Thursday, March 18, 2010

Cognitivist Learning Theories in Practice.

(Please forgive the double post.  I realized that the previous post was initially published prior to my final edit, but the changes did not show in aggregators, so I wanted to repost to ensure that everyone saw the posting.  Thank you and sorry for any trouble.  -Nancy)

Cognitive learning theory states that one is best able to understand information when they are able to determine meaningful connections within the content, often through hands-on interaction with the material (Laureate Education, Inc., 2007a). Among the various means of embedding technology in instruction that support cognitivism, I was most draw to the virtual field trips. Though my content area, mathematics, does not necessarily align with virtual field trips, I am tremendously impressed by the function that they can play in various subjects. Virtual field trips provide an opportunity for students to create episodic memories (Laureate Education, Inc., 2007a) that otherwise would be impossible due to time and cost restraints. As showcased in the virtual field trip to Ford’s Theater, students are able to “be” there, look around the physical space, and explore artifacts (Laureate Education, Inc., 2007b). The site provided ample opportunities for students to feel like they were interacting with the materials and environment, and thus make the facts, figures, and dates meaningful. Upon searching for other virtual field trips, I was able to find various topics that support the curriculum in virtually every subject and engage students in varying levels of interaction and activity. These field trips can be into the inner workings of a plant, to the far reaches of the universe, cultures the world over, or the world of a classical author or philosopher.

When I have talked to friends and students that have traveled to the Louvre in Paris and seen the Mona Lisa, they all respond with one comment, “I never knew it was so small.” Visitors to Ireland remark that one has to lie down and nearly flip over to kiss the Blarney stone. Virtual field trips provide students with a taste of the experiences that they would have if they were actually there. As many students will never have the funds or opportunities to visit these cultural landmarks, we are able to provide them with the experience without the expense, the learning without the leaving. Relating to the goals of cognitive learning theory, we are able to provide our students with an experience that solidifies the knowledge and a memory that is part of a shared experience, supplemented with content. Dual coding is a cognitive theory that suggests that pairing curricular content with a sensory stimulus, i.e. sight, sound, smells, encourages recall and the formation of connections for memory (Laureate Education, Inc., 2007a). The visual and auditory components of this theory are supported by the use of Virtual Field Trips and serve to help students learn the material in a meaningful manner.

Pitler, et. al. also reviewed some of the other ways that technology can be used in the classroom to support the cognitivist approach to forming connections with the material taught in class. Chapter 4, Cues, Questions, and Advance Organizers, provides an overview of methods that one can aide in student learning in a way that guides students to their own recollections, rather than the teacher providing answers. Cuing is accomplished when the teacher helps the student access their previously stored memories and questioning requires students to use what they know to meet the expectations of varying levels of recall and interpretation (Pitler, et. al., 2007). Advance Organizers are means to encourage students to begin thinking about their upcoming tasks and activities (Pitler, et. al., 2007). Mapping tools, charts, graphs and media exposures that are available online act as advance organizers and provide opportunities to create connections and visually represent ideas. Providing virtually tangible “maps” of the connections between ideas via concept mapping and outlining programs and establishing foundational exposure to a concept or task via multimedia resources clearly exemplify the meaningful connections that cognitivism expounds.

Chapter 6, Summarizing and Note taking, reviews many of the different ways that students can personally interact with the content to form their own connections with the content. In alignment with Dr. Orey’s explanation of the limits of short-term memory’s capabilities of roughly seven bits of information at one time (Laureate Education, Inc., 2007a), the notions of note taking and summarizing require students to determine what is worth holding on to and what can be omitted (Pitler, et. al., 2007). Word processing programs allow for high adaptability and speed in taking notes. Additionally, they provide formatting capabilities that begin to show connections and bring form to notes. When note taking is approached from a concept mapping perspective, visual components meet the need to dual coding in cognitivist learning theories.



Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2007a). Cognitive Learning Theories. [Educational video]. 
Baltimore: Author.

Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2007b). Spotlight on Technology – Virtual Field Trips. [Educational video]. 
Baltimore: Author.

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


  1. Nancy, I think almost everyone agree that if you cannot go on a field trip, a virtual field trip is the next best option especially with our students. The ability to see Ford's Theater or to visit landmarks from all around the world is a powerful learning tool and allows students to make visual connections to prior knowledge. The ability to use concept map takes that knowledge even further.

  2. Craig,

    I agree. I would love to find a virtual field trip that allows students to "take a picture" to be used in a concept map. Though I couldn't tell you the name, I recall an old video game in which you could "photograph" a scene and create a photo album of your achievements. How great would it be if we could provide an opportunity for our students to do the same?


  3. Nancy,

    You make some good connections between the learning resources and cognitive learning theory. Virtual field trips open a door that most students would not even be able to get close to if it weren't for technology. In addition, you mention chapter 4's methods for allowing students to form their own answers instead of the teacher feeding it to them. That is something we all should strive for in our classrooms. Students seem to learn more when they find the answers themselves. Our job is to guide them in the process of finding their way.

  4. Nancy,

    I think we all agree that there is nothing better than actually being somewhere to learn. When I was in school I remember covering topics like the golden gate bridge and various other things about San Francisco, but until I physically went on vacation there to visit I coulnd't remember anything I had read from a test book. After that trip (which was a great vacation everyone should go visit SF at least once) I can remember everything I saw and learned while there which was 10 years ago. Virtual Field Trips are the second best thing (other than actually being there)that our students can experience.

  5. Nancy,

    I too had a great deal of difficulty finding an appropriate field trip for the way I teach. All field trips for Art revolve around museums.

    Perhaps, you could use a vacation as a point of reference for budgeting or for square miles or some other means of engaging your students. How about a trip to the bank or Wall Street?

    Just some thoughts!