Behavioral and Cognitive Learning Theories Comparison

There are numerous learning theories which have been used to explain the process of learning. The behavioral and cognitive approaches are some of the basic concepts that can be extensively used to describe the learning process in developing people. The perspective of behaviorism has evolved the way we believe people think and learn. Behaviorism focuses on the stimuli and the reactions of the stimuli, also known as the response. Behaviorists observed the way people learned based on their actions and behavior. Behaviorism is what brought about the theory of conditioning. The theory of behaviorism and the learning theories that it entails, addresses behavior and the effects it has on the learning process. As time progressed, so did the research on human learning. Psychologists realized that learning could be more than just provoked by behavior; it could be the effect of how one’s thought process and memory works. Observations in memory and problem solving, led to Cognitivism. Theories of cognitivism evolved when psychologist examined human learning from the point of how the human resolved issues and how their memory processed information. Many cognitive theorists believe that acquiring knowledge is a perspective known as constructivism. This looks at the knowledge that has already been acquired and how it is organized. Both theories have an undoubted significant contribution to the learning process of an individual.
How the Individual is conceptualized in both categories
Behaviorists and Cognitivists share the belief that learning should be based on empirical research. The behaviorists focus on theories that revolve around the action and the consequence; they observe the settings and manipulations whereby the individual is perceived as a subject to knowledge and behavior change. In cognitivist approach, the individual is perceived as an active element in the learning process where an individual is expected to process the information received to facilitate learning. It involves logic reasoning and evaluation of choices (Kontopodis, 2012).
The approach each theory adopts in relation to epistemology, ontology, and methodology
The behaviorist and the cognitive learning theories have different perspectives when it comes to epistemology, ontology, and methodology. Behaviorism holds that knowledge exists independently and it is upon the people in the society to seek and acquire this knowledge through interaction and experience. This theory insists that the society is the primary learning element that facilitates the learning process and all the knowledge acquired from the society is what an individual believes to be right (Kontopodis et al., 2016). Cognitive theory mainly focuses on the processing of thoughts to construct behavior. The learner’s perception of the information attained from the society dictates the knowledge that they acquire.
Weight given to individual capacity and collective endeavor
The cognitive and behavioral learning approaches have different perspectives with regards to the individual capacity and collective endeavor. The behavioral approach tends to reinforce the collective approach whereby people subjected to the same societal values and practices are likely to have similar ideologies attained from the collective learning process. The cognitive approach is however different in that it depends on individual analysis and critiquing of societal elements of learning (Slater et al., 2017). New information is required by the repetitive trials where operant conditioning is applied. Classical conditioning is one of the primary elements that characterize the cognitive learning approach, and it explains that this type of conditioning leads to different learning rates in people. This supports the statement that the cognitive approach tends to advocate for individualism in the learning process (Lave, 1991). Classical conditioning increases a response by use of a neutral stimulus, unconditioned stimulus, the response to the unconditioned stimulus (unconditioned response), which causes the conditioned stimulus, leaving the organism with a conditioned response. The behavioral approach mostly makes use of modeling which is a critical concept that involves learned behavior. Behavior is learned by repeating behavior from someone else. People in the society can collectively copy similar behaviors leading to collective learning and development.
The place and significance of society, culture, and politics in each specific theory of learning
The two learning theories are extensively involved in political and cultural development in the society. The behavioral theory focuses on the preservation of cultural heritage which is achieved through the acquisition of knowledge about culture and politics through copying. Key concepts in the cognitive learning theory explore the mental process. The way one processes political and cultural information and how they learn new material is part of cognitive development. Cognitive theories influence how political and cultural information is organized and how old knowledge can be integrated into these society based components to create new knowledge (Slater et al., 2017). The behavioral learning theory explains how political and cultural ideologies in the society are passed from one person to another and from generation to the next. Reinforcement is one of the concepts that explain how people get influenced to adopt cultural and political practices and ideologies in the society. According to the behavioral theory, positive social reinforcement leads to the positive political and cultural influence. The behavioral learning theory is present in this study when stimuli, reinforcers, and responses are being observed.
The relationship between the individual learner and their environment
When it comes to the relationship that a person has with the environment, it is clear that the cognitive and behavioral learning theories have significant differences. In the behavioral theory, the immediate environment which is the society is considered as the basic factor that shapes the learning of an individual. It is through the influence and copying of behavior traits that a person is able to develop new behaviors and acquire knowledge. The cognitive theory when viewed in an educational context requires an individual to reflect and critique their surroundings to enhance learning (DePalma & Atkinson, 2009). In this theory, the individual can influence several aspects of the environment after assessment and critique, unlike the behavioral theory where the individual is entirely a subject of the environment and stands to learn everything from it.
Perception of a good teacher in the two ideologies
Cognitive and behavioral learning processes are exceptional tools to use in a classroom setting, especially for younger children who are still developing. Both theories have different definitions of the perfect teacher as well as the ideal teaching process. The cognitive theory has a learning approach known as Universal design for learning (UDL) which is usually implemented in the learning process to improve their learning experiences and increase their literacy. This approach aims to improve creative thinking skills, increase memory skills, and develop literacy. Students learn ways to enhance comprehension; for example, they are encouraged to use concept maps, relate the text to their personal lives, and integrate experiences (Kontopodis, 2013). The UDL objective is to enhance learner’s potential literacy and to provide them with the cognitive tools that will lead them to be more successful. This program is meant to be sensory rich, so that they activate their limbic system. Implementing activities that will boost the memory process, engage the student in the reading material, and allow them to apply previous applications to new ones, is demonstrating the cognitive theory and promoting growth in literacy (Kontopodis et al, 2017). Good teachers according to the cognitive theory utilize this learning approach which enhances the thinking and reasoning among the students.
