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Posted on Nov 22, 2011 in Behaviorism, Blog, Cognitivism, In my Opinion!, Learning Theories | 3 comments

Cognitivism and Behaviorism

Cognitivism and Behaviorism

Cognitive information processing is not a single stand alone theory. It is a generic description applied to theoretical perspectives dealing with the sequence and execution of cognitive events. According to Ormrod, Schunk and Gredler this can be seen as scientific discipline whereas cognitive information processing is influenced advances in communications and computer technology. So we need to look at cognition being a series of mental processes. To understand the concept of information processing theorists have broken it down to four major components: attention perception, short-term-memory STM) or working memory (WM) and long-term-memory. Putting these processes into an educational context many understandings of the information processing needed to be reviewed as all learning involves forming associations between stimuli and response. Forming the association between the acquisition of information and the storage is essential to any learning process. However the information processing theory deals more with the mental processing that takes place, rather than with the stimuli of external impact and the response to it within the learning process. Humans select and pick out relevant information, they rehearse the information and start putting this gained information into context from previous acquired knowledge and constructing a meaning to the information being processed.

The topic is indeed very complex as Bill Kerr tries to shed some light on all the learning theories in his blog entry. He points out the use of _isms, basically giving the child a name. The interesting discussion point here is which of these theories apply? Is there one big theory to tackle any learning material?

„What I have noticed is that these _isms do not stand still. They evolve; they listen to criticism and move on. I’ve also noticed that learning theorists, who have a different favorite _ism to mine, might still come up with significant findings in their empirical studies that I find hard to reject or ignore. So, although it is possible to make perfectly valid criticisms of Skinner’s behaviorism or the theoretical foundation of cognitivism that is not the end of the story.“ (Kerr 2007)

He discusses that we use these _isms (cognitivism, behaviorism, constructivism, etc.) to label theses theories. I mean we need to have some sort of name for this. On the other hand these educational learning theories have been evolving rather than opposing each other like we uses to look at them before. These _isms seem to working best when they are complimenting or supplementing each other. Looking at learning strategies from a practical point of view, I believe that a combination of these approaches can work. Like in the field of psychology there are so many different therapies based on different theories. I mean in my days of my studies, Skinner’s behavior theory was the clue to all solutions, after Freud’s analyses being that it all lies in the childhood… and then there came the cognitivists and were we not glad to put some scientific value to all this and jumped right on this wagon. Cognitivism has indeed revolutionized the understanding of information processing in respects to the mental happenings rather than the behavior patterns of humans when subjected to a certain stimuli.


Course Text: Learning Theories and Instruction, Chapter 4, “Cognitive Learning Processes”

Video Program: “Behaviorism and Instructional Design”

Web Article: Standridge, M. (2001). Behaviorism. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from index.php?title=Behaviorism

Blog: Bill Kerr: isms-as-filter-not-blinker.html

Karl Kapp: 2007/01/out-and-about-discussion-on-educational/



  1. Tina,

    Thank you for sharing the approach of NLP. Your post prompted me to do some additional research on NLP. I found a website which briefly discusses how to communicate more effectively using NLP. It talks about changing behaviors versus focusing on the individual. I completely agree with this as I believe we all want/desire to do good,but sometimes our behavior gets in the way.

    You mentioned that you used this approach with some of your students in regards to learning deficiencies. Can you tell us a little bit more about the activities you used to apply the NLP approach? I’d like to find a way to use this approach with my students (they are adult learners).

    Thanks again for sharing your perspective on NLP.

  2. Tina,

    That’s a great suggestion. Communication is an important factor on any kind of improvement isn’t? I would definitely like to continued this topic with you and your blog does seem like a great place to do so.

    My ultimate goal is to help the managers in my arena improve their competencies with motivating their employees. I believe your point with understanding it from their perspective would be a great start for the managers. It seems that many times managers get frustrated with what their employees are not doing instead of trying to understand why they are not doing what they should. Although, I must admit this year they are taking more of seek to understand approach to understand how the employees feel. I’ve always been a believer that you should walk a mile in a man’s shoes before judging his decisions or actions. It seems that this statement would work really well for applying NLP…what do you think?

    • Hi Sandra,
      I enjoyed browsing through the website you found. It is describes relatively simple in the sense that communication is the key here. You need to find out the anxieties of the student in actually talking to them. NLP I find works easier with adults as you can explain to them, what you are trying to achieve.
      So like in the cognitive approach if one may see it that way, is to define the goal. In this case, defining the deficiency and communicating – getting to the bottom of the cause. Try combining the learning theory knowledge. You can find out what stimuli distracts them, hence alters certain learning behavior, you can find out how they actually interpret a given information on what they already know. I always found that if the learner forms a type of relationship towards understanding his own deficiencies that make them see the bigger picture.
      In my professional years my ‚patients‘where children between the age of 10-20 and found the NLP quite useful when you actually used it on myself and ‚getting‘their behavior. The typical example would be a “hormornpopping” teenager who really has no relation to a boring history project for example. I needed to understand for myself what really interests kids of that age and my own attitude towards understanding their connection to a topic. So again communication to factfind and then for me to shift perspective and anticipate their ‚teenage views‘.
      From a scientific perspective there is a great deal of skepsis about the actual behavior change that the theory claims happens and that this actually happens through linguistic reprogramming. Perhaps the explanation that it simply does, might perhaps suffice with an open mind.

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