How Cognassist supports learners
Understanding cognition and different learning needs is essential to delivering the best support for your learners.
In this guide, we outline the support that Cognassist provides and the cognition framework we use to build an evidence-based approach to learning support.
And explain how we ensure, with scientific accuracy, that no learner is left behind.
- An outline of the cognitive domains we support.
- How we support each learner’s needs based on cognitive profiles.
- A break down of the reasonable adjustments and personalised support strategies learners’ receive.
- An introduction to our cognition framework.
- What is Cognassist?
- How does the assessment work?
- What needs does the Cognassist digital assessment identify?
- What support does the learner receive?
- Understanding the Cognassist modules
- How is the support we provide separate from the provider’s core provision?
- How do the different cognitive domains inform the support we provide to learners?
- Our cognition framework
A guide to the support and cognitive research within Cognassist
Cognassist is an organisation committed to breaking down barriers, not just for learners who require support, but for organisations and individuals looking to become more effective and data-driven in their support provision.
This guide will outline Cognassist’s learning support provision, as well as the cognitive research that informs the support we provide.
We will discuss the science and research around cognitive domains. How they relate to our different learning abilities and difficulties, and how we can support these domains to improve the learning experience and make sure no learner is left behind.
What is Cognassist?
Cognassist is a software solution that provides a digital cognitive assessment and support platform for post-16 education providers and their learners.
Our assessment identifies individuals with learning needs and delivers tailored support strategies and reasonable adjustments based on individual cognitive profiles and specific areas of need.
How does the assessment work?
Cognassist’s neurodiversity assessment is a digital version of traditional paper-based psychometric tests used by neuropsychologists, cognitive scientists and educational psychologists.
Cognitive assessments are built to measure fundamental processes and functions of the human mind that impact our abilities to understand, remember and learn the information we use day-to-day. They measure capacities such as memory, perception, attention, reasoning and language (Clark & Harrelson, 2002). Our performance in these cognitive measures are important mediators of educational and occupational performance, socioeconomic attainment, health and longevity (Berger, 2008).
Cognitive assessments often form part of the diagnosis process for specific learning difficulties like dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia and ADHD. Learning difficulties and disabilities are known to be related to underlying differences in cognitive processes, such as the disruption of phonological processing in dyslexia (Elbro et al., 1994).
While further context is required for a definitive diagnosis, and this is not something that Cognassist provides, the data gathered from cognitive assessments is key to understanding such differences. Cognition data, which Cognassist provides, forms a crucial basis for educational psychologists’ recommendations on how to adapt learning environments and implement reasonable adjustments.
Evidence shows that various types of difficulties and disabilities outside of specific learning difficulties can also have an impact on cognitive functions, even if they don’t form part of the formal diagnosis (Chien et al., 2015; Kircanski et al., 2012; Maloney et al., 2014). Whatever the situation for each individual, cognitive differences can and should be supported in learning and workplace environments.
The use of cognitive assessments to identify and measure these differences has been well-researched and refined over the last 100 years (Flanagan & McDonough, 2018). By creating a digital version of these assessments, Cognassist has been able to increase identification and access to support for many learners with significant learning needs in order to improve outcomes.
What needs does the Cognassist digital assessment identify?
The Cognassist assessment measures eight key cognitive domains that perform different functions as we learn and process information. Learners who identify with a need in one of these domains are likely to experience difficulties in some or all of the processing capacities covered by that domain, making it harder to perform certain tasks or keep up with their peers in the learning environment.
The eight key domains we assess are:
Literacy – This domain is not just about reading and spelling ability. The literacy domain also covers everything we perceive about language, including language processing power and speed, vocabulary, listening and speaking skills and expressing ideas with clarity.
Numeracy – The numeracy domain also is not just about doing sums and times tables. This domain involves various processes around numerical information, such as recognising patterns, ranking information, time management and financial reasoning. It is also an important indicator of working memory – our ability to hold and use information in the moment.
Executive function – This domain covers a range of control processes that allow us to perform some of our more complex cognitive tasks, controlling our attention, problem solving, reasoning and analysis, switching between tasks and ignoring distractions.
Verbal reasoning – This domain is about using knowledge or information to form conclusions or ideas of our own through generalising ideas, making predictions, forming concepts, answering questions and explaining how different things relate. It is important for abstract and conceptual thought.
