Applications and Misapplications of Cognitive Psychology to Mathematics Education

John R. Anderson
Lynne M. Reder

Herbert A. Simon*

Department of Psychology
Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh, PA 15213


There is a frequent misperception that the move from behaviorism to cognitivism implied an abandonment of the possibilities of decomposing knowledge into its elements for purposes of study and decontextualizing these elements for purposes of instruction. We show that cognitivism does not imply outright rejection of decomposition and decontextualization. We critically analyze two movements which are based in part on this rejection--situated learning and constructivism. Situated learning commonly advocates practices that lead to overly specific learning outcomes while constructivism advocates very inefficient learning and assessment procedures. The modern information-processing approach in cognitive psychology would recommend careful analysis of the goals of instruction and thorough empirical study of the efficacy of instructional approaches.

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