Meaningful learning

This is the type of cognitive learning mentioned above, whereby you try to make certain that what people are learning fits into what they already know. This means that you don’t just get people to solve math problems but instead, present them as problems that they might encounter in their daily lives.

When people are presented new knowledge in this way, they often find it far easier to apply it to the world around them. And the more they apply it, the stronger their understanding of the lesson becomes.

The best way to achieve meaningful learning is to not just explain things abstractly, but make it directly applicable to what the person is going through. This can be achieved by the use of examples or by asking students to imagine how they could apply this in their lives around them.

For example, as a teacher, you could ask a student to take the abstract lesson and reformulate it into a word problem that they might encounter in their environment.

When you’re trying to learn something, you can do the same thing yourself, by imagining how you could relevantly apply the lesson to your life. Yes, that does mean daydreaming about your lessons is worthwhile!

Discovery learning

This form of cognitive learning is where instead of a teacher or a book telling you what the lesson is, you teach (or learn) by discovering the answer yourself. This is why science classes often let people do experiments – as in doing them, they can discover the answers to problems themselves.

The great thing about discovery learning is that it turns the student from a passive observer into an active participant. And that will let them often discover not just the primary lesson that’s being taught but a whole bunch of additional lessons as well.

Learning by doing fits neatly into our past. After all, for most of human history, we didn’t put ourselves in school benches. Instead, we learned through imitation and trials. So naturally, our brains are going to find it easier to work that way.


And then finally, there is learning about learning. In effect, that’s what this article is about. The more we understand about how we learn, the easier we’ll find it to apply the lessons and therefore, learn our lessons far more quickly.

That is not the only level at which metacognition matters, however. Metacognition is also the understanding that all of us learn differently. Some people are very good at learning in groups. Others, however, will find it difficult to work together. Some people are naturally good at regulating their emotions and keeping at a task, while others need all the help they can get to control their emotions.

In other words, we all have different learning profiles. Understanding that this is the case and that we all learn in different ways can make it easier for us to find the ways that we learn at our best. Do we find it easier to learn from books or from videos? Do we do best listening to experts or experimenting by ourselves?

By thinking about thinking, we’re can make sure that we don’t only learn in an effective way, but that we do so in ways that stay interesting and enjoyable at the same time.

Why we need cognitive learning: putting it all together

By understanding, experimenting and working with the different ways we learn, we can make sure that we learn more quickly than we otherwise would. Even better, by embracing different techniques at different times, we’re training ourselves to think more flexibly and effectively.

That means that we’re not just going to learn our lessons better, but also boost and expand the plasticity of our brains going forward. That will help us become more proficient learners, as well as better at critical thinking, applying the lessons we’ve learned and become better at analyzing shortcomings in thinking.

In this way, cognitive learning doesn’t just help us learn. It helps us become better and more critical thinkers. And that will give us the equipment to not just do our jobs but live our lives, and participate in building the society that we want to be a part of.

So, far from being an inane repetition, cognitive learning has a huge amount of potential to shape ourselves, our children and our society. And so, it’s a good thing indeed that more and more people are embracing it as the go-to learning technique.

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