Cognitive learning aims to help learners boost their brain’s function and potential. This method can be highly beneficial if integrated into the overall learning strategy as it can enhance learners’ skills to cope more sufficiently with complex tasks and challenging situations.

This article focuses on Cognitive Learning principles and the advantages it offers.

The concept of learning and mastering new knowledge and skills has to do with how the brain responds to external as well as internal stimuli. Teaching approaches over the years have used psychological theories to evolve and improve the way students absorb new material. Under this prism, learning methods that involve cognitive traits are currently trending in the educational field to bring better results.

But, let’s explore this style a little further.

What Is Cognitive Learning?

Cognitive learning focuses on more effective use of the brain, which makes it easier to “wire” new input with existing knowledge and ideas. As a result, learners’ memory and retention increase.

To better understand the process, let’s first look at cognition. Cognition is the mental process of receiving knowledge and applying it through the senses, experiences, and thoughts. In psychology, cognitive theory, first developed by Jean Piaget back in the 1930s, studied the internal process of a human such as thinking, learning, sensing, attention, problem-solving, perception, and creativity among others.

Cognitive learning borrows elements from this psychological branch and merges them with teaching techniques to optimize the learning outcome by maximizing the potential of the learner’s brain, which in turn, makes learning more effective. It is true that once someone has fully grasped the fundamentals of cognitive learning, it is easier for them to maintain a lifelong habit of continuous learning that can be a basic pillar for self-actualization.

So, let’s see the core elements of the Cognitive Learning approach.

What Are the Key Elements of Cognitive Learning?

While conventional learning focuses mainly on memorization, cognitive learning functions differently because it aims at fully mastering a specific subject.

Here are the three key elements of cognitive learning:

1. Comprehension

To start learning efficiently, one must first understand deeply the reason why they are learning a specific subject or skill, and how this newly acquired knowledge will benefit them. It is crucial to ensure the learner’s maximum involvement in the learning procedure. Comprehension is the starting point of cognitive learning.

2. Memory 

As far as memory – the second element – is concerned, a quality rather than a quantity approach is being taken into account. This means that cognitive learning discourages the accumulation of information in one’s mind that bombards learners’ memory, and in the end becomes inefficient. On the contrary, this style aims at the in-depth understanding of a subject, which in turn, improves someone’s ability to connect new input with previously stored information. As a result, it becomes much easier to recall the information.

3. Application 

The third and equally important element is the application. Putting your knowledge and skills into practice helps to fully master a skill or concept. This, in turn, enhances the problem-solving abilities of the learners as well as their critical thinking and creativity. The knowledge that is merely taught, without implementation, soon gets forgotten. But, if you apply what you have learned to real-life situations, the knowledge almost gets imprinted in the brain.

So, now that you know the key elements of cognitive learning, let’s look at the two Cognitive Learning Theories behind this educational trend.

Which Are the Cognitive Learning Theories?

Cognitive learning theory pioneers in today’s psychology. It explains how internal and external factors play a role in someone’s mental processes to support learning.

When something is not functioning right in the cognitive process (e.g. a difficulty or a delay) that disturbs proper attention, observation, memory, reasoning, and categorization, new knowledge is not absorbed properly. This led many scientists to dive deeper into the brain’s functions, with Jean Piaget being the most known for his contribution. Piaget recognized that not only the internal processes but the environment as well play a determinative role in the learning process.

The following two theories exist and stem from the relevant theories developed in psychology: the social cognitive theory and the behavioral cognitive theory.

1. Social Cognitive Theory

This theory explores how the environment influences people and vice versa. It mainly focuses on observational learning, which is achieved when someone observes and therefore learns from someone else’s behavior (whether this behavior is proper or improper).

In a corporate environment, for example, a sales manager can teach his employees how to manage the questions and alleviate the hesitation of a difficult client to achieve sales. 

2. Cognitive Behavioral Theory

Cognitive behavioral theory, on the other hand, focuses on internal mental processes such as thinning patterns and the interpretations people give to their experiences and how these affect each other. Thoughts generate feelings which generate behavior and vice versa. Changing a thought can lead to a change of feeling and therefore behavior and this can work backward as well. 

If assumed that in the previous example, the salesman takes the client’s rejection personally, he will probably behave rudely, or get discouraged and give up, resulting in losing the client (and the sale). But, if instead, he chooses to explore the reasons for the rejection, ask questions and try to find a solution for the client’s need, then it is highly possible to achieve the sale in the end.

3. Understanding The Processes Of Cognitive Learning

Contrary to traditional teaching methods that focused on memorization, the cognitive learning process functions by actively engaging the trainee’s senses and brain potential to connect new input with existing knowledge.

It’s like adding bricks of new information to an already existing structure. Cohesion and deepening of memory are achieved better this way as well as retention capacity. Reflecting on the new material and “wiring” it with past ones makes learning more effective.

What Are the Benefits of Cognitive Learning?

Here are the major positive effects of cognitive learning:

1. It supports lifelong and faster learning

Cognitive learning theory enhances the continuous acquisition of new knowledge and skills. Learners can connect new skills and concepts to the ones they already acquired, maximizing their potential and job performance. Also, learners can always go back to the techniques that worked for them in the past, save precious time, and speed up their learning pace.

2. It boosts comprehension

As Confucius once said “Show me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” Cognitive learning focuses on the involvement of each learner via the application of new knowledge to realistic situations. This process enhances deeper comprehension of a subject and secures better absorption.

3. It gives learners more confidence

People who feel secure about their knowledge and skills are usually more confident to execute challenging tasks or face adversities. Cognitive learning incubates this process and enhances the image learners have of themselves.

4. It improves problem-solving skills

One of the benefits of cognitive learning is that it cultivates problem-solving skills along with the creativity of the learners which enables them to face challenges more efficiently, even without the help of their supervisors.

5. It promotes abstract thinking

Additionally, cognitive learning promotes abstract thinking since it offers a more expanded view of new knowledge and helps learners to widen their perception and reasoning. In other words, it assists them in looking more “at the forest and not the tree” so creativity and innovation are also enhanced.

3 Great Cognitive Learning Examples

Here are three cognitive learning examples to make the concept clearer.

1. Explicit Learning

This example refers to situations when someone intentionally seeks out new knowledge to improve the skills needed for their job. Intention increases the levels of engagement and attention to new material. A blog writer, for example, may search to learn about SEO for his texts to increase their visibility on the internet.

2. Implicit Learning

Implicit learning, on the other hand, is when someone passively gains new knowledge or skills and is usually a process done unconsciously until the learners realize they have mastered the skills. For instance, practicing and eventually learning to type fast without looking at the keyboard, is an example of implicit learning.

3. Experiential Learning

We learn new things daily – even by interacting and observing others, we can glean a lot about their behaviors, past experiences, etc. Experiential learning allows you to take valuable life lessons from interactions with other people. However, all experiences depend on your interpretations. For example, a new hire can gain insights into the work environment by shadowing someone who’s been with the company for a long time and is considered an expert.


Taking into account all the above, it becomes clear that cognitive learning integrated into the training strategy of organizations can positively impact the employees and strengthen their expertise in coping with complex tasks. Furthermore, cognitive learning can help learners excel in situations where advanced problem-solving skills are needed and enhance creativity and innovation. By extension, the beneficial outcome this procedure can have on the corporate institutions’ growth is more than obvious and backed up by concrete research data.

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