Verbal memory – In the same way that we have long term and short term memory, we also have different domains for remembering different types of information. The verbal memory domain is all to do with remembering written and spoken information. Information we are told, but also internal verbal information, like when we read or think to ourselves.
Non-verbal memory – Different to the previous domain, non-verbal memory is about remembering everything that is not spoken, like visual information, learning body language or facial expressions, recalling past events or objects in our mind, having a sense of direction and understanding abstract concepts.
Visual perception – this domain covers how we process and use visual information, such as our hand/eye coordination, spatial processing, visualisation of past experiences or objects, copying visual information and deciphering visual tools such as maps, graphs, charts and diagrams. Visual perception is not just about vision, however, it also requires logical processing such as inductive and spatial reasoning.
Visual information processing speed – This domain is also about how we process visual information but more importantly how quickly we process it. In ways like reading or writing speed, reading and taking notes at the same time, listening and taking notes at the same time and response times to instructions or sudden changes. Visual processing speed also relates to more general cognitive processing speed, sustained attention and working memory.
In line with the definition of a learning difficulty or disability in the Education Act 1996, only people who score significantly less than the majority of the population of the same age will be identified as potentially needing support on our assessment.
We use universal tools like standard scoring to measure performance in each domain and an internationally recognised threshold of one standard deviation below the mean (or population average) to identify a substantial cognitive need. When compared to their peers, learners with identified needs can experience greater difficulty in learning, and a lack of appropriate support could put that learner at a disadvantage. Learners can identify in one or more domains, and we can provide support for multiple domains within our platform.
If you require further detail on how we built and score the results of our assessment, you can view our online guide to The Science Behind Cognassist.
We also have an article on our knowledge base dedicated to explaining standard scores.
What support does the learner receive?
1) Reasonable adjustments for off-the-job training support – Learners who are recommended for support and have agreed to this with their tutor will be given a personalised learning support plan. This learning plan will give providers guidance on appropriate reasonable adjustments for supporting the learner journey and end-point assessment, which are discussed and finalised with the learner before application to the end-point assessment organisation.
Any reasonable adjustments should cover the whole length of the learner’s programme, not just end-point assessment. Not only to provide consistent and appropriate support for the learner but to provide supporting evidence that the learner requires these adjustments to complete their programme. End-point assessment organisations and awarding bodies are more likely to accept an application for reasonable adjustments if you have made adjustments throughout the learner’s programme, which are then reflected at end-point assessment.
It helps for applications for reasonable adjustments to be made as early as possible, so you have time to embed these adjustments and help your learners feel more confident and comfortable about how their end-point assessment will take place. If a learner identifies with a learning need in literacy or numeracy, reasonable adjustments may be required to support the completion of their English and Maths functional skills requirement. If a learner needs help at work, they may be able to get help from Access to Work funding. If the learner is happy for the information to be shared and provides their consent, any adjustments the learner receives on-programme can be shared with their employer to provide a more joined-up approach. However, learners are under no obligation to share this information.
2) Support strategies for learning difficulties and on-the-job support – The personalised learning support plan will also give learners access to over 100 tailored strategy modules throughout their programme (depending on their programme length), receiving four strategy modules per month.
The modules the learner receives focus on specific tasks, scenarios or skills that the learner may find more difficult based on their cognitive learning needs. For example, a learner who struggles with their executive function would be given modules around using critical thinking to solve problems and how to make responsible decisions at work to support better problem solving and reasoning skills.
Understanding the Cognassist modules
The modules we provide broadly fit under two categories:
1) Cognitive support strategies – these can be modules that offer quite specific tips, tricks and techniques. Strategies that are likely to help in real-world scenarios that may be affected by a learner’s cognitive differences.
“Cognitive learning strategies are strategies that improve a learner’s ability to process information more deeply, transfer and apply information to new situations, and result in enhanced and better-retained learning. These learning strategies engage learners in activities in which they are responsible for performing tasks while thinking about what they are learning and why they have reached particular solutions. There is solid evidence that routine integration of these strategies coupled with daily active learning practice results in higher-order and sustained learning outcomes.” (Winn & DelSignore, 2019)
2) Soft skills – These modules focus on soft skills and behaviours related to the learner’s programme level. We provide easy-access strategies to help crystallise and support this learning.
