Cognitivism or information processing comes from the root word cognitive. According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, cognitive is an adjective defined as the following:

1. of, relating to, being, or involving conscious intellectual activity (as thinking, reasoning or remembering) <cognitive impairement>
2. based on or capable of being reduced to empirical factual knowledge. (1)

Cognitivism involves the "intellectual activity" of perceiving an external stimulus, encoding or storing the information into memory, and recalling that information at a later time.

Origins and History
Cognitive learning theory was developed as a response to behaviorist theories. Behavorists believe that learning occurs due to isolated events instead of patterns. However, cognitive learning theory incorporates Gestalt psychology(humans are predisposed to organize our experiences) and Piaget's developmental theory(humans have an intrinsic motivation to make sense of the world). Cognitivism is based on the belief that learning occurs by relating new information with one's current knowledge base, the degree to which depends on the individual learner. According to this theory, learning is caused by internal brain processes instead of external circumstances (such as behaviorist theory). Learning occurs in a three step process: attention, encoding and retrieval. This theory suggests that people process selected information (attention), translate the information (encoding), and recall the information when appropriate (retrieval). Therefore, the learning process is complete when one retrieves newly stored knowledge. (2)(3)

Other theorists that contributed to the cognitive learning theory were Richard Atkinson and Richard Shiffrin who proposed the Atkinson-Shiffrin memory model(memory occurs in sequence of three stages: sensory, short-termed, and long-termed memory) in 1968 and Alan Baddeley and Graham Hitch's Model of working memory(used as an alternative to Atkinson-Shiffrin short term model; short term memory occurs to what they refer to as the central executive which has three parts: phonological loop, visualspatial sketchpad, and episodic buffer) proposed in 1974. These theorists also believe that learning occurs as a process; however, these theorists attempt to explain precisely how learning is stored, especially when more than one task is being performed.

What Teachers Do
Teachers should present new information to students in an organized manner. In order for this new information to be stored (encoded) and remembered at a later time (retrieved), teachers should relate the new information to other information previously learned.

For example, if the ultimate goal is for students to identify the name and location of each of the U.S. state capitals, a structured plan should be set up that allows the student to progress from identifying the fifty states, then being able to locate each of the fifty states on a map, then memorizing each of the state capitals, and finally, identifying the state capitals on a map. It is by applying this sequence of attention, encoding and retrieval at each step that cognitivism is effective for student learning.

In addition, teachers should instruct students on effective study skills and memorization techniques. See the tips listed below under "Lesson Ideas" for effective ways to improve student's study skills.

What Students Do
​Students are learning cognitively when they study for an exam. They perceive the information (attention), translate the information for understanding and memory storage (encoding) and recall the information (retrieval) at exam time.

Lesson Ideas
Elementary School:
A great way to improve a child's memory is by playing the old fashion card game often referred to as the memory game or concentration. The game requires 1 to 6 players. In order to win the game a player has to collect the most pairs of cards at the end of the game. In order to play the game, shuffle the cards and lay them on the table, face down, in a pattern (e.g. 4 cards x 13 cards). The youngest player goes first. Play then proceeds clockwise. On each turn, a player turns over two cards (one at a time) and keeps them if they match. Using the learning the fifty states and capital example above, students can match the name of the state/picture of the state with its state capital. If they successfully match a pair, that player also gets to take another turn. When a player turns over two cards that do not match, those cards are turned face down again and it becomes the next player’s turn. (4)
Here is a link to an example of the memory match game

Junior high/Middle School:
During this time period, students begin to use their brains more analytically and knowledge is now being applied in and outside the classroom. Students at this stage are beginning to "study." In the classroom, students need to listen to the teacher's instructions and take good notes. Some good note taking strategies are: using abbreviations or symbols for commonly used words (i.e. w/ instead of with, sp instead of spelling, etc.), singling out the most important information from lectures and write it down (sum what is heard and focus on key main ideas), and drawing pictures rather than expressing visual concepts. At home, students have to create an appropiate study enviornment, such as a quiet place with an open organized study area with a large desk to work on and good lighting. Finally, students are encouraged to keep a positive attitude and try not to become frustrated even when there is a lot of information to memorize and learn. Using these techniques should help students improve their memory and allow them to retain more information. (5)

