Sometimes, when someone calls us, we immediately hear it. Then, we give the response from his or her calling. From the phenomenon, unconsciously there is a process happens in our brain or thought. The process is called cognitive theories or cognitivism. According to Mergel (1998) cognitivism is a process based on the thought process behind the behavior. Changes in behavior are observed, and used  as to what is happening inside the learner’s mind. Cognitive theories emphasize the children conscious thought (Hebb, 2003:3). From the two definitions, I can infer that a process can be called cognitivism if a process happens in conscious thought(inside the learner’s mind). Here is the explanation of e the development of cognitivism or cognitive revolution.


      Cognitivism as a theory of learning studies about the process occurs inside the learner’s mind has the own history about how it happens or the development of it. The development of cognitivism theory is famous with the term “cognitive revolution”. According to asiaeuniversity (2012:106) the cognitive revolution is the name for an intellectual movement in the 1950s that began with what are known collectively as the cognitive sciences. It began in the modern context of greater interdisciplinary communication and research. Although cognitive psychology emerged in the late  1950s and began to take over as the dominant theory of learning. It wasn’t until the late 1970s that cognitive science began to have its influence on instructional design (Mergel,1998).

      From the assumptions of the two experts, I can infer that the development of cognitivism happened in the 1950s as the dominant theory of learning. Unfortunately, the impact of it in the language learning occurred in 1970s. One of the real impacts is the influence on instructional design. In this case, the development of cognitive theory in psychology is as the response of behaviorism (asiaeuniversity, 2012:106). As we know that, behaviorism is the theory of language learning which emphasize in observable behavior. The answer why cognitivism theory appears as the response of behaviorism theory was because the behaviorist psychologist tried to avoid the use of mental process in our mind. They tried to erase the cognitivism theory. In other words, they just would like to explain something which is observable, not the unobservable one (cognitivism).


     After we know the history of cognitivism, it is important for us to know the factors influenced the development of it. According to Jordan, Carlite & Stack (2008: 36-37) there are four factors influenced it. They are the development of experimental psychology, the move from on interest in external behaviors to internal brain process, the inadequacy of computer and an interest in artificial intelligence.

Experimental psychology

The factor emphasized in how the memory was laid down by using nonsense syllables and words that was begun in the 1880s by Herman Ebbinghuns.

The Shift from behaviorism to cognitivism

The factor emphasized that not all learning can be explained through observable behaviors, sometimes we find unobservable ones. For example : Rats build up a mental representation or cognitive map of their environment and develop expectations rather than  a set of inflexible links between stimuli and response(Tolman , 1948 in Jordan, 2008:37).

Language Acquisition

The factor showed that the result of contested theories of language acquisition was the evidence of human cognition. In this case language is as the result which is shaped by the stimulus- response.

Computer and Artificial Intelligence

The factor showed the relationship between computers and cognitivism theory. Here, the computer is seen as a process for cognitive function while brain as the computing tool. For example the cognitive theory consists of information processing, input-process –output model.In this case, the position of cognitive learning theory is just the beginning to inform the design of CALL materials (Collentine, 2000:3).


    According to Mergel (1998) cognitivism is a cognitivist theory that based on thought process behind the behavior. It means that the theory occurs inside the learners mind consciously. Moreover, it focuses on how people think, how people understand, and how people know (asiaeuniversity, 2012:107).How people think is the theory stresses in how our ways of thinking will impact to the  behavior. How people understand is the theory shows the people’s understanding related to outside world. How people know is the theory shows how the people know phenomenon outside the world. Of course, it derives from the process thatrt happens in human mind.

     An individual ‘s cognition plays a significant and primary role in the development and maintenance of emotional and behavioural responses to life situation (Prendes & Resko). In other words, cognitivist theory as the study of mental process could impact or influence  the individual’s emotion and behavioural responses because it is a process in determining on how person thinks, understands, and knows.


     Cognitivism involves the study of mental processes such as sensation, perception, attention, encoding, and memory that behaviorists were reluctant to study  because cognition occurs inside the” black box” of the brain (Jordan, Carlite & Stack, 2008:36). In this case, sensation perception, attention, encoding, and memory are the principle of cognitivism. The followings are the explanation of them.

