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Last Updated on November 26, 2020

How the Cognitive Learning Approach Helps You Learn Faster

How the Cognitive Learning Approach Helps You Learn Faster

It is widely believed that as you become an adult, you get dull. Your personality stops to shine and the brain stops accepting new ideas the way it used to when you were a teen. Fortunately, that is not at all true. You can continue to polish your skillset as you grow, and the ability to learn never fades as long as you use the right techniques and cognitive learning.

Cognitive learning continues to help your brain grow so that you don’t ever have to stop gaining knowledge!

What Is Cognitive Learning?

Cognitive learning is a method in which your brain creates connections in order to understand the knowledge at hand.[1]

Basically, when your brain interacts with something that is new, it is almost impossible to comprehend it. For example, if you were to be introduced to a foreign language on its own, none of the information would ever make sense in your mind.

With the cognitive approach, your brain will connect the new information with what is already known. To do so, you may use visuals, audios, writing, or any other method that works the best for you.

In the example of a foreign language, with this approach, your brain will link the new words to prior knowledge. If you’re learning to write a specific word, you can create a link between its meanings with a visual that will help you remember how to write it correctly.

Similarly, the brain might not be able to remember the right pronunciation unless the word is related to a similar sound that the person is already familiar with.

Cognitive learning is the name of a constructive approach that leads to long-term learning. It is a very hands-on and active technique. The brain is forced to be a part of the entire learning process in a productive way. This neither tires the mind nor confuses it.

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This method strongly emphasizes prior knowledge. New knowledge is learned on the basis of old concepts. Not only does this allow the new information to find a permanent spot in the brain, but it also further solidifies the previous concepts.

The 3 Main Ingredients of Cognitive Learning

In the cognitive learning approach, you implement three major factors of the cognitive process:[2]

You use your cognitive skills and memory to recall familiar information, comprehend the new knowledge, and then apply the data retrieved from both these processes to create new connections.

In this case, the use of memory is limited to recollection, and there is no cramming involved. As for comprehension, your brain figures out the entire trail of knowledge for a solid learning base. Lastly, the application is useful for problem-solving, as well as for reflection. You can build onto the knowledge to learn more than what it stated.

All in all, the cognitive learning approach puts the brain to work in a healthy way. It makes sure that the learner actually retracts information from the presented knowledge instead of simply forcing it inside the brain.

This is why it is an effective approach, even for elders. They have years of experience, and their brain is full of relevant examples. This means that they are capable of learning anything in the world as long the approach is used correctly.

The Benefits of Cognitive Learning

Now we know exactly how cognitive learning works. Why should you bother to implement this technique in your life? There are tons of other options that allow you to learn new things effectively, too, so why bother with cognitive learning?

Knowledge Becomes Applicable

The learning process goes beyond the few hours of absorbing new ideas. You may consider an approach successful if it puts the required data in your mind. However, that is useless unless you can extract practical knowledge from this newly learned information.

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Let’s take the example of a training workshop where you’re learning tactics to deal with unsatisfied customers. The workshop is superb. You’re given a long list of tips to implement. However, that list is useless unless you can actually use it in real-life situations.

A customer is standing in front of your desk screaming at you. You are in full panic mode, and your brain is struggling to figure out a way to solve the problem. There is a clear image of the exact list that was taught to you, but you don’t know what information to extract from this list and how to implement it.

Had you used the cognitive learning approach, your brain wouldn’t have to cram the list of tactics. Instead, there would have been a clear understanding of how each tactic applies to the real world. You would have a solid connection with the given information.

A real-life scenario that demands the implementation of the knowledge would instantly trigger your brain, the links in your brain will light up the necessary portion of information, and you won’t get into trouble.

Cognitive learning is a method that affects more than just the process of the entry of information in your brain. It unconsciously affects other parts of the brain, too.

These parts work on the confidence of the individual. At the back of the mind, the learner is self-assured that whatever has been learned is done in a fool-proof way. This boost of confidence further aids the process of quicker learning and successful application of the idea.

You can learn how to leverage absorbent learning and take knowledge to the next level in this video:

A Leverage of Skills

Cognitive learning helps develop more skills than what the learner is aiming for. You could be learning a new language with this approach, but, simultaneously, your problem-solving abilities will also be polished. This means that right off the bat, your brain begins to learn how to use the learned knowledge to deal with real-life issues through new mental processes.

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On top of that, your brain will automatically develop the skill to understand situations at a deeper level in order to tackle them efficiently.

It is a technique that encourages more types of learning. Instead of wanting to give up, the cognitive approach will make you want to learn even more.

The cycle will continue, and you can keep polishing your skillset further throughout your life. Moreover, the knowledge learned with this method is long-term. Not only is prior knowledge strengthened, but the roots of the new information are always laid strong. Whatever new skill or information you learn, it will benefit you forever.

