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Cognitive Design: Essential Questions for Educators (Part 9 of 14)

On its own, cognitive science is helpful for understanding how the mind works; it's only useful, though, if we can apply this understanding to facilitate better learning.

So how is the cognitive model for learning useful for educators? 
Teaching and the Cognitive Model
Let’s review: learning happens in four cognitive stages: Attention, Encoding, Storage (I and II), and Retrieval.  And from the perspective of students, we can think of these stages working like this:
  • Attention is the filtering out of the many stimuli of the world and the focusing on the information at hand.
  • Encoding is the brain registering this information, processing sensory experience and attaching new information to old information.
  • Storage is the consolidation of information and its movement from working memory to long term memory.
  • Retrieval is the act of bringing long-term memory back into mind, back in to working memory and out into our experiences, silently to ourselves or publicly to others.
As educators, we can deliberately consider these processes in our work; these processes can directly inform how we plan individual classes, how we plan a unit, or even a year.  And even if we are not teachers, but people engaged more broadly in the education space (ed tech ed tech-designers, administrators, and more), we can ask:

  • Am I aware of what my students, clients, or users attend to?
  • How am I capturing, directing, engaging, or simply inviting their attention?
  • Have I created a safe environment in which students’ attention is on the learning?
  • How can I richly encode new learning by making it as multi-sensory as possible?
  • How can I attach what I am teaching to what they know?  (What prior knowledge do my students or users have?  Does their prior knowledge need correcting?)
  • How can I connect new knowledge to old knowledge in the most organized way in order to enable easy retrieval later on?
  • Have I given the brain ample time to consolidate and integrate memories?  (Have I spread learning experiences over multiple nights/weeks/more to allow consolidation and integration during sleep?)
  • How can I provide regular retrieval opportunities?  (How can I provide the most opportunities for students to recycle information, to retrieve what they know from long-term memory, bring it into working memory to strengthen it and attach it to new information?)
Essential Questions for Teachers, considering the Cognitive Model
These are the essential questions I try to ask myself as I’m planning, for they get to the heart of what’s happening in my students’ minds.  But in order to answer these questions, I have to know my students: who they are, how they get along with their classmates, what inspires them, and more.  The interaction between what I know about my students and what I know about how their minds work is the sweet spot for learning.  When I sail in between both, that’s when good planning happens.

This is the ninth of fourteen posts in a series about the role of cognitive science in education.
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Apple image from Wikimedia commons.

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