Education | Learning and Cognition in Education
P540 | 6004 | Dr. Don Cunningham

Welcome to the course Education P540, Learning and Cognition in
Education. Let me introduce myself. I am Dr. Donald J. Cunningham
(Ph.D., University of Illinois), Professor of Education, Semiotic
Studies, Cognitive Science and Informatics at Indiana University.
That said, I prefer to be called Don and try not to take my
professional titles and credentials too seriously. I have worked in
the field of applying theories of learning and cognition to education
for over 30 years and still find the topic challenging and rewarding.
I have taught this class or one like it for many years but am still
in the process of figuring out good ways to organize it to increase
its usefulness to students. I shall endeavor to be sensitive to your
needs and I hope you will offer constructive suggestions for making
the course more valuable to you and to those students who will study
it in the future.

The course is designed to provide you with the basic distinctions and
concepts necessary to apply various theories of learning, cognition
and cognitive development to educational settings, broadly defined.
These theories are tools that educators, parents, trainers,
counselors and many others can use to make their endeavors more
productive and useful. This course will introduce and illustrate the
proper use of these tools in providing insights into defining and
solving problems. The emphasis will always be on the use of these
theories to solve realistic and relevant problems drawn either from
your own personal experience or from cases we will study. It is only
when you have experienced applying these theories to actual problems
that you can readily see their strengths and weaknesses.

I have used the word "tool" several times already and it is an
important one to understand in the context of this course. I claim
that theories are tools much like hammers and screwdrivers are tools.
A hammer is a useful and effective tool if your task is to drive a
nail into a board. You can try to use a screwdriver to drive a nail,
but I suspect you will fail and wind up with cuts and bruises.
Likewise, if you try to drive a screw with a hammer, the wood will
split and the bond is unlikely to hold - but a screwdriver will
accomplish the task very well. And despite the best efforts of our
most clever tool-makers, there is no such thing as a tool that meets
all of our needs.

The analogy I am drawing is that a theory like Skinner's operant
conditioning is a useful and appropriate tool for certain problems
like toilet training young children but not for other problems.
Similarly, Piaget's theory is especially helpful when considering the
appropriateness of certain mathematics tasks for a developmental
level, but not very helpful for many other problems. During this
course we will review a number of theories and theoretical concepts
because no one theory is applicable to all of the problems one is
likely to encounter.

But theories also carry with them a world-view, a conception of what
it means to be human: what it means to learn something, to teach
something, to know something, to be a person. It is important that we
examine these world-views so that we can better judge the
appropriateness of using a particular theory. To extend the analogy,
to a two-year-old child with a hammer in her hands, everything in the
world needs a good pounding. If we limit ourselves to one or a few
theories, or if we fail to see the kinds of assumptions that theory
makes about the world, we will commit a similar error. If we limit
ourselves to operant conditioning, for example, we run the risk of
regarding all of our behavior (from simple forms like disliking
broccoli to complex forms like understanding quantum mechanics) as
strengthened or weakened according to external consequences - rewards
and punishments. One of my major aims for the course is that you
carry away with you a variety of tools and a sense of when they are
and are not best applied.

Class procedures and assessment.

In recent years I have structured the class so that there is more
direct involvement by students with the theories, more opportunity to
discuss the theories in class, and a greater variety of assessment.
This semester I will make groups of students responsible for the some
of the class sessions on various theorists. Students in the last few
sections generally enjoyed this and learned a lot, but this kind of
co-teaching is not for everyone. If this does not appeal to you, I
encourage you to take another class. In organizing class sessions, I
will be responsible for introducing a topic, and the group will plan
activities (with me) for the other time available. These activities
could include some lecture, class discussion, group work, video,
projects, workshops, field trips - the possibilities are many but
should be constructed with some fidelity to the theoretical
perspective under consideration. The activities should be based upon
aims for the unit and be assessed in a manner appropriate to the
theory. The reading assignments listed in the class schedule are
basic for all the groups but may or may not be directly discussed. I
will make some class time available for questions about the readings.
We'll talk more about the specifics of this procedure in class.
Your grade in this course will be determined in the following ways:

1. Class presentations (25% of grade) - the group will be assigned a
grade based upon the quality of the aims, activities and assessment
which they constructed for the theorist for which they had
responsibility. Because of the nature of this presentation, I have
found it most useful to rate this as a Pass/Fail. I also want each
group to evaluate their performance and submit a short (i.e., one
page) report of that evaluation.

