For example, suppose you are learning about a new historical event. In that case, you might connect it to other historical events you already know about. You might think about how the new event fits into the larger historical context or how it differs from other events you have learned about. By making these connections, you deepen your understanding of the new information and make it easier to remember.

Disadvantages of cognitive learning

One of the criticisms of cognitivism is its dismissal of essential factors that contribute to human behavior. Advocates of the cognitive approach tend to view everything through the lens of cognitive processes, emphasizing the mental aspects of acquiring and utilizing new information while neglecting other influential factors.

Cognitivism fails to consider the role of genetics, individual experiences, biological structures, and even chemical imbalances in shaping behavior. These elements can significantly impact how individuals learn, think, and behave, yet they are not taken into account within the cognitive approach.

This limitation suggests that cognitivism does not offer a comprehensive understanding of human behavior. By solely focusing on cognitive processes, it overlooks other significant factors that play a role in influencing how people learn and behave. Acknowledging these additional factors is crucial to gaining a more holistic perspective on human behavior and learning.

In a way, we can say that cognitivism is the opposite of behaviorism, but they complement each other. Cognitivism focuses on the neurological processes that take place as the learner learns new information or skills and designing the best methods or techniques to take advantage of those processes. Behaviorism, on the other hand, focuses on stimulus, observable behavior, and behavioral changes. Another way of putting it, cognitivism is concerned with what goes inside the brain, while behaviorism is concerned with what goes outside.

Application of cognitivism in elearning

In the realm of elearning, cognitivism offers practical applications. It focuses on how the human mind receives, organizes, stores, and retrieves information. It considers the human mind to function like an information processor or a computer.

Cognitive learning in elearning emphasizes active engagement in acquiring knowledge, aiming to help students optimize their mental abilities. By employing cognitive strategies, students can more effectively connect new information with their existing understanding, enhancing their retention and memory capacity.

By incorporating cognitive strategies, you can design an elearning program to facilitate meaningful connections between new and existing knowledge, enabling learners to deepen their understanding and enhance their capacity to remember and retain information.

In elearning, the cognitive process plays an even more critical role because time and distance often separate instructors and learners. You must ensure that your learning module uses the right cognitive strategies for the right topic.

One of the cornerstones of cognitivism is its focus on learning through self-discovery. You must not saturate the learning modules with content that "tells learners"; instead, content must be presented so that learners are forced to discover some aspects of the syllabus for themselves.


Cognitivism is a theory of learning that highlights the mental processes involved in acquiring and utilizing new information. It offers valuable insights for developing effective learning programs, emphasizing the importance of understanding how our minds receive, store, process, and retrieve knowledge. By applying cognitive learning strategies, learners can actively engage with the material, make meaningful connections, and enhance their retention and memory capacity.

While cognitivism has advantages, such as promoting active learning and deepening understanding, it also faces criticism for overlooking influential intrinsic factors in human behavior. The theory's exclusive focus on cognitive processes may limit its ability to provide a comprehensive understanding of learning and behavior.

In elearning development, cognitivism provides practical applications, emphasizing the importance of tailoring content to learners' cognitive abilities. You can optimize learning by fostering self-discovery and meaningful connections in eLearning experiences.

Overall, cognitivism offers educators and instructional designers valuable insights, promoting active learning and facilitating effective knowledge acquisition in diverse educational settings.


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Last updated on 10 Jul 2023.

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