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An Overview of Five Learning Theories

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Jordan Meinzer

on 6 July 2014

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Transcript of An Overview of Five Learning Theories

An Overview of Five Learning Theories
Theories and Chalkboards.
The Theorists
What is Behaviorism?
Behaviorism is concerned only with external behavior that is observable and can be documented. This behavior is always a response to a stimulus, and the stimulus-response relationship determines learning, or what behaviorists call conditioning.
Important Terms and Concepts
Response: "specific behavior that an individual exhibits" (Ormrod, 2007, p. 307)

Stimulus: "specific object or event that influences an
individual's learning or behavior" (Ormrod, 2007, p. 307)

Operant conditioning: "A method of learning that occurs through
rewards and punishments
for behavior" (Cherry, n.d.)
Reinforcement and Punishment
Reinforcement should increase the desired behavior while punishment should cause it to decrease or stop.
Edward Thorndike
B. F. Skinner
Watson's Ideology
John B. Watson posited that classical conditioning (see below) could explain all of human psychology. He denied the existence of the mind or consciousness and assumed that all behaviors were "simply patterns of stimulus and response" (McLeod, 2008).

Classical conditioning: "A naturally occurring stimulus is paired with a response. Then, a previously neutral stimulus is paired with the naturally occurring stimulus. Eventually, the previously neutral stimulus comes to evoke the response without the presence of the naturally occurring stimulus" (Cherry, 2012).
Thorndike's Ideology
Thorndike's "Law of Effect" was later greatly influential to B. F. Skinner. The "Law of Effect" states that "any behavior that is followed by pleasant consequences is likely to be repeated, and any behavior followed by unpleasant consequences is likely to be stopped" (McLeod, 2007a).
Skinner's Ideology
B. F. Skinner, unlike his predecessor Watson, did believe that human beings have such a thing as a mind, but that studying external behavior rather than "internal mental events" (McLeod, 2007b) was more productive.

The best way to understand behavior is to examine the causes and effects of an action.

Considered the father of operant conditioning.
Some Pros and Cons of Behaviorism
Provides a scientific approach to studying behavior. It's something we can control and predict.
Utilizing behaviorism will encourage socially acceptable actions.
Analyzing students' behavior will tell you if they've truly learned, rather than relying on verbal response.
A lack of analysis of internal processes ignores biological triggers of behaviors.
Seems most applicable to issues of classroom management and not as ideal for information acquisition.
Generally espouses one type of behavior as favorable and doesn't account for cultural, social, or biological idiosyncrasies.
Implications for Teachers
Employing a behaviorist approach means a teacher must actively allow students to practice desired behavior, not just actively dissuade undesirable behaviors.

We must be extremely self-aware and careful not to reinforce undesirable behaviors. If a rowdy student tells a joke in an effort to gain attention, we should practice negative punishment by refusing to laugh at the joke. The favorable outcome (attention in the form of a laugh) is removed and the behavior should decrease in the future.
Social Cognitive Theory
What is Social Cognitive Theory?
Social Cognitive Theory states that learning occurs via social interaction. People learn from each other. This happens through observation, imitation, and modeling.
Important Terms and Concepts
1) Children learn by watching and imitating other people's behaviors.

2) Along with external reinforcement, intrinsic reinforcement also encourages behavior (sense of pride, accomplishment, etc.).

3) People can learn new information without demonstrating new behavior (Cherry, 2012b).
Important Terms and Concepts, cont'd.
Model: observable behavior that can be imitated

Types of models:

Live: involves an individual exhibiting behavior
Verbal: description/explanation of behavior
Symbolic: real or fictional representation of behavior in media (Cherry, 2012b)

