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Theories And Principles For Enabling Learning

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Education
Wordcount: 2275 words Published: 9th May 2017

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Critically examine a range of theoretical approaches to learning and communication. Discuss how the learning and communication theories apply to your own teaching and promote inclusive practice.

There are four main theoretical approaches to learning these being Behaviourism, Cognitivism, Constructivism, and Humanism and most learning theories tend to fall into one of these paradigms.

Behaviourism in principle refuses to acknowledge the internal mechanism of learners. Founded in 1849 by I.P. Pavlov and further models developed by Dr John Watson, E.J. Thorndike and B.F Skinner, they believed that people learn through external stimuli and have no free though of their own. Learners can be conditioned by external stimuli and all behaviour can be explained without considering the consciousness or mental state of the learner. Their theories were centred on cause and effect, reward and punishment of the learner. Learners were passive and would respond to reinforcement and environmental stimulus.

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This theory of teaching has a very regimental approach to learning and development. Behaviourism is still employed today in many learning arenas and it is the authors’ view that one of the greatest employers of this approach is the military, in the training of its new recruits. The recruits are taught through repetitiveness, rewarded through praise, acceptance and freedom and punished by ridicule, increased workload, rejection and loss of freedoms. The two first pioneers of behaviourism Vladimir M. Bekhterev (1857 to 1927) and I.P. Pavlov (1849 to 1936) both studied at the military academy in St Petersburg (C. Boeree. 2000, Online). It was here where they first formulated their behaviourist ideology. Other learning institutions still employ this approach if only in part and indeed its theories play a major role in most children’s development both at home and school. It is a useful technique in controlling younger children’s behaviour and learning them right from wrong (punishing the bad and rewarding the good. Stone & Nielson (1982, p.291) make reference to the behaviourist approach in child development,

General findings suggest that a careful combination of reward with mild punishment when appropriate is most effective for learning. However most of us haven’t the skill to provide the optimum combination.

The above refers to the lack of competence in acting out the model. Teachers or parents should be objective in their delivery of punishment. Objects like anger, retaliation, stress and any other external forces should not have any influence on the punishment given. The author believes that this is can be a major downfall of the behaviourist approach it is very difficult for teachers or parents to have a constant clear state of mind. Punishment can also have adverse affects on the person being punished it can lead to anger, retaliation, and strained teacher learner relationships, thus hindering the learning process. Punishments should be made clear from the outset, be fit for purpose and be given uniformly. I myself adopt a slight behaviourist approach in my Further education classes (mainly younger students). If a student is constantly late i.e. more than twice in a row (without good reason) or being disruptive in a class I will refuse to sign their E.M.A sheet as a form of punishment. I constantly use reward in the form of praise (I believe this to be a key motivator for students), however reward can have negative effects on learning in that students may only perform enough to gain reward and not to their ability. Although it is the authors’ belief that this approach works in some instances for younger students it is not has affective for adult learners and as such is not employed by the author on Higher Education courses. It is also the belief of the author that students are not passive.

Most teachers in the UK have behaviourist approaches enforced onto them having to write/meet objectives and learning outcomes,

Behavioural objectives were written descriptions of specific, terminal behaviours that were manifested in terms of observable, measurable behaviour. (Saettler, 1990, Online).

In the construction management sector we have practical sessions that lend themselves more to behaviourism for example the use of surveying equipment, learning is gained through repetitiveness and familiarisation. Good development is rewarded with a pass; poor development is punished by the removal of reward which is replaced with further instruction. Objectives follow Gain and Brigg’s model for writing objectives (Saettler, 1990, Online)

Gain’s and Brigg’s Model:

  • Action
  • Object
  • Situation
  • Tools and Constraints
  • Capability

This was a method employed by other staff at the college and was passed onto myself and until this now I had no knowledge that this was a behaviourist approach adopted by the department. The way in which the education system is funded and managed in the UK means constraints are placed on the educational establishments themselves. All the objectives for courses have to be met within a given time frame, thus employing the behaviourist approach.

Cognitivism replaced behaviourism as the domineering ideology in the 1960’s. Unlike behaviourism that basis itself on environmental stimuli, cognitivism focuses on the inner workings of the mind, mental activities the ‘black box’. In other words they were concerned with cognition the act or process of knowing. Information coming in gets processed and then gives certain outcomes. The cognitive learning theory claims that learning is a relatively permanent change in their mental picture, due to an experience that occurs by adding new information into an existing understanding in the mind.

While cognitivists allow for the use of skill and drill exercises in the memorisation of facts, formulae, and lists they place greater importance on strategies that help students actively assimilate and accommodate new material. (Graduate Student Instructor, 2009, Online).

