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How Cognitive Learning Benefits Your Brain and Grows Knowledge

Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt & Red Team Critical Thinker
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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.

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. 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[2]. These include:

Elements of Cognitive Learning graphic


    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.


    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.


    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[3] 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.

    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


    [1]The Basics of Philosophy: Epistemology
    [2]Grade Power Learning: The Benefits of Cognitive Learning
    [3]Indeed: Cognitive Learning: Definition, Benefits and Examples
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