Self-efficacy: a person's confidence relative to his or her ability to succeed in a certain situation
The Modeling Process
Working through the modeling process leads us to observational learning.
The Theorist
Albert Bandura
Bandura's Ideology
Bandura believed behavior "was learned from the environment through the process of observational learning" (McLeod, 2011). Unlike Skinner, Bandura was more interested in pursuing the internal psychological processes that happen during learning. Learning through modeling can only occur if complex cognitive processes are at work (McLeod, 2011).
Some Pros and Cons of Social Cognitive Theory
Lack of emphasis on personal motivations for behavior, such as one's own personality or influence from past experiences
Lack of attention to factors such as genetics which can biologically alter the way people behave or make choices
Gives attention to social factors which encourage behavior and learning, accounting for influence from parents, friends, and the media
Grants agency to subjects, unlike behaviorism, by acknowledging the cognitive process at work during learning.
Implications for Teachers
Utilizing the Social Cognitive Theory means models (teachers, parents, friends, etc.) should be hyper-aware of the behaviors they're exhibiting to learners because this behavior might be imitated. It also holds us accountable insofar as we are responsible for appropriate media exposure.
John B. Watson
Cognitive Theory
What is Cognitive Theory?
Cognitive theory poses distinct developmental stages, focusing on children as learners. It posits that learning is a natural process and that children acquire information and process that information naturally. Children build up knowledge by interacting with the world around them.
Important Terms and Concepts
Schema: the totality of information we have in our minds regarding a specific idea or subject.

Disequilibrium: the internal struggle we experience when we encounter new information that does not fit in our schemata as we think it should.

Adaptation: how we work to find new schemata or reorganize old schemata in order to accept and place new information (see next slide)

Equilibrium: achieved when our schemata are appropriately aligned with perceived reality
Types of Adaptation
There are two ways we can adapt, or take on and assign new information to the appropriate schema: assimilation and accommodation.
The Theorist
Jean Piaget
Piaget's Ideology
Jean Piaget challenged the previously held notion that children were simply less capable thinkers than adults. He demonstrated through his many experiments that children merely think in a different way than adults do. Piaget's goal was to "explain the mechanisms and processes by which the infant, and then the child, develops into an individual who can reason and think using hypotheses" (McLeod, 2009).
Some Pros and Cons of Cognitive Theory
Piaget focused on developmental stages and didn't really address behaviors or specific types of learning.
The outlined developmental stages do not accommodate every child, as some fit in multiple stages or fall ahead or behind their age group.
Gives a clear picture of learning stages, which allows quick reference for progress
We can better understand where children are located cognitively and can use that to our advantage in therapy and communication.
We know that children are not merely less sophisticated or less intelligent than adults. They simply think differently.
Implications for Teachers
Based on Piaget's model of the process of knowledge acquisition through disequilibrium and assimilation/accommodation, children should be given opportunities to safely explore their environments and experience interactions that will encourage the expansion and reorganization of their schemata.
Social Constructivism
What is Social Constructivism?
Social Constructivism posits that a child's community plays a vital role in that child's knowledge formation. Understanding the impact of society and culture are vital to understanding the way children develop and acquire new information.
Important Terms and Concepts
Cultural tools: the tools human beings use to achieve; these include language, various types of technology, learned processes, etc.

More knowledgeable other (MKO): "someone who has a better understanding or a higher ability level than the learner, with respect to a particular task, process, or concept" (McLeod, 2007c)

Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD): the range between what a student can do independently and what a student can do with assistance; implies that mental processes are in a state of maturation. What a student is incapable of doing lies outside the ZPD.

Important Terms and Concepts, cont'd.
Scaffolding: this concept posits that by utilizing a child's zone of proximal development, we can target our instruction to include methods that will be most useful in helping her succeed

Language and culture are central to learning and development.
The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)
The ZPD is the area that deserves the "most sensitive instruction or guidance...allowing the child to develop skills they will then use on their own - developing higher mental functions" (McLeod, 2007c). This guidance is provided by the MKO, who might be a teacher, peer, or partner.
The Theorist
Lev Vygotsky
Vygotsky's Ideology
Vygotsky stressed the important role that social and cultural interaction have on cognition. A child's peers, teachers, and parents are vital to that child's construction of meaning and knowledge. There's no singular concept that can account for a child's learning, since "individual development cannot be understood without reference to the social and cultural context within which it is embedded" (McLeod, 2007c).

