Learning is a process where a learner has accepted new information which has instigated a change in their beliefs, attitude, or actions. There are many definitions that describe learning in different ways. Pritchard, (2005) mentions that the definition that is used as an everyday term is “supposed that learning is the process of gaining more knowledge, or of learning how to do something.” Looking at learning in context learning is defined by Gagne and Medsker (1996) as a “relatively permanent change in human deposition”. This can be an altered disposition of attitude, interest or value. Overall all learning has a content of skill or meaning which is stated by Illeris, (2002). Learning may be defined as a relatively permanent change in behaviour, or behavioural repertoire that occurs as a result of experience (Terry, 2009 p. 5).
Learning is very complex and there are many theories relating to how students learn. The different theories demonstrate the different ways students learn. The teachers use a variety of theories in practice as this allows enhancing the student experiences of learning.
I intend to discuss learning theories and how they relate to classroom environment. The learning theories that I have chosen to discuss this process could be explained through several theories, some of which include; behavioural, cognitive, constructivist, and social cognitive learning theories. Presently teachers make use of these theories in their classrooms in order to maximize the learning potential of students and also to create a better learning environment inside the classrooms
I will explore three theories of learning that I have chosen which are – the behaviourist approach, the cognitivist model and humanist approach. I shall explain these approaches in further detail and how t
I will then analyse these learning theories and how I could use them in my everyday teaching. The purpose of this is to discuss a learning theory with application to a teaching-learning situation. I will explore a clear definition of the theory and present the main concepts. Lastly, I will apply my knowledge of how I would use the theory by interlinking it with strategies I could use in the classroom.
Learning theories – ideas about how or why change occurs
Behaviourism, founded by John B.Watson, mainly focuses on the aspects of human behaviour which can be observed and measured. According to Watson, human behaviour is a result of specific stimuli which brings about a certain response. B.F. Skinner expanded on this and came up with a view called operant conditioning. Operant conditioning was talked about in great detail by Skinner, in his theory of positive reinforcement. This theory makes three assumptions; firstly that learning is manifested by a change in behaviour, secondly that the environment shapes behaviour and thirdly that the principles of contiguity. (Moore, 2000)
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Classical conditioning represents an extremely simple form of learning and it is why it is a good starting point for the investigation of the learning process. The model for classical conditioning is the Pavlovian dog experiment. Social learning of this sort is particularly powerful. John Watson was a behaviourist like Pavlov and described the frequency principle and regency principle, two principles upon which conditioning may be dependant. As Reece & Walker (2000) also state that the behaviourist learning theories suggest that we learn by receiving a stimulus that causes a response. Behaviourists believe that learning is brought by “association between the response and reinforcement.”(Reece & Walker, 2000)
Behaviourist approaches can be a useful approach in the area of health and social care. The nature of reinforcement is courage and rewards and extra privileges are given to students. Teachers should consider marking with ticks and positive feedback to enhance students learning also making them to work towards a higher level award such as a certificate or public praise.
However many critic argue and disapprove of the behaviourist approach dislike the idea of rewarding all students. Previous studies have suggested using rewards with students’ who are motivated may distract the student interest in the subject. Another critic of the behaviourist approach is giving a particular student attention may affect others in the classroom. Pritchard (2005) suggests the most effective behaviourist approach is when a particular student has a history of academic failure, low motivation and “high” anxiety.
On the plus side, research has indicated that rewarding aid promote appropriate classroom behaviours, discourages students to misbehave which makes the learning more conductive.
The theories I have disAll these theories concern the question: “How do people learn?” and therefore they
must be incorporated into lesson planning.
Behaviourist psychology does not consider what actually happens in human mind. The
essential forms of learning are visible stimulation and response, helped by repetition,
reinforcement and conditioning.
Programmed learning (informed by behaviourism) suggests firstly an introduction on
what exactly students should learn by the lesson’s end; that the learning should
progress in steps; feedback is given at each step; a contract of learning is negotiated to
end with a reward and there are short term frequent immediate rewards to motivate
Lesson planning involves reinforcement with frequent feedback on learning, delayed
feedback allowing trial and error, and praise, marks and prizes. (Reece, Walker, 2000,
Neobehaviourists modify core behaviourism because the human mind is selective in
what it learns. The method adjusts to hierarchical learning behaviour in small upward
steps (Gagne). It means entry level checking, connecting concepts together, and clear
questioning to determine what students have (selectively) learnt (Reece, Walker, 2000,
This general learning approach is associated with Pavlov, Watson, Thorndike, Skinner
For lesson planning teachers must think in detail and rationally: there should be clear
objectives and assessment to match; a teacher should consider short tasks with
frequent focused feedback for reinforcement with praise, marks and prizes.
