The cognitive school is probably best defined by exclusion: if it ain't biological, behaviourist or humanist, it's cognitive (I'm including information-processing models here).
- It all starts with Gestalt theories [Wertheimer, Köhler and Koffka, and with only the vaguest connection with Gestalt therapy (Perls)]: originally theories of perception, interested in the way the brain imposes pattern on the perceived world, Gestalt moved into problem-solving learning.
- It is also much influenced by the developmental psychology of Piaget (but also read Donaldson (1984) if reading Piaget), focusing on the maturational factors affecting understanding. The accommodation/assimilation dialectic is the part most useful for understanding grown learners.
Broadly, cognitive theory is interested in how people understand material, and thus in;
- aptitude and capacity to learn (thus fringing onto psychometrics and testing),
- and learning styles (the reference is to one of the few apparently valid styles: see here for a corrective view! and here for a slightly more balanced one).
- It is also the basis of the educational approach known as constructivism, which emphasises the role of the learner in constructing his own view or model of the material, and what helps with that.