It is essential that behavioral and cognitive approaches are taken in the classroom. Each theory offers different, but critical ways to teach students. When implementing cognitive theories in an educational setting, the instructor’s objective is to get the students to utilize their critical thinking and reasoning. When implementing behavioral theories, the instructor is focusing on the behavior and how it can be modified to enhance the academic outcome. Conditioning is the most popular approach in behavior learning. The outcome of this approach will be the way the student acts within the classroom (Hart, 2016). Manipulating a child’s behavior is to benefit their learning experience; it can also lead to better behavior outside of the classroom as well. Operant and classical conditioning can both be executed in an educational setting. They both will encourage students to do better and achieve more. Activity reinforcers, token reinforcers, and positive feedback are just a few ways instructors can encourage their students and provide them with a well-rounded learning environment.
Cognitive approaches in an educational setting are just as important and crucial to a students’ education as behavioral approaches. Cognitive approaches focus in on specific age groups. This will allow instructors to specialize in certain stages of development. When implementing a cognitive approach, it is important to encourage students to apply critical thinking and abstract reasoning. In many educational settings, instructors will use activities that stimulate senses to enhance the students thought process. Motivating students to use prior knowledge to learn new material, is another way to improve their studies and enrich their educational development (Giroux, 2003).
How the role of the learner is conceptualized
The behavioral theory views the learner as a blank slate who depends on interaction and experience to gain knowledge from the society. This theory suggests that learning takes place when new behaviors are acquired bringing change in the individual personality. According to the theory, social interactions and associations lead to change in behavior and attainment of knowledge (Slater et al., 2017). The cognitive theory perceives the learner as an integral part of the learning process as learning occurs according to the rate at which the learner processes information. The learner according to this theory is expected to receive information and digest it to increase knowledge. Cognitive development is important from the sensorimotor stage, where perceptions and understandings are starting to form, to the formal operational stage, where critical and abstract thinking and reasoning begin to expand (Blunden, 2008). The theory insists that the way one thinks and is able to process thoughts is crucial to the way they learn; therefore, it is important that educators incorporate cognitive approaches in their lessons. It’s common that we learn something new because of previous knowledge that we were able to expand. It is known that the ability to think logically differs based on the situation and the person.
Many theorists believe that cognitive development is acquired in “gradual trends,” than discrete stages, that Piaget had established. We acquire new knowledge every day, whether it is intentional or unintentional. Concepts that we already know attribute to patterns that lead us to new knowledge. Cognitive development is constantly being matured and learning new ways to increase memory and enhance logical thinking can assist with that maturation. I believe that students can be impacted by cognitive learning theories for various reasons, but one of the most important may be because it increases the way they think and the way they learn.
Behavioral and cognitive learning theories play an integral role in the learning process of an individual. These theories have different perspectives when it comes to epistemology, ontology, and methodology. Behavioral learning theories explore how behavior can be manipulated to achieve the desired behavior. In educational settings, instructors intend to manipulate behavior in hopes of achieving academic achievement. Cognitive learning theories explore the thought process. It observes how people perceive things and how they logically come to conclusions. These learning theories state that cognitive development begins at birth and is continually being advanced until critical thinking and higher abstract reasoning is achieved. The purpose of this program was to engage cognitive skills to enhance literacy. It was proven that students wanted to read more and their literacy was enhanced, due to the cognitive approaches that were conducted. Both theories should be implemented in educational settings for maximum results. The combination of both theories will provide students with an exceptional education and set them up for success.

Blunden, A. (2008). Vygotsky’s unfinished theory of child development. Retrieved July, 7, 2012.
DePalma, R., & Atkinson, E. (2009). ‘No Outsiders’: Moving beyond a discourse of tolerance to challenge heteronormativity in primary schools. British Educational Research Journal, 35(6), 837-855.
Hart, C. S. (2016). How Do Aspirations Matter?. Journal of Human Development and Capabilities, 17(3), 324-341.
Giroux, H. A. (2003). Public pedagogy and the politics of resistance: Notes on a critical theory of educational struggle. Educational philosophy and theory, 35(1), 5-16.
Kontopodis, M. (2012). Neoliberalism, pedagogy, and human development: exploring time, mediation, and collectivity in contemporary schools (Vol. 77). Routledge.
Kontopodis, M., Magalhes, M. C., & Coracini, M. J. (2016). Facing Poverty and Marginalization: Fifty Years of Critical Research in Brazil. Peter Lang Publishing.
Kontopodis, M. (2013). Biomedicine, psychology and the kindergarten: children at risk and emerging knowledge practices. Sport, Education and Society, 18(4), 475-493.
Kontopodis, M., Varvantakis, C., & Wulf, C. (Eds.). (2017). Global youth in digital trajectories. Taylor & Francis.
Lave, J. (1991). Situating learning in communities of practice. Perspectives on socially shared cognition, 2, 63-82.
Slater, J., Jones, C., & Procter, L. (2017). Troubling school toilets: resisting discourses of ‘development’through a critical disability studies and critical psychology lens. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 1-12.