Cognitivism emphasizes that significant internal mental or cognitive processes takes place during the process of learning and learning is not simply an “output” or observable behavior which results from an experience.
Cognitivism is based on the works of Plato and Descartes who focused on cognition (how we think) and Jean Piaget on how environments and internal structures impact learning. Albert Bandura put forth the Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) which emphasized that learning occurs in a social context with a dynamic and reciprocal interaction of the person, environment, and behavior. Bandura put forth the idea of a key pre-condition for learning – “self-efficacy: or one’s belief that they are able to or capable of doing something and agency is the sense that you are a do-er, not just a static thing and the idea of agency and a ‘do-er’ with some sense of mastery over what you do and what the results are. This explains that each learner is an active participant in the learning process.
Jerome Bruner (the same guy who contributed to constructivism) believed that an important aspect of learning is the ability to not only take in, process, and respond to information, but also the ability to make predictions, create, and invent things. He put forth that the mental processes are shaped by past experiences and cognition either slows or speeds up depending on how the information is presented.
Another well-known contributor, John Sweller with his Cognitive Load Theory proposes that the working memory is limited and, thus, instructional designers should use concepts about cognitive load to adapt instruction to the learner’s mental processes.