Second Language Acquisition and Cognitive Learning Theory

As early as the 1920’s people began to find limitations in the behaviorist approach to understanding learning. Critiques of this theory often highlight its inability to explain certain social behavior. Based on studies that launched the cognitive learning theory it was observed that children do not imitate all reinforced behavior. They may model new behavior days or weeks after their first initial observation. These behaviors were developed in the absence of reinforcements. Thus, Bandura and Walters broke off from the traditional operant conditioning explanation that the child must perform and receive reinforcement before being able to learn.

In their book, Social Learning and Personality Development, that an individual could model behavior by observing the behavior of another person. These findings paved the way to Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory (Dembo, 1994). The age old question of how do human learn had been a keen interest study because this is a very human trait. Given that all most species has the potential to learn, it is only humans that are capable and are determined to change environmental factors to optimize learning. Unlike its predecessor, cognitive learning theories focus on the mental processes of brain that leads to learning.

The core of the cognitivist paradigm is the view of a learner as an information processor. Proponents argue that the mind should be opened and understood. It attempts to explain that to understand learning by understanding the thought processes involved. Learning becomes a conscious effort with the assumption is that humans are logical beings that make the choices that make the most sense to them (Glaser, 1984). Social cognitive theory is a subset of cognitive theory. It focused primarily on the ways in which we learn to model a behavior.

Social cognitive theory is evident in advertising campaigns and peer pressure situations. Contiguity and repetition were attributed to the associations established to aid learning and development. Still, the cognitive theory does not disregard the importance of reinforcement. Providing feedback about the correctness of responses is regarded as an important motivator. However, even while accepting such behaviorist concepts, cognitive theorists view learning as involving the acquisition or reorganization of the cognitive structures through which humans process and store information.

Learning is complex but not mysterious. This asserts that with the right information and training, anyone can learn better, faster, and easier. Learners when provided with the appropriate approach to strengthening cognitive skills, learning challenges can be conquered. The cognitive learning theories address learning as learner centered. Learning is best retained when the skill is deemed important or necessary (Good and Brophy, 2007). At this point it is important to reiterate that academic knowledge acquired in the classroom is not as the same as cognitive skills. Cognitive skills can change and improve.

It focuses on the skills necessary for learning not necessarily just the content. Thus, malfunctioning cognitive skills make learning difficult and frustrating. The cause of learning problem and strengthening can be identified through specific cognitive skills testing. Second Language Acquisition For the purpose of this paper, we will look into the cognitive approach on second language acquisition. Using the cognitive learning paradigm, this paper would briefly illustrate how learners can utilize and develop cognitive skills and learning strategies to learn a foreign language.

As mentioned earlier in the cognitivist paradigm, everyone can learn. Levels may vary but children and adults alike can learn a second language given that the learner is provided with the most effective and developmentally appropriate instruction. Studying a foreign language is a growing necessity due the globalization of industry and education. Developmentally appropriate practice was introduced through Jean Piaget’s Cognitive-Development Theory. The idea that children’s thinking is qualitatively different than adults comes from Piaget.

His theory also shows us that children need to construct or reconstruct knowledge in order to learn and that they also need rich opportunities to interact with the physical world and with their peers. Piaget’s theory is based on the idea that the developing child builds cognitive structures– schemas, or networked concepts for understanding and responding to physical experiences within his or her environment. The cognitive structure increases in sophistication with development. It progress from a few innate reflexes such as crying and sucking to highly complex mental activities (Dembo, 1994).

Adult learners, according to Knowles (1984) are different with their younger counterparts in terms of motivation, reason for study and experience. Adult learners are deemed as self-determined and self-motivated learners. Thus, instruction and lessons should be student directed and student-centered. They had accumulated gamut of experiences in the field. One of the most important aspect of adult learners is the importance they put on the relevance of a new learning to their own personal goals. Most of then not, adults go to for further studies on their own accord.

It is important that there is a sense of interaction, where they can share and enrich their own experiences among peers. Adults need to continuously and actively exercise determinism. As learners they need to active role from planning, implementation to evaluation. Cognitive psychologists assert that problem solving is fundamental to learning. To date it remains an important research topic in educational psychology. To illustrate, a student is thought to interpret a problem by assigning it to a schema retrieved stored in the long term memory.

In the event that the problem is assigned to the wrong schema, assimilation and accommodation gives way for a new learning that lead to the a new modified improved schema. The critical step of finding a mapping between the problem and a pre-existing schema is often cited as supporting the centrality of analogical thinking to problem solving. Problem-solving is an illustrative way where the learner could evaluate their schema in terms of relevance and accuracy. This provides the learners to modify and enhance if necessary present learning.

