Educational Technology Innovation and Impact/Why use Technology in Education/Cognitivism

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Cognitivism is a learning theory which deals with, in particular, how people perceive and remember information, solve problems and ultimately learn. The term 'cognition' refers to all processes by which sensory input is transformed, reduced, elaborated, stored, recovered and used. A key focus of cognitive psychology is looking at how to communicate or transfer knowledge to learners in the most effective and efficient way by looking at mental processes and how the structure of the brain is changed during the course of learning.

The thinking behind cognitivism has come mainly as a result of the work of many learning theorists and psychologist. One Swiss psychologist, Jean Piaget, [link?] was very influential in the development of the cognitivist theory but it was not until the 1950s that cognitive psychology became a dominant theory of learning.

A key concept of cognitivism is that learning constructs mental maps in the brain and learning process is the means by which these mental structures are understood. Piaget’s theory was that developing children build these structures or mental maps for understanding and responding to physical experiences within their environments. Piaget believed that cognitive structures were interrelated and new knowledge would have to fit into the existing system for it to be properly understood. These mental maps are changed to make way for new information and it is the integration of new information that forces our cognitive structures to become more elaborate.

Understanding the cognitivist theory can be beneficial for learning as the theory can be applied to all learning style preferences [link]. If learners acquire understanding by building mental maps based on the information they are given, it makes sense to ensure that they have as many opportunities as possible to properly understand what they are learning. Therefore if the cognitive demand of the learner is increased during instruction it is likely they will be able to make more links with prior learning and be able to apply what they have learnt. Therefore to support a cognitive approach instructional materials should be varied and include audio visual examples, demonstrations, opportunities for practical application along with corrective feedback. The use of feedback to guide and support the learner in creating accurate mental connections is a key component of the cognitive theory. The use of technology can be used effectively by providing interest and variety, thereby aiding comprehension and the elaboration of existing cognitive structures.

To summarise, a key belief of cognitivists is that new knowledge must be understood in a meaningful way and if the correct understanding is not there then learning has not really taken place.

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