Why is cognitive learning important?

Cognitive learning or Metacognition

Metacognition, is the awareness of the process of learning, is a critical ingredient to successful adult learning.

Knowing how to learn and knowing which strategies work best, are valuable skills that differentiate EXPERT learners from NOVICE adult learners.

Metacognition is an important concept in cognitive theory. It consists of two basic processes occurring simultaneously:
monitoring your progress as you learn,
and making changes and adapting your strategies if you perceive you are not doing so well. (Winn, W. & Snyder, D., 1998)

In other words it's about self-reflection, self-responsibility and initiative, as well as goal setting and time management.

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Why Are Cognitive Learning Strategies So Important?

It is a constant surprise to me to come across middle and senior managers who, have little or no awareness of how they or other adults learn, and what is required for them to optimise their own learning.

You are more likely to hear back comments like, "I prefer to learn hands on," or "I learn best by solving real problems."

These may be true insights, but fall short of a sophisticated understanding of adult learning.

Simply, cognitive learning is about being a confident learner. Having an understanding of the learning process, and specifically how to manage your own learning increases confidence and encourages independence.

Being more independent empowers learners to take more ownership of their own learning.A knowledge of their cognitive learning style can help people be more aware of their own learning, and their current strengths and weaknesses as an adult learner.

In other words ,all the advantages claimed for metacognition, (ie being aware of one’s own thought and learning processes)can be gained by encouraging all learners to become knowledgeable about their own learning, and that of others.

According to Sadler-Smith (2001, 300), the potential of such awareness lies in "enabling individuals to see, and to question, their long-held habitual behaviours"; individuals can be taught to monitor their selection and use of various learning styles and strategies.

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Lets look at what might be included in metacognition?


• Consciously identify what you already know
• Define the learning goal
• Consider your personal resources (e.g. textbooks, access to the library, access to a computer work station or a quiet study area)
• Consider the task requirements (essay, work scope, problem, etc.)
• Determine how you will define success
• Consider your motivation level
• Determine your level of anxiety


• Estimate the time required to complete the task
• Plan study time into your schedule and set priorities
• Make a checklist of what needs to happen when
• Organize materials
• Take the necessary steps to learn by using strategies like outlining, mnemonics, diagramming, etc.

Monitoring and Reflection:

• Reflect on the learning process, keeping track of what works and what doesn't work for you
• Monitor your own learning by questioning and self-testing
• Provide your own feedback
• Keep concentration and motivation high
This is a pretty good checklist for learning and contains key elements that support optimal learning.

It is not uncommon to see some of these elements in study techniques, but learning at work is often a lot more random and haphazard.

Many people simply don’t know which of the above key adult learning elements are critical for their own learning, and which are less important.

The idea of preparing yourself to learn, is also a difficult concept to get across in a fast moving reactive working environment.

You can start improving your learning immediately, by incorporating a few of the cognitive learning lements at a time into your learning approach.

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