Educational advocacy, learning disabilities advocacy     Internet Special Education Resources
Special Education & Learning Disabilities Resources: A Nationwide Directory

I know that intelligence and educational ability is dependent on learning skills. What skills are important for successful learning and why?

By Kim Hanson for LearningRx

My son often has trouble with math problems and remembering his spelling words. Many concepts just don't seem to click. Intelligence and the ability to read and learn are dependent on cognitive skills. But, what are these skills exactly and why are they so vital to learning?


Intelligence. Smarts. IQ. Potential. Ability. All of these buzz words point to a person's learning skills, their tool set with which they process information, think, perform, communicate, remember, and deal with the world. Some people have extremely strong skills to process information quickly, logically think through problems in amazing ways, and solve difficult math equations. Others have skills that are not quite as strong and those people struggle to memorize, decipher math equations, solve physics problems, or even read fluently.

Cognitive skills are the tools we need to speak, write, think, and perform. Cognition is a scientific term for the "process of thought" and is the processing of information and knowledge application. Therefore, cognitive skills are mental tools or skills used to acquire knowledge through thought, the senses, and experience. Cognitive skills, however, are not set in stone and unchangeable. If they were, no one would bother practicing (or ever become better at) a sport, musical instrument, or any other talent or ability.

Solving math problems, remembering spelling words, and having concepts "click" for a child are dependent on the strength of his or her underlying cognitive skills. Many of the following skills interact with each other, overlap, and play varying roles in different school subjects and intellectual challenges in academia and in real life.

Key cognitive skills are:

Sustained Attention (attention span) is the ability to stay on task for a length of time. During training, you may notice a clue to the student's attention span if he makes mistakes at the same point or time within a procedure. Help the student by gradually increasing the time spent on each procedure. At the end of training, the student should spend about twice as much time per procedure, compared to the start of training. The trainer can also set goals to work longer on a procedure than what the student's attention span typically is. So if he tends to lose attention at 30 seconds, set a goal to stay on task 35 seconds. Gradually increase the time as training progresses.

Selective Attention is the ability to concentrate on one task and not be distracted by other things. The trainer can work on selective attention by adding distraction while the student is doing an activity. The trainer should start with low-level distractions and continue to higher level distractions as the student's selective attention is strengthened.

Divided Attention is the ability to complete two separate tasks at the same time (i.e., taking notes). This is also referred to as multi-tasking. The trainer can work on divided attention by adding additional mental activities to a procedure. The trainer should start with lower level mental activities and work toward higher levels as the student's skills are strengthened.

Auditory Processing: to process sounds. Helps one hear the difference, order and number of sounds in words faster; basic skill needed to learn to read and spell; helps with speech defects.

Logic and Reasoning: to reason, plan, and think.

Long-Term Memory: to store information and fluently retrieve it later in the process of thinking.

Processing Speed: he speed at which the brain processes information. Makes reading faster and less tiring; makes one more aware of his or her surrounding environment; helps with sports such as basketball, football, and soccer and activities such as driving.

Visual Processing: the ability to accurately create, maintain, and analyze a visual representation or picture mentally. Helps one understand and "see" math word problems and read maps; improves the ability to accurately perform mental math and computations; improves reading and comprehension skills.

Working Memory: to retain information while processing or using it.

In the first few sessions we quickly go through each procedure that has been assigned to the student (according to what that student most needs) and we find the student's starting point (where it starts to get difficult for that student.) We start with that level because we only work on what the students can't do. If they can do it, no training on that level is required.

You can see that cognitive skills are vital to learning. They make learning and all other information processing possible. Even if one or two of these key cognitive skills are very strong, there could be unidentified weakness in other areas, thereby making learning a challenge. That's why IQ tests don't share the whole picture. If you score 130 on one part of the test, 70 on another part, and 100 on another, you've scored an IQ of 100. But, that masks the weakness. Strengthening all cognitive skills will make learning easier, faster, more efficient, and just more of a joy. Math, spelling, and educational concepts will become easier with a better tool set!

Learn more about cognitive or brain training and join one of our free online webinars here. Sincerely, Kim Hanson ____________________________________________________

To find out more about LearningRx's programs for preschoolers, elementary students, middle and high school kids, college students, and adults, go to If you are interested in finding out how LearningRx can help your student, you may contact one of our centers around the country. We are located in 24 states, and you can search for a center near you on our interactive Center Locator map. .

Disclaimer: Internet Special Education Resources (ISER) provides this information in an effort to help parents find local special education professionals and resources. ISER does not recommend or endorse any particular special education referral source, special educational methodological bias, type of special education professional, or specific special education professional.


Educational advocacy, learning disabilities advocacy     Return to ISER Home