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Cognition and Learning

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Cognition and Learning

Have you ever had an "ah-ha" moment in class where you thought you would never find the answer to a hard problem, but all of a sudden the answer just hits you? Have you ever been in class and realized that you already learned the material being taught a long ago, and you quickly start remembering facts and details? These are both examples of how cognition relates to learning!

  • What is the definition of cognition and learning?
  • What are cognitive processes in learning?
  • What are examples of cognition and learning?
  • What are cognitive and learning strategies?
  • What is the Cognitive Learning Theory?

Meaning of Cognition and Learning

In psychology, you can think of cognition as a fancy word for thinking: the ability to understand, store, and retrieve information, intentionally concentrate or remain alert, and make decisions about how to think or act. Cognition plays a big role in how we learn through using skills we learned in the past (remembering), practicing new skills (rehearsing), and connecting old information to new information.

Cognition and Learning a child sitting at a desk holding a pencil to their chin thinking hard StudySmarterChild thinking. pexels.com

Learning is a relatively permanent change in behavior or thinking due to experience. We can take in new information, process it, and apply it in real life because of our cognitive abilities. Learning can happen in many different ways, but these are two of the most common ways:

  • Behavioral Learning

  • Social Learning (Observational Learning)

Types of Learning

You can probably tell what these types of learning are all about just from their names. Behavioral learning is all about how our behaviors interact with our environments. Social learning is all about how our social life interacts with our learning!

Behavioral Learning

Behavioral learning refers to learning through conditioning. In psychology, there are two types of conditioning: classical and operant. Classical conditioning is unconscious, automatic learning that produces automatic, conditioned responses (like reflexes). We are classically conditioned pretty much every day without even realizing it!

Operant conditioning is learning based on consequences, like rewards or punishments. In behavioral theory, rewards are called reinforcement. We learn to behave in certain ways based on rewards and punishments.

Social Learning

Social Learning, also known as Observational Learning, is learning through observing the behaviors of models. Models are anything or anyone we can observe and learn from simply by watching and paying attention. Replication is when we reproduce the behavior of a model.

Cognition and Learning a child observes an adult playing a guitar and tries to model the adult's movements StudySmarterChild observing how to play guitar. pexels.com

Cognitive Process in Learning

What are the different types of cognitive processes that make learning possible? In psychology, there are many different ways that cognitions influence learning, and three of those are the overjustification effect, latent learning, and learning by insight (the “ah-ha” moment).

The Overjustification Effect

The overjustification effect explains why someone's interest or motivation may decrease when an external reward is introduced. When someone is naturally interested in an activity, they want to participate in it even without any external rewards. If you try to reward them for doing it, they become less motivated instead of more.

Essentially, the extrinsic motivation (a reward) replaces the person's intrinsic motivation (personal desire), causing motivation to go down. You would think it would go up, right? Wrong! The added external motivation overjustifies the internal motivation, causing both to decrease.

Mia enjoys making handmade jewelry for her friends and family. One day, her aunt suggests that Mia should start selling her jewelry to make money. Mia starts this process, but she finds herself less motivated to do this.

Latent Learning

Latent learning means learning that happened in the past but is only demonstrated when there is a good reason to do so. In other words, the person learned a new behavior, but they will not show what they have learned until they are motivated to do so, maybe by an incentive or reward.

This type of learning is purely cognitive since it does not result in immediate behavioral changes. It shows that learning can occur without acting anything out. The person absorbs and stores the information in their mind, but there is no reason to display what they have learned until later.

Pierre is a nursing student and his school requires him to be CPR certified. Pierre passes his CPR certification class, but it isn't until he works at a hospital that he uses the techniques he learned during an emergency.

Insight

Insight is best defined as an unexpected and new solution to a problem that seems to appear in your mind out of nowhere. It is also called a lightbulb or ah-ha moment. You are struggling to figure out how to answer a question on a test, so you skip the question. As you are reviewing all of your answers, suddenly a solution to the question pops into your head! You quickly write it down.

Cognition and Learning a blackboard with a drawn white thought bubble with a lightbulb inside StudySmarterLightbulb! pexels.com

Insight solutions seem to come out of nowhere, but unconscious cognitive processes are happening that lead up to the moment of insight.

Agnes is taking her AP Psychology exam, but she can't remember the term used to describe the tendency to ignore emergencies happening near you if other people are also nearby who can help. She skips the question and moves on. Later, Agnes comes back to the same question and has an ah-ha moment when she remembers that the term she was looking for is "the Bystander Effect".

Cognition and Learning Examples

Just like there are different ways we learn, there are also different ways we can use cognitions when we learn. Our human reasoning abilities help us learn, but there is more than one kind of reasoning. Sometimes we forget what we learned, and we have to learn it again.

