What is the Cognitive Flexibility Theory?

     The Cognitive Flexibility Theory is called "cognitive flexibility" because it refers to the "flexible" way learners assemble and retrieve knowledge from their brains.  This theory is best used  in designing learning environments that support the use of interactive technology.  It is based upon the Cognitive Learning Theory but, it is also very similar to the Constuctivist Learning Theory.  Like the Constructivist Theory, it claims that learners construct knowledge by building upon existent knowledge and experiences.  It differs in that it builds upon the Constructivist Theory. "Within the constructivist fold, Cognitive Flexibility Theory offers an extension to the idea of the way we process new information, suggesting that we do not simply retrieve packets of old knowledge but we assemble them to form new realities which best relate to the learning material." (1999).  Cognitive theorists believe that "hypertext learning environments are sensitive to and dependent upon the cognitive characteristics necessary for advanced knowledge acquisition in ill/structured domains.  The realm of constructive processes must be taken beyond the retrieval of knowledge structures from memory (for the purpose of going beyond the information given in some learning situation) to also include the independent, flexible, situation-specific assemble of the background knowledge structures themselves." (1994).   Leading Cognitive Flexibility theorists Spiro and Jehng (1990, p.165) state: "By cognitive flexibility, we mean the ability to spontaneously restructure one's knowledge, in many ways, in adaptive response to radically changing situational demands...This is a function of both the way knowledge is represented (e.g., along multiple rather single conceptual dimensions) and the processes that operate on those mental representations (e.g., processes of schema assembly rather than intact schema retrieval)."
     In cognitive flexibility learning environments, the content and learning activities are represented in a variety of ways.  The content is presented using different perspectives and the learning activities are structured to emphasize knowledge construction. The instructional materials support context-dependent knowledge.  The learning activities are often based on real-life situations.  These types of learning activities motivate the student and the knowledge becomes easily transferable to the learner's knowledge structure.
     It is also a theory of learning that addresses known patterns of learning failures such as the basic transmitting of objective knowledge.  A learner is much more apt to understand concepts if they construct knowledge and use it rather than if they are required to memorize information and repeat it.  "The Cognitive Flexibility Theory stresses the conceptual interrelatedness of ideas and their interconnectedness.  Instruction that is based upon flexibility theory should reflect the complexity that normally faces practitioners, rather than treating practical, professional problems as simple, linear sequences of decisions. Knowledge becomes more transferable to different problem domains when the individual learner integrates it into his/her own knowledge structure." (2000)
     This theory also emphasizes the use of various examples to illustrate the content, context dependent knowledge, and knowledge construction.  Cognitive Flexibility theorists believe that learners spontaneously restructure knowledge to adapt to new learning situations. 
     I decided to apply this theory in the design of my Web site.  In the table below, I have provided a link for you to visit if you would like additional information concerning why I believe this theory has merit and how I applied this theory to my Web site. 
      Bolton, Tom., Glazer, Elana., Punja, Zahra. (1999).  Introduction to Computers:
      Cognitive Flexibility Theory. [Online]. Available:
      http://alcor.concordia.ca/~tbolton/edcomp/toc.html  [2000, February 10].

     Kearsley, Greg. (1999). Explorations in Learning & Insturction: The Theory Into Practice 
          Database. [Online]. Spiro, R.J., & Jehng, J. (1990). Cognitive flexibility and hypertext: Theory
          and technology for the non-linear and multidimensional traversal of complex subject matter. 
          D.Nix & R. Sprio (eds.), Cognition, Education, and Multimedia. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
          Available: http://www.gwu.edu/~tip/spiro.html

     Reibel, Joshua. (1994). Pedagogy for the 21st Century. [Online]. Spiro, Rand, Feltovich, 
          Jacoboson, and Coulson. "Flexibility, Constructivism, and Hypertext: Random Access 
          Instruction for Advanced Knowledge Acquistion in Ill-Structured Domains." Available:
          http://www.ilt.columbia.edu/ilt/papers//Spiro.html [2000, February 9]. 

      Unknown author. (2000).  Cognitive Flexibility Theory: A Definition [Online]. Available:
            http://www.ed.psu.edu/insys/527/cft/CFT_DEF.HTM [2000, February 8]. 
           (This is an out of date link as of July 1, 2002. Please try this link for similar information-)


Cognitive Flexibility, Constructivism, & Hypertext
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  • Cognitive Flexibility Theory:
    Cognitive Flexibility Theory
    Cognitive Flexibility Theory Why I believe the learning theories were useful in the design of my Web site.

    What is the Cognitive Flexibility Theory?
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