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Last Updated on January 27, 2021

How Cognitive Learning Benefits Your Brain and Grows Knowledge

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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.

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    Featured photo credit: CDC via unsplash.com

    Reference

    More by this author

    Dr. Jamie Schwandt

    Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt & Red Team Critical Thinker

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    Last Updated on August 11, 2021

    23 Killer Sites for Free Online Education Anyone Can Use

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    23 Killer Sites for Free Online Education Anyone Can Use

    Whether you’re five or ninety five, the internet has a lot to offer. Particularly when the topic is education, the resources on the internet are endless. Best of all, many high quality sites are completely free. From history to coding, excellent, free online education awaits on the following 23 sites.

    1. Coursera

    Coursera is a website that partners with universities and organizations around the world. This brings a wide variety of topics and perspectives to one searchable database.

    Coursera is a powerful tool for free online education and includes courses from many top universities, museums and trusts. This gives the site an extremely wide range of in-depth courses.

    Coursera is extremely useful if you’re looking to study many different topics, or want courses from different schools and groups. However, the free courses are now quite limited, so you’ll have to

    2. Khan Academy

    Partnering with many post secondary schools, Khan Academy offers a useable, well-organized interface. Also curating many courses from around the web, Khan Academy offers impressive depth on many different subjects.

    Among the more well-known educational sites, Khan Academy is also incredibly user-friendly, which may make it easier to keep learning goals. If you’re looking for a free online education, you can’t go wrong with Khan Academy.

    3. Open Culture Online Courses

    If you are struggling to find exactly the material you are looking for, try Open Culture’s listing of free online education courses. The page highlights 1000 lectures, videos, and podcasts from universities around the world.

    The site features a lot of material found only on universities’ private sites, all in easy-to-browse categories. This means you can find hundreds of university courses without having to visit and search each university’s site.

    Open Culture’s list features courses from England, Australia, Wales, and many state universities around the United States. It’s a very helpful resource for finding many courses in one area of study.

    4. Udemy 

    Udemy’s free courses are similar in concept to Coursera’s but additionally allows users to build custom courses from lessons.

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    Working with many top professors and schools, the site mixes the customizable platform of other sites with a heavy emphasis on top-quality content. This is another site, however, that mixes free and paid content.

    5. Lifehack Fast Track Class

    Lifehack believes in skills that multiply your time, energy, and overall quality of life.

    In this rapidly changing world, traditional education skills just don’t cut it anymore. You can’t afford to take years learning a skill you’ll never really practice. Besides offering some paid courses that will help you become a better self, it offers a list of free courses which aim to train some of the Core Life Multipliers including:

    These are cross-functional skills that work across many aspects of life.

    6. Academic Earth

    Another site with courses from many different schools is Academic Earth. Much like the three sites above, Academic Earth brings together top notch courses from many different sources and focuses on offering a wide variety of subjects.

    Academic Earth lists courses by subject and school, so it might be easier to find what you’re looking for.

    7. edX

    Another great option for free online education is edX. Also bringing together courses from many different schools, the site has impressive, quality information for everyone. edX covers a great range of topics from universities such as Harvard, MIT, and Berkeley, meaning a high-quality, free online education is entirely possible here.

    8. Alison

    Unlike the previous sites on this list, Alison is a free education site offering certification in some areas. Alison offers courses mainly in business, technology, and health, but also includes language learning courses.

    It’s a great option if users need a professional certificate for their learning, as Alison also offers school curriculum courses.

    9. iTunesU Free Courses

    A very convenient place for free online education is iTunesU, because it integrates seamlessly with your iPod or any app-ready Apple mobile device. On an iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch, users download the iTunesU app.

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    Desktop users can access iTunesU on the upper right hand corner of the iTunes Store. iTunesU is also convenient because the store is categorized much like iTunes.

    Users can search learning materials in many different ways, including by genre and topic. However, courses are often a mix of free podcasts or videos and paid content.

    iTunesU does include courses on a variety of topics, but it does not integrate with Android, Google or Windows mobile devices.

    10. Stanford Online

    Your hub for all the online offerings from Stanford University, Stanford Online offers self-paced and session-based courses. While Coursera features some courses from Stanford, many classes are only available via other hosts. Some courses require iTunes, but most are completed in your web browser.

    Stanford Online is a great site for high-quality courses, though the topics are somewhat limited compared to sites partnered with more than one school. If you’re looking for free courses, make sure to mark the “free” option on the left-hand side.