It is important that educators must plan a developmentally appropriate curriculum that enhances their students’ logical and conceptual growth. Consequently, emphasis should be put on the critical role of experiences. The interactions with the surrounding environment play in student learning (Evans, 1991). This particularly holds true to language development. To illustrate, it easier for us to remember words that are we encounter everyday, and learn pragmatics that we use often.

A second language learner involved in the medical profession would find it easier to remember words that are related to health, compared to a native speaker that has no direct involvement in the health or medical industry. As explained by Chiu (2008) in her studies of ESL students, second language learners need to be exposed to environment where their skills would continually be enhanced through interactions. Although the study focused on semantics, it showed that concepts alone can not replace real life learning and experience in developing language.

Vocabulary skills are enhanced better when students are able to use them in conversations and word association. Semantic skills are enhanced through exposure. For foreign students, a usual problem that they would encounter words that may be used in several applications and with alternative meaning in context, these often would lead to “inability to find the exact words”. Schemas needs to be constantly reaffirmed or modified. Language is social skill thus can not be developed in isolation. Language and communication should be developed in form, use and in context.

Adult learners of a foreign language need to exercise their skill in context much more that anything. They need to be able to use the new learning in its natural setting. Teachers of a second language should be able to assess the present schema of language skills development of the students (Hartas, 2005). The cognitive paradigm asserts that student would learn best if their present schema ready to assimilate a new learning. The cognitive theory has a 3-Stage Information Processing Model. The first step is when input enters a sensory register.

This is then is processed in short-term memory before it is transferred to long-term memory for storage and retrieval. This is where the learner-centeredness of the cognitivist paradigm is highlighted, it asserts that meaningful information is easier to learn and remember. If a learner thinks that the new information is meaningful information with prior schema it will be easier to retain. In language development learners need to know the relevance of the skill. This may prove even more true for adult learners (Good and Brophy, 2007).

Communication skills are the cornerstone of effective interaction with peers and adults alike. It is an essential skill that is developed in a very systematic and progressive process. Language is best learned and enhance with usage and exposure. The American Council in Teaching Foreign Language emphasizes that foreign language learning is much more a cognitive problem solving activity than a linguistic activity. The study of foreign language increases critical thinking skills, creativity, and flexibility of mind in young children.

Studies had shown that foreign language students perform better than with non-foreign language learning counterparts in verbal and math sections of standardized tests. A study Harwich, Massachusetts showed that students who studied a foreign language in an articulated sequence outperformed their non-foreign language learning peers on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) test. A follow-up review was conducted, after two-three years and significantly outperformed them after seven-eight years on all MCAS subtests.

Research upholds the notion that learning a second language is an exercise in cognitive problem solving and that the effects of second language instruction are directly transferable to the area of mathematical skill development. Under the cognitive theory there are several strategies educator can utilize to optimize learning. It is essential that educators make the most of student learning. Delivery and learning environment are considered one of the key roles of educators in cognitive perspective. This is address in the curriculum planning.

Pre-requisite skills and requirements should be identified and assessed. Mastery is not assumed rather is observed and relevant to next higher skill. Futhermore, learners, especially adult learners need to now what is expected of them. Learning objectives and goals are agreed upon and deem necessary by the students themselves. (Kroger, 1997) Transfer effect asserts that prior learning affects learning new tasks. Mastery of the pre-requisite skills will determine success rate for the next task. A skill can be enhanced through practicing or rehearsing improves retention especially when it is distributed practice.

Distributed practice enables the learner to associate the material with many different contexts rather than the one context afforded by mass practice. These hold true in second language acquisition Campbell (2007) on her research regarding the evaluation of English as a Second Language Program, identified that the need to reinforce basic language skills. Instructors should develop assessment approach that would enable them to rate individual performance of the students. Specific skills indentified as areas of strength and weaknesses in order to address immediately and efficiently.

Often, the exercises involved with the successful program are those include peer-to-peer practice before moving to groups simulations. Instructions should build on previous learning and should be systematic in its approach. Language program should take into consideration learner’s background and reason for study. In terms of instructional materials development, cognitivist asserts there is such as a serial position effects. This posits that it is easier to remember items from the beginning or end of a list rather than those in the middle of the list, unless that item is distinctly different.

Further more the learner categorizes input such as a grocery list, it is easier to remember. With this in mind, educators need In a study made by regarding vocabulary retentions by Li Jia (2010) regarding vocabulary skills, is important that words are presented in an organize and categorized manner to increase retention. The relationship or “connectedness” of the words presented has significant direct effect on the students’ ability to recall the words. Aside from that, it provides context clues on the definition of the words in the list.

Memory retentions is every important to cognitive learning. As mentioned earlier, the ability of the student to access previously learned concept, determine its relevance and connection with the current and past learning enables him to assimilate and accommodate a schema. (Good and Brophy, 1990). Learning should take place within a certain place and within certain context it will aid in retention rather than in a new context. There is where simulation activities would prove beneficial. In lieu with adult learners, simulation activities can provide them with actual scenarios they can encounter.

Likewise, apprenticeship is important for learners to use, modify and enhance knowledge through actual practice (Gott, S. 1989). Themes such as grocery trip, business meetings and others would provide them with the necessary mind-set. The brain then organizes itself and adapts to the situation. Language use change based on enviromental context. A very effective memory strategy that we had used but rarely give credit to its origin is the mnemonics. It is a strategy that lets learners organize meaningless input into more meaningful images or semantic contexts.

Educational psychology research has confirmed the applicability to education of other findings from cognitive psychology, such as the benefits of using mnemonics for immediate and delayed retention of information (Andersen, 1990). For example, this mnemonic used to remember the nine planets, now just eight, of the solar system, My Vey Eager Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas. An important note for Second language instructors would be is the schema effects. The schema effect posits that if information does not fit a person’s schema it may be more difficult for them to remember.

The brain when given a new schema that the brain can’t seem to categorize with previously existing schema would deem is as irrelevant or create a new category. Advance can also prepare the learner for the material they are about to learn. They are not simply outlines of the material, but are material that will enable the student to make sense out of the lesson. Instructional modules should address these to aid to support the learning environment. (Tennant, 1998) Cognitive Learning Theories vs. Other Learning Theories

Pure cognitive theory largely rejects behaviorism on the basis that behaviorism reduces complex human behavior to simple cause and effect. However, the trend in past decades has been towards emerging the two into a comprehensive cognitive-behavioral theory. Behaviorism based on the proposition that all things that human do are can and should be regarded as behaviors. Furthermore, these behaviors can be described and observed scientifically without recourse either to internal physiological events or to hypothetical constructs such as the mind.

Behaviorists argue that all theories should have no philosophical differences between publicly observable processes, actions, and privately observable processes. Privately observable processes include thinking and feeling. This could have been a primary reasons why current educational psychologists take adherence to the cognitive perspective. Unlike the behavioral perspective, it admits causally related mental constructs such as traits, beliefs, memories, motivations and emotions.

Cognitive theories claim that memory structures determine how information is perceived, processed, stored, retrieved and forgotten. (Anderson, 1990) The Behavioral Approach shows similarity with the psychoanalytic and with Gestalt. Its main influences were Ivan Pavlov, who investigated classical conditioning although he did not necessarily agree with Behaviorism. Introspective methodology was rejected by Edward Lee Thorndike, John B. Watson they adhere to experimental method to study human development and learning.

B. F. Skinner conducted research on operant conditioning (Resnick, 1989) As much as Behaviorism has replaced Freudian psychoanalysis as the dominant school of psychology during the second half of the twentieth century, behaviorism was largely eclipsed as a result of cognitive psychology. They may not agree theoretically, present educational psychologists deem the two as complementary rather than mutually exclusive in application. One notable legacy of behaviorist investigations is cognitive-behavioral therapy, a popular treatment that uses cognitive models alongside behaviorist techniques.

Social cognitive theory is a highly influential fusion of behavioral, cognitive and social elements that was initially developed by educational psychologist Albert Bandura. This theory emphasized the process of observational learning. It asserts that the learner’s behavior changes as a result of observing others’ behavior and its consequences. There are several factors that determine whether observing a model will affect a behavior or result to a cognitive change. Like the cognitive theory it gives credit to the learner’s developmental status.

In addition to the perceived prestige and competence of the model, the consequences received by the model, the relevance of the model’s behaviors and consequences to the learner’s goals, and the learner’s self-efficacy. The concept of self-efficacy, which played an important role in later developments of the theory, refers to the learner’s belief in his or her ability to perform the modeled behavior. (Adams, et al 1996). Meanwhile, Humanism proposes that the studies that develop human intellect are those that make humans “most truly human. ” It leans toward the fulfillment of our need to become whole as a human being.

To develop the whole one has to develop its significant parts, or faculty. Faculty psychology asserts that the intellectual faculties, such as the analytical, the mathematical, the linguistic among others can be strengthened. Strengthening one faculty was believed to benefit other faculties as well. Likewise, identify weaknesses to augment that particular skill to optimize learning. It is an educational approach that rests on the works of humanistic psychologists, most notably Abraham Maslow, who developed a famous hierarchy of needs. This was further supported by Carl Rogers and Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education.

This theory sees the learner as a whole person and not just an intellect. The learner is engaged in the growth and development that are the signs of real learning. In this perspective, emotions, the social being, the mind, and the skills needed for a career direction should focus on a humanistic education. Self-esteem of the learner is emphasized. Humanistic education believes that the high-esteem of the leaner is directly related to his performance and learning. If the student feels that they can set and achieve appropriate goals they would set higher goals (Sigelman, 1999).

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