Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Cognitive Approach (Mentalist Approach)


The Cognitive View of Language Learning
The cognitivists were thoroughly dissatisfied with many of the ideas propagated by the Behaviorists. They maintain that learning cannot be equated with behaviour because observed behaviour is only the outward manifestation of internal changes, which the organism may have undergone as a result of learning. Yet these internal changes are not in themselves observable. In fact, the discipline behaviour may be only for what is called “tip of the iceberg”; the changes of internal state may be far more significant. For example: A parrot being trained to talk may not begin to talk for a long time leading the learner to believe that it was learning nothing. Yet learning could be talent form. When a certain critical stage is reached the parrot might suddenly begin talking. (Cognitive View, language is not behaviour but a mental process, one might speak a language on a stage he reached).
Secondly, the cognitivists believe the view that that language is behaviour is one sided and superficial. Language seems to have a double nature. On the one hand, it is a form of codified, patterned social behaviour, but on the other hand, it is an abstract logical system comparable to mathematics. The difference lies in the fact that while mathematics is derived from some kind of universal logic, language system is largely arbitrary and conventional. However it cannot be denied that language learning means being able to do the right thing at the right time of producing the appropriate behaviour. (According to Chomsky, Mentalist, language has creativity that is rule governed, therefore it is based on logic like math).
The main reason why the cognitivists were thoroughly dissatisfied with behaviorism was that Behaviorism does not distinguish between human and animals and between the higher and lower forms of learning. That is why Behaviorism sounds repugnant to those who believe in the uniqueness of human species.
Further, according to Behaviourism, learning is the outcome of manipulation, which is a coronary (parallel something) of conditioning which implies a process of shaping and molding of behaviour. Desired behaviour is induced and undesired behaviour is extinguished. This means that there is some agency outside the learner to decide what is desirable and what is not. The learner is merely an instrument (student) to be manipulated by the outside agency. It does not take into account the contribution of learner in the process of learning. How could one explain the fact that individual difference exists among learners even among animal learnt? This realization leads to the overthrow of Behaviourist or at least to the modification of behaviorism and the behaviorists view of learning.

BEHAVIOURISM: Stimulus and Response Theory
The Behaviourists provided a very simplistic view of learning in terms of stimulus and response: S --------> R (S goes to R).
According to Cognitivists, however, there is something, which mediates between S and R, and this is the Cognitive function.

S-----> Cognitive Function -------> R

That is why the cognitive function makes the learner monitor and evaluates the different stimuli being received, to coordinate and regulate them, to reject some of them and develop appropriate response to those, which are accepted. That is to say, the Cognitive Function makes the learner the controller of the learning process rather than the passive recipient.
In Behaviorism, or S -----> R model, each bit of learning is treated as though it had no relation to previous learning. The cognitivist tries to relate together the entire history of learning, which according to him forms a totality. He indeed possesses a cognitive man of his environment, which represents the sum of all his learning. When he encounters a new learning experience, it is screened through a cognitive man, which enables the learner to interpret the new experience. Thus the learning process is subjective to constant appraisal and reappraisal of the environment by the learner and constituent readjustment to it. The experiment involving the ape and banana proves this point.
The cognitivists are convinced that learning depends upon perception and insight formation. They feel that all learning is in the nature of problem solving. The learner tries to solve new problem on the basis of previous learning.
Briefly, the stages in the learning process can be characterized as the following:
1 The learner encountering a new situation recognizes it as a problem to be solved.
2. He analyses it and tries to identify the elements or components of the new situation.
3. He compares a new situation with those that he has previously encountered in an attempt to find out if it is similar or different.
4. The comparison suggests to him a plan or strategy for dealing with the new situation but the plan has to be tested.
5. The plan is tried out (tested): if it doesn’t work, it is abandoned and alternative plan is involved and tried. If the plan works, it is stored in the system for use in the future.

For one thing, it should be clear that all situations and experiences are not physical. They may be purely mental, requiring a mental solution in the form of explanation. But the explanation has to be such as can be applied and extended to other situations. In other words, the explanation can still be generated. Basically, all knowledge involves the process of generalizing from particular instances. Learning, in this respect, can be thought of as a process of induction. Individual experiences contribute towards the general pattern of understanding. According to the cognitivists, the learner of the languages possesses some kind of data-processing mechanism. The input to the learner is not just a number of occurrences (to be memorized and imitated). The input constitutes the samples of the language data, which he processes. The output from this data processing is not just a number of sentences but a system of rules, which enable the learner to produce an unlimited number of sentences. The diagram below would show this phenomenon:

Input samples of Data Processing Outout
Language Data ---> Mechanism ----> (system of lg. rules)

If language learning is explained purely in terms of imitation, it should not be possible for a child to produce any occurrences, which he has not heard before (which are not part of the input). Indeed, children constantly surprise their parents by producing occurrences, which have not been heard by them before. Even the behaviorists have to accept this phenomenon and they try to account for it. The explanation offered by them was that a child is able to produce new occurrences through the process of substitution. For instances, the child hears:
1. This is a cat.
2. This is a pen.
3. This is a boy.
4. This is a hat.

This child is able to produce new sentences on the same pattern merely by substitution one item for another:
1. This is a dog.
2. This is a ball
3. This is a house, etc.

According to the Behaviorists, the sentences, which are said to be new, are actually not new. They are merely new combination of words, which the speaker has already received.
But even if this argument is accepted, one finds that substitution does not take place in a random manner. There must be some principles, which determine the choice of items, which substitute each other. Why, for example, does the child substitute ‘cat’, for ‘dog, or why doesn’t he produce, ‘This is a green’ or ‘This is a come’, etc.? (One does not replace ‘noun’ with ‘verb’ or ‘adjective’. Mind makes distinction between grammar categories; Noun is substituted by Noun).
According to the Cognitivists, even a very limited amount of language data may be sufficient to reveal the underlying rules, and once the rule is known, it can be used or applied to produce an infinite number of sentences.
However, it does not imply that the child discovers all the rules of grammar in one instance. Indeed, he discovers the correct rules only gradually. In many cases, the rules, which he first discovers or formulates, are wrong. He arrives at the correct rule after going through a series of incorrect rules. For instances, a child may produce a sentence:
1. Two mans have come.
He does so because his mini-grammar of English tells him that plurals are formed by adding ‘—S’. His mini-grammar at this stage is reflecting of the hypothesis, which he has formed on the basis of data received by him. With new experience and further exposure to the data, he finds that the rule that he has so far internalized applies only to a part of the language, not the whole of it. In any language, there may be an area, which is rule-free. If there are rules, they are applicable only to a limited number of cases. For example, there are no rules to govern the past tense forms of irregular verbs (eat ---> ate; go ---> went; drink ---> drank; etc.) In such cases, one has to learn all the individual items.
The Cognitivist, indeed, tends to look at only that part of the language, where general rules apply, because for him language learning is the process whereby the rules of language are discovered and internalized. The Cognitivist’s view is, therefore, only a portion account of the learning process but it has gained greater acceptance or acceptability than Behaviorist’s point of view.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well explained! Thank you!

Thursday, August 30, 2012 1:18:00 AM  
Anonymous cognitive skills approach said...

These approach are proven to be a life saving approach. Several people have changed themselves working on this theory.

Sunday, September 16, 2012 3:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you so much!

Friday, January 23, 2015 10:24:00 AM  

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