      The first principle is sensation. It shows how the stimuli derived from external stimuli is registered in sensory before it being sent to the following process. The second principle is perception which shows as the process to interpret and make sense something which can be seen through our sense. It consists of pattern recognition, object recognition, bottom up or top down processing, and conscious perception. The third principle is attention which stresses in the concentrating to one thing, that the most importance than the others. It is important to determine the conscious awareness. The fourth principle is encoding as the principle of cognitive theory focuses on the importance of encoding information, after something being perceived and attended to stimuli. The way to encode the information can be done through organizing and then form it in the form of schema. In this case, to encode the information in the form of experience can be conducted through two ways. They are bottom up and top down (Jordan, Carlite, & Stack 2008:43). Bottom up is the way to encode experience by transferring the information that is gained through the external world. It is mediated through attention and perception. While top down is another way to encode experience. It is in the form of action prior knowledge in order to help in interpreting the bottom up. The fifth principle is memory. Memory is the ability to keep and remind the information in our mind. It consists of short term memory, long term memory, and sensory.

      Short term memory consists of limited amount of data and short duration. It is also known as the working memory because it consists of some functions. They are rehearsal (repetition), coding, decision making, and retrieval. The information that can be maintained approximately 5-9 bits. According to Vinci (2000: 18) long term memory can hold a huge  amount of information-facts , data, and rules for how to use and process them and the information can be maintained  for long period. It means that long term memory consists of very large amount of data and very long duration. The way to keep the information can be maintained in this type of memory is by using cues.


     Cognitive is a learning theory that emphasized in the process which happens inside the learners. In this case, there are three important types of cognitive theories. They are Piaget’s cognitive development theory, Vygotsky’s socio cultural cognitive theory and the information processing approach.

Piaget’s Cognitive Development (1896-1980)

     Piaget is the famous psychologist from Swiss who describes cognitivism theory in the cognitive developmental theory. According to Hebb(2003: 3) Piaget’s theory states the children actively construct their understanding of the world and go through stages of cognitive development. It means that Piaget described cognitivism in the stage development of children when they are ready to construct the meaning of things through their own understanding which starts from the simple to complex thing. Knowledge and thinking skills provide the substance and tools for cognitive problem solving (Bandura, 1989:9).  There are two processes underlie in cognitive construction. They are organization and adaptation. Organization is important  in order  the children  construct  the meaning of thing which make sense to them by  organizing our experience. For example  we specify the less and important ideas then we connect them. While adaptation is useful when we add the new information in our thinking system  because there is important additional information.

     In this case, adaptation is differentiated into two ways. They are assimilation and accommodation. Assimilation occurs when individuals adjust  to new information (Hebb, 2003:3). For example: Newborns reflexively such everything that touches their lips (assimilation) , but after several months of experience, they construct their understanding of the world differently . They don’t suck fuzzy blanket (accommodation). Piaget developed the cognitive development because he believed  that the children pass the four stages  of cognitive development.

    The first stage is sensorimotor (from birth to about two years of age). In this stage an infant tries to construct the meaning of something that he or she is seeing and hearing. This stage emphasizes in the infant’s motoric action. All the end of the stage, that is two years old babies will have complex sensorimotor than before because they try to desire the meaning of thing in simple symbols. The second stage is preoperational stage (two to seven years of age). In this stage, the children try to represent the world through word, images, and drawing. The third stage is concrete operational stage (seven to eleven years of age). In this stage, the children can use the intuitive thought. It means that they try to learn from concrete to abstract thing. For instance, concrete operational thinkers can’t imagine the step to complete algebra equation which is too abstract for thinking at this stage of development. The fourth stage is operational stage (eleven to fifteen years of age) In this stage, the individuals move beyond concrete experiences and think in abstract and more logical terms. For instance formal operational thinkers are more detail in solving the problems.

Vygotsky’s Socio Cultural Theory 1896-1934)

      Vygotsky is a Russian psychologist who emphasize the cognitivism theory based on the developmental analysis, the role of language, and social relation. According to Hebb( 2003:3) there are three claims of Vygotsky. They are child’s cognitive skills can be understood only when they are developmentally analyzed and interpreted. It means that if someone wants to know the origin and the transformation from beginning to the next, he must take a part in child’s cognitive functioning.

      Vygotsky’s second claim is cognitive skills are mediated by words, language, and forms of discourse which serve as psychological tools for facilitating and transforming mental activity.It means that language is important tool for children in early childhood in order to plan their activities and solve the problems. His third claims described knowledge is situated and collaborative. It means that knowledge occurred in environments through the interaction with others collaboratively.

The information Processing Approach

      According to Hebb (2003:6) the information processing approach emphasizes that individuals manipulate information processing approach is same with cognitive developmental theory by Piaget that emphasizes in the individual’s learning but the information processing approach does not describe development as like stage (Piaget). Green (2003) states that information processing approach involves three basic steps. They are encoding, storage, and retrieval. The information that is gotten must be transferred through three basic memory before it can be stored and retrieved.

