Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Module 2 - Cognitivism as a Learning Theory

Learning is a very complex process and what learning theories do is to help us understand how this process happens. Behaviorists have seen human brain as a black box.
On the other hand, cognitivists think that human brain acquires information and stores it.
Behaviorists argue that we can understand people by observing their behavior while cognitive approach chooses to look more at the thought processes rather than observable behavior.
Were we really born with our brains as blank slates? Were we all equal when we were born, and where we are now is actually determined by external factors? Do our actions rely heavily on rewards?
It is really hard to say "No" to all of these questions. However, it is not easy to accept that they are enough to explain the process of learning alone.
The idea that we were all equal when we were born and the environment that we were raised determined what kind of a person we are going to be is something that I would never accept. The closest examples are me and my brother. We were both raised under the same circumstances in the same house but he became a cardiologist and I became a teacher who likes to travel around the world. Interests might have kicked in at some point in time to shape our choices but I believe in the affect of nature; when we were born we already had certain capabilities and capacities to learn.

On the other hand, it is at least not fair to think of human brain as a computer as there are feelings which may be influencing the way we are thinking.
As a result, I think that the role of learning theories is not only to understand how we learn but also to enable us to find ways for improving learning. In that sense, no one learning theory is superior to other, and as we discover new ways to investigate human brain, we will have more clues as to how learning really happens.


Driscoll, M. P. (2005). Psychology of learning for instruction (3rd ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education.


  1. The various learning theories need to be seen as a framework around which we can build a learning matrix. Trying to use just one theory robs us of the advantages another might have or what problem one may solve better, easier, and quicker than another may. Reading the various theorists, it is easy to see they must have thought or are thinking that they have found the magic formula for teaching and learning only to find there can be gaps that their theory does not cover.

    In 1966, the high school I attended had one guidance counselor. She took care of the whole student body, boys and girls, as well as teaching a Home-Economics course (read that as cooking class). The school just could not see spending the money to pay someone to counsel kids full time. I sat in her office and she berated me for wanting to drop Freshman French. She claimed that if I dropped that class, I would probably never go on to college or maybe not even graduate from high school. Well, two Master’s and now working on my Ph. D. later, she has been proved wrong. But, at the time, if I had gone to college at that time, I would not have been ready to do the work, but besides not being prepared it would not have meant anything to me. With time, people change and their openness to learning and more importantly, how they learn changes. One theory just does not cover everything, every time.

  2. Knowing what you know about cognitivism as a theory how would you apply it in your instruction?

  3. The first thing I though of when you stated "The idea that we were all equal when we were born and the environment that we were raised determined what kind of a person we are going to be is something that I would never accept. The closest examples are me and my brother" was my sibling as well. We are total opposites in so many ways that people do not believe we are siblings at times. Also, my own three children. All were brought up in the same household environment, etc. but their interests are all varied and they have few in common with each other. I also see a lot of this with the young men I foster. They can have multiple siblings and yet each goes in their own direction with interests, skills, etc... I believe that there is just not one theory that would be fully responsible for explaining the best way to learn. Great post! Very informative!

  4. Mustafa,

    Great post! In what ways do you think learning theories help us understand the learning process?