The human brain is one of the most wonderful and sophisticated devices in the world. It serves as a hard drive, RAM, and processor all at the same time. It has the capability to obtain new information, store it, process it, analyze it, and execute decisions based on the analysis. The total computational power of the human brain is still being determined, and not even the most powerful super computer in the world can come close to it in terms of speed and capability.
The human race has had access to such a powerful tool—for free—throughout the ages. With its help, we have learned how to conquer the elements around us and create machines and devices that make our lives easier, and further our cause of exploring this world and then the universe. All of that has been made possible due to learning and education.
Let’s take a closer look at how cognitive learning relates to the modern techniques of education, specifically online education.
What Is Cognitive Learning?
Cognitive learning can be described as learning through experience. When your child reaches a certain age (18 months or above), one day he or she picks up your phone, holds it close to their ear, and start babbling into it, because they have seen you do the same many times. They observed you do something, and tried to imitate the behavior. In short, they learned it through cognitive learning. Other forms of cognitive learning include learning through the five senses: watching, smelling, touching, tasting, and hearing. The knowledge you acquire through reading is also part of cognitive learning.
The Two Different Aspects of Cognitive Learning Theory
Cognitive learning is further categorized into two different aspects: social cognitive learning and cognitive behavioral learning. Social cognitive learning is more in line with the example I just discussed. It is based on observing and imitating the behavior of people around you. This kind of learning is not limited to human infants and toddlers. In fact, there are some species of animals who can imitate behavior as well.
Cognitive behavioral learning deals with cognition and behavior. Cognitive behavioral theory explains an individual’s behavior as a function of their self-concepts. It explains behavior and learning as a result of three variables:
- your views about yourself
- your views about the world
- your views about the future.
Because the cognitive behavioral theory deals with negative views that one forms about the self, the world, and the future, it is mostly used in many therapy techniques to help people recover from addictions. Many institutes use this theory as a foundation for their therapy sessions to educate their patients about controlling their behavior.
How Cognitive Learning Theory Applies to Online Education
With the help of new technologies, web-based learning environments are not that different from a classroom environment, especially if you opt for instructor-led learning and participate in live classes with an instructor. Much like in a classroom environment, students learn a lot from social interaction in a web-based environment. However, getting students to collaborate with each other and work on group projects in an online environment is a difficult task.
Based on my experience leading two different companies—360training, which focuses on regulatory compliance and continuing education, and QuickStart, which focuses on IT Skills training—I’ve learned that students prefer to work on individual assignments rather than group assignments. This is mostly because they think of group work as something they would expect in a degree program, not during a professional certification course, and it is difficult to get hold of other students located in different time zones.
Promoting group work and collaboration amongst participants in an online learning environment, in a way, goes against the whole idea of learning at your own pace, which is one of the biggest selling point of the e-learning industry. Most of the learners we work with are busy people; they are professionals who work full-time jobs and are pursuing online education to learn new skills and grow in their careers. Therefore, we are very careful when it comes to planning groupwork and collaboration that’s included in the course outline. However, we have been successful in peer-to-peer learning through our social learning platform, which is one of the main objectives of group work.
Another important aspect of the cognitive learning theory that we apply to e-learning is self-regulation. Students with higher self-efficacy and motivation naturally do better than students with low self-efficacy. In an online environment, it comes down to the instructor teaching the course to engage every student and encourage those who are not actively participating in the learning sessions. The teachers must identify such students and reach out to them to help them achieve their goals.
The Future of E-Learning and Education
By the year 2025, the global e-learning industry is projected to grow to the size of $325 billion. As more and more countries around the world gain access to high speed internet, elearning will continue to grow at a rapid pace. While studying from the convenience of your home and at your own pace are the two biggest advantages of e-learning, there are also many other factors that make it an attractive option for students.
Case in point: it can be argued that e-learning platforms that foster peer-to-peer learning, provide instructor mentoring, social learning, and multi-device learning. What’s more, just-in-time learning using artificial intelligence are a better option for students who want to study in an isolated environment with minimum distractions. This is particularly true for IT professionals interested in advancing their careers through certification training or meeting regulatory compliance training requirements.
Furthermore, no educational institute of the world can compete with the internet when it comes to the variety of courses and certifications that are on offer. Elearning also puts a different spin on homeschooling and self-learning, and empowers the student to use their own style of learning rather than conforming to the usual methods of teaching.
It can been argued that the cognitive learning theory, and the teaching techniques associated with the theory, may be too outdated to apply in an e-learning environment. However, in my opinion, the way people absorb, process, and retain information remains the same, and e-learning opens up a lot of opportunities to use artificial intelligence and other instructional technologies for improving conventional teaching methods.