Cognition and Learning

by: Gerald Presley, Assistant Professor
College of Forestry – Wood Science & Engineering

Demian Hommel presented Week 6 of the Tuesday Teaching +Tech Talks on cognition and learning. This talk highlighted some techniques to effectively engage students and keep them interested in the course material. It also provided some background on Bloom’s taxonomy and how it relates to developing effective teaching methodologies. By the end of his presentation, Demian had provided the group with a variety of examples of teaching techniques designed to fill the “curiosity gap” among students and thus get them engaged in the learning process. I consider this to be the most valuable takeaway from his talk, and plan to employ these methods more often in my own teaching practice.

Demian laid the foundation for his talk by reviewing Bloom’s taxonomy in its revised form. The revised Bloom’s taxonomy highlights the dynamism in each educational objective by including action words to replace and accompany the original learning goals presented previously (Anderson, et al. 2001). Bloom’s taxonomy is a progression of steps of increasing cognitive complexity that describes the learning process. Students begin with remembering factual information, then move to comprehending or understanding the information presented by demonstrating their ability to use it in discussion. Once these are accomplished students apply learned concepts in problem solving and then identify patterns in the information they have learned. To progress further students must show the ability to synthesize this information into new ideas of their own making and then critically assess their own and other theories.

Demian described his efforts to pull student into this progression by using in-classroom student participation. He uses in-class surveys to test student knowledge before starting a lecture and then re-assessing student knowledge after teaching. While I have not started teaching yet, I plan on incorporating it into the lecture format, perhaps asking students to answer a survey questions only to return to with an answer later in the lecture.

Demian also described how he leverages student curiosity to drive interest in his lectures. I found this to be an interesting strategy that I could effectively use in my own lectures. The most compelling of these I found is how he got students invested in the subject matter by building up a story around global overpopulation and asking students a critical question, “what is the expected upper limit of the global human population?” He then continues to lecture in the topic area without divulging the answer but by dropping in clues that will cause the students to speculate and possibly change their answers. Finally, at the very end he includes the answer to the question after all of the course material is presented.

While the actual answer to the question is not very important to the material he is delivering, it draws students in and keeps them attentive throughout the lecture. This method can be used widely in different academic fields where facts relevant to politics or students’ everyday life can be used as leverage to focus their attention.


Anderson, Lorin W., Krathwohl, David R., and Bloom, Benjamin S. A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing : a Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives / Editors, Lorin W. Anderson, David Krathwohl ; Contributors, Peter W. Airasian … [et Al.]. Complete ed. New York: Longman. Print.

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