    11. Open Yale Courses

    Open Yale Courses echoes Stanford Online, in that it offers only courses from Yale. While the site is similarly limited to topics taught at the school, Open Yale Courses offers a lot of videos of actual campus lectures. The availability of videos makes the site a great option if you’re looking for quality courses but learn better by watching than by reading.

    12. UC Berkeley Class Central

    Much like the other schools on this list, UC Berkeley has a variety of free online education options. The school has slightly fewer courses than the schools above, but it includes some supplementary lectures, webcasts, and RSS Feeds, making it easy to keep up with the topics you choose.

    13. MIT OpenCourseWare

    Similarly, MIT offers a variety of free courses. The school has a comparable number of courses to the schools above, and it includes very in-depth course materials on the subjects available. MIT also offers free RSS feeds, a convenient way to continue learning.

    14. Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative

    Carnegie Mellon’s free online education site is comparable with the other school’s on this list. However, Open Learning Initiative also covers a smaller range of topics, but for the topics that are covered, impressive, in-depth material is available.

    15. Codecademy

    Codecademy is a website dedicated specifically to teaching coding. Where other coding sites follow an example/practice session workflow, Codecademy includes a live practice window. This means you can practice coding while still viewing the lesson material.

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    The courses at Codecademy are well-written and easy to follow, and the website is organized very nicely. Codecademy features a centralized dashboard where you can monitor your progress, and it organizes lessons into complete modules. This lets you learn an entire language without needing to pick the next course manually.

    16. Code

    Code is another website focused on coding and app writing. A site with high-quality courses, Code also features learning options for kids.

    In addition to kid-friendly courses, Code offers free online education classes on a wide variety of technology topics. These classes include app writing, robotics, and Javascript.

    Most of the courses are also geared in a such a way that they can be useful in a classroom setting. This makes Code a great resource for harder to find coding topics, as well as various learning settings.

    17. University of Oxford Podcasts

    The University of Oxford features many different podcasts. Most are public lecture series or lectures from visiting professors, with several different recordings available.

    The advantage to this particular site is that podcasts are organized into series, making it easy to subscribe to multiple lectures on one topic. This is another great site for thoroughly in-depth lectures.

    18. BBC Podcasts

    For the more casual learner, the BBC offers a wide variety of podcasts on many different topics. Most podcasts are updated weekly and focus on everything from finance, to sports, to current events.

    Through the World Service line of podcasts, there are also many in different languages. The focus of these podcasts are less in-depth and theory based, which may be more accessible to the average person.

    19. TED-Ed

    Another great destination for more general learning and free online education is TED-Ed. From the same people that brought you the all-encompassing, motivational web series comes a site chocked full of educational videos. Most include impressive animation, and all are ten minutes long or less.

    Not only is TED-Ed an excellent site for the curious, but it also includes supplemental materials and quizzes on the videos. This makes the site extremely useful in formal education settings, as well as in entertaining ways to brush up on new discoveries and topics.

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    20. LessonPaths

    LessonPaths is another great tool for those looking for a more usable and convenient way to access learning material. On this site, users create link playlists of their favorite learning materials from other sites. Users then rank these collections, making it easy to find many different high-quality, accessible sources on a given topic.

    21. Memrise

    Another impressive free online education site offering ease of use and convenience is Memrise. Available both on desktop and as an app, Memrise is a particularly powerful tool if you are studying a language. The site encompasses many other topics as well, though some of the course material is user generated content.

    Part of what makes Memrise special is their integration of games into the learning materials, mixing learning with entertainment.

    22. National Geographic Kids

    The kids site for National Geographic is another site that makes free online education applicable for younger users. For those looking for kid-friendly education, a large variety of games, puzzles, videos and photos keep kids interested on this site.

    National Geographic Kids doesn’t organize learning into courses, making materials available by topic and medium instead. This makes National Geographic Kids a good option for those looking for a more casual learning environment.

    23. Fun Brain

    Fun Brain is another great option for kids looking for free online education, as it focuses on games and fun puzzles. Particularly focused on math and reading, Fun Brain’s game-based approach can be valuable if the child in question struggles to pay attention.

    Fun Brain offers rewards and challenges as well, and it is another site aimed at a casual learning experience for kids K-8.

    The Bottom Line

    With so many amazing free online education resources, everyone has the ability to boost their skills and knowledge. Whether you’re interested in picking up some interesting trivia for your next party, improve your resume with some coding or business skills, or become a more well-rounded person, these resources are perfect for you.

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    Featured photo credit: Dai KE via unsplash.com

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