High School:
Students are encouraged to use some of the same techniques as the middle schoolers, however, other techniques can now be applied if they have not already. Some of the common techniques are: lists of words or phrases, flash cards, and acronyms/acrostics. Lists are useful when memorizing dates, formulas, etc. For example, if a student was learning equations for a math test and had to match the name of the equation to the formula, the student can create two columns side by side, one for formulas and the other for the names. The student can read the list over several times and then covering up pieces of information, which teaches the brain to associate the two names more quickly. Instead of using lists, the student can write the formula on one side of the notecard and the name of the equation on the other. The student can look at the formula or the name of the equation and before the turning the card over say outloud what corresponds to the other side of the card. Acronyms are a great way to learn information as well. For example, in math FOIL is often used to remember what operations to use first when solving an algebraic equation. For example, in the equation (4x+10)(3x-16) we are reminded from the acronym FOIL (which stands for first, outer, inner, last) that in order to solve this equation we must first multiple the first number in each grouping of parenthesis (4x*3x), then the outer (+10*-16), then the inner (10*3x), and finally the last (4x*-16). Acrostics is similiar in its use. However, instead of creating a word we would create a sentence such as "Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally" where the first letters of each word correspond to "parenthesis, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, subtraction," which is the order of operations in solving mathematic equations. (5)

In college, it is encouraged to use some of the same techniques learned above. However, by this time even more techniques to improve one's memory have been aquired. When rereading over notes, color-coding with highlighters can help trigger memory. For example, in order to remember dates and people, a pink highlighter can be used to highlight dates and an orange highlighter can be used to highlight people. The brain can connect the color with the type of information (i.e. date or person)., which makes it easier for retrieval later. Because in college our lives are often hectic with other things to do, colored labels or round stickers can be used on a wall calender to mark special dates, such as due dates of assignments. (6)

More Cognitivist Theories in Action:

In his now famous article, "The Magical Number Seven Plus or Minus Two,” George A. Miller addressed the problem of increased input (information) causing increased error. According to Miller’s argument, memory capacity can handle only so many bits of information (numbers, words, classroom instructions). The key to increasing one's ability to remember and act on larger bits of information is to break them into "chunks."(7)

Wrote Miller: "[T]he span of immediate memory impose[s] severe limitations on the amount of information that we are able to receive, process, and remember. By organizing the stimulus input simultaneously into several dimensions and successively into a sequence of chunks, we manage to break (or at least stretch) this informational bottleneck."(8)

Because younger students’ brains are still developing, cognitive issues like Miller’s are important. For example, when explaining assignments teachers would do well to break the instructions into stages and allow students to work through them in turn, decreasing the likelihood of students’ jumbling the information. As students get older, their cognitive capacities, as well as strategies for complementing them, improve, and can handle more complex assignment.

2). In the past, researchers such as Allan Paivio have “shown that verbal information is, in fact, better remembered when accompanied by a visual image" (9). Richard Mayer has since applied his own findings to Paivio’s work, and posited the “multimedia learning theory [MLT]” (10). According to this theory, when narration/text and animation are presented together, there is less wasted cognitive capacity (i.e. when learners only read something and then have to construct it mentally), and “learners are better able to build mental connections” of the information.

A classroom example of MLT is as follows. Imagine a lecture-based lesson, where a teacher presents the information verbally. If the teacher is describing the Pythagorean theorem, for example, the students must then utilize their limited cognitive capacity (see Miller’s theory in previous section) to visualize a triangle in relation to the equation, and integrate it into working memory. On the other hand, according to MLT, a lesson that utilizes multimedia in presenting information frees up cognitive space by coupling a narrated/text description with an animation of the Theorem and a triangle in action, and allowing a student to better remember the information.

Here is a link to an example of an instructional multimedia animation about fuel cells. (Consider whether or not only reading the accompanying text would allow for better memorization of the material.)

(1) http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cognitive
(2) http://teachnet.edb.utexas.edu/~lynda_abbott/Cognitive.html
(3) http://my-ecoach.com/project.php?id=12152&project_step=30139
(4) Arneson, E. (1999). http://boardgames.about.com/od/cardgames/a/concentration.htm
(6) http://homeworktips.about.com/od/homeworkhelp/a/organizecolor.htm
Miller, G. A. (1956). The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information. Psychological Review, 63, 81-97.
(8) Ibid. p.95
(9) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multimedia_learning
(10) Mayer, R., & Moreno, R. (2002). Animation as an Aid to Multimedia Learning. Educational Psychology Review, 14(1), 87-99.