Cognitive learning theory asserts the premise that information is processed through three stages. Sensory input of information is stored in short-term memory, but through rehearsal (or practice), information is then stored in one’s long-term memory (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011). This is the ultimate goal of education. Teachers do not wish for students to simply remember information for a test; they wish their students to fully understand and to be able to recall information even after a significant period of time. An additional component of cognitive theory is Palvio’s dual coding hypothesis (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011) which states that information is stored as both images and text. This is important information for teachers, as it helps to explain how students should be given information and why advanced organizers are a good teaching tool. Finally, the primary mechanism for storing information into long-term memory is through elaboration, connecting new information to old information by activating prior knowledge. Elaboration builds multiple connections to stored information (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011). Because of this understanding of cognitive learning, teachers must utilize various teaching tools and strategies to help students retain information and store it in long-term memory.
Firstly, one excellent learning tool is an advanced organizer which helps students “classify and make sense of the content they will encounter, particularly new content that is not well organized in its original format” (Pitler, Hibbell, Kuhn, & Malenoski, 2007, p. 73). Often times a student can get lost in the overwhelming amount of new pieces of information in a lesson. Quality lectures, on the contrary, ask students to activate prior knowledge and connect new info to a concept already mastered as they “limit the information presented to a small number of core ideas that are thoroughly but not redundantly explained (Feldon, 2010, p.16). If the new information cannot be connected to old information, then the student will have a more difficult time recalling the info when it is needed. An advanced organizer, one that visually shows connections between the new material, can help students’ comprehension of the lecture material. Advanced organizers should focus on the important parts of the lesson, not on extraneous material. Organizers that allow students to add extensions to a limited number of main ideas permit students to focus their learning on the important material while they are making connections. Because the amount of information is limited and because the information is connected to prior knowledge, students will make a greater number of connections and the information will have a greater chance of being stored in long-term memory.
Secondly, using cues and questions is another effective teaching strategy. In the classroom, students should be clear about what they are to learn; concepts to be mastered should not be hinted at but directly stated. Therefore, using technology to give students a preview of the unit or lesson is appropriate. One way to do this is to provide an essential question and then have students brainstorm answers. Using an online brainstorming tool, the class can make contributions, evaluate their collective answers, and then move forward by choosing different threads to research. The online tool provides an effective visual for learners, while also allowing students to make connections to a new topic using prior knowledge.
Finally, many students have trouble taking notes. They tend to write down everything a teacher says, and then they try to memorize their notes for the test. Students needs to be taught how to take effective notes, that they need to delete trivial and redundant information, use superordinate terms, and provide a topic sentence if one is not provided (Pitler et al., 2007). Students also need to be taught different forms of note taking, for example a “combination note format” (Pitler et al., 2007, p. 124). Using summary frames is another way to help students process information. Giving students a graphic to fill in as they read a chapter or watch a video helps them to make connections between the ideas presented. This is a much more effective tool than an ordinary outline. The material is organized, key topics are already highlighted, and there is little room for extraneous information.
A understanding of cognitive learning theory allows teachers to create effective lessons so that new information will move from short-term memory and into long-term memory through rehearsal. Teachers need to provide multiple opportunities for students to make connections with new material by activating prior knowledge. Technology can be an incredible asset in this regard. With the use of spreadsheets, advanced organizers, and online brainstorming tools, teachers can help students to make sense of new information and master important concepts and skills.
Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer.) (2011). Program five. Cognitive Learning Theory. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Baltimore, MD: Author.
Feldon, D. F. (2010). Why Magic Bullets Don’t Work. Change, 42(2), 15-21.
Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.