Although learning has emotional, motivational, and developmental aspects, any of which might be more important than the cognitive aspect, I wanted to take a minute to focus on cognition this week.
Arthur C. Graesser, editor of the Journal of Educational Psychology, has cataloged 25 cognitive principles of learning (see below). One that stood out for me as I read through the list was #21, the Goldilocks Principle: Assignments should not be too hard or two easy, but at the right level of difficulty for the student’s level of skill or prior knowledge.
On the one hand, the principle is clear and obvious, the “meet the student where the student is at” idea. On the other, it can be really difficult to achieve sometimes. I’m currently teaching a technical applications course in which students are creating brochures, newsletters, websites, and the like. The problem I face is that it’s a gen. ed. requirement, and students come to the required course with a wide range of skill and experience with technology and with a wider range of interest/disinterest. I struggle to make the learning “not too hard, not too soft, but just right,” when every student brings a different technical background.
Did any of the principles below resonate with you, whether because you struggle with it or disagree with it or because you agree and have developed a good way to address it?
25 Cognitive Principles of Learning
- Contiguity Effects. Ideas that need to be associated should be presented contiguously in space and time.
- Perceptual-Motor Grounding. Concepts benefit from being grounded in perceptual motor experiences, particularly at early stages of learning.
- Dual Code and Multimedia Effects. Materials presented in verbal, visual and multimedia form richer representations than a single medium.
- Testing Effect. Testing enhances learning, particularly when the tests are aligned with important content.
- Spacing Effect. Spaced schedules of studying and testing produce better long-term retention than a single study session or test.
- Exam Expectations. Students benefit more from repeated testing when they expect a final exam
- Generation Effect. Learning is enhanced when learners produce answers compared to having them recognize answers.
- Organization Effects. Outlining, integrating, and synthesizing information produces better learning than rereading materials or other more passive strategies.
- Coherence Effect. Materials and multimedia should explicitly link related ideas and minimize distracting irrelevant material.
- Stories and Example Cases. Stories and example cases tend to be remembered better than didactic facts and abstract principles.
- Multiple Examples. An understanding of an abstract concept improves with multiple and varied examples.
- Feedback Effects. Students benefit from feedback on their performance but the timing of the feedback depends on the task.
- Negative Suggestion Effects. Learning wrong information can be reduced when feedback is immediate.
- Desirable Difficulties. Challenges make learning and retrieval effortful and thereby have positive effects on long-term retention.
- Manageable Cognitive Load. The information presented to the learner should not overload working memory.
- Segmentation Principle. A complex lesson should be broken down into manageable subparts.
- Explanation Effects. Students benefit more from constructing deep coherent explanations (mental models) of the material than memorizing shallow isolated facts.
- Deep questions. Students benefit more from asking and answering deep questions that elicit explanations (e.g., why, why not, how, what if) than shallow questions (e.g., who, what, when, where)
- Cognitive Disequilibrium. Deep reasoning and learning is stimulated by problems that create cognitive disequilibrium, such as obstacles to goals, contradictions, conflict, and anomalies.
- Cognitive Flexibility. Cognitive flexibility improves with multiple viewpoints that link facts, skills, procedures, and deep conceptual principles.
- Goldilocks Principle. Assignments should not be too hard or two easy, but at the right level of difficulty for the student’s level of skill or prior knowledge.
- Imperfect Metacognition. Students rarely have an accurate knowledge of their cognition, so their ability to calibrate their comprehension, learning, and memory should not be trusted.
- Discovery Learning. Most students have trouble discovering important principles on their own without careful guidance, scaffolding, or materials with well-crafted affordances.
- Self-Regulated Learning. Most students need training on how to self-regulate their learning and other cognitive processes.
- Anchored Learning. Learning is deeper and students are more motivated when the materials and skills are anchored in real-world problems that matter to the learner.
Arthur C. Graesser, in “Inaugural Editorial for Journal of Educational Psychology, 2009, Vol. 101 (2), 259-261 Adapted from 25 Principles of Learning, by A.C. Graesser, D.F. Halpern, and M. Hakel, 2008, Taskforce on Lifelong Learning at Work and at Home.