Frau's Blog

Cognitive Learning Theory

Posted on: May 22, 2009

The cognitive learning theory focuses on how students learn. I think of learning as building blocks, where students learn new information based upon prior knowledge. In the chapter “Cues, Questions and Advance Organizers” from the text Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works, there is a strong focus on KWL charts. A KWL chart is a cognitive learning technique that really fits with the building block illustration. The KWL chart has three columns, first what is known already, second what students want to learn about the new topic and third what the students have learned after researching the new information. This activity focuses on prior information and building onto it and learning new things. This process of learning is what cognitive theory is all about.

In the chapter “Summarizing and Note Taking”, it is a little more complicated. The text mentions that to summarize students need to delete some information, substitute some information and keep some information (p. 119). That is a lot for the brain to do, let alone to do it successfully! This is definitely a cognitive issue because the students need to decide what information is important, what information to keep and what information to filter out. The authors suggest giving students a guideline to filtering out unneeded and redundant information and they also suggest using a variety of notetaking methods.  One method is teacher-prepared notes. With teacher-prepared notes, the teacher gives the students the information that is needed. The students can identify and develop new information based on what the teacher has already given them. Teachers can present the information in a few different ways as well so that all types of learners receive the information. Different methods will give different students the opportunity to process new information in a way that effective to them – again, exactly what the cognitive theory deals with.


Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.


4 Responses to "Cognitive Learning Theory"

I love using KWL charts with my students. It really seems to help them flesh out their background knowledge and prepare for new concepts. Sadly though I have not had much time to work with my students on summarizing. I try to do a little whenever there is an interesting news article on technology. Ill have the students read it, attempt to summarize and respond to the article. This gives them a chance to practice their skills, and I provide prompts as needed.

I noticed on our discussion boards that a few people were referrign to KWL charts. Do you, like some of our colleagues and myself, sometimes struggle with going BACK to the “L” part of the chart? I often treat a KWL chart as a “before we begin our next unit…” tool, and I need to be better at completing it after the students have learned. Otherwise, I do not feel it is supporting the cognitive learning theory. The “L” column of the chart is what really helps the learning stick! Utilizing the entire chart is definitely one of the things I hope to improve on!


KWL chart is a clear application of the cognitive learning theory. I learned about it two years ago and since that time whenever I use KWL chart in class, it works great with the students to make the connections with their prior knowledge.

I do not use summarizing in my classroom at all because I am a Math teacher, and I do not see a chance where I can apply this tool in practice. Yesterday, I was trying the Auto summarize tool in the Microsoft Word. I applied it to an article, but I found that the result summary needs revision and corrections. Thus, students need to learn how to add, delete, or change sentences to summarize before using this tool in their assignments.



I have also tried to do more summarizing activities with my students. I assigned a current event for Earth Day and wanted them to turn in an article and a summary. Unfortunately, so few of my students actually completed the assignment so I am not sure how many students actually practiced summarizing. It is frustrating when students do not cooporate with your plans, especially when you are trying to help them!

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