Description of Cognitivism
Cognitivism is a learning theory that focuses on the processes involved in learning rather than on the observed behavior. As opposed to Behaviorists, Cognitivists do not require an outward exhibition of learning, but focus more on the internal processes and connections that take place during learning. Cognitivism contends that “the black box” of the mind should be opened and understood. The learner is viewed as an information processor. Knowledge can be seen as schema or symbolic mental constructions and learning is defined as change in a learner’s schemata. Some important classroom principles from cognitive psychology include meaningful learning, organization, and elaboration.
Cognitivism as a reaction against Behaviorism
Cognitivist theory developed as a reaction to Behaviorism. Cognitivists objected to behaviorists because they felt that behaviorists thought learning was simply a reaction to a stimulus and ignored the idea that thinking plays an important role. One of the most famous criticisms addressed to Behaviorism was Chomsky’s argument that language could not be acquired purely through conditioning, and must be at least partly explained by the existence of some inner abilities. Behaviorism for example falls short to explain how children can learn an infinite number of utterance that they have never heard of.
The role of the learner
The learners according to cognitivists are active participants in the learning process. They use various strategies to process and construct their personal understanding of the content to which they are exposed. Students are not considered anymore as recipients that teachers fill with knowledge, but as active participants in the learning.
A few of the cognitivists who have contributed to developing the cognitive theory are the following: