Our blog An introduction to cognitive domains and learning styles explains how students understand information and learn in different ways, and how we tailor our teaching accordingly.
This blog examines cognitive domains, what they are and how understanding your strengths and weaknesses can help you in study, work and life.
What are the different cognitive domains?
At CMS we follow the neurodiversity evaluation framework CognAssist, which sets out eight cognitive domains and explains how to support students that have difficulties with one or more of them. They are:
- Non-Verbal Memory – people who struggle with non-verbal memory don’t find it easy to adapt to new situations, can suffer from sensory overload and prefer routines. They can’t always read non-verbal signals from others, such as facial expressions, and wordplay such as sarcasm, metaphors and colloquialisms. Learning is best done through simple verbal communication rather than diagrams and charts.
- Verbal Reasoning – those who have difficulties with verbal reasoning have a poor vocabulary and can’t always process new information or apply what they know to problem-solving. They work better with visual aids, but should be encouraged to read more and given a glossary of terms to broaden their vocabulary.
- Verbal Memory – students who find it difficult to process information given verbally struggle with long or complex tasks and with cognitive and sensory overload. Verbal teaching should be limited and supported by text, clearly set out with categories, key words and/or bullet points. Repeating and revising a topic can also help.
- Literacy – people who find reading, writing, spelling and grammar a challenge can be helped by presenting text in clear fonts with spacing and replacing dense paragraphs with bullet points. Extra support and time will help them complete written tasks.
- Numeracy – those who find numeracy challenging will have issues processing and interpreting numbers and statistics, and with time management and punctuality. Verbal and visual resources such as diaries and schedules can help.
- Visual Information Processing Speed – students who have a slow visual information processing speed will find it hard to read at a normal pace and to finish tasks on time. They will make mistakes if rushed and will benefit from extra time to finish tasks.
- Visual Perception – people who have poor visual perception may struggle with spelling and reading, maths, comprehension and remembering new information. Limiting visual information and accompanying it with a verbal explanation will help, along with headings, sub-headings, key words and bullet points.
- Executive Function – tasks like planning, time management, multi-tasking and problem-solving are difficult for those who have poor executive function. Detailed, clearly set out instructions, plus calendars, to-do lists and set time frames will help.
How understanding your cognitive domains can help you with your learning
As you can see from the wide range of categories above, there are plenty of learning styles that won’t suit students who are challenged by certain cognitive domains.
For example, some learners will have good verbal memory and will thrive in classroom discussions, but might not do so well when given text or charts to analyse. Conversely, some students will find it easy to follow written text, but might not take in information as easily when it’s presented verbally.
Those who experience sensory or cognitive overload may struggle with several of the cognitive domains and will benefit from carefully targeted support to accommodate the way they learn and help them progress in their studies.
A key point is that if you are being taught in a way that accentuates your weaknesses rather than playing to your strengths, it will not give a fair and accurate demonstration of your abilities. You will be more likely to be demotivated, drop out of your course or to do less well in your exams. This is why CMS tutors are trained to understand cognitive domains and offer the best support for each student.
How understanding your cognitive domains can help you with your career
As you move into the world of work, there is bound to be some on-the-job learning. There will also be day-to-day tasks that you might find challenging, depending on your cognitive domains, for example:
- Following verbal or written instructions
- Writing reports or giving presentations
- Communicating information to customers, clients or colleagues
- Carrying out research or taking in new information
- Multi-tasking and managing your time/workload
If you understand which cognitive domains are your strong or weak points, you will be able to work around them. For example, if your workplace supplies you with written information and you find literacy a challenge, you could ask your line manager to run through the information verbally or to give you more time to process it. They will then know not to send you an email with last-minute detailed information just before an important meeting or expect you to learn from a detailed manual.
The result will be that you are less likely to fail at tasks or feel dissatisfied in your work or even lose your job.
How understanding your cognitive domains can help you in life
There are many ways that understanding your cognitive domains can help you in everyday life. A few examples:
- If you find numeracy difficult, you could seek out help with managing your finances, such as paying bills, saving money or putting funds aside for unexpected costs.
- If you struggle with verbal reasoning and/or literacy and your vocabulary is not well-developed, you could try to spend more time reading or sign up for a course.
- If you’re expected to organise an event with friends or family, but you find executive function a challenge, you could explain that planning and multi-tasking don’t come naturally to you and offer to make a contribution that plays to your strengths, for example designing the invitations.
- For those who suffer sensory overload, you could ask to meet friends at home or in a quiet setting like a park, rather in a noisy pub or bar.
- If your verbal memory isn’t well-developed, you could ask people to send you information by email rather than telling you on the phone.
We all have weaknesses but we also all have strengths – the trick is to recognise where you need to make adjustments or ask for help so that you can deal with situations as they arrive and navigate your study, work and life in the best possible way.