Cognitive Theory


Cognitive theory in education is a psychological theory that identifies how individuals acquire new knowledge. It emphasizes the role of prior knowledge in new learning, arguing that humans acquire new knowledge by either assimilating it into existing schemata, or altering their existing schemata to accomodate it. In terms of teaching practice, this means that identifying students prior knowledge is an important first step before beginning instruction within a subject. Doing so also will help to ensure that teaching is happening within the Zone of Proximal Development, as teachers gauge the developmental level(s) of their students and are able to provide appropriate challenges and scaffolding in classroom lessons. Another implication for the cognitive approach is to utilize metacognition with the students and acclimate them to the practice of it, this practice is especially useful for teaching the thought processes of reading and writing.


Bransford, J. et al. (2000). How people learn; Brain, mind, experience and school. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

Collins, A., Brown, J.S. & Newman, S.E. (1989). Cognitive apprenticeship: Teaching the crafts of reading, writing and mathematics. In L.B Resnick (ed.), Knowing, learning, and instruction: Essays in honor of Robert Glaser (pp. 453-494). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum