Learning and cognition are inextricably intertwined, but not necessarily interchangeable. The process of learning includes experiencing new information. Cognition involves absorbing that information and applying it to the appropriate situations. These two functions of the brain are much like a yin-yang symbol or a weight balance, without one side, the other is incomplete. Learning is necessary to feed cognition, and cognitive processes are essential to applying the learned information to previously learned skills, as well as to future situations.
The process of learning can be observed in almost any living creature. A domesticated cat, for instance, might like to scratch a particular piece of furniture. The cat’s owner may try to prevent this by fixing the furniture and spraying it with citrus or bitter apple spray. When the cat approaches the furniture, he or she will likely sniff the piece. Bitter apple and citrus are scents cats usually don’t like, so the cat will quickly learn that his or her favorite scratching place smells unpleasant.
Once this new information is learned, cognition comes into play by helping the cat apply the information to future situations. In this case, when the cat learns that the furniture smells unpleasant, cognitive process will cause him or her to avoid that piece of furniture. The cat absorbed the information and used it to his or her advantage. Learning and cognition may also be used to continue patterns the cat finds pleasant. If the owner rubs a scratching post with catnip, the cat may use the above learning and cognition process to discover that scratching the post is a pleasant experience.
Sometimes, the connection between learning and cognition may be blocked. This is often evident in thinking-challenged individuals, such as those with reading disabilities. For instance, an individual may be able to learn the sounds of the letters of the alphabet, but be unable to string them together to read or write words. In this case, the sufferer can experience information but cannot apply it using cognitive processes.
Fortunately, bridging the gap between learning and cognition may be done with specific teaching techniques. In the above situation, a teacher might coach the reading-disabled individual through a set of small words, helping him or her sound out each letter. As the student progresses, he or she will learn to read longer and more complicated words, and may eventually be asked to write sentences and short essays. Learning and cognition almost always exist in every brain, but sometimes need some coaching to help them connect.