Inductive vs. Deductive Reasoning

Inductive and deductive reasoning are important components of cognitive learning. Think of them as two different kinds of mental patterns. In inductive reasoning, we use probability to reach a conclusion or decision. We move from specific information to a general conclusion or decision.

You walk outside and notice that the sky is gray and full of large clouds. There are so many clouds that it is darker than normal outside for the time of day. You glance up at a weather gauge and see that the humidity reading is at 70%. You walk back inside and turn on the news. You look at the weather map and see a large green area (rain storm) moving towards your area of the state. You conclude that it is very likely to rain today, so you grab your umbrella and raincoat as you leave the house for work.

Specific facts: gray sky, big clouds, dense clouds, humidity reading, weather map.

General conclusion: it will rain today.

In deductive reasoning, we use big ideas or conclusions to reach a specific conclusion or decision. We move from general information to specific conclusions or decisions. These two types of reasoning help us process information, make decisions, and solve problems.

At the beginning of this explanation, we defined cognition and learning (big, general concepts). We moved on and talked briefly about different kinds of learning. From there we moved in even closer to talk about the cognitive processes involved in those types of learning. Getting even more specific, we introduced this section on different ways to use our cognitive processes in learning. This explanation is an example of deductive reasoning: moving from big ideas to specific topics, explanations, or conclusions.

Overlearning

In most cases, when people feel that they have learned something, they stop learning and practicing it. However, sometimes we continue to practice and study what we have learned to get even better. This is called overlearning.

Even when we learn something well, overlearning helps us continue to reinforce what we learned. Overlearning helps with the cognitive retention of information in the brain and ensures that it will be really hard to forget what we have learned!

Alina is a classically trained ballerina that has reached the highest level of her career, but she still practices as if she were a beginner to make sure she never forgets any of her lessons.

Relearning

While you may think that relearning is the ability to relearn an old concept, you would only be 50% correct. In cognitive psychology, relearning is a measure of how fast someone can relearn a concept they learned in the past, compared to how long it took them to learn it the first time. Generally, relearning is much faster than initial learning.

In his sophomore year of high school, Drew had to memorize the first 50 digits of Pi for extra credit. In his junior year of high school, Drew was given the same opportunity to memorize the first 50 digits of Pi for extra credit. It took Drew two hours his sophomore year to memorize those digits, but it only took one hour his junior year.

Cognition and Learning Strategies

What are a few strategies we can use as we learn new information or skills? Two cognitive learning strategies are metacognition and the VARK model.

Metacognition

Metacognition is the ability to think about your thinking. Everyone learns differently, but assessing your cognitive abilities will help you better understand your learning abilities.

Robert is taking an upper-level course in Political Science when he finds himself struggling with the reading assignments. He goes to his college's Academic Affairs office and seeks help with this problem. Robert is given helpful advice, and he starts taking note of his reading patterns. After a week, Roberts learns that he is an efficient reader when he annotates long paragraphs and writes personal summaries for his recollection. He used metacognition to think about how he was thinking and learning so he could improve!

Metacognition has so many applications in school and learning. Every day, teachers create lesson plans for their classrooms. However, teachers also recognize that students learn differently. Some students may require a quiet room to focus in, while others prefer having background noise, such as music, to help them pay attention.

Teachers know that some students will find biology easier to learn than chemistry and vice versa. This is dependent on a student's learning capabilities. By understanding how each student learns, a teacher can better plan and decide how to approach a topic with each student.

Students can use metacognition to understand the best way for them to study and learn. Some students cram last minute for exams because that's when they feel the most motivated, but others need days or weeks to study for big exams or work on big projects. Which method you choose depends on what will work best for you.

The V.A.R.K Model

Fleming and Mills (1992) developed the VARK model of learning. VARK is a learning style theory that looks at four types of learners: Visual, Auditory, Reading and Writing, and Kinesthetic.

  1. Visual learners are people who prefer learning through visual aids and graphic depictions. People who fall under this category would rather look at pictures than written instructions to learn how to do something.
  2. Auditory learners are people who prefer learning through listening. People who fall under this category are more likely to listen to a video or audiobook than pay attention to visuals or words.
  3. Reading and Writing learners are people who prefer to learn by reading or writing. People who fall under this category will pay close attention to written instructions and may even jot down notes as they read.
  4. Kinesthetic learners are people who prefer learning through a hands-on approach. People who fall under this category enjoy working with their hands and want to learn by doing.

Cognitive Learning Theory

Jean Piaget (1936) developed the cognitive learning theory (CLT). This theory suggests that new knowledge is based on a learner’s previous knowledge (i.e., what they have already learned). CLT describes cognitive learning as an active, long-lasting process. In other words, cognitive learning is continuous. We continue to learn throughout life, and we build on previous knowledge to create new understandings of what we know.

Cognitive learning is a higher level of learning that requires thinking, predicting, and other forms of deep or elaborate mental processing.

