Cognitive Skills for Successful Learning

cognitive skillsThe word “cognition” is defined as “the act or process of knowing.” Cognitive skills, therefore, refer to those skills that make it possible for us to know.

It should be noted that there is nothing that any human being knows or can do that they have not learned. This excludes natural body functions, such as breathing and reflexes, for example, the involuntary closing of the eye when an object approaches it. But apart from that, humans know nothing or cannot do anything they have not learned. Therefore, all cognitive skills must be taught, of which the following cognitive skills are the most important:


Paying attention is often distinguished from concentration. Paying attention is a body function; therefore, it does not need to be taught.

Paying attention is quite useless for the act of learning because it is only a fleeting occurrence. Attention usually shifts quickly from one object or thing to the next. The child must be taught to focus their attention on something and to keep their attention focused on this something for some length of time. When a person focuses his attention for any length of time, we refer to it as concentration.

Concentration rests on two legs. First, it is an act of will and cannot occur automatically. Second, it is also a cognitive skill and, therefore, has to be taught.

Although learning specialists acknowledge that “the ability to concentrate and attend to a task for a prolonged period is essential for students to receive the necessary information and complete certain academic activities,” the ability to concentrate is often regarded as a “fafrotsky.” Ivan T. Sanderson coined this term, which stands for “Things that FAll FROThe SKY.” Concentration must be taught, after which regular and sustained practice can constantly improve one’s proficiency.


The terms “processing” and “perception” are often used interchangeably.

Before one can learn anything, perception must occur, i.e., one has to become aware of it through one of the senses. Usually, one has to hear or see it. Subsequently, one has to interpret whatever one has seen or heard. In essence, then, perception means interpretation. Of course, a lack of experience may cause a person to misinterpret what he has seen or heard. In other words, perception represents our apprehension of a present situation in terms of our past experiences, or, as stated by the philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804): “We see things not as they are but as we are.”

perception-2The following situation will illustrate how perception correlates with previous experience:

Suppose a person parked their car and walked away from it while continuing to look back at it. As they go further and further away from their car, it will appear to them as if the car is gradually getting smaller and smaller. In such a situation, however, none of us would gasp in horror and cry, “My car is shrinking!”

Although the sensory perception is that the car is shrinking rapidly, we do not interpret that the car is changing size. Past experiences have taught us that objects do not grow or shrink as we walk toward or away from them. You have learned that their actual size remains constant, despite the illusion. Even when one is five blocks away from one’s car, and it seems no larger than one’s fingernail, one would interpret it as that it is still one’s car and hasn’t changed size. This learned perception is known as size constancy.

Pygmies, however, who used to live deep in the rain forests of tropical Africa, were not often exposed to wide vistas and distant horizons and therefore did not have sufficient opportunities to learn size constancy. Colin Macmillan Turnbull, an anthropologist, and author of The Forest People, wrote about one pygmy who, when removed from his usual environment, was convinced he saw a swarm of insects when he was actually looking at a herd of buffalo at a great distance. When driven toward the animals, he was frightened to see the insects “grow” into buffalo and was sure witchcraft had been responsible.

A person needs to interpret sensory phenomena, which can only be done based on past experiences of the same, similar, or related phenomena. Therefore, perceptual ability heavily depends upon the amount of perceptual practice and experience the subject has already enjoyed. This implies that perception is a cognitive skill that can be improved tremendously through judicious training.


memory-2A variety of memory problems are evidenced in people with learning disabilities. Some major categories of memory functions wherein these problems lie are:

Receptive memory refers to the ability to note the physical features of a given stimulus to be able to recognize it at a later time. A child with receptive processing difficulties invariably fails to recognise visual or auditory stimuli such as the shapes or sounds associated with the letters of the alphabet, the number system, etc.

Sequential memory refers to the ability to recall stimuli in their order of observation or presentation.

Many people with dyslexia have poor visual sequential memory. Naturally, this will affect their ability to read and spell correctly. After all, every word consists of letters in a specific sequence. To read, one has to perceive the letters in sequence and also remember what word is represented by that sequence of letters. Changing the sequence of the letters in name can make it mean or amen

Some people also have poor auditory sequential memory and, therefore, may be unable to repeat longer words orally without getting the syllables in the wrong order, such as preliminary and statistical.

Rote memory refers to the ability to learn specific information as a habit pattern. The child who has problems in this area cannot easily recall those responses which should have been automatic, such as the alphabet, the number system, multiplication tables, spelling rules, grammatical rules, etc.

Short-term and working memory lasts from a few seconds to a minute; the exact time may vary.

When you are trying to recall a telephone number you heard a few seconds earlier, the name of a person who has just been introduced, or the substance of the remarks just made by a teacher in class, you are calling on short-term or working memory. You need this kind of memory to retain ideas and thoughts when writing a letter since you must be able to keep the last sentence in mind as you compose the next. You also need this kind of memory when you work on problems. Suppose a maths problem requires that we add two numbers together (step 1: add 15 + 27) and then divide the sum (step 2: divide the sum by 2). If we did this problem in our heads, we would need to retain the result of step 1 (42) momentarily while we apply the next step (divide by 2). Some space in our memory is necessary to retain the results of step 1.

Long-term memory refers to the ability to retrieve information of things learned in the past.

Until people with learning disabilities develop adequate skills in recalling information, they will continue to face each learning situation as though it is new. No real progress can be attained when the same ground has to be covered repeatedly because the child has forgotten.

Until the learning disabled develop adequate skills in recalling information, they will continue to face each learning situation as though it is a new one. A learning-disabled child’s most critical need is to be helped to develop an effective processing system for remembering because, without it, their performance will always remain below what their capabilities indicate.

Strangely, though, while memory is universally considered a prerequisite skill to successful learning, attempts to delineate its process are few, and fewer still are methods to improve it systematically.

Logical thinking


In his book Brain Building Dr. Karl Albrecht states that logical thinking is not a magical process or a matter of genetic endowment but a learned mental process. It is the process in which one uses reasoning consistently to come to a conclusion. Problems or situations that involve logical thinking call for structure, relationships between facts, and chains of reasoning that “make sense.”

The basis of all logical thinking is sequential thought, says Dr. Albrecht. This process involves taking the important ideas, facts, and conclusions in a problem and arranging them in a chain-like progression that takes on a meaning in and of itself. To think logically is to think in steps.

Logical thinking is also an important foundational skill of math. “Learning mathematics is a highly sequential process,” says Dr. Albrecht. If you don’t grasp a particular concept, fact, or procedure, you can never hope to grasp others that come later, which depend upon it. For example, to understand fractions, you must first understand division. Understanding simple algebra equations requires that you understand fractions. Solving ‘word problems’ depends on knowing how to set up and manipulate equations.

It has been proven that specific training in logical thinking can make people “smarter.” Logical thinking allows a child to reject quick and easy answers, such as “I don’t know” or “This is too difficult,” by empowering him to delve deeper into his thinking processes and understand better the methods used to arrive at a solution.

Edublox clinics specialise in cognitive training that makes learners smarter, and help them learn faster, easier, and better. The classes address the following cognitive skills:
  • Concentration: Focused and sustained attention.
  • Perceptual skills: Visual and auditory foreground-background differentiation; visual and auditory discrimination, synthesis and analysis; form discrimination; spatial relations.
  • Memory: Visual, auditory, sequential, iconic, short-term, working, and long-term memory.
  • Logical thinking: Deductive and inductive reasoning.
Contact your closest Edublox branch for a cognitive skills assessment and help.
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