Facilitating Transformative Cognitive-Experiences

Elliot Eisner suggests that, “thinking and experiencing cannot be easily separated.” That, “no form of experience is possible without cognitive activity and that such activity is itself what we mean by thinking.” (Elliot Eisner, Cognition & Curriculum) Might it be clearer then if we consider them one and the same? Let’s call this concept “cognitive-experience”.

What should the goal of a physics class be? To practice solving abstract math problems? Or to improve students’ understanding of how the world works? The former does not automatically lead to the latter. Being a “good student” generally means being able to give the answer that the teacher is looking for. This rarely affects how a student views the world outside the classroom.

But some cognitive-experiences challenge and change our worldview. They are transformative. Transformation, no matter how small, allows you to see the world from a new perspective. This kind of transformation should be a primary aim of public education.

So then, what makes a cognitive-experience transformative? Let’s consider five attributes of cognitive-experience: the verbal, the sensory, the emotional, the kinesthetic, and the interactive. Schooling frequently centers the verbal. But words alone are far less likely to lead to transformation than when combined with these other attributes. Think about a cognitive-experience that challenged and changed you. What was the role of these attributes?

When designing curriculum, consider how you can leverage not just the verbal, but also the sensory, the emotional, the kinesthetic, and the interactive to facilitate cognitive-experiences that have a chance of being transformative.