Implications of Cognitive Theories for Optimizing Higher Education Learning

Implications of Cognitive Theories for Optimizing Higher Education Learning

Erol Ozcelik (Cankaya University, Turkey)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4036-7.ch003
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Cognitive theories have the potential to provide suggestions to design more effective learning environments for higher education. The goal of this chapter is to review cognitive theories and principles based on empirical findings and suggest implications for practice. Working memory theory, distributed cognition theory, dual-process theory, modulatory emotional consolidation theory, mental model theory, metacognitive theory, transfer appropriate processing principle, generation effect, testing effect, and spacing effect are presented in the current study. Based on these theoretical frameworks, novel recommendations for educational practice are suggested.
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Understanding how the mind works enables educators to design more effective learning environments. If individuals know the constraints and limitations of their cognition such as the limited capacity of working memory (WM) (Baddeley, 1986) and difficulty in retrieving required information from long-term memory (LTM) (Kozma, 1987), they can better support these limitations by providing appropriate tools and strategies to learning environments. Cognitive theories (e.g., modulatory emotional consolidation theory by McGaugh, 2000) and principles based on empirical findings (e.g., transfer appropriate processing principle by Morris, Bransford, & Franks, 1977) have the potential to provide suggestions for better learning. Yet, cognitive psychologists tend to focus on understanding the cognitive mechanisms of behavior, not on creating more effective learning environments. And, in general, educators have limited knowledge on cognitive theories and recent empirical findings. Considering this need, the current chapter will present implications for the design and development of learning environments in higher education based on empirical research and theories from cognitive psychology and cognitive science.

Brief Introduction to Cognition

It is not easy to present a summary of human cognition related to learning in a paragraph. One can refer books on cognitive psychology and cognition (Goldstein, 2018). According to the updated information processing model of learning and memory (Slavin, 2018), huge amounts of information from senses are received, but only information perceived with a certain degree of attention is retained while other perceptions are lost. Information may be retained by creating mental interpretations drawing upon prior knowledge, experience and many other factors. Perception is the process of recognizing a stimulus and making it meaningful (Woolfolk, 2019). Perceived information is processed in the WM which can hold limited amount of information for a limited time. Information in WM should be transferred to LTM which has very high capacity to store information for a long time. Information in WM that are connected to prior knowledge, organized, and rehearsed are more likely to be transferred to LTM. The next sections will present related cognitive literature and their implications on educational practice.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Metacognition: Awareness of an individual’s own thinking.

Mental Model: A representation of an object or a system in the real world.

Long-Term Memory (LTM): A cognitive system that holds huge amounts of information for long periods of time.

Memory Consolidation: The stabilization of memory traces in time.

Testing Effect: The finding that taking a test on a studied material increases learning compared to studying the same material twice.

Generation Effect: Generated items are remembered better than the items that are read.

Transfer Appropriate Processing: A principle suggesting that memory performance is superior when there is a match between the cognitive processes that are involved during encoding and during retrieval.

Spacing Effect: The finding that better learning occurs when study events are spaced apart in time rather than repeated in immediate succession.

Working Memory (WM): A cognitive system that temporarily holds and manipulates information.

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