For example, “how to build strong teamworking skills” at level 2, “effective delegation skills” at level 4 or “successful leadership qualities” at level 7. There is evidence that cognitive differences can impact our ability to develop different soft skills throughout our lives, but such skills are crucial for the working environment and life outcomes.
“Achievement tests miss, or perhaps more accurately, do not adequately capture, soft skills—personality traits, goals, motivations, and preferences that are valued in the labour market, in school, and in many other domains. […] soft skills predict success in life, that they causally produce that success, and that programs that enhance soft skills have an important place in an effective portfolio of public policies.” (Heckman & Kautz, 2012)
The module categories can and often do overlap because it can be helpful to ground specific cognitive strategies within familiar or real-world scenarios. Helping the learner to see how these skills are relevant to them and making it easier to apply them within their routine.
All modules are linked to the relevant cognitive domains by our science team and consulting neuropsychologists. The cognitive support strategies will often have very clear links to cognition. However, the links between soft skills and cognition may be less obvious but no less important, as cognitive differences can impact the development of soft skills in counterintuitive ways.
For example, the numeracy cognitive domain is not just about numbers but can indicate working memory capacity, and therefore the ability to complete other tasks that require manipulating non-numerical information, such as long term planning or understanding team dynamics.
The intention is for learners to explore modules alone and reflect on them with their tutors to find the ones that suit them best, and in doing so become more independent and self-regulated in their learning.
“Self-regulated learning (SRL) is viewed as ‘proactive processes that students use to acquire academic skill’, including the cognitive, metacognitive, motivational, behavioural, and emotional aspects of learning. It is a constructive process during which learners set up goals, and attempt to monitor, regulate, and control their cognition, motivation, and behaviour. Researchers suggest that SRL is critical in students’ learning success in face-to-face education.” (Zheng, Ward & Stanulis, 2019)
Self-regulated learning is incredibly important to an individual’s success on-programme, but this type of learning is often more challenging for people with significant learning difficulties, as they may not have the skills or coping strategies to be effective self-led learners.
The learner’s on-the-job training will also require different types of expectations and role responsibilities at each level. Meeting the demands of their role can often be difficult and intimidating, and our support provides broad, sector-agnostic skills to help each learner meet the challenges of their level and help them understand the unwritten rules of the working world.
Each strategy module offers multiple approaches that the learner can take to adapt to different learning and work requirements. The learner is given a task at the end of each module to reflect and implement different strategies into their routine. These tasks are self-reflective in nature and promote a self-led approach to learning through small but meaningful ways.
The learner discusses these modules with their tutor each month, where they explore the modules that are the most useful to create changes to their learning and working environments that enable that learner to continue on-programme and achieve their learning goals. Our framework of support starts with more foundational skills and behaviours expected of learners and builds in complexity as the learner progresses through their programme.
This structure engages the learner in a conversation about what works and what doesn’t work for them. The extra time with tutors is an important way to discuss and overcome potential barriers to their learning and ability to perform daily tasks expected of them at work. Ultimately, helping them to find their confidence and embed appropriate adjustments and flexibilities to their learning journey, working environment and end-point assessment.
How is the support we provide separate from the provider’s core provision?
Where a learning need is identified, Cognassist provides strategies that aim to mitigate the negative impact that these needs can have on the process of learning. The modules are not designed to directly teach the knowledge, skills and behaviours within the curriculum. Rather, these modules offer learners strategies to help acquire different learning techniques and reduce the barrier to gaining the different knowledge, skills and behaviours expected at their level of study.
Some of the modules might use relevant skills and behaviours that are covered in the learner’s curriculum, like project planning or study skills, to help frame the strategies for learners. However, the strategies themselves are designed to help learners to approach this learning in different ways, find what works for them and build confidence in the process of learning itself. As learners with identified needs may find these types of skills and behaviours harder to pick up, extra time to consider and reflect on these skills can be beneficial for these learners.
However, many of the skills and behaviours in our modules will not be covered by the core curriculum, and learners may simply be expected to pick them up while on the job. However, learning is a process, and we all learn in our own way. For some learners, further time, resources and strategies are required to help that learner succeed.