How to Use Cognitive Learning in Everyday Life

So far, you’ve seen how cognitive learning works and what benefits it has. But the real question is how to implement this approach in your everyday life.

There are three stages of learning. Cognitive learning is the first one. Once you put this approach in play, the other two steps follow naturally.

Cognitive learning can be done in any one of the following ways:

1. Implicit Learning

There are numerous skills you learn unconsciously. Nobody really taught you to speak, but you got the hang of how it’s done. Anything that you learn without an instructor is technically implicit learning. It is focused on unconscious psychological learning.

2. Explicit learning

This is the complete opposite of implicit learning. It is when you make an effort to seek an instructor who can teach you something. Looking for learning opportunities consciously is explicit learning.

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3. Collaborative Learning

When you’re learning alongside other novice level learners from the same instructor, it leads to discussions that may not have crossed your mind. Collaborative learning is dependent on interactions to a certain level.

4. Cooperative Learning

As collaborative learning includes a practical approach, along with a set of defined instructions, so does cooperative learning. It is quite closely related to the collaborative learning method.

5. Meaningful Learning

Cognitive learning focuses on the true understanding of what a piece of information implies. It is based on the total interpretation without rote learning anything at all.

For example, instead of learning the guitar’s chords, if you were to understand why each chord is different, it will be meaningful cognitive learning.

6. Observational Learning

As the name suggests, this is the learning done through observation. You learn what you see. The social environment and interactions play a big role here. Your socializing abilities are a kind of skill that you learn through this method.

Here’s how to do it: How to Use Observational Learning to Learn Effectively

The Bottom Line

There is no way to practically implement methods like implicit learning. Since it is an unconscious approach, it only works when the mind is not exactly focused on the task at hand. However, you can try out methods such as observational learning or meaningful learning.

Whatever you’re trying to learn, observe it being done practically. Watch sports competitions, for example, to learn how to play badminton or basketball. Or, understand the meaning that makes the knowledge useful instead of just cramming it word for word.

The cognitive learning approach is undoubtedly an excellent method. It is a life-long technique that will never stop working!

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Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] CumInCAD: Conversation, Cognition, and Learning
[2] The Tech Edvocate: What is Cognitive Learning

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Published on March 1, 2021

What Is Double Loop Learning And How Is It Valuable?

What Is Double Loop Learning And How Is It Valuable?

As someone on the Millennial/Generation X cusp, one of my first memories of a news story was the devastating crash of the Challenger space shuttle. I couldn’t process the severity or the specifics of the event at the time, but looking back, the Challenger explosion represents a heartbreaking example of what can happen when systems fail.

A part of the shuttle known as the O-ring was faulty. People from NASA knew about it well before the disaster, but NASA employees either ignored the problem—writing it off as not that bad—or were ignored when they tried to alert higher-ups about the issue.[1] This is a tragic example of single-loop learning where organizations focus on what they’re doing without reflecting on how or why they’re doing it, and it’s a recipe for disaster.

Single and Double-Loop Learning

Chris Argyris describes the difference between single and double-loop learning with a metaphor. A thermostat that turns on and off when it senses a pre-set temperature is akin to single-loop learning. The thermostat being able to reflect on whether or not it should be set to that temperature in the first place would be more like double-loop learning.[2]

Imagine the difference if NASA would have encouraged and addressed employees’ questions about how they were doing, what they were doing, and whether or not they should be doing it at all—you’ll start to see how an extra layer of questioning and critical thought can help organizations thrive.

Single Loop Learning

Single-loop learning is when planning leads to action, which leads to reflection on those actions and then back to planning, action, and more reflection. Now, you might think that because reflection is involved, single-loop learning would be an effective organizational model. However, because there isn’t room for critical questions that ask why actions are being taken, problems begin to bubble up.

The Double Bind

When organizations are operating in single-loop learning, they get stuck in what Argyris calls the Double Bind. Because there’s no value placed on questioning why the team is doing something, team members are either punished for speaking up or punished for not speaking up if something goes wrong down the line.

Primary Inhibiting Loop

When an organization is stuck in single-loop learning, the double bind leads to what Argyris calls the primary inhibiting loop. Real learning and growth are inhibited because team members withhold information from each other. This withholding leads to distrust and is difficult to remedy because even if employees attempt to become more forthcoming, lack of trust sours interactions.

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Secondary Inhibiting Loop

Because information is being withheld, team members play unconscious games (not the fun kind) to protect each other’s feelings. For example, I might try to distract my colleagues from worrying about a problem in our plan by shifting the focus to another project we’re working on that’s going better.

When you’re stuck in single-loop learning, the organization does whatever it can to continue taking action after action instead of stopping to truly reassess the bigger picture. This leads team members to hide information from each other, which causes distrust and behaviors that try to mask flaws in the organization’s structures and systems.

Double Loop Learning in Organizations

A common misconception is that the opposite of single-loop learning involves focusing primarily on people’s feelings and allowing employees to manage themselves. However, the solution for single-loop learning is not about doing the opposite. It’s about adding an extra later of critical analysis—double-loop learning.