However, in criticism, learning cannot be reduced to processes of conditioned reflexes,
inputs and outputs. Behaviour observed is not the same thing as knowledge. Overdefined
objectives can limit learning, and lead to triviality and criteria for learning in
some subjects result from learning, in a more qualitative and dynamic relationship.
(Reece, Walker, 2000, 107)
There are certain limitations that affect learning and it’s important that these factors are addressed to enable learners’ full potential. Each learning theory aims to explain the complex nature of teaching and is supported by different theories of learning. It is essential, as teachers in the life-long learning sector, that we
Cognitive theorists try to explain human behavior by understanding how we process and store new information. The cognitive theories of learning originated from the gestalt theory. Gestalists believe that learning comes suddenly. Therefore we think about what it is going to take to solve a problem and put it all together until the problem is solved (Olsen & Hergenhahn, 2009). They believed that the learner gains insight on how to solve the problem.
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Cognitive learning is the process how students digest new information in a way that makes it meaningful to them. Critics argue the implication of this is that every student will have different understanding from one another so it’s not always effective in a classroom. Reece & Walker (2000) describe the three stage theory to cognitive learning. These three stages include cognitive, associative and autonomous.
Piaget’s Cognitive Development Theory consists of four stages of intellectual development. Stage 1-Sensorimotor Stage. Birth to age 2. The child recognises self as agent of action and begins to act intentionally. The child realises that things continue to exist even when no longer present to the sense. Stage 2-Preoperational Stage Age 2-7. Learns to use language and to represent objects by images and words. Children learn through imitation and play during this stage. They begin to use reasoning; however it is mainly intuitive, instead of logical. Stage 3-Concrete Operational Stage Age 7- 11. Can thinks logically about objects and events. However this is confined to their level. Stage 4-Formal Operational Stage Age 11-adulthood. Can think logically about conceptual scheme and test hypotheses systematically.
Firstly the cognitive stage, this is when the student is given verbal instruction on the task in hand which includes the student to use personal perception and decision making how to perform the skill correctly. The second stage, associative being when the skill is repetitively performed to correctly performs the task. And the final stage when the performance can be altered due to both positive and negative influences.
Reece & walker (2000) state that Bruner sees the teachers’ role as facilitating the my subject I will engage all students to be active and motivate them to seek new information and participate in the teaching methods. To use the cognitive theory strategy on my lesson plans, I will have to allow students time to discover concepts and principles for themselves and to relate to what they might already know. Feedback is essential element in this process. It allows the teacher to check the entry level of the students own knowledge and ides and what they need to know. This is transforming students learning regards to existing knowledge and then verifying it and checking it against the new knowledge.
Definition of the Social Learning Theory and its Contributor
The social learning theory suggests that people learn new behaviors through observation of factors in their environment, by taking note of other’s behavior and the consequence of that behavior. Observing a desired result makes the learner more likely to adopt a behavior to seek that result. This does not necessarily mean that the learner needs a direct experience to learn, but rather just taking notice of another’s behavior they can learn by what happens to that person (Bastable, 2008).
Albert Bandura, a Canadian psychologist, is known as the originator of the social learning theory. During his early research, Bandura examined the foundations of human learning and the tendency of children and adults to model their own behavior on behavior observed in others. He found that “learning is often a social process, and other individuals, especially significant others, provide compelling examples or role models for how to think, feel, and act” (Bastable, 2008, p. 67). He termed this “role modeling”. Bastable defines role modeling as “the use of self as a role model…whereby the learner acquires new behaviors and social roles by identification with the role model” (2008, p. 634). In his book, Social Learning Theory (1977), Bandura argues that most human behavior is learned through observing others and that it could be potentially hazardous for individuals to learn by relying only on
Vygotsky’s Social Learning Theory:
Social interaction leads to the development of cognition. Vygotsky (1978) states that “learning awakens a variety of internal developmental processes that are able to operate only when the child is interacting with people in his environment and in cooperation with his peers” Thus, learning could occur through play, formal instruction, or work between a learner and a more experienced learner. Vygotsky labels the two stages of development as follows:
Proximal development: Where learning takes place. “The zone of proximal development is the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers.” (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 90) Social interactions and mediation of learning is therefore essential to development.
Illeris, K. (2007): How We Learn: Learning and non-learning in school and beyond. London: Routledge.
Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press
Terry, W. (2009). Learning and Memory: Basic Principles, Processes, and Procedures (4th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
S.Palmer, Authenticity in assessment: reflecting undergraduate study and professional
practice, European Journal of Engineering Education, Vol.29, No. 2, June 2004 193-202
Olson, M. H., & Hergenhahn, B. R. (2009). An introduction to theories of learning (8th ed.).
Moore, A. (2000) Teaching and Learning: Pedagogy, Curriculum and Culture. London: aRoutledgeFalmer.`
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