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Cognitivist theories

of e-learning
and foreign language learning
An overview of Cognitivism
(1960s and 1970s)

Main characteristics
Focus the ‘black box’ of the mind should be opened
and understood; how human memory works
Knowledge resides outside of the person and is gained
through information processing
Learning - an internal cognitive process and involves the
use of memory, motivation, and thinking
- depends on learner’s processing capacity,
effort put in the learning process and learner’s
existing knowledge structure

Research Ausubel (1960): advanced organizers

Gagne (1985): nine events of instructions
Cognitivism in FLL

Language Learner Language Teacher Computer programs

The learner is viewed as Organizing content Dominant theory of
an information processor instructional design in
(like a computer). Scaffolding learning 1970s.
Active role Problem solving
Uses advanced organizers
Reflective practitioner Breaking down complex
Learner-centred Gagne’s nine events of problems into parts
instruction Personal computers
Organize information for
successful information allowed greater
processing through possibilities for individual
strategies (such as work.
planning, monitoring and Popular programs: text
evaluating) reconstruction and
Gagne’s (1985) nine events
that correspond to cognitive processes
Mental Process Gagne Event Suggested activities
RECEPTION Gain attention Present a problem, use multimedia
EXPECTANCY Describe objectives Demonstrate how learners will use the
information, what will be accomplished

RETRIEVAL Stimulate recall of prior Revise, test, remind of prior knowledge


SELECTIVE Present the material Through text, pictures, sounds, tutorials


SEMANTIC CODING Provide learner guidance Showing of tools and use of information and
provides cues when needed

RESPONDING Elicit performance Learner demonstrations, practice skills/

knowledge gained

REINFORCEMENT Provide feedback Analyze learners' skills and behaviours,

provide step-by-step instructions

RETRIEVAL Assess performance Create a diagram, write an essay, tests

GENERALIZATION Enhance retention/transfer Discuss similar problems, peer teaching
Reflection and individual differences

• Reflection plays an important part in learning.

• Cognitivism also recognizes the importance of individual
differences. This leads to the development of intelligent
learning systems and personalized agents in e-learning
E-learning applications

• Online learning materials include activities for the

different learning and cognitive styles.
• The teaching strategy enhances the learning process by
facilitating all sensors, focusing the learner’s attention by
highlighting important and critical information, reasoning
each instruction, and matching the cognitive level of the
• The instructional designer connects new information with
existing information from long-term memory using advanced
organizers to activate existing cognitive structures.
• The learning content is broken down in small parts to prevent
cognitive overload.
Reflection corner

Can you relate cognitive theories of e-learning with an

approach or method in foreign language learning? If so, with
which one? Assuming that you want to adopt cognitive
theories of learning in your English class, what kinds of
activities would you use with your students? What kind of e-
learning programmes would you use to support your teaching?
What role would technology play in your classroom?
In the cognitivist tradition, which flourished in the
1980s, the main technology used for e-learning was the
personal computer which was mainly used as
• tutor, and
• as stimulus