My thoughts on a working definition may be different than it is for some. Cognitivism is defined as a theoretical approach which describes mental functions as information processing models. It uses quantitative, positivist, and scientific methods.
The general idea of cognitivism is that mental functions can and should be explained by evidence of brain activities that can be measured through experimentation (Tokuhama-Espinosa, 2011).
Although some may argue that cognitivism is a response to the theory of behaviorism which neglected to explain cognition, I believe cognitivism is just an extension and expansion on the ideas of behaviorism. I find it hard to believe even with such limited knowledge of the workings of the brain that scientists like Pavlov failed to believe that the response to stimuli as described by behavorism is independent of the physiolgical aspects of the brain and nervous system. The belief that all things that organisms do can be described as behaviors moved toward cognitivism. From what I have read, the behaviorists’ theories where developed from observations of animals. Cognitivists took the next step in the development of theory and spoke to the observable uniqueness of humans.
So what is positivism? Positivism is the philosophical movement that discounts metaphysical theories, considering them to be meaningless. In this movement, all meaningful statements are either analytic or absolutely verifiable, or at least can be confirmed by observation and experimentation.
And quantitative methods? Using math, statistical and computational, in a systematic investigation is a working definition of quantitative methods.
Scientific methods? The scientific method is an approach to investigation that involves making observations and conducting experiments to test a hypothesis.
Despite the differences attributed by many to behaviorist and cognitivist theories, cognitive science does not escape all of behaviorism’s criticism. However, cognitivism overcomes behaviorism’s main faults by identifying that reflexes and reinforcements cannot account for all human behavior and also that animal behavior is not the best predictor of human behavior.
Our investigation of constructivism, connectivism, as well as other models will continue our journey into understanding learning and the adult learner. As a good friend of mine might say, we are “Learning to Teach“.