Education, eLearning As A Business, eLearning Concepts

Cognitive Learning: How to Use It, Benefits and Examples

6 min read | updated Jun 10, 2024
Cognitive Learning: How to Use It, Benefits and Examples cover image

Traditionally, in the education system, a lot of learning is black and white – either you respond to a problem with the correct answer, or you don’t and get the answer wrong. The problem with this style of learning is that it sometimes results in learners memorizing answers solely to complete a course. With this approach, once a course is completed, the majority of information and knowledge is usually forgotten.

That’s where Cognitive Learning Theory (CLT) comes into play – by focusing on individuals’ backgrounds and experiences as opposed to just grading for correctness.

This theory was founded back in 1936 and takes into account more than just if a student is wrong or right while solving a problem. Instead, it looks at why and how a student was able to answer a question and what the student’s thought process and previous life experiences had to do with their answer.

This modern approach to learning isn’t just applicable to teaching k-12 and college students, but also in the training and retraining of professionals in different industries.

What is Cognitive Learning Theory?

Cognitive Learning Theory is a more active approach to learning, where learners’ answers are not just judged by correctness, but also on how a learner arrives at their answer. This theory is based on a term called “Metacognition”, which is pretty much just the idea of thinking about one’s thinking. So, if an instructor was applying cognitive learning theory to the classroom – instead of just evaluating whether a student got an answer right or wrong, they would examine how the student came up with their answer.

Cognitive learning theory is vital in today’s world because it takes into consideration that everybody thinks differently based on their own memories, experiences, and relevant information they have learned in the past. Understanding how people think differently can help improve eLearning and professional training for SMBs and corporations in all types of industries.

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Different Cognitive Learning Strategies

Today we are going to focus on how Cognitive learning theory can apply to corporate training. This will still be applicable if you’re teaching K-12 or college students, but the focus today is to help SMBs and larger companies improve their training programs.

So, let’s first talk about some of the different approaches to cognitive learning theory – and the psychologists who developed them.

Personalized Learning Approach

This approach to learning was first discovered by a swiss psychologist named Jean Piaget in 1936 after working with children and coming to the conclusion that everybody makes different mistakes based on what actions they have witnessed and been a part of in the world.

Piaget separated his theory into four different cognitive development stages based on age. After thorough testing, he concluded that nobody learns identically, even when taught the same curriculum in the same way!

Using a personalized learning approach for training employees and customers in your business is all about cognitive development.

Let’s say you’re requiring new hires to take a sexual harassment course during the first 90 days of employment. One way you could encourage employees to take this training seriously is by requiring everyone to join an Instructor-Led-Training on Zoom before they can pass the course. This way, instead of just relying on team members to memorize answers to pass a test, they’re actually interacting with each other on a live call to learn about the seriousness of an issue and understand how it can be prevented.

Cognitive learning theory is based on the fact that everyone understands the world differently. Similarly, some people may be taking training as a requirement while others are just scratching an itch. Applying this theory even partially into your L&D programs, you could improve training in many ways, regardless of the context:

  • Have customers fill out a survey about background knowledge before starting an online course, then use the data to personalize learning experiences.
  • Host webinars and live-training sessions where each customer has the option to speak up and have a 1 to 1 conversation with an instructor.
  • Use discussion boards in a course to encourage collaboration and different opinions.
  • Communicate directly with learners in a self-paced training program to clarify or clear up confusion quickly.

Bloom’s Taxonomy

Named after American educational psychologist Benjamin BloomBloom’s Taxonomy breaks down cognitive learning into a 6 part hierarchy.

This knowledge-based approach to learning first looks at what a student remembers about a topic (knowledge). Then at the highest level, students are graded based on how well they can apply this knowledge, evaluate what they’ve just been taught, and create more information. Similar to Piaget’s studies, Bloom’s Taxonomy frames learning in a way that looks beyond a students’ test results.

Six levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy


  • What facts, basic concepts, and overall knowledge does a student remember. Remembering information and concepts doesn’t mean a student necessarily understands what they’re talking about.


  • Interpreting information and being able to make sense of it. Able to summarize information accurately, and re-teach it to others.


  • Taking new knowledge and applying it to solve a similar problem. For example; one of your employees is seen harassing a coworker, multiple team members who just took a mandated diversity training then report this incident to senior management.


  • This is the act of breaking down basic knowledge into smaller components to compare how each piece relates to each other. Additionally, looking at causes and solutions of a problem and relating them back to a concept.


  • Ability to judge how accurate ideas and work based on newly acquired knowledge.


  • Generating and producing new information and ideas. For example; let’s say your business sells food and safety training to restaurants. One of your new customers takes a training course from you, and then using their new knowledge decides to adjust some rules in their restaurant kitchen about how long they keep leftover ingredients.

When applying CLT to your organization’s training programs, the amount of cognitive learning needed for training to be successful will vary based on the course and audience being trained.

  1. For example; If you’re onboarding new employees, then they will likely be in good shape after understanding the basics and how to apply the company information provided.
  2. Managers and mid-level employees with more job responsibilities will need to understand deeper levels of cognitive learning; guiding and leading people requires analysis, evaluation, and autonomy in decision making.

elearning Blooms Taxonomy

Applying Cognitive Learning Theory to your Business’s eLearning and L&D programs

Whether you’re training at a non-profit organization or selling B2B training programs at an enterprise level; delivering a positive learning experience to customers should always be the goal. Lucky for you, psychologists like Mr. Bloom and Jean Piaget have paved the way to make this very possible.

So, the next time you’re updating or creating a new training curriculum for your employees, customers, and partners training online, here are some key factors to think about:

  1. Instead of just requiring your audience to take on-demand coursework and tests, implement some live training and host webinars to engage learners on a deeper level.
  2. Use surveys to test learners’ knowledge after taking courses, and then create different learning paths for people based on their level of understanding.
  3. Use discussion boards and other collaborative tools in your eLearning system to give learners and instructors the opportunity to talk with each other.
  4. Require learners enrolled in on-demand courses to take part in at least one webinar to complete a course – then test how well learners can apply their knowledge to overcome problems on the spot.
  5. Incorporate role-playing and hypothetical questions inside of your courses to test how well learners are retaining information.

Just like in Math class back in high school or college; showing your work is everything!

Utilizing CLT in your business’s training initiatives may take more effort to set up in the beginning, but the results are your teams become smarter and more profitable after completing a course.

Using Cognitive Learning Theory for My Organization?

So you understand what Cognitive Learning Theory is and how it can be used to improve your organization’s training initiatives. But how are you going to actually implement it?

You need a system that’s flexible enough to support your new learning curriculum. One that integrates with third-party software applications and is highly customizable to your business’s unique needs.

It’s called a learning management system, and this is the end-all-be-all solution that you’re looking for – Let’s Talk Today about how our platform can streamline your business’s success.

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