     Three basic memories are sensory memory is a type of memory that consists of the important and clear information in order to give signal for the useful ones. Short term memory is a type of memory which is famous as working memory. It has short capability and period of time. There is only 7+-2 pieces of information can be kept there. Long term memory is a type of memory that has very large data and very long duration. To make the information is still keep in long term memory, people usually make mnemonics, creating outline as a tool to keep the meaningful information. According to Siegler (1998) in Hebb (2003:6) a leading expert on children’s information processing. So, he means that the process of transferring information of individual from example people retrieve information. It means that they are thinking.


    According to McLeod (2007) Bruner stated that cognitive growth involves interaction between basic human capabilities and culturally invented technologies that serves as amplifiers of these capabilities. It means that Bruner described cognitivism as the process of thinking that occurs in interaction in social environment and also influence the development of technology.  This invented technology not only consists of concrete but also abstract technology. In this case, Bruner agreed with the concept of Vygotsky’s social cognitivism that language serves to mediate between environmental stimuli and individual’s response. The concept of learning through cognitivism theory based on Bruner not only emphasized in concept, categories, and problem solving but also the ability to invent it. According to Bruner, cognitive development is divided into three models of representation. They are as the followings.

Enactive representation (action –based)=> 0-1 year old

In this representation, the children try to learn manipulating object. For example babies’ understanding is that bottle is something that they suck to get milk.

Iconic representation has to do with images and things that can be altered=>1-6 years old

In this representation children try to think the differences between two different situations separately. For example children imagine there is no people in market and there are so many people in market.

Symbolic representation implies using symbols to change knowledge into code=> 7 years old.

In the representation emphasized in the role of encoding to make the explanation more clearly. For example: math variable is typically in mathematics subject.


      Cognitivism is a theory of learning studies about the process occurs inside the learner’s. It is one of the language theories that gives contribution in education field. In this case, there are some language theories that give contribution to education field beside behaviorism such as cognitivism and constructivism. So, in the followings are the differences among them in order to users of this theory do understand with their own principles(Jung & Orey, 2008).


    It stresses on students’ observable behavior to create automatic learning includes the use of instructional cues, practice, and reinforcement. In this case, the role of the teacher in behaviorism theory is determines what type of cues that could produce the desired response, to create conducive situation to reach the target stimuli and to create environmental condition.


    It stresses on the process happens inside the human mind, acquisition of the language, and internal mental structure. In this case, the role of teacher is to understand the position of the students who have different experience that will influence to the learning outcome, to determine the manners that mostly used and which one is effective to organize the new information, to provide feedback in order to make the new information will be more effective and efficient.


    It emphasizes on how to construct the meaning of the word or thing based on their  own understanding. It can be done through individual experience and schema. The role of the teacher is to ask the students to learn to construct meaning and to assimilate and accommodate the students’ prior knowledge and the new ones.


    According to Suharno (2010:60) the cognitive view takes the learner to be an active processor of information. It means that the cognitive theory tries to create the people to be active to think. The implication of cognitive theories in educational field is try to produce the students to find the problem solving.do discovery learning, cognitive strategies, and project based learning.

Problem Based Learning

    The application of the learning is try the students to find the solution of the problem. For example the student conducts a research. It means that he or she must find the solution to solve  the problems of his or her research that consists of identifies the problem, collects and analyzes the data, draws the conclusion. The strength of problem based learning are it focuses on the meaningfulness not the facts, it can improve the students’ initiative, it can improve the students’ learning achievement etc.

Discovery Learning

    Discovery learning is one of the applications of cognitivism . According to O’Donnell(1997) “Discovery Learning is an instructional method in which the students are free to work in learning environment with little or no guidance”. This assumption from O’Donnell is also supported by Ryan & Muray (2009) who assume that discovery learning is problem based learning with minimal guidance”. It means that through discovery learning the teacher gives opportunity to students to explore their selves by learning through the environment with little guidance from the teacher. There are some structures that must be paid attention in applying discovery learning. They are readiness to learn, intuitive and analytical thinking, motivates for learning. These structures must be moved from basic to advanced step.