The Cognassist support program is comprehensive in that it combines specific cognitive training, such as using memory techniques, alongside relevant soft skills, which can be impacted by cognitive differences. The development and support of soft skills is often underrepresented in traditional educational environments. By providing learners with clear step by step strategies, it helps to crystalise this information and build their confidence, which can have a direct impact on their likelihood of completion.
We provide staff with a clear support tracking template so they can clearly demonstrate the extra support the learner receives and its impact on a monthly basis. Tutors will also receive an explanation of how each module supports the learner’s identified needs on their Cognassist dashboard so they can discuss learning support outcomes and next steps with each learner.
How do the different cognitive domains inform the support we provide to learners?
The eight domains we measure relate to a larger model of human cognition called the Cattell‐Horn‐Carroll Theory of Cognitive Abilities (CHC model). This evidence-based model is a world-famous standard of human psychology and helps us to understand the impact these domains have on how we think and learn.
“The Cattell-Horn-Carroll (CHC) theory of cognitive abilities is the most comprehensive and empirically supported psychometric theory of the structure of cognitive abilities to date. […] Because it has an impressive body of empirical support in the research literature (e.g., developmental, neurocognitive, outcome-criterion) it is used extensively as the foundation for selecting, organizing, and interpreting tests of […] cognitive abilities (e.g., Flanagan, Alfonso, & Ortiz, 2012; Flanagan, Ortiz, & Alfonso, 2007).” (Flanagan & Dixon, 2014)
Cognassist has used the CHC model to analyse our assessment and outline the specific processes related to each domain that we measure. These specific processes can cause a variety of differences in people’s cognition in each domain. This means that a difficulty in one domain could be caused by differences in one or more relevant cognitive processes. Relevant cognitive processes tell us more about why somebody may experience difficulties with a particular activity.
The ways that our cognition can impact our daily activities is not always clear, and sometimes it might not be obvious why a learner receives the support strategies they do without insight into the cognitive research.
Our cognition framework
At Cognassist, we use an internal framework built by our science team and created in consultation with expert neuropsychologists, Dr Clive Skilbeck and Dr John Welch. This framework helps us to deliver modules that are likely to be the most relevant to learners’ needs and to explain why learners can benefit from the support we provide.
The framework is derived from the cognitive processes outlined in the CHC model that are covered by our assessment and it helps us to support the types of activities that may be a challenge for people with learning difficulties (Flanagan & McDonough, 2018).
These key processes can help to understand and break down the domains that we measure within our assessment. We have grouped the different processes under six broader capacities. Each domain in our assessment is relevant to multiple specific processes within our framework. For example, the verbal memory domain involves both language/auditory processing and learning efficiency.
To provide insight into how our modules support different domains, we have listed all the processes within our framework below alongside definitions that explain their functions. Tutors will also be able to view information about how each module relates to these processes within their intervention reports in the Cognassist platform.
“Research illuminates the correlations among different memory constructs and academic skills[.]” (Flanagan & Dixon, 2014)
Learning efficiency – Memory involves different types of processing. Learning efficiency is the encoding phase and relates to the ease at which new information is encoded or stored accurately in long term memory. For example, some people need to exert more effort than others to learn the same information.
Retrieval Fluency – The retrieval phase after successful encoding of information from long term memory. Does not simply relate to the ability to remember, but the ease and fluency in which ideas and information can be brought to mind in the moment (quick-wittedness can be thought of as an example of high retrieval fluency). Related to creativity, with the ability to fluently bring ideas and concepts to mind or come up with ideas that link given concepts.
Visual memory – Ability to form and store a mental representation or image of a visual stimulus and then recognize or recall it later.
“Visual–spatial ability is no doubt one of the important cognitive components related to academic achievement[.]” (Saifang, Wenjun, Yuan, Peyre & Jingjing, 2021)
Spatial scanning – Ability to accurately and quickly survey a spatial field or pattern to understand spatial relationships and visual information.
Visualisation – The ability to look at and perceive complex visual information and mentally represent it and manipulate it. For example, visualising how something may look from a different angle. A central ability of visual processing and covers spatial processing and reasoning broadly. Closely related to maths ability, as we often visualise maths problems and concepts mentally.
Imagery – Ability to voluntarily produce visual imagery in mind when there is no visual stimulus present. Could be thought of as visual imagination or our mind’s eye.
