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Cognitivism is considered the dominant approach in psychology today. The dramatic shift from behaviorism to cognitivism occurred in the early part of this century. After years of almost exclusively behaviorist research, psychologists and educators became discontent with the limitations of behaviorism. Although behaviorism encouraged observable and measurable research in the field of psychology, it did not incorporate mental events.

This paper will present a general overview of the origin of cognitivism and a discussion of three widely accepted cognitive theories—the Atkinson-Shriffin stage model, Craik and Lockhart’s levels of processing theory, and the parallel distributed processing approach. Finally, this paper will briefly summarize some ways that cognitivism has influenced instructional design theories.

Origin of Cognitivism

The origin of cognitivism can be traced back to the early part of this century when the Gestalt psychologists of Germany, Edward Chase Tolman of the United States, and Jean Piaget (1896-1980) of Switzerland had a tremendous influence on psychology and the shift from behaviorist theories. Behaviorists argued that mental events were impossible to observe and measure and could not therefore be studied objectively. Consequently behaviorists could not explain the ways learners attempt to make sense of what they learn. Cognitivists proposed that through empirical research and observation inferences could, indeed, be drawn about the internal, cognitive processes that produce responses. According to Matlin,

Cognitive psychologists generally agree that the birth of cognitive psychology should be listed as 1956…During this prolific year, a large number of researchers published influ...

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Striebel, M. (1995). Instructional plans and situationed learning. In G.J. Anglin (Ed.), Instructional technology: Past, present, future (2nd ed). (ppl. 145-166). Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, Inc.

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Vygotsky, L. (1986). Thought and language. Boston: MIT Press.
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