Cognitive Science: It’s role in teaching and learning!

It has been fascinating to look at the human mind, how it works, and what this knowledge means for understanding how to effectively teach students.  In our introduction to cognitive sciences we were able to delve into learning and teaching theories and begin to ponder whether adults and children think differently.  learning picture

In Unit 1 Conlan, Grabowski and Smith (n.d.) state that andragogy is the art and science of helping adults learn and is based on Malcolms Knowles 5 factors involved in adult learning to include the adult learner as someone who:

  • Has an independent self-concept and who can direct his or her own learning
  • Has accumulated a reservoir of life experiences that is a rich resource for learning
  • Has learning needs closely related to changing social roles
  • Is problem-centered and interested in immediate application of knowledge
  • Is motivated to learn by internal rather than external factors 

If you look at Knowles’ factors you can see that these factors are more predominant in adults, specifically adults have many more life experiences to use as a resource for learning.  But Knowles himself acknowledged that the principles he outlined did not solely apply to adult learners (Conlan, Grabowski and Smith). The question is-can they apply to children as well.  I think that children do have the potential to be motivated intrinsically, and to have a part in his or her own learning.  So the biggest take away for me was that I feel that children and adults have similar ways of thinking/learning despite adults having more life experiences to build upon, and I can share this knowledge with my program staff, which will hopefully impact the way they approach their teaching.

As we moved into mental representations and Piaget’s work in unit 2, I was able to make a lot of connections to my own professional life in regards to how logic, rules and concepts are used in my program, and how they relate to both children and adults.  The representation of rules for example as if-then structures is something that we discuss everyday at camp.  This structure is simple with an “if” part (or condition) and a “then” part (or action): but what they represent is many different types of knowledge (Ash, n.d).  There are many times when children have to use logic and rules in games we play at camp and staff being able to know and understand what the children are capable of assists greatly in knowing what games to offer.  Establishing rules with children at my camp, and more importantly, being transparent with them, reinforcing them consistently and getting their “by-in” is vital to a smooth camp experience for both staff and children.    The other part of this unit that was very interesting was how adults and children solve problems.  Problem solving is a skill thatproblem-solving1 both adults and children need to have in the world to be able to effectively function.  While humans of any age are able to solve problems, it is thought that children and adults tend to solve problems differently, and I tend to agree with that.   I was not surprised to watch the video “Kids outsmart grownups” and learn that “young children are better than adults at figuring out how some things work”.  Adults come to the table with preconceived notions about how something should work or how to fix a situation.  Children are much more open to unusual possibilities of solving problems (UC Berkeley, 2014).  When it comes down to it, “Children were unconsciously more capable of making inferences and drawing conclusions” (UC Berkeley, 2014).  Adults use their experiences and past knowledge to help solve problems, but sometimes the willingness of a child to just accept information for what it is helps them be open to new possibilities.  I see this in my program everyday and am able to teach my staff be open to letting children try new ways of doing things.

Finally, in unit 3 we continued to explore the mental representation of analogies and images, as well as learning styles.  I enjoyed examining my own learning style and thinking about how I can adapt my program practices to ensure that I am meeting all of the needs of the children in my program. We need to continually offer all types of activities and project based experiences so that all types of learners feel they get something out of it. Also within the clubs/projects we organize we need to be sure to provide open ended activities that are appealing to all types of learners and learning styles from visual to auditory to active.

Overall, I have found the start of this course to be extremely helpful in reflecting on my own practices, learning more about how children solve problems and being able to adapt my teaching to better meet the needs of children.  The three most important points for me have been:

  • Understanding more fully HOW children learn and problem solve
  • Reflecting on how mental representations such as logic and rules impact how we teach children
  • Understanding the implications of various learning styles on teaching practices

There is so much to learn about how the brain works and how that impacts the way we learn and teach.  I look forward to the rest of the course!

Please enjoy this short video that shares an explanation of learning styles in a fun, creative way!


Ash,D. (n.d.). The Cognitive Science of Teaching and Learning. Unit 2 Presentation. Retrieved 7/6/16 from:

Conlan, J., Grabowski, S., & Smith, K.. (2003). Adult Learning. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved June 27, 2016, from:

UC Berkeley. (2014). Kids Outsmart Grownups: Berkeley Research. Retrieved 7/6/16 from: