Cognitivism is a learning theory based on the idea that individuals process the information they receive, rather than merely responding to stimuli (i.e. they think about what is happening).  

With constructivism, the learner is viewed as an information processor where information comes in, is processed, and learning takes place.  Changes in behavior are observed, but only as an indicator to what is going on in the learner’s mind.  Ultimately, learning is evidenced by new understanding, not behavioral change.


Response to Behaviorism

The cognitivist theory was developed as a response to Behaviorism.  Behaviorists believed learning was simply a reaction to a stimulus and ignored the idea that thinking plays a role in learning.  

Behaviorism’s emphasis is on the learner’s outward observable behavior, while cognitivism does not require an outward exhibition of learning.  Cognitivism focuses more on the internal processes and connections that take place in an individual’s mind during learning. 


About Cognitivism

Cognitive theories seek to explain how the human mind works during the learning process.  These theories focuses on mental processes, including how people perceive, think, remember, and solve problems.

In the cognitive learning process, new knowledge is built upon prior knowledge.  When a learner receives new information, it is weighed against prior knowledge.  The mind actively processes how the new information relates to the previously learned information in order to arrive at an understanding of the information.


Schema Theory

Cognitivists believe that all knowledge is stored in the human mind as units of information called schema.  Schema is a person’s symbolic mental construction of a concept, object, or event.  These individual units of knowledge are organized into complex structures called schemata.  Schemata represents a mental framework that organizes categories of information such as concepts, objects, situations, or events, and the relationships they have with each other.

Cognitivists believe learning is the process of constructing or reshaping these structures of schemata.   

Schemata are dynamic in that they change based on new information and experiences.  As an individual takes in new information, they link that new information to old information and link different schemata to each other in order to create an ever evolving a web of knowledge.  


Schema – a unit of knowledge or a mental construction of a general idea about something

Schemata (plural form of schema) – a complex structure of units of knowledge

Learning – a change in a learner’s schemata



Learning Theories

Cognitive Learning Theory

Social Cognitive Theory

Observational Learning



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