Applying Cognitive Learning Theory to your Corporate Learning Strategy

Applying Cognitive Learning Theory to Your Corporate Learning Strategy

Cognitive Learning Theory explains how we process information when we learn. When we think back to our school days, many of us will remember being taught in this way: a teacher stood at the top of the classroom and lectured us on a subject. Almost every teacher used this method for almost every subject. And in the vast majority of cases, a student’s success was measured by how much they could remember on exam day.

This type of teaching and learning, where the learner is mostly passive, sitting down and listening, while the active participant – the teacher – imparts their knowledge is linked to the Behaviorist Learning Theory. This theory looks at how we, as learners, respond to an external stimulus.

What is Cognitive Learning Theory?

Cognitive Learning Theory, on the other hand, suggests that the learner is an active participant in the process. They come to the table with their own skills, knowledge, memories and relevant information they’ve learned in the past. When learning something new, individuals process and construct their own understanding of a topic based on their past experiences and knowledge.

Cognitive Learning Strategies

To fully understand this theory, let’s look at four psychologists who shaped the concept of cognitive learning. We’re also showing how their theories, or learning strategies, can be implemented in a corporate learning environment.

Learner-centered approach

Learning is cumulative and relative to each individual. When we’re learning, we start with a baseline of knowledge and go from there. Jean Piaget, a Swiss psychologist and pioneer of Cognitive Learning Theory, favored this learner-centered approach to teaching. He suggested that accommodation, assimilation, and equilibration are all crucial to learning:

For Piaget, learning is the process of relating new information to what we already know. To support this, the trainer or facilitator should create a safe environment for learning. A place where learners’ curiosity is nourished, and their insights are welcomed.  For Learning and Development Managers, this means how you structure a course or training session is important: 

Bloom’s taxonomy

Bloom’s taxonomy, named after educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom, describes six different levels of cognitive learning in the form of a hierarchy. At its most basic level, the taxonomy describes the essential abilities needed to recall information that has been taught. While at the highest level it describes a learner’s ability to take what has been taught, analyze it and use it to create and evaluate.  Applying Cognitive Learning Theory with Bloom's Taxonomy

What are the six levels of Bloom's taxonomy?

When training within your organization trainers and Learning and Development Managers should consider the depth of cognitive learning they need to achieve from a given course. 

Learning through discovery

Active learner involvement is a core feature of cognitive learning. Jerome Bruner, a psychologist who studied cognitive learning in children, suggested that instead of simply feeding students information, we should allow them to discover it for themselves.

Bruner built on Piaget’s work. He believed that ensuring learners had a conceptual understanding of the topic was more important than the acquisition of information. Interaction is a core component here. Part of what Bruner called the Spiral Process, previously learned material is reviewed frequently even as new material is being introduced. This ensures that it’s fully understood. In a corporate environment, Bruner’s interpretation of Cognitive Learning Theory can be put in place by:

Creating meaningful experiences for your learners

David Ausubel, an American psychologist and advocate of cognitive learning, believed that for learning to be effective and permanent, it had to be meaningful.  He made a clear distinction between meaningful learning and rote learning, where the material is learned as a series of facts in isolation. Or simply learned off by heart and no deliberate attempt is made to demonstrate its value or relevance to the learner. He believed that relatable material, which fitted in closely with what the learner already knew, was meaningful and therefore effective.

When trainers make a marked effort to show why a lesson is meaningful for the learner, there’s a significantly higher chance of it becoming anchored in the brain alongside what’s already known.  Ausubel suggested that advance organizers are an effective way of doing this. This means that before diving into a complex topic, trainers should cover some introductory material or offer some background to the topic. When learners have the relevant background knowledge, it’s easier for them to ‘slot in’ new information. For your organization, this means: 

Supporting cognitive learning within your organization

When designing the content for your next training program, bear in mind that individuals relate to materials in different ways.  You can give each participant the best shot at success by:

  1. sequencing your course content carefully
  2. reviewing material you’ve already covered regularly
  3. allowing learners the opportunity to play an active part in their own learning
  4. and emphasizing why the material is meaningful and how it relates back to their success.

What are your thoughts on applying Cognitive Learning Theory to your corporate training strategy? Do you use this method of learning in your workplace, or would you like to start? Leave a comment with your thoughts below.

8 Comments

  • Paul

    Great article, definitely going to apply this thinking to some of our training models. I feel it would relate specifically to blended learning as one engages exercises and collaborates to enhance cognitive learning.

    Reply
    1 reply 2019-08-08 15:21:33
    • Emma

      Glad you enjoyed the article, Paul. You're right, this relates to blended learning. By hosting webinars and ILT's, you can really emphasize material and encourage learners to be active in the learning process.

      Reply
  • Stephane

    Thanks for your work in summarising CLT and IPT, Emma. It's helpful to have these reminders as we plan our organisation's training. Do you have anything on the learning theory outlined by Constructionism (not to be confused with constructivism) and how Constructionism helps us to consider how to engage our coworkers with the online learning content we might deliver? Also I'd love to hear more about what the blended approach could look like.

    Reply
    1 reply 2019-08-13 09:52:47
    • Emma

      Hi Stephanie, glad to hear you found this post helpful. As of right now, we don't have a post on Constructivism, but we're looking to cover that topic in the future. However, we actually published a post on Constructivist Learning Theory, if you are interested in that. Here is a link: https://www.learnupon.com/blog/constructivist-learning-theory/. I hope you find it helpful.

      Reply
  • Richard Winslow

    Good article. I just updated an introduction module in a new product area with some good questions to engage the learner.

    Reply
    1 reply 2019-08-20 10:38:28
    • Emma

      Thanks Richard. That's great to hear. Let us know how it works out!

      Reply
  • Rodolfo Orjuela

    Thank´s for specifying each of the aspects that determine a good instructional design and the cognitive processes enunciated by Bloom's taxonomy.

    Reply
    1 reply 2019-12-05 10:28:52
    • Emma

      Glad you enjoyed reading it, Rodolfo.

      Reply

 

 

 

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