Education resources › Blog › Is Cognitive Science for all knowledge and subjects?

Is Cognitive Science for all knowledge and subjects

Is Cognitive Science for all knowledge and subjects?

5 min read
  • Becoming evidence-informed

Learning is a fascinating journey. Knowing how to make it happen smoothly can have a huge impact in the classroom.

It’s not just about what you teach, but also about how you deliver information for your students to absorb. This blog explores various learning strategies that you and your students can use, and how well they work for different types of knowledge and subjects. Read on to learn more about:

  • The different types of learning strategies
  • What the research says about their link with knowledge types
  • How this differs per subject

What are the different types of effective learning strategies?

Learning strategies are techniques or methods that students use to enhance their understanding and retention of information. Let’s explore five key learning strategies…

Retrieval Practice

Retrieval Practice involves actively recalling information from memory to reinforce and solidify knowledge.

By engaging in deliberate recall, students can strengthen their understanding, enhance their retention and develop subject fluency. Retrieval Practice promotes meaningful learning and boosts academic performance.

Spacing (also known as Distributed Practice) 

This effective learning strategy involves spacing out study sessions over a longer period of time, rather than cramming information all at once.

For instance, instead of studying for an exam in one long session, your students can divide their study time into shorter sessions spread over several days. By spacing out their learning and allowing for rest and review intervals, your students can improve their retention and understanding of the material.


Interleaving involves switching between different concepts in a single lesson or study session.

This enhances learning by challenging the brain to make connections and apply knowledge across different contexts, leading to deeper understanding and improved retention of the material. You can learn more about interleaving in our blog, What is Interleaving, and why does it work?.


This is a cognitive strategy where students explain concepts to themselves to enhance understanding.

For example, when solving a Maths problem, a student may articulate the steps and reasoning behind each calculation, solidifying their grasp of the underlying principles. Through self-explanation, learners actively process information, identify knowledge gaps and reinforce learning through introspection and reflection.

Elaborative Interrogation 

This effective learning strategy involves actively engaging with the material by asking thoughtful questionsabout how and why things work.

By delving deeper into the subject matter, your students can gain a clearer understanding and develop a more comprehensive knowledge base. This reflective approach encourages critical thinking and fosters a deeper understanding.

What does the research say about learning strategies and knowledge types?

Recent research from a Dutch university has shown that different learning strategies are more effective for different types of knowledge. The researchers analysed 22 review studies to evaluate the impact of the five learning strategies mentioned above on three different types of knowledge.

  • Factual knowledge – This refers to basic pieces of information.
  • Conceptual knowledge – This refers to understanding concepts and principles that link pieces of factual knowledge together.
  • Procedural knowledge – This refers to knowing how to do something.

The researchers found that Retrieval Practice, Spacing and Interleaving proved to be most effective in factual knowledge learning.

For conceptual knowledge learning, self-explanation and Elaborative Interrogation were shown to be beneficial.

Lastly, procedural knowledge learning was shown to benefit from Distributed Practice, Interleaved Practice and self-explanation.

The researchers also found that teachers play a crucial role in influencing students’ learning strategy choices. They suggest teachers should consider their students’ learning strategy choices during instruction, as “with appropriate instructions, teachers do have the ability to make students’ learning more effective, thus enabling students to reap greater rewards from their self-study activities.”

High-impact CPD made easy. Develop evidence-informed CPD at your school, using our exclusive online collection of courses and resources.

How does this differ per subject?

As a part of the same study, the researchers also conducted focus group interviews involving secondary school teachers in Maths, Dutch (the native language) and Geography to explore the appearance of different types of knowledge in their subjects.


They found that in Maths, factual knowledge serves as a foundation for learning of more complex aspects, while conceptual knowledge is limited to higher levels and high-achieving students. Procedural knowledge, the dominant type, equips students with problem-solving tools.

The study also found that low-achieving students rely on factual knowledge, while high achievers prioritise procedural knowledge. Overall, Maths education combines these knowledge types, with procedural knowledge being the most important.

Native language (Dutch in the research)

The researchers found that factual knowledge serves as the foundation for native language learning, encompassing literary history, grammatical rules, vocabulary, text types, and the author’s intent. Conceptual knowledge involves understanding grammar, text structures and comprehension, while procedural knowledge is demonstrated through applying language rules and completing writing or speaking tasks.

The study participants highlighted that factual knowledge is essential for acquiring conceptual and procedural knowledge in native Dutch language learning.


In Geography education, the primary type of knowledge is conceptual knowledge, which is found across all domains. This involves understanding demographical models, combining information from different domains and analysing regions or continents. Procedural knowledge is also important, such as using atlases, coordinates and reading graphics. Factual knowledge serves as a necessary foundation for more complex geography learning, including definitions of terms and current events.

Overall, geography education combines conceptual, procedural and factual knowledge, with a focus on conceptual knowledge as the main type.

These findings provide crucial insights into the effectiveness of learning strategies for different types of knowledge. They underscore the importance of tailoring instructional approaches to match the predominant types of knowledge in each subject, helping you to optimise student learning.

Final thoughts

Understanding the intersection of learning strategies and types of knowledge is key to enhancing educational outcomes. As a teacher, it’s useful to understand these learning strategies and types of knowledge to tailor your approach according to the needs of your students.

By doing so, you can better equip your students with the tools they need for success in each subject and facilitate a more effective and enriching learning experience. So, why not try and implement these strategies in your classroom and help your students embark on a successful learning journey?

To help your staff to understand and apply the latest and most important Cognitive Science research like this, book a Science of Learning Teacher CPD workshop today.

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

Follow on XConnect on LinkedIn