Engagement: A Cognitive Catalyst! (Part I)

Engagement: A Cognitive Catalyst

Engagement is the most important noncognitive factor correlated with academic success, and has been defined broadly in the literature as willingness to participate in the processes introduced by the teacher. As such, “engagement” is seen by a number of theorists as a goal in planning, teaching, and evaluation protocols (Bundick, Quaglia, Corso, & Haywood, 2014; Gallup, 2013). Experiential and active learning increase engagement and are both positively associated with learning. In addition to stronger academic performance, student engagement increases critical thinking and learners develop better attitudes toward learning (Wang & Degol, 2014). Strong, Silver, and Robinson (1995) have found that increased engagement encourages learners to be more creative, causes them to be more curious, promotes positive relationships with others, and fosters enthusiasm learning – all ideal preconditions for insight and Aha! experiences (Dolmans, Loyens, Marcq, & Gijbels, 2016). Likewise, students have low tolerance for activities that are overly repetitive and forced upon them with no active choice or that require little active thought (Jay, Caldwell-Harris, & King, 2008). Kolb’s (1984) Experiential Learning theory claims that teaching focused on engaging students serves as an ideal vehicle for learning mastery, claiming that, “learning is best conceived as a process, not in terms of outcomes” (p. 26). Kolb’s theory combines nicely with active learner research established by Dewey (1924), as well as Vygotsky’s (1978) research on social constructs built from learners while fully engaged, and outcomes displayed in Piaget’s (1950) theory of cognitive development (Piaget, 1950; Piaget & Cook, 1952). Engagement is a powerful catalyst in learning, opening cognitive pathways for students to better engage in the conceptual processes necessary to move from surface to deep thinking and display strongest outcomes (Jonassen, 1992).