Cognitive Processes and Learning*


One way we use the cognitive processes in our daily lives is with learning.

Learning is not just something we do in school or in formal settings. We learn every day. Sometimes our very survival depends on how well we can learn. That may mean unlearning our learned limitations and regaining confidence in our ability to direct our own learning.

In today's world, someone who doesn't know how to learn is left behind. By exploring your own learning process and determining your natural learning style, you can find the best ways for you to learn. Then you, not the instructor or the situation, are in charge of your learning.

Learning is broadly defined as change. The focus can be on what we learn (the product of learning) or on how we learn (the process). It is about how we change and how we adapt, grow, and develop. This adaptation, growth, and development occur from the inside out.

All eight cognitive processes play a role in our learning. We enter a learning situation with some perceptions already formed and some judgments already made. We are more open to certain kinds of information and more inclined to organize that information in certain ways.

What if we all could learn how we learn? Then if some kinds of learning were harder than others, we could find the source of that difficulty rather than rejecting what is being taught or feeling bad about ourselves for not learning.

Take Charge of Your Learning

We are born to learn. Learning is how we grow and develop. It is how we adjust and adapt to an ever-changing and demanding world.

When we look at learning, we need to examine three factors:

  • What - the content or skill to be learned
  • How - the learning context
  • Who- the learning style of the learner

When all of these factors are congruent, the result is effective, efficient learning. When they are not congruent, at best we have a high energy cost, and at worst we have no learning.

To take charge of your own learning, capitalize on lessons from the past to plan for the future. Think about the cognitive processes we just explored, as well as your descriptions of your best and worst learning experiences. Answer the following questions and then think of your preferred learning pattern to anticipate what will make your next learning experience better.


Your Learning
Best Learning
Worst Learning
• What was being taught or learned?
• What cognitive processes seemed to be activated by the content or task?
• What was the context of the learning—instructional techniques being used, atmosphere, environment, purpose, behaviors and mannerisms of the instructor (if there was one), behaviors of others, and so on?
• What cognitive processes seemed to be encouraged by the environment?
• How well did your preferences in your learning style match or mismatch the content and the context?
• What cognitive processes did you have to stretch to use?
• When the learning involved processes other than your preferred ones (leading or supporting roles), what helped you learn in spite of everything?


What learning conditions do you need to arrange for yourself in your future learning experiences?


If the content or the context is going to require you to operate from other than your leading or supporting role processes, be patient with yourself. Allow extra time. Be extra forgiving. Get a coach. Ask for what you need. Often an instructor can provide it, if you only ask for it.


Learning and the Cognitive Processes


Extraverted Sensing: Experiencing and noticing the physical world, scanning for visible reactions and relevant data

Being attracted to and/or distracted by changing external events. Adapting and changing your mind according to the situation. Focusing on facts. Asking lots of questions to get enough information to see the pattern. Going ahead and responding to raw data. Physical self-expression.


Introverted Sensing: Recalling past experiences, remembering detailed data and what it is linked to

Being heavily influenced by prior experiences. Distrusting new information that doesn't match. Assuming an understanding of a situation because it resembles a prior one. Focusing on facts and stored data. Giving lots of specific, sequential details about something. Rating and making comparison.


Extraverted iNtuiting: Inferring relationships, noticing threads of meaning, and scanning for what could be

Being attracted to new ideas and possible realities. Holding different and even conflicting ideas and values in mind at once without articulating them. Assuming a meaning of something. Focusing on inferences and hypotheses. Extemporaneously connecting ideas.


Introverted iNtuiting: Foreseeing implications, conceptualizing, and having images of the future or profound meaning

Being strongly influenced by a vision of what will be, which may involve an abstract, even vague understanding of complexities that are difficult to explain. Focusing on a preconceived outcome or goal. Perhaps not articulating or even aware of premises or assumptions behind envisioned implications. Describing implications and the final picture.




Extraverted Thinking: Organizing, segmenting, sorting, and applying logic and criteria

Expressing thoughts directly, readily critiquing and pointing out what has been left out or not done. Getting to the point efficiently and getting the task done. Taking decisive action, which may be misread as closed mindedness. Focusing on logic and criteria for setting up systems of organization.


Introverted Thinking: Analyzing, categorizing, and figuring out how something works

Defining principles, differences and distinctions. Pointing out inconsistencies and critiquing inaccuracies. Engaging in detached observation which can be misread as dislike or disapproval. Not expressing thoughts unless illogic and inaccuracy are overwhelming. Focusing on identifying, analyzing, naming, and categorizing.


Extraverted Feeling: Considering others and responding to them

Expressing positive and negative feelings openly. Disclosing personal details to establish rapport. Pointing out how to attend to needs of others and complaining when others are not considerate. Expressing of warmth, caring and concern and interest in others, which can be misread as suffocating or not attending to a task. Focusing on appropriateness and connectedness.


Introverted Feeling: Evaluating importance and maintaining congruence

Clarifying what is important. Pointing out contradictions and incongruities between actions and espoused values. Expressing quiet reserve, which is often misread as aloofness. Adamantly insisting on what is important, or what you want or like. Not expressing inner convictions unless important values are comprised.

*Adapted from Linda V. Berens, Dynamics of Personality Type: Understanding and Applying Jung's Cognitive Processes (Understanding yourself and others series) (Telos Publications, 2000) Used with permission.





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