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Last Updated on January 27, 2021

How Cognitive Learning Benefits Your Brain and Grows Knowledge

How Cognitive Learning Benefits Your Brain and Grows Knowledge

Cognitive learning is an integral part of building knowledge. This is the type of learning that allows us to make connections in the world, building on bits of knowledge that we already possess.

When seeking to understand what knowledge and learning really are, we must turn to the appropriate field of study. Here, we must turn to the branch of philosophy known as epistemology.

Epistemology is defined as the study of the nature and scope of knowledge and justified belief.[1] Epistemology deals with the production of knowledge.

But what exactly brings about the production of knowledge? And what can we do to trigger cognitive learning to improve our knowledge, leading to changes in our brain?

The simple answer is that we must learn to think, but we can’t stop there. We must learn to think about our thinking. That’s when cognitive learning comes into place.

Cognition (thinking) is the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses.

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Metacognition (thinking about thinking) is awareness and understanding of one’s own thought or mental processes.

Through an understanding of cognition and metacognition, we can begin to understand how knowledge is gained, stored, and improved.

Constructing Knowledge

In order to bring forth knowledge, we must learn to think. If we follow the advice of Derek and Laura Cabrera, we find that Information x Thinking = Knowledge.

How do we construct knowledge through the cognitive learning theory? Let’s examine an analogy for knowledge construction offered by Steve Stockdale in Here’s Something About General Semantics: A Primer for Making Sense of Your World.[2] Stockdale compares the “Building Block” analogy and the “Spiral” analogy in knowledge construction.

Building Blocks Analogy

Stockdale posits:

“Typically, we grow up with a view of learning using the building blocks analogy.”

Here, we do the following:

  • We see things segregated and compartmentalized.
  • We learn our alphabet as a block of stacked letters.
  • We learn our numbers as a block of numbers.
  • We learn to spell by visualizing blocks of letters.

Spiral Analogy

Stockdale argues:

“However, if we apply what we ‘know’ about what goes on around us, we can choose to use a more appropriate analogy: we tend to learn in more of a spiral pattern than simple building blocks.”

Stockdale describes the spiral nature of the learning process as follows:

  • Just as the spiral expands from the center, our learning is continual and never-ending.
  • As we learn about one thing, we enable ourselves to learn more about something else, from a different perspective.
  • What we learn relates to what we’ve already learned, and what we’ve yet to learn, just as the spiral connects, or relates, one region to another.
  • The spiral more appropriately implies the continually-changing and more complex nature of ourselves and the world around us.

The Pieces of Cognitive Learning

To effectively engage in cognitive learning experiences, several different cognitive processes need to be activated[3]. These include:

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Elements of Cognitive Learning graphic

    Comprehension

    Learning something just for the sake of learning it often leads to forgetting it quickly. If you’ve been through high school, you know this to be true. Instead, we need to comprehend what we learn by applying it to prior knowledge and understanding how that knowledge can benefit us in the long term.

    Memory

    When you use comprehension to understand the knowledge more deeply, it gets stored in your long-term memory, which allows you to recall that information later. This will integrate the new knowledge into your memory bank, which will allow you to then build off it in the future.

    Application

    Knowledge is stored best when we take what we have learned and apply it to real life situations. This allows us to engage in problem-solving and critical thinking using the new information we’ve learned.

    The Benefits of Cognitive Learning

    If we think of cognitive learning as a spiral that never ends, we can begin to understand the benefits[4] of cognitive learning strategies and the possibilities they offer.

    1. Increased Comprehension

    Cognitive learning promotes a hands-on approach, where individuals obtain knowledge by exploring the world around them. Because information is obtained in this way, it’s easier to apply it to future problems in your everyday life.

    2. Boosts Confidence

    Because you are better prepared to handle challenges and solve problems using cognitive learning, you will feel more confident in your abilities to overcome difficult tasks or moments in life. By solving problems using knowledge you have acquired, you will continue to learn and build off your previous knowledge.

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    3. Promotes Lifelong Learning

    Because of the spiral that we discussed above, cognitive learning never stops. Each bit of information is added to the previous bit, extending the spiral and increasing your overall store of information. When you begin to understand this limitless capacity for knowledge, it creates a sense of excitement around learning.

