Cognitivism: Psychology and Instructional Design Theories

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In modern Psychology, cognitivism is considered the most dominant paradigm for understanding mental function. The dramatic shift from behaviorism to cognitivism occurred in the early part of the nineteenth century. After decades of almost exclusive behaviorist research, psychologists and scholars became dissatisfied with the limitations of behaviorism. Although behaviorism encouraged observable and measurable research in the field of psychology, it did not incorporate mental events. Therefore, this term paper will present a general overview of the origin of cognitivism and a brief discussion of three major cognitive theories—The Atkinson-Shriffin Stage Model, Craik and Lockhart’s Levels of Processing Theory, and the Parallel Distributed Processing Theory. Finally, this paper will summarize ways that cognitivism has influenced Instructional Design Theories that are widely used in modern society. The origin of cognitivism can be traced back to the early part of the nineteenth century when the Gestalt Psychologist, Edward Chace Tolman of the United States and Jean Piaget of Switzerland had a tremendous influence on psychology and the shift from behaviorist theories. Behaviorists argued that mental events were impossible to observe and measure and could not therefore be studied objectively. Consequently, behaviorists could not sufficiently explain the way learners attempted to make sense of what they learned. Cognitivists proposed that through empirical research and observation conclusions could definitely be drawn about the internal cognitive processes that produce responses. Around the 1950’s, a large number of psychologists and researchers published influential books and articles on attention, memory, language, concept formation, and problem solving. On September 11, 1956, Cognitive Psychology was officially born and considered its own field within Psychology. Gestalt Psychology, which emerged in Germany in the early decades of the nineteenth century, proposed that individuals were inclined to organize information in certain ways. This perspective has influenced how cognitive psychologists have come to understand human learning, emphasizing the organizational processes in perception, learning, and problem solving. Edward Tolman, a famous learning theorist during the behaviorist movement, was also influenced by Gestalt theories. Like the behaviorists, he valued the importance of objective research; however, he was not a radical behaviorist. He wanted to use behavioral methods to gain an understanding of the mental processes of humans and other animals. Tolman’s view of learning was more holistic than the staunch, stimulus-response (SR) behaviorists. In the 1920s, Jean Piaget began a research program in Geneva that focused on epistemology, the origins of knowledge. According to Schumaker, "this biologist, psychologist and philosopher altered and deepened our understanding of human life. Primarily known as a child psychologist, he used his research on young children as a springboard to a better understanding of the human personality" (Schumaker, 1996). Piaget proposed several stages of cognitive development in children: Sensorimotor (Infants gain an understanding of the world by coordinating experiences with physical, motoric actions.), Pre-Operational (Children learn to use and represent objects by images, words, and drawings), Concrete Operations (Intelligence is demonstrated through logical and systematic manipulation of symbols related to concrete objects), and Formal Operations (Intelligence is demonstrated through the logical use of symbols related to abstract concepts). Piaget proposed that children grow and develop through each of these stages until they can reason logically. Piaget, Tolman, and other Gestalt psychologists all share the notion that human knowledge is structured and organized. Their pivotal research into human cognition, attention, memory, language, concept formation, and problem solving—gave birth to...
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