Research has shown that cognitive skills are a determining factor of an individual’s learning ability. Cognitive skills are mental skills that are used in the process of acquiring knowledge; according to Oxfordlearning.com the skills that “separate the good learners from the so-so learners.” In essence, when cognitive skills are strong, learning is fast and easy. When cognitive skills are weak, learning becomes a struggle.
Many children become frustrated and find schoolwork difficult because they do not have the cognitive skills required to process information properly. Many employees find themselves stuck in dead-end jobs that do not tap into their true vocational potential due to weak cognitive skills. In the later years of life, a lack of cognitive skills — poor concentration, the inability to focus, and memory loss — is a common problem that accompanies us.
It should be noted that irrespective of age, cognitive skills can be improved with the right training. Weak cognitive skills can be strengthened, and normal cognitive skills can be enhanced to increase ease and performance in learning.
The following cognitive skills are the most important:
Concentration is the ability to focus attention on one single thought or subject, excluding everything else from the field of awareness. It is one of the most important abilities one should possess, as nothing great can be achieved without it.
Students need to concentrate and focus on completing a homework assignment, a project, or review for a test in order to excel in school, learn the subject, and get good grades. Athletes need to concentrate on performance, execution, and strategy in order to do their best and overcome their opponents. Entrepreneurs need to concentrate on all the factors involved in starting a new business and promoting their product or service. They need to do this in order to get their idea off the ground and make their enterprise into a profitable entity. Business leaders need to concentrate on their company mission, vision, and strategies, as well as the work at hand, in order to stay ahead of their competitors. Workers need to concentrate on their jobs and fulfilling their supervisor’s goals, in order to complete projects and advance in their careers.
Improving the ability to concentrate allows a person to avoid the problems, embarrassment, and difficulties that occur when the mind wanders. Better concentration makes studying easier and speeds up comprehension. It enables one to take advantage of the social and business opportunities that arise when individuals are fully attuned to the world around them. It helps one to focus on one’s goals and achieve them more easily.
Sensation is the pickup of information by our sensory receptors, for example, the eyes, ears, skin, nostrils, and tongue. In vision, sensation occurs as rays of light are collected by the two eyes and focused on the retina. In hearing, sensation occurs as waves of pulsating air are collected by the outer ear and transmitted through the bones of the middle ear to the cochlear nerve.
Perception, on the other hand, is the interpretation of what is sensed. The physical events transmitted to the retina may be interpreted as a particular color, pattern, or shape. The physical events picked up by the ear may be interpreted as musical sounds, a human voice, noise, and so forth.
Lack of experience may cause a person to misinterpret what he has sensed. In other words, perception represents our apprehension of a present situation in terms of our past experiences, or, as stated by the philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804): “We see things not as they are but as we are.”
Deficits in visual perception can hinder a person’s ability to make sense of information received through the eyes, while deficits in auditory perception interfere with an individual’s ability to analyze or make sense of information received through the ears.
A classic example of a deficit in visual perception is the child who confuses letters such as b, d, p, and q. Many adults find their reading speed to be inadequate as a result of underlying perceptual deficits.
By improving accuracy and speed of perception, one is able to absorb and process information accurately and quickly. Reading speed will also improve and reading problems can be overcome.
Memory is probably the most important of all cognitive functions.
Roughly speaking, the sensory register concerns memories that last no more than about a second or two. If a line of print were flashed at you very rapidly, say, for one-tenth of a second, all the letters you can visualize for a brief moment after that presentation constitute the sensory register.
When you are trying to recall a telephone number that was heard a few seconds earlier, the name of a person who has just been introduced, or the substance of the remarks just made by a teacher in class, you are calling on short-term memory, or working memory. This lasts from a few seconds to a minute; the exact amount of time may vary somewhat. You need this kind of memory to retain ideas and thoughts as you work on problems. In writing a letter, for example, you must be able to keep the last sentence in mind as you compose the next. To solve an arithmetic problem like (3 X 3) + (4 X 2) in your head, you need to keep the intermediate results in mind (i.e., 3 X 3 = 9) to be able to solve the entire problem.
Poor short-term memory may lead to difficulties in processing, understanding, and organization. By improving one’s short-term memory, one is better able to process, understand and organize incoming information.
Long-term memory is the ability to store information and later retrieve it, and lasts from a minute or so to weeks or even years. From long-term memory you can recall general information about the world that you learned on previous occasions, memory for specific past experiences, specific rules previously learned, and the like.
Research has shown that, on average, within 24 hours one forgets 80% of what one has learned. By improving long-term memory schoolchildren and students are able to store and retrieve information more effectively.
Visual memory is a person’s ability to remember what he has seen, while auditory memory is a person’s ability to remember what he has heard. Various researchers have stated that as much as eighty percent of all learning takes place through the eye. Needless to say, improving visual memory will have a tremendous effect on a person’s learning ability. The same is true of improving auditory memory.
Logical thinking is a learned process in which one uses reasoning consistently to arrive at a conclusion. Problems or situations that involve logical thinking call for structure, for relationships between facts, and for chains of reasoning that “make sense.”
According to Dr. Albrecht, author of Brain Building, the basis of all logical thinking is sequential thought. This process involves taking the important ideas, facts, and conclusions involved in a problem and arranging them in a chain-like progression that takes on a meaning in and of itself. To think logically is to think in steps.
The ability to think logically allows a person to reject quick and easy answers, such as “I don’t know,” or “this is too difficult,” by empowering him to delve deeper into his thinking processes and understand better the methods used to arrive at a solution. It has been shown that training in logical thinking processes makes a person brighter.