Instructional Design For The Improvement of Learning & Cognition Essay

Instructional Design For The Improvement of Learning & Cognition Essay

In January 1988, Robert Tennyson and Marina Rash of University of Minnesota presented a paper on the subject of learning and cognition on the annual meeting of the Association of Educational Communications and Technology. The paper highlights the importance of instructional methods to improve learning and cognition. The main objective of the paper is to propose an instructional design method that would enhance and increase the pace of learning by providing time utilization for achieving its objectives. Basically, the instructional process involves planning of the learning environment in a classroom to help students not only learn but apply those learning techniques in an effective fashion.

The authors further recommend that the main hurdle in the implementation of such instructional models has been a widely prevalent belief that such an instructional method doesn’t exist and the idea that cognition can be improved with the passage of time for which classroom training is not necessary. On contrary, the paper proposes that in recent past many social science scientists have proven that cognition and learning can significantly be improved in a given time frame by deploying known variables and conditions. These techniques, if used in a classroom environment can effectively increase the learning curve while teaching subject to deal with complex situations. The authors also argue that higher order thinking process can only be carried out if already exposed to appropriate environment and such an environment can be created in today’s classrooms to improve the learning and cognition.

Among its other objectives, the paper aims to facilitate the theory that ample time allocation for teaching subject matter is vital to achieve knowledge and its employment. Furthermore and taking into consideration earlier research by social science scientist, its author state that majority of the instructional time should be spend on exposing students to situations where they are able to utilize their learning to exhibit effective cognitive response. They theorize that conventional methods of teaching allocate a major portion of their teachings to procedural levels of learning which cannot achieve the goals of high level learning and employment.

Learning Environment

According to the writers, a person learns to interpret information which is then stored in the memory and human actions are based on memory extracted from the information storage during learning stage. Such memory codes can be divided into amount of memory stored, type of information gathered and the strategies implemented to carry out actions. Research in the types of thinking has provided evidence that thinking process can easily be divided into three categories which, if applied, improves the cognitive ability to differentiate, integrate and create ideas. The cognitive ability differs in each person and to increase the cognitive and thinking functions, one must be exposed to situation that requires the use of the memory codes. Regular use of such thinking strategies allow students to be creative by solving problems that in return harness the power of brain to generalize and differentiate between different situations.

Important factors of Learning Environment

The paper describes that there is a difference in intelligence and cognitive complexity. Cognitive complexity is attained by retrieving information that has been learned and applying that information to a prescribed situation. While it is significantly difficult to improve intelligence, it is much easier and practical to develop the functions of cognitive complexity. The concept of cognitive complexity is further described as the ability to understand and implement the required action, accordingly. Regarding cognitive complexity, creativity and integration of information are related factors that can be enhanced to augment the cognitive complexity of a person.

The discussion also elaborates the important factor of learning time. According to the paper, learning time basically relates to the time spend on storing the information and the subsequent retrieval of stored memory. The storage system contains three important knowledge based factors of which conceptual knowledge is most important to storage.

It is therefore important that instructors spend a significant amount of time to improve the conceptual knowledge; a knowledge based factor which provides direction to people on deciding when and how the stored information be used. Due to the fact that conceptual knowledge cannot be transferred within the multiple domains of human knowledge, the quality of conceptual knowledge depends upon the number of times the user has been exposed to a given or related situation. Depending upon this quality, certain people can effectively deploy conceptual knowledge to solve multiple problems quickly and efficiently.

Writers further stress that it is important for instructors to have a cognitive based objectives because objectives allow them to allocate certain time and select the teaching methods in a learning environment. Planning such cognitive objectives will compliment their taught curriculum whereas verbal information, intellectual skills, conditional information, thinking strategies and creativity are major objectives of cognition based learning. After defining rudiments of a learning environment, the paper highlights few instructional design techniques that can augment the student’s learning experience.

