Cognitive engagement means the learners is thinking about the material they are studying, but it involves more than just practicing retrieval of information. Cognitively engaged learners try to make sense of the material by comparing it to what they already know and resolving differences. They ask questions about what the new information means, and seek to answer those questions or pose them for other to think about. The also make predictions about what the material means and test those predictions.
Cognitive engagement happens when students are interested in what they are studying and they have the capacity to think about it. Students who are bored with the topic or who see it as irrelevant along with those who are baffled by it are unlikely to be interested. Engaging behaviorally means the learner is able to attend to the processes. Avoiding distractions, refocusing after distraction, and monitoring their own frustration are all behaviors that are positively associated with engagements and deeper learning. Engagement is also greater when the learners has developed a positive affect towards the materials.