The cognitive element of learning

Psychologists have been researching memory for a long old while, and we have many insights into memory that we never really understood previously, continue to learn more about memory, and understand more about the purpose of memory.

We now know things like how to manipulate memory, how to reinforce it, how to access memories, and how to be better at remembering things. (Hint, it’s not about just reciting facts and figures, although that can work a little.)

Linked to this is an understanding of cognition and the purpose of cognitive behaviour. As a concept, cognition helps us to understand that there is a thinking capacity our brains undertake on a day to day basis. Days of low cognitive load, will be days when you’re not doing things that require much thinking capacity. Days of high cognitive load will be when you’re exercising your thinking capacity in many different ways.

That’s a really rudimentary explanation of cognition.

We also know that high cognitive activity requires more energy of the brain. Once it reaches its peak capacity, is when we start to flag, feel tired, and generally need a break. Sometimes that break can be going for a walk, sometimes it’s needing to eat, sometimes it’s going to sleep. It’s not just basic human functioning, it’s how we operate at our best.

Also linked to all this is understanding the purpose of reflective practice. As a people, we make better sense of information and learning when we are able to discuss the subject matter, when we’ve been thinking about it in our own time, when we’ve been reading related materials, and when we can explore our understanding of that material. That’s actually where learning occurs.

What all this can help us to understand, then, when designing learning solutions is that there’s an imperative to designing solutions which can activate our cognitive capacity to be receptive to learning new things, and there’s a certain point at which there’s just too much being given for people to do anything useful with.

It’s not that we can’t do more cognitive activity, it’s that the activity needs to fundamentally change to allow respite.

There are conclusions I can draw from the above, and I do. What I’m interested in hearing about are your conclusions from what I’ve written here.

(And if there are glaring mistakes I’ve made above, please do point them out.)


Published by

Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

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