    The Bottom Line

    Attaining cognitive learning benefits is like storing information on a computer’s hard drive (your brain). The next step is improving the brain’s ability to provide quick access to the information stored on it. The hard drive stores the information, but to connect and speed up your processing power, you need to insert thinking. Thus, Information x Thinking = Knowledge.

    By understanding how you think and learn, you can improve your level of understanding on any concept.

    Just as you should not use a map from 1940 to navigate across a country, you should not use a dated mental map to improve your learning capacity. Or better yet, use your newfound knowledge to draw your own map and work from there.

    More Tips on Learning

    Featured photo credit: CDC via unsplash.com

    Reference

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    Dr. Jamie Schwandt

    Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt & Red Team Critical Thinker

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    Last Updated on April 26, 2021

    How to Know Which Types of Learning Styles Work for You?

    How to Know Which Types of Learning Styles Work for You?

    One of the biggest realizations I had as a kid is that teaching in school could be hit or miss for students. We all have our own different types of learning styles. Even when I was in study groups, we all had our own ways of uncovering solutions to questions.

    It wasn’t only until later in my life did I realize how important it is to know your own learning style. As soon as you know how you learn and the best way to learn, you can better retain information. This information could be crucial to your job, future promotions, and overall excelling in life.

    Best of all about this information is that, it’s not hard to figure out what works best for you. There are broad categories of learning styles, so it’s a matter of finding which one we gravitate towards most.

    What Are the Types of Learning Styles?

    Before we get into the types of learning styles, there’s one thing to know:

    We all learn through repetition.

    No matter how old you are, studies show that repetition allows us to retain and learn new information.[1] The big question now is what kind of repetition is needed. After all, we all learn and process information differently.

    This is where the types of learning styles come in. There are eight in total and there is one or two that we prefer over others. This is important because when reading these learning styles, you’ll feel like you’d prefer a mixture of these styles.

    That’s because we do prefer a combination. Though there will be one style that will be more predominate over the others. The key is finding which one it is.

    Visual Learning

    A visual learner (also known as the spatial learner) excels at deciphering anything visual – typically maps and graphs.

    If you are this type of learner, you likely excelled at geometry in math class but struggled with arithmetic and numbers. To this day, you might also struggle with reading and writing to a degree.

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    While visual learners are described as “late bloomers,” they are highly imaginative. They also process what they see much faster than what they hear.

    Verbal Learning

    Verbal learning, on the other hand, is learning through what’s spoken. Verbal learners excel in reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Because of that, they are likely the ones to find thrills in tongue twists, word games, and puns.

    They also thoroughly enjoy drama, writing, and speech classes. But give them maps, or challenge them to think outside of the box and they’ll struggle a bit.

    Logical Learning

    Not to be confused with visual learners, these learners are good at math and logic puzzles. Anything involving numbers or other abstract visual information is where they excel.

    They can also analyze cause and effect relationships quite well. Part of that is due to their thinking process being linear.

    Another big difference is their need to quantify everything. These people love grouping information, creating specific lists, agendas or itineraries.

    They also have a love for strategy games and making calculations in their heads.

    Auditory Learning

    Similar to verbal learning, this type of learning style focuses on sounds on a deeper level. These people think chronologically and excel more in the step-by-step methods. These are likely the people who will watch Youtube videos to learn or do something the most.

    These learners also have a great memory of conversations and love debates and discussions. Chances are likely these people excel at anything oral.

    Also as the name suggests, these individuals have great musical talents. They can decern notes, instruments, rhythms and tones. That being said, they will have a tough time interpreting body language, expressions and gestures. This also applies to charts, maps and graphs.

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    Social Learning

    Otherwise known as the interpersonal learner, their skills are really unique. They don’t particularly excel in classrooms but rather through talking to other people.

    These are the people who are excited for group conversations or group projects. Mainly because they are gifted with coming up with ideas and discussing them.

    They also have a good understanding of people’s emotions, facial expressions, and relationship dynamics. They are also likely the first people to point out the root causes of communication issues.

    Intrapersonal Learning

    The reverse of interpersonal learning, these people prefer learning alone. These are the people who love self-study and working alone. Typically, intrapersonal learners are deeply in tune with themselves meaning they know who they are, their feelings, and their own capabilities.

    This type of learning style means you love learning something on your own and typically every day. You also have innate skills in managing yourself and indulging in self-reflection.

