Cognitive Learning Theory
Mr. Domingo Mamaril
June 21, 2010
Cognitive Learning Theory
Cognitive theorists try to explain human behavior by understanding how we process and store new information. The cognitive theories of learning originated from the gestalt theory. The three major contributors to the cognitive learning theories were Jean Piaget, Edward Tolman, and Albert Bandura. In this paper, I will evaluate the work of all three theorists, demonstrate an understanding of the theory, and explain how the theory can be applied to our current educational environment.
The gestalt theory was founded by three men, Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Kohlu, and Kurt Koffka. Wertheimer conducted several experiments, using a toy stroboscope, and came up with phi phenomenon. He believed that when our eyes see stimulants in certain ways we get the illusion of movement. They believed that we organized our visual images into groups when certain principles are applied.
Gestalists believe that learning comes suddenly. Therefore we think about what it is going to take to solve a problem and put it all together until the problem is solved (Olsen & Hergenhahn, 2009). They believed that the learner gains insight on how to solve the problem. A good example for this would be learning to ride a bicycle. It may take several tries and a lot of time but once the learner has it, they have it.
There are five laws that Gestalt psychologists developed on perception: (Soegaard, 2010) 1. Law of Proximity – objects that are close together form groups. 2. Law of Similarity – objects will be grouped together if they are similar. 3. Law of Pragnanz (figure-ground) – some objects will take a prominent role while others will fade into the background. 4. Law of Symmetry – we see items as symmetrical shapes. 5. Law of Closer – while seeing objects we will complete the object, even if it is not complete. Many advertising companies use these laws when trying to get your attention drawn to a product.
Jean Piaget was a developmental psychologist best known for his organization of cognitive development into stages. To Piaget, intelligence cannot be determined by how many questions a person gets right or wrong on a test. He saw intelligence as being something that allows an organism to deal effectively with its environment (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2009). Since Piaget’s theory tries to find the development of intellectual capabilities, it is known as genetic epistemology.
Piaget referred to the potential of acting in a certain way a schema. This word proves to be very important in Piaget’s theory. He believed that the number of schemata available to us at any given time constitutes our cognitive structure (Olsen & Hergenhahn, 2009). To Piaget, we adapt to our environment through assimilation and accommodation. Assimilation is responding to our environment through our cognitive structure. Accommodation is when the cognitive structure is changed causing intellectual growth. With this theory, it is thought that as we mature viewer accommodation is made because we have learned them earlier in life (Plucker, 2003). Equilibrium is what Piaget named the continuous drive for balance between our lives and our environment. With this theory, learning takes place when information has to be assimilated into the cognitive structure and must change that structure.
Piaget believed that even though children of the same age may have some of the same structure they may require different types of teaching. This would mean that to have the best learning experience there would need to be something challenging presented so that assimilation and accommodation could provide growth.
There has been some evidence that schema is too rigid (Atherton, 2009). These critics believe that some children develop their operations earlier and some never develop operations. They see Piaget as being “cognitive constructivism”.
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Olson, M.H., & Hergenhahn, B.R., 2009, An Introduction to Theories of Learning (8th ed)
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Plucker, J.A. (ed), 2003 Human intelligence: Historical influences, current controversies,
Soegaard, Mads (2010). Gestalt principles of form perception. Retrieved June 13, 2010 from
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