Cognitive learning theory

Table of Content

 Cognitive theory in learning

Cognitive theory of learning is psychological theory that tends to explain human behavior by understanding the thought processes. The assumption is that humans are logical beings that make the choices that make the most sense to them; information processing is a majorly used  description of the mental process, comparing the human mind to a computer. Purely cognitive theory does not accept behaviorism theory on the grounds that behaviorism theory reduces complex human behavior to simple cause and effect.

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However, the trend in past couple of years has been towards merging the two to a comprehensive theory. Edward Tolman proposed a theory that had cognitive constitute. Gestalt psychologist put more emphasizes on the importance of perception, problem solving and learning they believed individuals normally organize information in particular ways (Slattery, 2003). Their basic ideas were: perception is often different from reality, the whole is better than the sum of its parts. They believe that human experience cannot be explained not unless the whole experience is critically examined, an organism structures experience even though structure might not be necessarily inherent, and the organism is predisposed to organize experience in certain ways. For instance, the law of proximity is that people tend to perceive as a whole those things that are close together in space; secondly similar people tend to perceive as a unit those things that are similar to one another. The general assumptions of cognitive theory are:

1. Some learning processes are unique to human beings.

2. Cognitive processes are the focus of study. Mental events are common to human learning and they must therefore be included into theories of learning.

3. The objective, systematic observations of peoples’ behavior should be the main focus of scientific inquiry; however, inferences about unobservable mental process can often be arrived from such study.

4. Individuals are actively involved in the learning process. They are not passive receivers of environmental changes; they are active participants in that learning process. In fact, they control their own learning.

5. Learning entails the formation of mental associations that are not necessarily shown in observable behavior changes. This is very contrary to the behaviorist position, where no learning can happen without an external behavior change. This is contrasted with behavioral objectives.

6. Knowledge is organized. An individual’s knowledge is organized through various mental associations and structure.

7. Learning is a process of relating new information to previously learned information. Learning is most likely to occur when an individual can associate new learning with previous knowledge.

 On the other hand Problem-solving involves restructuring and insight (Skehan, 1998). Problem solving involves mentally combining and recombining the various elements of a problem until a structure that solves the problem is achieved. Problem solving enhances the creation and transmission of a complex culture which includes values symbols, norms and believes.

Writing a report

In report writing one ought to be acquainted with various skills in report collection, analysis and guidelines on how to write a good report. The learner therefore should know the importance of writing the report. It is also necessary to identify the recipient of the report, the content of the report and how the report should be organized.

One should be well versed with the outline of the report. First the report begins with the abstract. It is in the abstract where we find the reasons for writing the report, to whom the report is to be submitted and the contents of the report. The learner therefore should be taught the need of importance of writing a good report.

One should know the purpose of writing the report, the need of the report, beneficiaries of the report and how they benefit from the report. One should also have the knowledge of who is to receive the report and the target of the report. The learner should be taught the contents of the report which consists of the topics, chapters and the contents to be emphasized.  A good report is characterized its organization, clarity and style.  This therefore warrants the persons involved in report writing to posses’ good writing skills.

There are different types of reports which the leaner should be taught. Before writing a report one should know the kind of report he/she expected to submit. An over-riding principle that one should aim for in all report writings is to report on the results of the stated activities. This therefore requires the analysis of the writer which goes beyond the mere description of the stated activities.

The structure of the reports should contain the following ;  the title page; acknowledgements; abstract; contents page; introduction; literature review; methodology; findings; conclusions; recommendations; appendices and lastly bibliography (Wright, 2006). The contents of writing a report depends on the type of the report that is to be written since we have different type of reports which includes; case study report; site report; recommendation report; incident report; accident report; feasibility study report;  progress report and sales report. The format of the report therefore will depend on the type and purpose of the report, the target readers, and the conventions of the layout and presentation prescribed by the organization in which the report is to be submitted.

