Cognitive Learning Is a State of Mind

Cognitive Learning Is a State of Mind

The factors driving today’s global Cognitive Learning market


According to Metaari’s research report The 2018-2023 Global Cognitive Learning Market published in May 2019, the five-year compound annual global growth rate (CAGR) for Cognitive Learning products is 17.8% and revenues will more than double to reach more than $7 billion by 2023. The report identifies more than 560 suppliers operating across 122 countries that are bringing extraordinary products to the market. The vast majority of these companies are startups.

There are several primary and secondary catalysts driving the global Cognitive Learning market. Combined, these catalysts have created very favorable market conditions for developers. The competitive landscape is fertile ground for startups. Nearly $3 billion was invested in Cognitive Learning companies between 2015 and 2018.

The global learning technology industry is in a period of profound innovation. The worldwide training and education industry is in the midst of exponential change and disruption. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Cognitive Learning market.


In Metaari’s Advanced Learning Technology Research Taxonomy, Cognitive Learning products are defined as learning technologies designed to change or modify cognitive abilities.

Cognitive Learning integrates advanced technology and protocols from educational neuroscience, neuropsychology and educational psychology.

London’s Centre for Educational Neuroscience states, “Educational neuroscience is an emerging scientific field that brings together researchers in cognitive neuroscience, developmental cognitive neuroscience, educational psychology, educational technology, education theory and other related disciplines to explore the interactions between biological processes and education.”

According to ScienceDaily, “Neuropsychology is a branch of psychology and neurology that aims to understand how the structure and function of the brain relate to specific psychological processes.”

Educational psychology applies theories of human development and psychology to didactics, the science of teaching and learning. In educational psychology, the knowledge acquisition process unfolds in two phases: knowledge transfer to the recipient and, hopefully, learning transfer (observable and measurable mastery).

All systematic approaches to instructional design incorporate educational psychology. Professionals with formal instructional design credentials have all studied education psychology. Corporate and government instructional designers are well-versed in Bloom’s Taxonomy, which is named after Benjamin Bloom, who is perhaps the best-known educational psychologist in the training and education industry.


The foundation of modern Cognitive Learning theory is the scientific evidence of the brain’s plasticity, also known as neuroplasticity. According to Canadian researcher Patrice Voss, “Neuroplasticity can be viewed as a general umbrella term that refers to the brain’s ability to modify, change, and adapt both structure and function throughout life and in response to experience.”

In a 2016 article, called “Educational Neuroscience: Challenges and Opportunities,” researcher Ann Neurosci wrote, “Educational neuroscience is an emerging multidisciplinary field wherein the aim is to link basic research in neuroscience, psychology and cognitive science with educational technology. Neuroplasticity is the key bridging process.” She added that “learning to read is one of the most elegant examples of the neuroplasticity.”


There are five types of brain waves: delta, theta, alpha, beta and gamma, and each of them correlates to specific cognitive abilities and states. Recent empirical studies have linked alpha and theta waves to learning, memory, stress reduction and creativity.

In the current market, there are new types of Cognitive Learning products that use two technologies to manipulate brain wave activity: brain entrainment and neuromodulation. They are used to induce specific types of brain waves during the knowledge acquisition process.

Brain entrainment is accomplished via biofeedback (output) and/or light and audio sensory stimulation (input). Biosensor devices and wearables are used in most brain entrainment products.

In light stimulation, headsets are used to deliver choreographed pulses of light to the eyes. Different pulses create different brain waves and cognitive states. In sound stimulation, known as Auditory Beat Stimulation (ABS), sound beats generate different cognitive states depending on the beat type. Products that combine both light and sound stimulation are called Audio-Visual Stimulation.

Neuromodulation (brain stimulation) Cognitive Learning products use electrical or magnetic currents to alter brain waves and cognitive states. According to the UK healthcare provider Medtronic, “Neuromodulation involves direct stimulation of the nervous system with electrical signals.”

In March 2017, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) funded the $9.85 million multiyear Targeted Neuroplasticity Training (TNT) program and is funding research at seven universities and in several military agencies. “TNT research focuses on a specific kind of learning, called cognitive skills training. People use cognitive skills to do things, like pay attention, process information, do several things at once, detect and understand patterns, remember instructions and organize information.”

