Learning theories

Topics: Educational psychology, Psychology, Learning Pages: 11 (3549 words) Published: February 4, 2014
Overview of Learning Theories
Students are all individuals from different backgrounds and stature, as such all learn in different ways. Much study and research has been carried out by many philosophers, psychologists and great minds in the area of education of animals and humans from children to adults and indeed how they learn. Their findings, and time itself, has given us varied techniques to pass on knowledge and awareness to others. No learning style is the one that works for all as they all have pros and cons dependent upon the learner’s stage in life, background and motivation. To understand how they differ we need to investigate the theories and find how we can apply them, or components of, to our teachings or indeed the learners learning’s. I am going to investigate behaviourism, the cognitive approach and humanism and analyse if and where I apply these theories in my teaching practice. Learning Theories

The theory of behaviourism, as a learning model, defines learning as a change in behaviour and so the outcome is the focus of the teacher, if required change in behaviour is achieved then the student has learnt. Its implementation can be likened to that of experiments carried out on lab rats only the use of electric shocks and food are substituted with positive and negative reinforcement or punishment, the giving or withholding of a stimulus. The environment is managed and reflexive behaviour to stimulus is monitored, shaped and reinforced repeatedly until desired behavioural outcome is achieved. Puppies, babies and children learn well within this method as they live within your boundaries and accept the rules as presented and reinforced. Thought processes go unanalysed as the idea of behaviourism was proposed by Mr John B Watson, an American psychologist in the early 1900’s and back then brain activity or thought processes were deemed as immeasurable or unobservable. Since the birth of the idea, there have been several proponents of behaviourism as a learning model who have critiqued each other and researched further into the idea. Watson found inspiration from Ivan P Pavlov’s experiment which involved ringing a bell every time he was to feed a dog, eventually through association the dog would begin to salivate at the noise of the bell alone. Watson transferred the application of the theory to humans and carried out similar experiments with children employing a stimulus response environment. He believed by controlling the environment and reinforcing the responses of the child to given stimuli, he could promote any response or behaviour in given parameters. He believed that outcomes, or behavioural objectives shaped by positive reinforcement ensured repeat behaviour or behaviour modification. Edward Thorndike, another American educational psychologist became an instructor in psychology at Teachers College at Columbia University in1899 and worked there for the rest of his career till 1949, studying human learning and education. Thorndike, throughout his career, studied animal behaviour and learning processes leading him to the principle of the law of effect. This looked at a stimuli response model using animals and further on to connectionism, whereby a cat’s escape techniques and times from a selected puzzle box were monitored and measured. He was looking for answers in the way animals learn. Was it insight or purely trial and error? He found that the cat’s learning curves consistently showed gradual learning. Thorndike went on to complete his career using the knowledge and comparibles he had learnt focusing on adult learning and psychology, pioneering new testing methods and learning theories. Behavioural Learning Theorists:

Thorndike, Pavlov, Watson, Guthrie, Hull, Tolman, Skinner.


This theory, and practitioners of it, believes that behaviorism takes all control away from the learner and merely invokes voluntary directed response to information received or cause. The...

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Petty, G,. (2001), Teaching Today, Cheltenham, UK. Nelson Thornes Ltd.
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Tribe, C., (1982) Profile of Three Theories: Erikson, Maslow, and Piaget, Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co.
The Assessment Reform Group, Assessment for Learning: 10 principles http://www.qca.org.uk/qca_13440.aspx
Date accessed 13-01-09
The National Literacy Trust, Formative assessment/assessment for learning. http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/Database/assessment.html
Date accessed 13-01-09
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