Learning Experience and Cognitive Processing Theory

The following graphic sums-up how knowledge of cognitive processing theory can help us gain deeper understanding. The graphic is based on learning framework suggested by Howard Gardner.

A topic or discipline should be introduced from multiple perspectives, with different analogies and diverse representations because learners have different types of intelligences (Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences theory). Assessment too should be based on different types of performance opportunities to facilitate different intelligences.

Following are some thoughts based on cognitive processing theories:


Which figures below, you think, is called Booba and which one is called Kiki?

According to neurologist, Vilayanur Ramachandran, in his book ‘The Emerging Mind’, 95-98% of people pick the blob as Booba and the jagged shape as Kiki, even if they don’t speak English. (If you chose the other way round then chances are you have lesions in the left angular gyrus of your brain and hence have difficulty understanding metaphors!).

This is an illustration of how our cognitive processes work, i.e. how our brain interprets sensory inputs.

One of the first thing that jumps out for me after learning about cognitive processing (as in the Booba-Kiki question) is – are we prisoners of our brain?

I think this is a sobering thought and reveals the importance of ‘critical thinking’ and why we should ‘defer judgment’ till we are fairly certain that we are not judging through the lens of our cognitive bias.


Eric Jensen, in his paper on brain-based learning, talks about stress and its negative impact on learning (http://www.jensenlearning.com/).

In 1975, endocrinologist Hans Selye divided stress into two major categories: eustress and distress. Eustress was a word he coined for ‘euphoric stress’.

Selye talked about how persistent stress that is not resolved through coping or adaptation leads to distress. In contrast, if the stress involved enhances function (physical or mental, such as through strength training or challenging work) it may be considered eustress.


Cognitive processing theory also emphasizes that emotionality of an experiences influences retention.

Flash-bulb memory is a case in point. Flashbulb memories are highly detailed, exceptionally vivid ‘snapshots’ of the moment and circumstances in which surprising and consequential (or emotionally arousing) news was heard. These memories are highly resistant to forgetting.

For example, most people (of a certain age) in USA remember exactly what they were doing when President Kennedy was assassinated; most people (of a certain age) in UK remember exactly what they were doing when Princess Diana died.

I distinctly recollect what I was doing when India’s then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated.

Connecting key learning points of a concept with emotions goes a long way in retention and should be used as a tool for enhancing learning.

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