Cognitivism and constructivism are very much alike and were founded on cognitive principles. However, constructivism places much more emphasis on the social context and culture. Constructivists see teachers has being the providers of tools to aid the students learning (Overview of Constructivism, 2010, Online)

Jean Piaget’s studies in learning development had considerable influence on cognitivism, specifically the notion drawn from Gestalt theory, that knowledge is organised and structured. It is a view that for learning to occur it must be incorporated within existing memories and that the new experience and prior knowledge must overlap. Cognivitists believe that this happens in two ways. Assimilation, were the mind takes new learnt information and applies this to what it already knows. Secondly, accommodation is where preconceived ideas are adjusted to suit new information. Piaget called these parcels of memory in our brain ‘Schemas’.

He (Piaget) was the first psychologist to make a systematic study of cognitive development. His contributions include a theory of cognitive development, detailed observational studies of cognition in children, and tests to reveal different cognitive abilities (McLeod, 2007, Online).

Of importance, especially to the theorist to human learning is Piagets’ emphasis on four distinct stages of four cognitive developments, each categorised by different forms of thought at different stages. This model has come under criticism because of the lack of flexibility of the ages appointed to each stage of development. It has limited use in adult education.

Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934) was a Russian psychologist who developed his theories around the same time as Piaget. Vygotsky died age of 38 while his theories were still in infancy. However, the fundamental difference between Vygotsky and Piaget is that Vygotsky believed that learning was not guided by age but by social influences. Two significant models of Vygotsky are the more knowledgeable other was learning is facilitated through someone who has a better understanding. This could either be a teacher, adult or peer. Secondly the zone of proximal development this is intern linked with the first has it states someone will learn more with initial guidance and encouragement. It was this from his ideology that Social Constructivism was born (Overview of Constructivism, 2010, Online).

The Gestalt moment or ‘getting the knack’ of something probably best describes cognitivsm.

An ability to suddenly to be able to ride a bike is a good analogy. The learning happens in a few moments, and is permanent-although it may have taken a long time to get to that step with seemingly little progress (Atherton, 2005, Online).

I would appear to have adopted a cognitive constructivism style in my teaching. Firstly I obtain the students prior knowledge in the subject matter through questioning and then build on their knowledge. Secondly, I give an example that the whole class works through. Once I am satisfied have worked through the example correctly, a second example will be given for the learners to do individually or with support from their peers. If they approach me for help I will not give the answer but try to guide them to it using their own thought process. This is probably because that is how I like to approach problems and feel that this gives me a better understanding so that I can then retrieve and apply it to similar problems. This represents some correlation to Vygotsky ‘four classroom principles’ (Overview of Constructivism, 2010, Online).

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Humanist ideology gained moment in the 1960’s; two of its most prominent founders were Abraham Maslow (1908 – 1970), Carl Rodgers (1902 – 1987). In principle humanistic theory of learning is based on a human’s personal act to fulfil their potential. It recognises the freedom and potential of humans and sees the teachers’ role as being one of facilitator. Learning is student centred with the focus placed on developing self actualised people through cooperation and support.

Maslow developed his Hierarchy of Needs in 1943. This motivational theory is based on a five tear model. For humans to meet their full potential they must meet all the requirements of the model

Carl Rogers developed is humanistic teaching theory facilitative learning. The basic principles of the ideology are that learning will take place through facilitation in a comfortable atmosphere. Other key features are: (L. Dunn, 2000, Online)

A belief that human beings have a natural eagerness to learn.

There is some resistance to, and unpleasant consequences of, giving up what is currently held to be true.

The most significant learning involves changing one’s concept of oneself.

Facilitative teachers are:

Less protective of their constructs and beliefs than other teachers.

More able to listen to learners, especially to their feelings.

Inclined to pay as much attention to their relationship with learners as to the content of the course.

Apt to accept feedback, both positive and negative and to use it as constructive insight into themselves and their behaviour.


Are encouraged to take responsibility for their learning.

Provide much of the input for the learning which occurs through their insights and experiences.

Are encouraged to consider that the most valuable evaluation is self-evaluation and that learning needs to focus on factors that contribute to solving significant problems or achieving significant results.

One model of teaching that has been developed on the principles of humanism is Experiential Learning this was produced by David Kolb. Kolb believes that “learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience” (Learning Theories, 2009, Online). It is based on four principles. (Learning Theories, 2009, Online).

The four stage model shows how experience is developed through reflection, reflection to concepts, concepts to testing (experimentation) and testing to experience. I believe this model to be beneficial to some areas of teaching especially Andragogy and practical application for various professions.

The humanistic approach to teaching certainly has its place within the academic arena drawing on students’ knowledge and experience, encouraging learners to take some responsibility for their learning, self reflection, motivation and facilitating are all key concepts that (in the authors’ view) should be employed in the classroom.

Deep and surface learning refers to ways in which individuals learn from studying. The two approaches do not mean that students fall into neither one category nor the other, in fact either approach maybe used at any given time. Surface learning applies to the memorisation of facts and formulas. This can be selected from the learners’ memory and used when required. Deep learning applies to the ability to understand the whole picture and reasons behind the facts and formulas and then apply them to understanding. (Engineering Subject Centre, 2009, Online). It can be concluded in the authors’ view that this application bears the traits of cognitivism.


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