1.12.1 Using theory in practice: overlaps and practical applications
Perhaps the most obvious common element between the theories in this module is their concern with learning and how we might better understand how (and why) people learn. Each of them has its own focus on the same field of study, and each in its own way asks similar questions, although the answers being privileged by each of the paradigms may have both similarities and differences. Although approaches to learning may differ, there are commonalities in the core tenets of many of the schools of thought; these involve both learning in definitional terms, and what constitutes learning. It may be that you feel more convinced by the ideas underpinning one approach than those of others toward learning, but that is not to say that others are without insight, or that they may not have ideas and information which can be of use. It is perfectly possible to take elements from, say, two or three different educational paradigms and integrate them into a single lesson. For example, both behaviourism and social learning theory as espoused by Bandura have links in that they see the child in experiential terms; we might rightly expect for there to be some similarities in their use to us in theoretical and planning terms. Behaviourist and social learning theories may be usefully allied with Vygotskyian ones, as they are interested in the same ends, and may offer uses for different specific teaching moments, and for application in different contexts. Similarly, social constructivist ideas about the value of working in collaboration with others, and particularly those others who can support or 'scaffold' the learner in the acquisition of new skills, competencies, and abilities integrates well with critical pedagogies such as those associated with Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner. All link in some way back to the combination of psychological, physiological and associated cognitive development in the young which is associated most clearly in ideas linked with Piagetian thought. As educators, then, we have the capacity to draw insight and focus in our own approach to learning - and the teaching which drives that learning - through the connections which are possible to be made in the assortment of theoretical positions available to us. However, there may be aspects of some of the teaching theories discussed in this module which do not work well together, or which have to be reconceived in some ways in order to be integrated into a personal philosophy of teaching. For example, it its simplest and most straightforward, behaviourism is not interested in what is going on inside the mind of the learning individual; its concerns are with observable outcomes. Strictly, there is no concern with the inner workings of the mind, as in theories with cognitive proclivities; all that matters are the externally-verifiable behavioural changes being sought. We can perhaps see these different paradigms as having focuses which relate to levelness: on the immediate, on the holistic, and on the contextual. As teachers, we can perhaps focus on one at a time of these, but there is usefulness in bearing the others in mind. This involves being aware of their connections and linkages and aware of their discontinuities so that we can approach our own pedagogy with greater definition.
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