Instructional Methods to Enhance Learning Environment

Nevertheless, for ease of classification and understanding, both Robert Tennyson and Mariana Rasch have come out with five major instructional categories such as drill and practice which emphasizes the need for worked examples and repetitive question and answer format learning environment. Tutorial is another technique which provides instructor the freedom to test several variables in order to attain optimal results. This method requires constant monitoring of student problem solving skills and the best instructional technique to tackle the impending issues.

The third method is more tailored towards achieving the objectives of conceptual knowledge. The task oriented simulations requires student to resolve certain tasks by carrying out activities that require them to devise a solution based on their memories of previous tasks. The paper takes the task oriented simulations a step further by enhancing instructional techniques to include problem oriented simulations. These problem oriented simulations are an extension of task oriented simulations because students are required to resolve more complex situations after they successfully tackle the previous problem. The assumption behind introducing this unique set of instructional method will provide students a reflective evaluation and alternate strategies to find a more effective solution. The fifth proposal for instructional design method to improve cognition is the self directed experiences. The idea behind such an instructional design is based on earlier research that conclude that self directed experiences of students where they engage in activities at their own pace is probably one of the most effective techniques.

In defining five important instructional design methods, the authors have cited landmark studies on the subject of learning and cognition. Their cited examples provide factual evidence that certain variables and study techniques can be fine tuned to provide a much better learning environment which will ultimately result in better cognitive decision making process. Most of the discussion is based on providing evidence that there is a large amount of literature that has touched learning behaviors but ha never been compiled. The authors have tried to gather such available information and provide it in a controlled manner that would compliment their efforts to prove that study techniques can be adopted to increase the level of learning and cognitive ability.

Visual Presentation of the Model

To better understand the entire concept of a better instructional design for the improvement of cognition and learning, the paper provides a textual cum graphical representation of the entire issue in a tabular form. Furthermore, it will not be an oversimplification to suggest that the table summarizes the entire concept in few words. The table has broken the objectives of learning into two stages, storage and retrieval. The storage stage constitutes approximately 50 percent of the time allocation whereas retrieval corresponds to 45 percent of the total time that instructors should try to follow when providing instructions. The table also provides a visual representation of the most important elements of a leaning environment, discussed in the paper. It defines cognitive based objectives, memory system and instructional strategies that relate to specific variables during the entire instructional episode.

The writers have presented a new theory which emphasizes that information flow is mostly transferred between the domains of knowledge but there are certain times that such a flow is not possible. In these conditions it gets very difficult for humans with low cognitive ability to resolve the problems.


The basic idea behind such a paper is a theory that every instructional method should be based on the objective of getting the conceptual knowledge. It also reiterates the assumption that every student should be exposed to different sets of variables and time to gain maximum results. The paper further claims that only thirty percent of the time should be allotted to gaining the knowledge. The rest, seventy percent, should be allocated to understand the concepts and then engaging in problem solving activities to better equip oneself with cognitive abilities. It is therefore necessary for instructors to expose their students to the proposed methods of instructional design that will help them concentrate on resolving complex issues rather than spending almost two thirds of their learning time to acquire general knowledge.


In identifying the instructional methods, the authors have provided specific examples of proven variable and strategies that are related to the objectives of cognitive learning. They have provided examples of previous studies that draw attention to the fact that there is no specific method of instruction but instead instructors can manipulate different established variables to provide a better learning environment to their students. It is also noticeable that one of the core objectives of the writers was to provide sufficient evidence that there are proven teaching techniques and learning variables that an instructor can use to build a curriculum. The paper goes on to acknowledge that the proposed instructional design solutions are only implied and there are many other variables that instructors should manipulate to provide a first class curriculum for improving the learning and cognition process in a given time frame.


Tennyson, R & Rasch M. (1988). Instructional Design for the Improvement of Learning & Cognition. Retrieved May 06, 2009, from Education Resources Information Center Web Site:

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