    Physical Learning

    Also known as kinesthetic learning, these people love doing things with their hands. These are people who loved pottery or shop class. If you’re a physical learner, you’ll find you have a huge preference in using your body in order to learn.

    This means not just pottery or shop class you enjoyed. You may also have loved sports or any other art medium like painting or woodwork. Anything that involved you learning through physical manipulation you enjoyed and excelled at.

    Though this doesn’t just apply to direct physical activities. A physical learner may also find that they learn well when both reading on any subject and pacing or bouncing your leg at the same time.

    Naturalistic Learning

    The final learning style is naturalistic. These are people who process information through patterns in nature. They also apply scientific reasoning in order to understand living creatures.

    Not many people may be connected to this one out of the types of learning styles primarily because of those facts. Furthermore, those who excel in this learning end up being farmers, naturalists or scientists.

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    These are the people who love everything with nature. They appreciate plants, animals, and rural settings deeply compared to others.

    How to Know Which One(s) Suit You Better?

    So now that you have an idea of all the types of learning styles we have another question:

    Which one(s) are best for you?

    As a reminder, all of us learn through a combination of these learning styles. This makes pinpointing these styles difficult since our learning is likely a fusion of two or more of those styles.

    Fortunately, there are all kinds of methods to narrow down which learner you are. Let’s explore the most popular one: the VARK model.

    VARK Model

    Developed by Neil Fleming and David Baume, the VARK model is basically a conversation starter for teachers and learners.[2] It takes the eight types of learning styles above and condenses them into four categories:

    • Visual – those who learn from sight.
    • Auditory – those who learn from hearing.
    • Reading/writing – those who learn from reading and writing.
    • Kinesthetic – those who learn from doing and moving.

    As you can probably tell, VARK comes from the first letter of each style.

    But why use this particular model?

    This model was created not only for discussion purposes but for learners to know a few key things — namely understanding how they learn.

    Because our school system is focusing on a one-size-fits-all model, there are many of us who struggle learning in school. While we may no longer go to school, these behaviors persisted into our adult lives regardless. While we aren’t learning about algebra or science, we may be learning new things about our job or industry. Knowing how to best retain that information for the future helps in so many ways.

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    As such, it can be frustrating when we’re in a classroom setting and aren’t understanding anything. That or maybe we’re listening to a speech or reading a book and have no clue what’s going on.

    This is where VARK comes back in. To quote Fleming and Baume:

    “VARK above all is designed to be a starting place for a conversation among teachers and learners about learning. It can also be a catalyst for staff development- thinking about strategies for teaching different groups can lead to more, and appropriate, variety of learning and teaching.”

    Getting into the specifics, this is what’s known as metacognition.[3] It helps you to understand how you learn and who you are. Think of it as a higher order of thinking that takes control over how you learn. It’s impossible to not use this while learning.

    But because of that metacognition, we can pinpoint the different types of learning styles that we use. More importantly, what style we prefer over others.

    Ask These Questions

    One other method that I’ll mention is the research that’s done at the University of Waterloo.[4] If you don’t want to be using a lot of brainpower to pinpoint, consider this method.

    The idea with this method is to answer a few questions. Since our learning is a combination of styles, you’ll find yourself leaning to one side over the other with these questions:

    • The active/reflective scale: How do you prefer to process information?
    • The sensing/intuitive scale: How do you prefer to take in information?
    • The visual/verbal scale: How do you prefer information to be presented?
    • The sequential/global scale: How do you prefer to organize information?

    This can narrow down how you learn and provide some other practical tips for enhancing your learning experience.

    Final Thoughts

    Even though we have a preferred style of learning and knowing what that is is beneficial, learning isn’t about restriction. Our learning style shouldn’t be the sole learning style we rely on all the time.

    Our brain is made of various parts and whatever style we learn activates certain parts of the brain. Because of this fact, it would be wise to consider other methods of learning and to give them a try.

    Each method I mentioned has its merits and there’s not one dominate or superior method. What method we like is entirely up to our preferences. So be flexible with those preferences and uncover what style works best for you.

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    Featured photo credit: Anna Earl via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] BrainScape: Repetition is the mother of all learning
    [2] Neil Fleming and David Baume: VARKing Up the Right Tree
    [3] ERIC: Metacognition: An Overview
    [4] University of Waterloo: Understanding Your Learning Style

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