With double-loop learning, questioning why the organization is doing what it’s doing is an organizational value. Instead of moving from planning to action to reflection and back to planning, in double-loop learning, people are encouraged to reflect on why they’re doing what they’re doing. This can help the organization take a step back and reconsider what’s best for all stakeholders instead of being stuck acting and reacting.

Ultimately, double-loop learning gives team members the time, space, and systems to ask tough questions and have them addressed in meaningful ways.

Let’s think back to the Challenger disaster. If NASA had created an organization that uses double-loop learning, employees wouldn’t have felt compelled to stay silent, and the employees who did speak up would have influenced the process enough to reconsider the timeline and develop a solution for the O-ring problem.

Single-loop learning is like a train with no breaks. Double-loop learning provides the extra layer of critical thought that allows the organization to stop and pivot when that’s what’s required.

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Think back to Argyris’ thermostat metaphor. Instead of just reacting—turning on and off when it detects a certain temperature—double-loop learning invites the thermostat to reconsider why it’s doing what it’s doing and how it might do it better.

How to Shift to Double Loop Learning

So, how can organizations shift from single to double-loop learning?

1. Stakeholders Must Level With Each Other

The first step to shifting from single to double-loop learning is for all stakeholders to sit down and talk openly about their expectations, values, and goals. These sessions should be led by organizational experts to ensure that old single-loop learning habits of distrust, withholding, and game-playing don’t keep people stuck in single-loop learning.

One of the keys to team members leveling with each other is listening. Focus on creating an environment where everyone can speak up without fear of judgment or punishment.

2. Create Benchmarks for Lasting Growth and Change

Old habits die hard, and single-loop learning is no different. If systems, check-ins, benchmarks, and periodic times to reflect and reset aren’t put into place, old habits of withholding and mistrust will likely creep back in. You can guard against this by making it a norm to measure, assess, and improve how new double-loop learning systems are being implemented over time.

3. Reward Risk-Taking and Critical Feedback

Double-loop learning requires squeaky wheels. You have to create a culture that rewards criticism, risk-taking, and reflecting on the system as a whole and the reasons the organization does what it does. Think big picture stuff.

This is about walking the walk. It’s one thing to tell employees to speak up and give their feedback, it’s another thing entirely to have systems in place that make employees feel safe enough to do so.

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Kimberly Scott’s Radical Candor comes to mind as one way to start shifting to a more open and critical environment. Radical Candor is a system that incentivizes employees and managers to start speaking up about things they used to sweep under the rug. It’s a roadmap and a way to assess and improve open and reflective feedback between all stakeholders.

Double Loop Learning for Individuals

Double-loop learning isn’t only for organizations. You can also apply Argyris’ ideas to your learning.[3]

Here’s how that might look:

1. Level With Yourself and Seek Accountability

Instead of being stuck in a single-loop learning cycle, break out by adding another layer of critical reflection. Why are you learning what you’re learning? Is it important? Is there another way? Think big picture again.

Become clear on what you want to learn and how you’re currently trying to learn it. Then, open yourself up to others to keep yourself accountable. Leave the door open to completely shift major details about your learning goals.

2. Create Benchmarks and Don’t Put Your Head in the Sand

Just as with organizations, individuals also need to create goals and continuously reflect on whether or not they’re moving toward double-loop learning. Schedule times to meet with the people keeping you accountable for your learning plan. Then, ask yourself whether or not your learning goals still make sense.

Ask big picture questions. Are you in the right environment to learn? Is your learning plan working? Do you need to change course altogether or shift your goals entirely? If it’s double-loop learning, you can’t be afraid to ask questions about why you’re doing what you’re doing and change course when the need arises.

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3. Value Risk-Taking and Accept Criticism

You’re also going to need to shift your mindset from simply learning and reflecting to accepting criticism, being critical of yourself as a learner, and taking risks and experiencing discomfort as you ask big questions and make drastic alterations to your learning plan over time.

Instead of concerning yourself with grades and GPAs, double-loop learning would mean you’re allowing yourself time to step back and analyze why you’re learning what you’re learning, if there’s a better way, and even whether or not you should be on that learning trajectory in the first place.

Final Thoughts

Think back to the thermostat example. Doing homework, handing it in, and then receiving a grade is single-loop learning. Thinking about why you’re doing any of that and making appropriate changes that align with your learning goals shifts you into double-loop learning, and that’s a great way to see the bigger picture and get the best results.

Learning and reflection are two of the most important things when it comes to organizational or personal development. This is why double-loop learning is key if you want yourself or your organization to succeed.

More Tips on Effective Learning

Featured photo credit: Cherrydeck via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] NPR: Challenger: What Went Wrong
[2] Harvard Business Review: Double Loop Learning in Organizations
[3] Journal of Advanced Learning: The role of reflection in single and double-loop learning

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