In report writing one should also have the knowledge of how to cite the report. The learner should therefore be taken through different styles of citing the sources. The report should be clear and the language should flow continuously with minimal grammatical mistakes and redundancy. Upon the completion of writing the report, one should also draft the transmittal letter which will be submitted along with the report. This letter gives a description of what is contained in the report. The letter therefore introduces the theme of the report to the recipients of the report.  The recommendations of the report should be made along with the conclusion.

Learning report writing skills by cognitive theory

Learning by cognitive theory goes beyond learning by observation (Flannery, 1993), imitating the behavior of others and following instructions.In cognitive learning the learner has o actively participate in the learning session listening skills is very important, the learner has to be attentive and should carefully watch as the teacher demonstrates using a sample on how the report looks like. This is very necessary because the layout and the structure of the report matters. In cognitive learning the learner must participate by watching, reading, experiencing and then process and remember the newly acquired information.

In learning the report writing by cognitive theory, the learner must first be made to understand what a report is. The teacher must have a sample of a report whereby it can be used for demonstrating to the student if need be. The learner should be taught different types of reports. The layout of various reports should be availed to the learner, whereby the learner should be able to distinguish. The learner should be taught on how to write the title page. The title page should contain the title of the report; the name of the company to whom the report has been prepared; the origin of the report or the name of the author and the date of completion of the report. The learner should be able to recite and write the title page in a piece of paper.

 It is important to also include the acknowledgements in writing a report. It is therefore necessary for the learner to know that the acknowledgements come after the introduction. The acknowledgements consist of gratitude to the persons who contributed to the development of the report. This includes all persons who assisted the writer come up with the report for instance, the family; teachers; librarian and the supervisors.


After the acknowledgements the abstract which gives the overview of the report should be written. This should be brief concise and should have a summary of all the contents of the report. The main parts of the report which consists of the introduction, body and the conclusion should be summarized accordingly in the abstract (Mettle, 1998). The report should also consist of the table of contents, the table of contents is a reflection of the report writing structure which consists of the sections and the sub-sections which are numbered and titled to make it easier for the reader make his way through the report. All the headings and the sub-headings should be listed and given the page numbers. The full title of the appendices should also be given. This makes the information retrieval and access easy.  It is important for one to first make a draft table first; this will help one to organize materials and thoughts while writing down the report. The learner therefore should be told the importance of organizing ones work in a rough draft first before coming up with a fair report.

The executive summary of the report should not be more than one page. The executive summary entails the following; the purpose of the report; the sources of information; the background; the findings; the conclusions and the recommendations. The learner therefore should be made to understand this by allowing them have practice sessions on their own. The teacher should le the learners work on their own first after which he/she will identify their mistakes then organize for the correction session whereby  they all participate mutually. The teacher then should give the learner  the second assignment to  test the students capability.

The introduction

The learner should be made to understand that a typical introduction of a report should be between one and half to two pages long (Levine, 2008). The introduction of the report should be precise and should discuss the context of the problem thoroughly.

The introduction therefore should contain;

·         the purpose of writing the report;

·         the background information which includes the brief history of the organization and the details of the problem

·         the researches that has been made on the stated problem

·         the quantity of data collected, the focus of data collection,  the scope of the study and the time taken in the production of the report.

·         The nature of data used which includes; the persons interviewed; the data collection tool used and the reference materials used.

·         The hypothesis used and the challenges encountered in coming up with the document

·         The plan which gives the overview of the stated problem. This includes the logical framework of the report.

In using the cognitive theory therefore the learner should be made to first understand the data collection, analysis and the interpretation skills. The learners should be well versed with various data collection tools. The learners therefore should be theoretically taught about data collection and then subjected to fieldwork whereby he/she will collect data using the recommended data collection. It is necessary for the learner to be subjected to field work whereby he will learn how to collect data using different data collection tools .The learner therefore should therefore play a bigger role in collecting and analyzing data under the guidance of the instructor.