      From the example of the two types of implication of cognitive theories, the users of the theory must be paid attention to the principles itself. There are six principles of cognitivism theory to improve teaching (Magna publication, 1995).The first principle if information is to be learned, it must first be recognized as important. The second is during learning, learners act on information in ways that make it more meaningful. The third is learners store information in long term memory in an organized fashion related to their existing understanding of the world. The fourth is learners continually check understanding, which results in refinement and revision of what is retained. The fifth is transfer of learning to new contexts is not automatic, but results’-form exposure to multiple application,. The sixth is learning is facilitated when learners are aware of their learning strategies and monitor their use.


     Cognitivism is a theory of learning studies about the process occurs inside the learner’s. So, as a teacher who wants to apply the cognitivism in his or her teaching learning process, he or she must consider the strength and weaknesses of it when it applies in classroom. The weakness of cognitivism is the learners learn the way to finish the task, but it is not a good way. The  strength is the students are trained to do the task in the same way to produce the students who have  consistency behavior ( Schuman,1996 in Mergel, 1998).


     Cognitive theory is learning theory of psychology that attempts to explain human behavior by understanding the thought process. It is emphasized in the conscious thought. The theory  was born in the 1950s. There are four factors influenced the development of it. They are experimental psychology, the shift from behaviorism to cognition, language acquisition and computer artificial intelligence. In this case, cognitivism is divided into three important cognitive theories emphasize their conscious thoughts. They are Piaget’s cognitive development theory, Vygotsky’s socio cultural cognitive theory, and the information processing approach. All of the types of cognitive theory stress on the important of process that is happening inside  the human’s mind. The application of cognitive theory can be applied through problem based learning, discovery learning, cognitive strategies, and project based learning. Overall the goal of its application is to create the students to be active in teaching learning process.


Asiaeuniversity, 2012. Learning Theories-behaviorism. Chapter Five. http://peoplelearn.homestead.com/BEduc/Chapter_5.pdf. Accessed on 20 October 2012.

Bandura, A. 1989. Social cognitive theory. In R. Vasta (Ed.), Annals of child development,  6(8). Available on. citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi= Accessed on 4 January 2013.

Collentine,J. 1993. Cognitive Principles and CALL Grammar Instruction: A Mind-Centered, Input Approach. CALICO Journal. 15(1-3) .Available on http://www.calico.org/html/article_439.pdf.Accessed on 4 January 2013.

Green. 2003. From Theory to Practice: Cognitive Principles of Learning and Instruction. The Office for Teaching and Learning Newsletter.7(3). Available online on http://www.otl.wayne.edu. Accessed on 4 January 2013.

Hebb. 2003. Chapter 2. Available on. highered.mcgraw-hill.com/sites/dl/free/0070905738/80324/LSDChap02_1.pdf. Accessed on 20 October 2012.

Jordan, A., Carlite O., & Stack, A. 2008. Approaches to Learning: A Guide for Teachers. New York: The McGrow Hill Companies.

Jung, E.J. & Orey, M. 2008. Comparison of Major Learning Paradigms. Available on www.81bada.myweb.uga.edu/portfolio/comparison.pdf. Accessed on 8 October2012.

McLeod, S. A. 2008. Bruner – Learning Theory in Education. Available on http://www.simplypsychology.org/bruner.html. Accessed on 4 January 2013.

Mergel, B. 1998. Instructional Design & Learning Theory. Available on http://www.a3net.net/elearning/Instructional_design-comparison-mergel.pdf. Accessed on 10 October 2012.

O’Donell. 1997. A. M.  Case Based Study. Available on http://www.education.com/reference/article/constructivism/. Accessed on 20 October 2012.

Prendes, A.A.G., & Resko, A.M . 2011. Cognitive-Behavioral Theory. Available on http://www.sagepub.com/upm-data/40689_2.pdf . Accessed on 4 January 2013.

Ryan, E.R. & Muray. 2009. The Use of Discovery Learning in Athletic Training Education. Available on www.coloradomesta.edu/shared/facprofile/documents/theuseofdiscoverylearningathletictrainingeducation.pdf. Accessed on 31 October 2012.

Suharno. 2010. Cognitivism and Its Implication In The Second Language Learning. Parole Jurnal Linguistik dan Edukasi. 2(1) .Available on ejournal.undip.ac.id/index.php/parole/article/download/811/697.  Accessed on 31 October 2012.

“Using Cognitive Theories To Improve Teaching”.The Teaching Professor April 1995: 3-4. Used with permission from Magna Publications, 800/433-0499.Available on http://academic.cuesta.edu/acasupp/as/264.htm. Accessed on 4 January 2013.

Vinci, L.D. 2000. Cognitive Principles and Guidelines for Instruction Available on. www2.physics.umd.edu/~redish/Book/02.pdf. Accessed on 4 January 2013.