Cognitive Learning: Types of Learning, An Educational Guide

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Our life is cognitive learning. We learn from experiences, emotions, novelty, our relationships with people, etc … The learning and education we receive define who we are. In this article, we want to help you apply discoveries about the brain to education.


Understand how our brain works to learn and teach better. Discover in this article the different types of cognitive learning. Enhancing the brain’s learning capacity is in our hands!

Normally, in schools, we are taught to repeat the data over and over again until we can memorize the information. But how does the brain learn? Memorizing information does not teach us to face the world or to develop our potential, our personality, our way of being, the way to face challenges and objectives …

Our education and learning define who we are. But, despite all the advances and discoveries that have been made in the field of human cognitive learning, we do not apply them to education. We have to learn to educate with a brain, to take into account the characteristics of our mind to educate better.

Good cognitive learning

Good cognitive learning goes through the use of emotion, surprise, movement, and the use of specific neuroeducational tools that favor the cognitive development of individuals.

Cognitive learning:  The RAE defines learning as acquiring knowledge of something through study or experience. On the other hand, “cognitive” refers to “cognition” that defines the ability of the human being to know through perception and the organs of the brain. The concept of cognitive learning defines the processes that intervene during the information process, ranging from sensory input, passing through the cognitive system and reaching the response produced.

Learning is the verb that has perhaps most marked the human species throughout its entire phylogeny. We are living proof of the continuous learning that human life has meaning as we know it today.

Our brain is the guide and director of our learning, but we must not be wrong. As a human being advanced, he embraces more and more knowledge. “We are getting smarter.” This could lead us to think that perhaps our brain becomes more sophisticated as we move forward, however it is not. What changes is our way of learning, and as we learn more about how our brain works, the easier it is for us to take advantage of its characteristics to make it easier for us to learn.


Learning types

  1. Implicit learning

Implicit learning is “blind” learning since we learn without realizing that we are learning.

The main characteristics of this cognitive learning are that it is unintentional, the learner is not aware of what he is learning, and that it results in the automatic execution of motor behavior.

Certain activities require unintended learning such as talking or walking. Many of the things we learn are without realizing it, implicitly.

  1. Explicit learning

In contrast to implicit learning, explicit learning is characterized by the intention to learn and the awareness of it. There are many examples of this type of cognitive learning, such as the act of reading this article is already an example of explicit learning, since it is done with the intention of learning.

Explicit learning, being an intentional gesture, requires sustained attention, an effort that follows the intention to learn.

  1. Cooperative and collaborative learning

Cooperative learning is a type of group learning. For example, a student who learns with her partner or colleagues. The objective pursued by this cognitive learning is that each member learns within their possibilities and that teamwork is also encouraged. [1]

The four pillars that support this cognitive learning are positive interdependence, individual responsibility, equal participation, and simultaneous interaction.

Learning similar to (but not the same) is collaborative learning. In this type of learning, it is generally a person outside the group (be it a teacher, educator, etc.) who proposes a topic and it is developed in a group.

  1. Meaningful learning


This type of learning collects from the cognitive, emotional, and motivational dimensions. This type of learning involves a process of organizing information and connecting with the knowledge and previous experience of the learner. The new information is related to our experiences. This results in the new knowledge becoming unique for each person since each of us has our own story. It is like learning through the filter with which we see reality.

  1. Associative learning

If you are familiar with Pavlov’s dogs, you may already know what this type of cognitive learning consists of. Associative learning defines the association between a certain stimulus and precise behavior. In the case of Pavlov’s dogs the sound of a bell with the arrival of food, which resulted in the dogs starting to salivate every time they heard the sound of the bell.

  1. Habituation and awareness: Non-associative learning

These two processes are included within the same type of learning: non-associative. This defines our change in the face of a continuous stimulus.

Habituation learning is a primitive type of learning that allows us to adapt to the environment. It is an everyday phenomenon and very frequent in our day to day. It occurs when we stop paying attention to a stimulus ( decreased response to a stimulus ). An example of habituation learning is found in those people who live near a very noisy road. The first day they will hear the noise a lot, but as the weeks go by, they will get used to the noise, and it will stop bothering them as it did at first.

On the other hand,  sensitization learning is the opposite of the previous case: Our response increases when faced with a repeated stimulus. That means that the more times we presented with the same stimulus, the more times we will give the same response. Awareness is a very adaptive and very primitive type of learning.