Students progressing through different grade levels are a great example of CLT. Think about the many different math classes you completed over the years. In elementary school, you were taught the basics. In middle and high school, the basic math skills you learned were expanded to include complex functions and formulas. Even though you were learning harder and more complicated math, you continued to use the basic skills you learned earlier on.

Additionally, CLT focuses on understanding how people learn and process diverse types of information. Rather than solely reacting to other people or events, Piaget said that humans can mentally process the information they receive before deciding on a response.

Jackson is a novice skateboarder who wants to improve his skills. He asks his cousin Max to teach him how to do cool tricks, but Max says that Jackson has to learn the basics before doing anything advanced. Although Jackson is annoyed by this, he follows what Max says and practices the basic skills. After two weeks, Max shows Jackson how to do complex flips and Jackson realizes that Max was just building him up through simple lessons.

Cognition and Learning - Key Takeaways

  • In psychology, you can think of cognition as a fancy word for thinking: the ability to understand, store, and retrieve information, intentionally concentrate or remain alert, and make decisions about how to think or act.
  • Learning is a relatively permanent change in behavior or thinking due to experience.
  • In psychology, there are many different ways that cognitions influence learning, and three of those are the Overjustification Effect, latent learning, and learning by insight (the “ah-ha” moment).
  • Two cognitive learning strategies are metacognition and the VARK model.
  • Cognitive learning is a higher level of learning that requires thinking, predicting, and other forms of deep or elaborate mental processing.

Frequently Asked Questions about Cognition and Learning

Cognition and learning are the mental processes involved in learning, retaining, and recalling new information.

Cognition is related to learning in that our mental processes are how we absorb, store, and recall information that we learn.

Cognitive and learning difficulties are disorders that make it harder to learn particular kinds of information or in particular ways.

Some examples of cognitive learning are latent learning, insight, learning sets, abstract learning, cognitive maps, and social cognitive learning.

The processes in cognitive learning according to Piaget are the three steps of (1) stimuli, (2) mental process, and (3) response.

Final Cognition and Learning Quiz

Question

Fill in the blank: In psychology, you can think of cognition as a fancy word for ___________. 

Show answer

Answer

thinking 

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank: ___________ is a relatively permanent change in behavior or thinking due to experience. 

Show answer

Answer

Learning 

Show question

Question

True or False: Social Learning, also known as Observational Learning, is learning through observing the behaviors of models. 

Show answer

Answer

True 

Show question

Question

What are the two types of conditioning in psychology? 

Show answer

Answer

Classical conditioning 

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank: _________ conditioning is learning based on consequences, like rewards or punishments.

Show answer

Answer

Operant 

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank: _________ conditioning is unconscious, automatic learning that produces automatic, conditioned responses (like reflexes).  

Show answer

Answer

Classical 

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank: _________ is when we reproduce the behavior of a model. 

Show answer

Answer

Replication 

Show question

Question

Which effect explains why someone's interest or motivation may decrease when an external reward is introduced? 

Show answer

Answer

The Overjustification Effect 

Show question

Question

Which type of learning is learning that happened in the past but is only demonstrated when there is a good reason to do so? 

Show answer

Answer

Latent Learning 

Show question

Question

Pierre is a nursing student and his school requires him to be CPR certified. Pierre passes his CPR certification class, but it isn't until he works at a hospital that he uses the techniques he learned during an emergency.

 The statement above is an example of which type of learning?  

Show answer

Answer

Latent Learning 

Show question

Question

True or False: Insight is best defined as an unexpected and new solution to a problem that seems to appear in your mind out of nowhere.  

Show answer

Answer

True 

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank: In __________ reasoning, we use probability to reach a conclusion or decision.  

Show answer

Answer

inductive  

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank: In __________ reasoning, we use big ideas or conclusions to reach a specific conclusion or decision. 

Show answer

Answer

deductive 

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank: _________ helps with the cognitive retention of information in the brain and ensures that it will be really hard to forget what we have learned!  

Show answer

Answer

Overlearning 

Show question

Question

True or False: In cognitive psychology, overlearning is a measure of how fast someone can relearn a concept they learned in the past, compared to how long it took them to learn it the first time. 

Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

True or False: Metacognition is the ability to think about your thinking. 

Show answer

Answer

True 

Show question

Question

Allison prefers to look at the pictures/graphics, instead of reading the instructions, when she's trying to install new furniture. 

What type of learner is Allison? 

Show answer

Answer

Visual Learner 

Show question

Question

When studying for his classes, Callum prefers to listen to the audiobook for retention. 

What type of learner is Callum? 

Show answer

Answer

Audit Learner 

Show question

Question

Which psychologist developed the Cognitive Learning Theory (CLT) 

Show answer

Answer

Jean Piaget 

Show question

Question

What type of learning is a higher level of learning that requires thinking, predicting, and other forms of deep or elaborate mental processing?

Show answer

Answer

Cognitive learning 

Show question

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