2. Reflexive Papers (50% of grade)--Three short (5 double spaced
pages maximum) papers due at various times throughout the semester.
Reflexive papers are unlike the typical course paper. The word
reflexive means "directed or turned back upon itself". In these
papers I want you to turn the theories back upon themselves and
examine their assumptions about the nature of learning, the mind,
what it means to know something, the nature of learners, the
character of knowledge, what it means to teach, and so forth. In
these papers I don't want you to simply tell me what the theorist has
said. I want you to evaluate the theorist from some particular
perspective that you feel strongly about (the scientific method,
humanism, a school psychologist, a teacher educator, parent, etc.)
and determine how well the assumptions underlying a theory match
those of your perspective. For example, how well can these models
handle some practical or theoretical problems in your field? On what
basis do you make your judgment? In grading these papers, I look for
your ability to see multiple perspectives, skepticism grounded in
theory and data, juxtaposition of ideas in unique ways, etc. We will
talk more about this in class. Papers are listed as due four times
during the semester. You may select the three dates you will use, to
accommodate to the class presentation requirement. There are some
sample papers on the class website for you to consult

3. Final Examination (25% of grade)--A pool of 20-30 questions will
be distributed shortly. One week before the scheduled time for the
final examination, a reduced set of questions (10-15) will be
selected from the pool (with advice from the class, but the final
decision is mine). The final examination will consist of a randomly
chosen subset (usually 3) of these questions to be answered without
books or notes during the final examination period.

4. Class Participation--My subjective estimate of your contribution
to class discussions, attendance, etc. This factor will be considered
in the case of borderline grades (e.g., a B+ might get raised to an A-
or vice versa).


I detest assigning grades but it is the Policy of the School of
Education that every student be assigned a grade for the course. I
will follow the grading policy adopted for graduate courses in the
School of Education found in the Bulletin of the School of Education
Graduate Program:
A = Outstanding achievement, exceptionally high level
A- = Excellent achievement, very high level
B+ = Very good achievement, thorough command
B = Good achievement, solid, acceptable performance
B- = Fair achievement, acceptable

These words are very subjective and therefore grades will be
determined based on my best judgment. Grades of A and A- will usually
be less common than grades of B+, B or B-.
NOTE: I do not give incompletes except under extraordinary
circumstances. Keep up with the reading and attend classes and you
will have no trouble succeeding.

Learning and Cognition in Education
Tentative Schedule
Spring 2002
TR, 11:15 Ė 12:30, Room 1230
Jan 13	
Introduction, Definitions	

Jan 15	
Approaches to LCI	
PLI Ch 1

Jan 20	
Approaches to LCI	
HPL Ch 1

Jan 22	
PLI Ch 2

Jan 27	

Jan 29	

Feb 3	

Feb 5	
PLI Ch 11

Feb 10	

Feb 12	

Feb 17	

Feb 19	
PLI 301-17

Feb 24	

Feb 26	
Cognitive Information Processing	
PLI Ch 3

Mar 2	
Cognitive Information Processing 	
HPL Ch 3

Mar 4	
Cognitive Information Processing	

Mar 9	
Meaningful Learn/Schema Theory	
PLI Ch 4

Mar 11	
Meaningful Learn/Schema Theory	

Mar 16	
Spring Break	
PLI Ch 8

Mar 18	
Spring Break	

Mar 23	
Situated Cognition	
PLI Ch 5

Mar 25	
Situated Cognition 	
HPL Ch 6

Mar 30	
Cognitive Constructivism	
PLI Ch 6

Apr 1	
Cognitive Constructivism	
HPL Ch 4

Apr 6	
Cognitive Constructivism 	

Apr 8	
Social Constructivist	
PLI Ch 7

Apr 13	
Social Constructivist (AERA)	
HPL Ch 7-8

Apr 15	
Social Constructivist (AERA)	

Apr 20	
Other topics / catch-up	

Apr 22	
Letís use these two weeks to explore	

Apr 27	
theories of interest to class members	

Apr 29	(
including me!).	

May 6	
Final Exam  5:00-7:00 pm	

Driscoll, M. (2000). Psychology of Learning for Instruction(PLI).
Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon
Bransford, J.D., Brown, A.L. & Cocking, R. (Eds.).   (2000).  How
people learn: Brain, mind, experience and school(HPL). Washington,
D.C.: National Academy Press. This book is also available on-line at

Reflexive papers due 2/3, 2/26, 3/25, and 4/29 (pick three)