  1. Learning by discovery

When information is actively sought and curiosity is what moves the brain, we are learning by discovery. In this cognitive learning, the individual discovers, interested, learns, relates concepts, and adapts them to his cognitive scheme.

  1. Observational or imitation learning

This type of vicarious learning serves as a role model and then imitates it. In this cognitive learning, mirror neurons have a lot to do with it. Imitation is a powerful weapon of learning.

  1. Emotional learning

This type of learning involves the emotional development of the individual. Emotional intelligence develops from this learning that allows you to manage your own emotions. ( Emotional intelligence test )

Also, emotion plays a very important role in learning that we will point out later.

  1. Experiential learning

Our experiences are the best book to learn. According to the experiences that life gives us, we are learning the lessons of it. This type of cognitive learning is very powerful but also subjective, since, as with meaningful learning, each experience is a different book to learn from, and each person a different student.

  1. Memory learning

As its name suggests, this type of cognitive learning is based on the use of memory, fixing certain data on it. The difference between this type of learning and meaningful learning is that the rote acts as a recorder, without the need for the subject to understand what he is learning.

  1. Responsive learning

It is a completely passive type of learning in which the person only receives the information that he has to learn. A very good example of this cognitive learning is the teacher’s talk while the student sits listening at the desk.

  1. Metacognitive strategies

It is important to point out these other types of learning strategies to understand a little better our way of learning. These strategies involve knowing the learning process itself. Learn to learn. Know yourself, your attitudes, and your skills, to know how to learn better depending on the case . What is metacognition.

Each person is different and there is no ideal learning method that works perfectly for everyone. Therefore, knowing your strengths and weaknesses is a plus when it comes to learning.

Cognitive Learning: How to Apply Brain Knowledge to Education

Although findings of the brain and the way it learns have come a long way in the past thirty years, most educational systems are based on the wrong model of learning. Reading and memorizing phrases from a book is not the way to learn. Studies show that other factors such as sport, emotion, surprise, and experimentation are the perfect ingredients to gain knowledge.

The importance of emotion

Getting excited is vital to remember. Emotion is the cement of memory. In the words of Francisco Mora: ” The emotion-cognition binomial is indissoluble, intrinsic to the functional design of the brain”

The information that we collect through the senses passes through the limbic system before going to the cerebral cortex. One of the most primitive parts of our body, the amygdala, participates in the limbic system. Which activated on the occasions that it believes are important for survival. The amygdala is a great cement of memory as it consolidates it.

You probably remember your birthday better than class or workday two weeks ago.

Play sports and learn


Studies have shown that sport not only improves physical performance but also improves cognitive performance and learning. When doing sports, certain proteins released that promote brain plasticity, which generates new neurons and new synapses or connections.

According to the Observatory of Childhood and Adolescent Health, Physical activity contributes to maintaining and even improving, aspects related to cognitive performance and mental health.

Among the many benefits that sport has, the person who practices it obtains on a cognitive level:

  • Better academic performance and greater attention span.
  • A lower probability of suffering disorders such as depression or anxiety.
  • A better mood and emotional state.

The Windows

If we talk about learning, we must mention the windows.

Windows is an idea that neuroeducation defends and that speaks of the periods in which it is more optimal to learn. These are critical periods in which one learning favored more than another.

You can learn to speak at any time in your life but the optimal time is from 0 to 3 years old. Later you can also learn but with much more effort and without achieving the same results.

Taking this idea into account, Jaime Romanos affirms that we know that having very young children sitting in a class, still, negatively influences their brain. Discover the stages of development.

Errors in our way of educating

Waste the windows

Taking into account what we know about our brain and the optimal strategies for learning. We should think that reforms have been made to optimize the educational system. But it’s not like that. We teach in the wrong way. If we were to take into account windows of learning, we would not seat very young children, because they would have to be learning while moving. Or we would not speak of pure science in such a theoretical way to adolescents whose brain in those moments is emotional.

Always use the same type of learning

It seems that the learning that dominates in the classroom is receptive or rote. Totally mechanical and passive learning that does not take advantage of the advantages of our way of learning.

 How should we learn?

That is a good question. It is clear that there are many difficult changes to make, but not so much that it does not take into account even one bit how our brain works.

Use movement, emotion, surprise to awaken students’ interest, and brains. We have learned a lot in recent years, it is time to start applying what we have learned and educating with the brain.

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