Flexibility of closure – The ability to pull out, identify or recognise patterns or images in larger, more complex scenes.
#3 Attention and working memory
“A learner being able to focus and pay attention is the basic skill of learning.” (Sreena & Ilankumaran, 2018)
Working memory – A limited capacity for temporarily storing and using information in the moment, which requires intentional control and management of attention. The term “memory” here refers to retention in the moment, rather than encoding and retrieving from long term memory systems, as is often meant by the term. Working memory has subcomponents but can generally be thought of as a mental workspace.
Attentional control – The ability to actively control attention in order to complete daily tasks including shifting attention, inhibition (inhibiting irrelevant or distracting information) and allocating attention to different tasks.
Sustained attention – Maintaining focused attention for an extended period of time on one task.
Cognitive flexibility – Being able to fluently and adaptively change your thinking and attention depending on what is relevant right now.
Cognitive regulation – Awareness of the current state or contents of your mind (self-awareness) and subsequent regulation when it is required. The process of being aware and adapting your thoughts, beliefs, goals and emotions depending on the situation.
Processing speed – The general ease and speed of controlling attention or performing previously learned tasks. Related to both working memory and more general fluid processing. Also important for perceptual processing to search for or compare objects, patterns, writing and so on.
Number facility – Ability to rapidly and accurately manipulate and deal with numbers, from elementary skills of counting and recognising numbers to advanced skills of adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing numbers.
Reaction and decision speed – The time it takes to react to and make judgements about relatively simple information. For example, the time it takes to inspect a scene to perceive differences in visual information (as opposed to more complex decisions, such as what to do with your life).
“Without understanding of language, it is not possible for the learners to understand and retain information.” (Alhawiti, 2014)
Lexical knowledge – Extent of vocabulary. Both word recognition and comprehension of definitions.
Listening ability – The ability to effectively comprehend and process information presented orally.
Language/auditory processing – The ability to process the auditory information that makes up oral language such as phonological processing, speech sounds, resisting sound distortion in speech and the short term retention of auditory information such as tones, tonal patterns and voices.
Reading Decoding – Ability to recognise and decode words or pseudowords in reading (turn letters/words into sounds).
Spelling ability – Ability to spell accurately for effective expression of thought through writing.
Reading comprehension – Ability to comprehend language in written information (understanding words that have been decoded).
“Gf [Fluid reasoning], as measured by various tests, has been shown in meta-analyses to predict school grades, and job and training performance, particularly for high compared to medium complexity (Postlethwaite 2011)” (Kyllonen & Kell, 2017)
Inductive reasoning – Ability to discover the underlying characteristic (For example, a relationship, rule, concept, process, trend, class, membership, implications, pattern) that governs a problem or a set of information. Using knowledge or skills that have been learned in the past to predict and understand novel situations.
Quantitative reasoning – Ability to inductively and deductively reason with concepts involving mathematical relations and properties.
“As can be seen from the overview of empirically based studies, it is clear that the overall economic performance of the OECD economies is increasingly and more directly based upon their knowledge stock and their learning capabilities.” (Siesfeld, Cefola & Neef, 2009)
Mathematical knowledge – Range of general knowledge about mathematics. Includes heuristics and shortcuts for using numbers.
General comprehension knowledge – The breadth and depth of knowledge that is commonly useful in a given culture. This can be knowledge for concrete, abstract or procedural information.
Knowledge of behavioural content – Knowledge or sensitivity to non-verbal human communication or interaction systems (for example, facial expressions and gestures).
These terms all define key characteristics for learning and thinking. Providing support for learners who may struggle in these areas is vital for increasing access and inclusivity in education and improving practices.
“Much research investigating situated features of cognition remains to be done. It is, however, already possible to begin serious reappraisal of the assumptions about learning that underlie current classroom practice (see, for example Resnick, 1988; Shanker, 1988).” (Brown, Collins & Duguid, 1989)
The progress made within cognitive science in the last few decades has been astonishing, yet many insights from studying cognition have yet to be widely implemented within the education system. We want to change this and use scientific knowledge to help both educators and learners enhance their learning experience and understand the different ways we all process information. Giving everyone the tools to understand their cognitive profile, make better decisions and improve their lives.