CECS 5210 Blog Reflection: ID from a cognitive perspective

What do you think about instructional design so far?

It is far easier for me to write a report on the cognitive approach to instruction design than it is for me to come up with an opinion about instructional design. Before I try to write what I think, I will start with an introduction. Cognitive theory is borne from the relatively new interdisciplinary field of cognitive science. Cognitive science studies the nature of the mind by drawing from research in a number of areas including psychology, neuroscience, artificial intelligence, computer science, linguistics, philosophy, and biology. The term cognitive refers to perceiving and knowing, and cognitive scientists seek to understand mental processes such as perceiving, thinking, remembering, understanding language, and learning (Sorden, 2005).

Popular forms of multimedia instruction, such as online learning and the more inclusive computer-based training (CBT), have created many new possibilities for education. They provide new ways of delivering content, and they often promote learner-centered environments that can motivate students and add variety to learning. In this environment, instructional units are often accompanied by a liberal use of multimedia that is intended to add excitement to the lesson and hold the learner’s attention. However, visual and auditory components that are intended to stimulate rather than educate do not always make for sound instructional design in multimedia delivery and can quickly become counter-productive to learning (Sorden, 2005).

Meaningful learning is described as a deep understanding of the material, which includes attending to salient aspects of the presented material, retaining relevant information in both visual working memory and auditory working memory, organizing it into a coherent mental structure, and integrating it with relevant prior knowledge. Multimedia learning combining animation with narration generally improves performance on retention tests better than when information is presented as either text or narration alone. More importantly, meaningful learning is demonstrated when the learner can apply what is presented in new situations, and students perform better on problem-solving transfer tests when they learn with words and pictures (Sorden, 2005).

How can instructors help learning become meaningful? Here is a list of training design cognitive principles taken from ASTD Handbook of Instructional Technology (Wilson, 1993).

Foster a learning culture.

  1. Offer training, within an overall culture that encourages cooperation, risk-taking, and growth.
  2. Get learners’ buy-in and commitment in achieving training goals.

Motivate learners.

  1. Demonstrate the value of the training to the learners and cultivate their sense of confidence in their ability to master the objectives.

Make training problem-centered.

  1. Draw on authentic needs and contexts; make requirements of learning tasks similar to important requirements of job tasks.
  2. Encourage learners’ active construction of meaning, drawing on their existing knowledge.
  3. Teach multiple learning outcomes together.
  4. Sequence instruction so that learners can immediately benefit from what they learn by applying it to real-world tasks.

Help learners assume control of their learning.

  1. Provide coaching.
  2. Provide scaffolding and support in performing complex tasks.
  3. Adjust tools (equipment), task, and environment.
  4. Provide timely access to information and expertise.
  5. Provide timely access to performance feedback.
  6. Utilize group problem-solving methods.
  7. Provide help only when the learner is at an impasse and only enough help for the learner to complete the task.
  8. Fade support.
  9. Minimize mean time to help (i.e., provide “just-in-time” training).
  10. Encourage learners to reflect on their actions.
  11. Encourage exploration.
  12. Encourage learners to detect and learn from their errors.

Provide meaningful “practice.”

  1. Provide opportunities for learners to apply what they’ve learned in authentic contexts. If it is not feasible to practice on real tasks, provide cases or simulations.
  2. Personalize practice.


Instructional design with a cognitive approach is a good idea for teachers and trainers alike. I agree with the concepts and I recognize my college professors implemented several of these strategies. If I am tasked with creating meaningful learning I hope I will be able to apply these concepts to design instruction. Currently I am only creating “informational instruction” because I am following a preset teaching format used by the department called procedures. These procedures are simply a list of steps designed to achieve a desired result. Although learning does occur, it lacks meaning. After learners follow the prescribe steps, they have completed a task, but they may not remember the steps in the future and may have to access the procedure again to perform the same task. Repetition of the steps will eventually result in learning, but not necessarily a deep understanding of the task. I think providing the reasons why the particular steps in the task are performed would improve my instructional design.



Sorden, S. D. (2005). A cognitive approach to instructional design for multimedia learning. Informing Science Journal. 8. 1-17. Retrieved from http://inform.nu/Articles/Vol8/v8p263-279Sorden34.pdf

Wilson, B. G., Jonassen, D. H., & Cole, P. (1993). Cognitive approaches to instructional design. In G. M. Piskurich (Ed.), The ASTD handbook of instructional technology (pp. 21.1-21.22). New York: McGraw-Hill. Retrieved from http://carbon.ucdenver.edu/~bwilson/training.html


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