The body

In report writing the body of the report is the main part of the report whereby the crucial information of the report is captured. This part contains all essential materials and facts which are crucial for the understanding of the stated problem. The learner should comprehend the three sections of the body of the report which includes; the hypothesis, models and theories (Levine, 2005). It is in the in the body of the report whereby the theoretical basis of the project is introduced. The methods and the materials used should also be highlighted. The description and illustration of the materials used in the process of the compilation of the report should be shown in detail. The whole procedure involved in the accomplishment of the report is therefore captured in the body of the report. The discoveries and the short comings encountered in the course of the research are captured in the body of the report. It is important to make short summaries of the subsections of the report to enable the reader comprehend the contents of the report easily. Any tabulation of the collected data including the findings should be included in the body of the report.  By cognitive learning therefore, the learner should be engaged in how to develop the body of the report. This involves showing the learner the techniques of acquiring the information and content which are captured in the body part of the report.


This is the last part of the report whereby the main points in reference to the stated problem are summarized. All the unresolved issues are mentioned in the conclusion. It is important for the learner to note that the conclusion of the report should be concise and brief. In this part of the report, new information should not be introduced. The learner should first make a draft of the conclusion before making a fair one. The importance of the research must be stressed in this part of the report.


In finalizing the report before submission, it is necessary for the learner r to learn how to make recommendations basing on the research. All the challenges encountered in carrying out the research and coming up with the report should be highlighted and the proper measures that can be taken to curb it in future should be proposed.


All the sources of the information used in coming up with the document should be listed. It is important for the learner to know how to make the references and that the listing of the references should be in alphabetical order (Gordon et al, 1998).


The learner should learn how to conclude the report writing by writing down the appendices. This should include; Data tables; experimental configurations; list of equipments used; background calculations; and other necessary information required for its completeness. Each of the appendices must have footer and a header and must be numbered.

Advantage of cognitive learning over behaviorism and social learning theory

Unlike behaviorism whereby the learner acts on stimulation, cognitive theory fosters the learners understanding by consideration. Teaching through cognitive theory plays the role of guiding students in developing their cognitive ability to connect, store and recollect ideas effectively. For instance the instructor may use visualization to widen the magnitude of the learner’s retention and recall rates. This method can also be used in work place to enhance learning and development. In many work places for instance the theory has been applied through the visual stimulus signs which remind the employees of their tasks.

Behaviorism enhances learning by subjecting the learners to respond to stimuli through experiences and the environment. For instance the instructors may use rewards to cultivate the learners understanding ability. However this method becomes ineffective especially when the learners fail to get the correct solutions. The instructors therefore will be forced to change their approach and mode of articulating learning to the learners (Loumidis et al, 1997).

The cognitive approach is more effective as compared to behaviorism in the sense that learning by cognitive theory fosters the learner’s ability through the actions and response using judgment and reflection and depends on the complicated mental models of concepts which builds and widens the learners thinking capacity. Learning by cognitive theory involves the learner’s efforts more than the instructor thus building their learning capacity, whereas in behaviorism the instructors are only dependent on the learner’s observable behaviors. Behaviorism in education therefore produces behavioral change in the positive direction while learning by cognitive theory develops the capacity and skills of the learner to comprehend things in a wider scope.


Cognitive learning theory should be embraced especially in academia.  It widens the learner’s scope of understanding thus enhancing the learner’s creativity and the ability to comprehend, connect, store and reflect ideas. Structuring in the cognitive perspective involves the supply of framework around the subject in which the learners test and develop their own understanding (Mettler, 1998).

In learning report writing by cognitive theory therefore, the learner should be taken through the whole process of report writing, the instructor should avail the sample of the report to the learner. This can be provided in the form of a chart whereby the learner can visualize, comprehend and reflect on the structure and procedure of report writing. The learner should therefore make several attempts to write the report in absence of the instructor. This will make the learner learn his/her own weaknesses hence improve on them whilst consulting the instructor.  The cognitive learning therefore builds the human capacity, in processing and organizing the information in their minds. Cognitive learning is less concerned with the visible behaviors and helps the learner to understand the concepts for instance memory and decision making.


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