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There are many learning theories pertaining to education. An instructor can use one or a mixture of theoretical concepts to improve the learning process in the classroom. This paper will discuss the cognitive theory of learning, as well as the role of the student and instructor in using this theory, and how a unit of multiplication in a fourth grade classroom could possibly be taught using this concept. The discussion within this paper will show examples of this theory implemented within a special needs class, and how technology can play a major role within this theory.
Cognitive theory of learning, students is actively involved in the learning process. The learning process consists of linking information that was formerly learned with the new information being learned. The cognitive theory also argues that individuals are in control of their own learning and that as we learn we organize the information in the brain much like file folders on a computer. The responsibility of an educator, in compliance with the cognitive theory, is to introduce organized lessons. "Teachers are also expected to understand a student's experience and stage of development and use that to ensure that lessons are developmentally appropriate" (Funderstanding, 2001). A student is expected to be prepared for learning, comprehending, and conform to all information. The ideas of the cognitive learning theory can be used in many ways to assist a class in learning multiplication. The instructor could use the already familiar concept of addition to help the students find the answers to simple multiplication problems or check for the correct answer to subtractions problems. For example, if the students are asked to complete 8x2, they could think in terms of adding the number two to itself eight times to arrive at the answer of sixteen. For subtraction problems 9-2=7, they could check to make sure the answer is correct by adding 7 (the difference) to the number 2 (the minuend: the number that is diminished or made smaller when something is subtracted from it). Educators can also implement the use of group work in order for students to obtain the benefit of drawing from each other's experiences to help with learning.
Components of Cognitive Learning
The cognitive method of learning is concerned with how information is processed by learners. Cognitive theories consider students engaging in "an internal learning process that involves memory, thinking, reflection, abstraction, motivation, and meta-cognition" (Ally, 2008). Students recall previous information, dialogues, and old learning techniques, developed relationships, and link new information to previous information. According to Ertmer and Newby (1993) "learning is a change in the state of knowledge, and is a mental activity where an active learner internally codes and structures knowledge" (p. 58). This duo also believes that "the real focus of the cognitive approach is on changing the learner by encouraging him or her to use appropriate learning strategies" (Ertmer and Newby, 1993). Some of the key components to Cognitive learning are:
How does learning transpire?
Physical and mental activities.
The processing of previous information with current information.
Obtain feedback to aid in creating accurate mental representations and connections.
Learner and task analysis: determine learner's attitude about learning; look at existing IEP (Individual Educational Plan) to design instructions that accommodates the learner.
Major Tasks of Educators and Designing
Understand that learners have different backgrounds and experiences which can hinder learning outcomes.
Determine the most effective manner in which to establish and design new information to work with the learner's backgrounds or experiences.
Arrange practice with feedback so that the new information is effectively and proficiently incorporated and accommodated with the learner's cognitive structure.
Teaching Children with Special Needs
Cognitive learning strategies are operative for an assortment of learners, particularly students with special needs. Students with special needs frequently do not materialize the types of strategies that are necessary to successfully initiate specific tasks.
One critical phase of strategy instruction is to give respect to children with special needs and understand that their problems go far beyond academics, and that these problems can hinder these student's academic performances. Analyst of this theory has provided information that students who seriously participate in their educational process have better retention, motivation and better attitudes towards learning. Many struggling learners may never materialize strategies; these learners will frequently use unproductive or precocious strategies, or fail to implement strategies all together. The aid of CSI (Cognitive Strategy Instruction) can dramatically increase a student's performance.
Cognitive Strategy Instructions (CSI) is manageable and can be used in combination with different self-efficiency techniques. These techniques should be implemented explicitly in combination with the modeling, memorizing, supporting, and independent performance stages, and should be implemented into most of the process. Self-efficiency can prove to be an effective way for students to monitor their own progress and see their improvements. For example, modeling strategies this step in the CSI is very critical within the process. The purpose of modeling is to expose students to the thought processes of a skilled learner. Good modeling goes well beyond merely presenting the steps in a strategy. It provides students with the "why" and "how" of various strategy steps. It also demonstrates that student participation is very critical.
Through demonstrations, a teacher can show not only what to do, but what to think as well. This process is called a 'think aloud'. A think aloud goes beyond just giving the steps in a strategy; students need to see the meta-cognitive process involved in understanding and using the strategy. By the teacher intimating their thought process while using the strategy the student is able to visible see how a successful learner uses the strategy and thinks through it.
The computer, with appropriate supporting material, is well-suited to flexible instruction. It can provide the variability needed to present ill-structured knowledge domains and to help students explore more than one perspective on a topic or issue. For example, hypertext systems provide a nonlinear, multi-dimensional medium in which to present complex subject matter that traditional systems lack. It is important to keep in mind that traditional instruction may be very successful in teaching well-structured, simple subject matter. "When the information is not simple and well structured, the power of the computer and the format of hypertext support a more flexible approach to instruction that some have called random access instruction" (Spiro, et al., 1992). This allows the learner to access information as needed in any order pertinent to their needs.
Hypertext are links that can access numerous types of material, for example, educational material such as course syllabi and resources, explanatory notes for a Web-based document, sources for references, explanatory notes, commentaries by other writers, links to other relevant resources or publications, graphics, sound, video. A term used generically to refer to nonlinear documents that are produced most efficiently on a computer. It includes information knowledge bases such as hypermedia or hyper documents. The basic building blocks of many hypertext documents are nodes and links. Nodes are pieces of information. They may be as small as a picture or as large as an article. Links allow the users to navigate between the associated nodes. Finally, Cognitive Learning Theory or Cognitive Flexibility Theory is being used in an assortment of contexts. Implementing this theory efficiently will help to advance genuine, realistic experiences for each individual. It encourages the use of multiple pathways and multiple purposes when approaching problems.