Cognitive Learning Basics

Before releasing my forthcoming articles on the seven principles of “How Students Learn,” I want to be sure all readers have at least a basic understanding of cognitive learning theory. Why? Every instructor at every level should and can apply the basics, and both they and their students will benefit. So, let’s move on to some definitions.

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Students’ Prior Knowledge Can Help or Hinder Learning

I am sure that every instructor wants to know how learning works. Some do. Others think they do. And yet others, perhaps even you, want to make sure they do.

Aside: It will be helpful to have a basic understanding of cognitive learning theory as you go through this article.

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Do I Need to Spoon Feed Them?

No, but you do need to help them learn.

A common complaint I hear from students is that their teacher doesn’t explain things well. It may be that the instructor actually explains things extremely well. However, students learn by more than hearing. They want to see how problems are solved, and they need practice solving problems themselves. These represent the three primary ways in which students (or anyone, you and me included) learn. Read on.

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Helping Your Students Memorize Information

Mnemonics

Mnemonic devices are memory aids. If you want to help your students learn, you may want to share some mnemonics tips with them. You probably don’t have a lot of time to teach mnemonics to your students, and some of your students may already know some good techniques. If you want to be sure students memorize something, ask the class if anyone has a tip, a trick if you will, that they use. If you sense that your class is all over this memorization thing, that’s great. But if you think by sharing a tip or two you might see better grades on the next test, go for it!

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Educational Psychology, a Teacher’s Best Friend

Do I Need to Know This Stuff?  🙁

No, you don’t need to be expert in the field of educational psychology to be a good instructor, not that it wouldn’t help mind you.  As I stated on my “About” page, there are dozens, maybe hundreds, of books out there that provide helpful insight into good pedagogy.   Therein lays the problem.  What the heck does pedagogy mean?  Even if an adjunct had time to identify and read the helpful literature, he/she might get bored to death with the onslaught of “academese.”  My goal is to provide practical, down-to-earth, user-friendly advice to instructors.  In the words of Joe Friday, I will provide the facts, just the facts.  Why?  Because it is really important to know something about how your students learn and how to design your lesson plan.  That’s right, lesson plan.  You know the saying, “Failure to plan is planning to fail.”

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