Acquiring Knowledge

Acquiring Knowledge

A political science teacher uses sports analogies to help students draw on prior knowledge to understand new information. How is the U.S. Constitution like the rules of the game in sports? How does this comparison help students acquire knowledge about politics?

Do you engage students in learning that involves information acquisition? Do your learning goals involve students gaining new ideas, new terminology, or useful theories? Do they need to understanding how something works or functions? Is there a need to identify key concepts, main ideas, or points to be understood and remembered? These are learning outcomes that involve acquiring knowledge, and are well served by understanding the literature that has emerged from cognitive psychology.

Intended Learning Outcomes
What students learn
Way of Learning
Origins and theory
Common Methods
What the teacher provides
Acquiring knowledge
Basic information, concepts, and terminology in a discipline or field of study
Cognitive learning
Cognitive psychology: attention, information processing, memory

Teachers who want students to use cognitive learning effectively do the following

  • recognize that presentations are effective for transmitting information (and not for many other learning goals)


  • gain students’ attention
  • help focus students attention
  • don’t overload the system
  • slow down for new or difficult material and don’t compete with distractions, regain attention when necessary
  • don’t compete with distractions slow down for new or difficult material

Information processing

  • realize that interpretation is always taking place
  • help students discover the overall structure in the information being presented
  • present information in context
  • help students with meaning making
  • build strong bridges from prior knowledge to new information
  • use visuals and images to help with processing
  • devise ways to ensure that students are actively involved


  • allow time for short-term memory to function
  • get students actively involved in remembering
  • provide mnemonic devices if needed
  • let students know rehearsal alone doesn’t work

How do you use this way of learning?

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