The DARPA TNT program uses a neuromodulation (brain stimulation) method, called peripheral nerve stimulation, “to enhance learning processes in the brain.” The goal of the program is to “develop a noninvasive, user-friendly technology that simultaneously delivers a stimulus, monitors neural response and dramatically accelerates learning.”

According to DARPA, “TNT was inspired by recent research showing that stimulation of certain peripheral nerves can activate regions of the brain involved with learning. Such signals can potentially trigger synaptic plasticity by releasing neurochemicals that reorganize neural connections in response to specific experiences.”

Halo Neuroscience sells a popular Cognitive Learning product used by athletes and military personnel (including the U.S. Navy Seals). Its flagship product is Halo Sport, a neuromodulation headset that uses a form of brain stimulation, called transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS). “Halo Sport increases your brain’s natural plasticity, so you can create and strengthen motor pathways faster. We call this hyperplasticity or hyperlearning.”

PlatoScience Neurostimulation sells a “wearable tDCS device designed to optimize your cognitive performance — improve memory, concentration and creativity. The PlatoWork device has four modes of stimulation: Learn, Create, Concentrate and Rethink.”


Metaari has developed a product taxonomy, called the Cognitive Learning Pedagogical Framework. The framework was derived over several years by reverse engineering commercial product types on the market.

There are 10 schemas in the framework and each maps to a distinct product type. These schemas are a combination of cognitive theories, behavioral therapies, sensory brain entrainment, brain stimulation and wellknown mnemonic methods. Metaari uses the framework to forecast revenues for each schema-based product type. The framework is a design roadmap for developers.

The most widely used schema is Carroll’s Three-Stratum Theory of Intelligence. It posits three levels of cognitive abilities: general intelligence, eight broad cognitive abilities and dozens of narrow cognitive abilities. See chart on pg. 37.

General intelligence (g) is often called the “the g Factor.” The g Factor is a psychometric model of intelligence. According to Carroll, “It is a construct developed in psychometric investigations of cognitive abilities and human intelligence.”

The eight broad cognitive abilities in Carrol’s schema are fluid intelligence (Gf), crystallized intelligence (Gc), long-term memory and learning (Gy), visual-spatial processing (Gv), auditory processing (Gu), reading and writing ability (Gr), short-term working memory (Gs), cognitive processing speed (Gs) and cognitive reaction time speed (Gt).

There are standardized clinical assessments that can measure specific broad cognitive abilities (before and after behavior modification) and there are cross-battery assessments (XBA) that measure multiple abilities in a single test.

Most Cognitive Learning products (particularly brain fitness products) target multiple broad cognitive abilities and, by definition, are cross battery. For example, Posit Science sells a brain-training program, called BrainHQ, designed by an international team of neuroscientists that “has 29 online exercises that work out attention, brain speed, memory, people skills, navigation and intelligence.”

Scientific Learning’s Fast ForWord literacy intervention products are in widespread use in the Pre K-12 schools and are designed to improve Gr (reading and writing skills). “Fast ForWord does what no other intervention can do: it starts with cognitive skills like memory, attention and processing speed and works from the bottom up, using the principles of neuroplasticity.”


In the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy developed in 2001, the researchers Anderson and Krathwohl wrote: “A statement of a learning objective contains a verb (an action) and an object (usually a noun). The verb generally refers to actions associated with the intended cognitive process. The object generally describes the knowledge students are expected to acquire or construct. The cognitive process dimension represents a continuum of increasing cognitive complexity.”

In Albert Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory, there are four non-linear (reciprocal) cognitive processes involved in knowledge acquisition: attention, retention, motor reproduction and motivation. The four processes are “contained” within three experiential vectors comprised of the cognitive state of the individual, the environment (including the biological state) and the behavioral conditions at play. See above graphic.

Knowledge acquisition is a cognitive process. The Oxford Dictionary defines cognition as “the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience and the senses.” Simply put, Cognitive Learning is inherently a state of mind.

—Sam S. Adkins is Chief Researcher at Metaari.

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