Vygotsky passed away at a young age, leaving his work uncompleted, and many of his writings are still in the process of being translated from Russian to English.
Some Pros and Cons of Social Constructivism
The process of scaffolding seems to rely heavily on verbal instruction. The emphasis on language supports this.
The theory is incomplete since Vygotsky died at such a young age.
Gives credence to social and cultural factors that are at play in children's development and learning
An emphasis on community encourages scaffolding that will produce socially and culturally adept individuals
Implications for Teachers
In order to increase the area in the ZPD model of what a student can do independently, teachers (and other MKOs) must decrease their involvement in the instruction process over time. As less scaffolding is necessary to accomplish independence, students will need to work on their own more intensely and more frequently in order to maintain the area of what they can do with little or no assistance.
What is Humanism?
Humanistic education has been called "person-centered teaching." It makes an effort to engage the entire person. Attention is given to students' needs and feelings because these greatly influence their engagement with the material.
Important Terms and Concepts
Hierarchy of needs: Abraham Maslow's representation of the levels of needs that must be satisfied in order to reach "self-actualization" (morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem solving, acceptance of facts, lack of prejudice). Maslow applied his hierarchy to learning.

Montessori method: a very self-led, interactive form of learning that relies on the children to be active learners; teachers simply facilitate and provide opportunities for interaction with materials and peers.

Reggio Emilia Approach: values unique assets of each child and encourages exploration of the personality; respect, responsibility, and community are emphasized.

Important Terms and Concepts, cont'd.
1) Student learning should be self-directed.

2) Schools should produce students who want to learn and know how to learn.

3) The only form of meaningful evaluation is self-evaluation.

4) Feelings as well as knowledge are both important to the learning process.

5) Students work best in a nonthreatening environment.

Maslow's Hierarchy of School Needs
This model outlines what needs must be satisfied in order for a student to accomplish self-actualization in the form of learning.
The Theorist
Abraham Maslow
Maslow's Ideology
Abraham Maslow recognized that in order for learning to occur, there were more factors at play than environmental interaction or cognitive processes. Each student is motivated by a desire to achieve certain needs, beginning with basic physical needs and progressing to higher-level intellectual needs. Progress to self-actualization and learning can be inhibited by a failure to meet lower-level needs.
Some Pros and Cons of Humanism
Maslow's model was based on attributes of people he himself considered to be self-actualized.
Most of his subjects were upper-middle class white males.
Maslow's model has been refuted, since people whose lower-level needs have not been met can indeed be self-actualized individuals.
Provides a model for teachers to guage a student's preparedness and ability to achieve self-actualization or learning.
Provides a holistic view of pedagogy that takes the entirety of a student's sense of self into consideration.
Implications for Teachers
Teachers must ensure that physical and emotional safety/security are attained before students can be expected to learn. They must satisfy physiological needs, safety needs, the need to belong, and esteem needs. Teachers should be supportive of students and demonstrate that each student is valued. This will lead to a higher rate of self-actualization and learning among the students.
Behaviorism, Social Cognitive Theory, and Cognitive Theory: How they Relate
Behaviorism focuses on external motivation for behavior (rewards and punishment). Cognitive theory, though, looks only at internal mental events (disequilibrium, adaptation, equilibrium). Social Cognitive Theory serves as a bridge between these two because it looks at external behavior while considering internal mental processes. It does not necessitate reward or punishment for learning to occur, but it does rely on environmental stimuli to encourage learning (modeling).
Cognitive Theory and Social Constructivism: How they Relate
Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development focuses heavily on the delineation of distinct stages dependent on the age of the child. It is the developmental stage of the child that determines learning. Vygotsky, however, placed more emphasis on social and cultural factors for learning. This included the value of instruction and scaffolding, as well as the influence of culture and society on a child. For Vygotsky, age did not necessarily precede cognitive development.
Humanism: Where Does it Fit?
In a way humanism proves itself to be a more holistic learning theory. The hierarchy of needs considers both internal and external motivations for behavior and learning (physiological as well as psychological needs). However, ultimately it does not provide an in-depth look at the learning process and instead focuses on the atmosphere that must exist for learning to occur. However, the environment suggested by humanism is one that allows for self-exploration and interaction with the world. This is in line with Piaget's theory.
I chose a chalkboard template for two reasons. First, I felt it was fitting for a presentation concerning learning theories, which largely deal with learning in a classroom setting. A chalkboard (or maybe a marker board) is a mainstay in almost every classroom.

Second, thinking about the properties of a chalkboard is very fitting when contemplating learning theories. No learning theory is perfect, and at times we have to erase something and add something else from another theory to find the method that works best for us as teachers. Having a canvas that allows for this adaptation (much like a chalkboard) is essential.
By Jordan Thurman
University of Central Arkansas
Full transcript