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Theories and Approaches to Learning

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Published: Mon, 12 Feb 2018

Write about helpful and unhelpful approaches to learning during your own education. What was positive about those approaches? Did they reflect or express any particular theories of learning?

Life is a learning experience. When I was a young girl I was so confident and positive about what I wanted. Maths and Science were my favourite subjects but I was not given freedom to learn as I wanted to learn these subjects. I realized this after I gained a very good experience in teaching primary school children.

“Student motivation is rooted in students’ subjective experiences, especially those connected to their willingness to engage in lessons and learning activities and their reasons for doing so.” (Brophy, 2004, p. 4)

According to Brophy, I must say learning is, interesting fun and exciting when the curriculum is well matched to students’ interests and abilities and the teacher emphasizes hands-on activities in order to keep the students busy and engaged. When the teacher teaches the right things the right way, motivation takes place by itself. If students are not enjoying learning, something is wrong with the curriculum and teacher’s instruction. At times I felt my school life was boring and frustrating because I hated all subjects except Maths and Science. I had to sit and listen to longtime instructions and copy the notes from the chalk board. I managed myself for learning because I had to show the Progress Report with good grades to my dad.

Ê»Science is like everything, I guess … and I think everything has a science to it. [When] baking cookies you have to add the right amount of eggs and milk and stuff like that (Kaufman, Moss, & Osborn, 2003, p. 48)

As I agree with Kaufman, Moss & Osborn’s point of view, these two subjects add lot of fun to learning as they contain lot of practical activities which are conducted in the school laboratory. I loved to learn through doing and touching, it is because I had trouble sitting still and learning. My worst day during Science period was when my teacher said no when I offered him my help to fix the Bunsen burner to the gas cylinder. He said ‘you are still young so must stay away’. Now I understand that I was a kinaesthetic learner that time, my teacher could have engaged me in his work because I could be better able to understand information by doing hands-on activities. I am not going to blame my teacher for this because at the time of my learning teacher centred education was given importance by educators. If teachers are able to understand children’s learning needs, it will reduce lot of frustration like homework incompletion, failures in assessments and sports and speaking in public. As long as I know sometimes kids are just doing what works for them but, the curriculum in practice when I was in school did not cater the child’s individual needs and the educators did not consider the child’s learning style. I know that cognitive focuses on the inner mental activities such as thinking, memory, knowing, and problem-solving so, I think at cognitive stage the children should be catered carefully according to their learning needs.

I gained lot of experience in teaching, today I am an experienced teacher, I wish I was my teacher when I was in school because when I was a child I did not get what I give to the pupils in my classroom now. As a teacher, I work in my classroom according to my children’s expectations. I believe in group work, differentiated planning, reading a lot for fun, guided reading, shared reading, classroom policies, and ongoing assessments which help me know the level of progress frequently. The few hyperactive boys in my classroom are always my helpers; they are always engaged in classroom jobs. In a typical classroom, some children process information best by hearing the teacher explain it, some learn by seeing what’s on the chalkboard, and others learn through hands-on exercises. Nowadays colleges have increasingly begun teaching new students about learning styles so they can develop effective study habits.

Three basic learning styles are auditory, kinaesthetic, and visual. Auditory learners prefer listening to explanations over reading them and like to study by reciting information aloud. These types of learners may want to have background music while studying, or they may be distracted by noises and need a quiet space to study. Kinaesthetic learners learn by doing and touching. They may have trouble sitting still while studying, and they are better able to understand information by writing it down or doing hands on activities. Visual learners process new information by reading, looking at pictures, or watching a demonstration but, they may grow impatient listening to an explanation.

I still remember the learning style and classroom setting when I was small which is mostly similar to what shown on the video clip of ‘The four UK teachers’ experience in a Kenyan school’. At least for ten years my classroom strength was 35-40 children, our tables and chairs were laid in rows, teachers table and the chalk board was at the front of the class. The classroom layout was so congested, though we learnt how to move around without any incidents, our teachers never approached each table in order to assist the individual needs. Teacher instruction was mostly lecture based and activities contained more board work. We were never treated according to our learning styles which are auditory, kinaesthetic, and visual – instead the whole class was given the same type of activities only the able children understood them and completed on time and the rest were neglected.

Regret to say that our teachers failed to realise that all of us are designed to absorb information differently; each learning style results in people with various interests, desires and talents and learning is more fun and effective when the teachers look into multiple learning styles. Children learn more efficiently on their own way and can reach their potential by working smarter. Once a teacher identifies the child’s learning style, she can give that child the freedom to learn which will support his work at home, at school, and in life. Once my English language teacher asked us to write a simple paragraph on ‘Good Schools’, since I like role play activities, I wrote the paragraph and drew pictures of girls and wrote two dialogues in the speech bubbles as they speak the positive things in the school. My teacher saw my work and crossed out the picture and said ‘this is not required here’. That time I took this as my teachers valid point of view but later when I became a teacher I thought my teacher should have appreciated my speech bubbles and corrected the sentences or showed me what rules I should follow when I write statements in the speech bubbles. In this way the teacher put a full stop to my desire in learning or trying new concepts.

The educators should be able to understand the learning styles of the learners and should provide opportunities accordingly. A kinaesthetic learner should be given more activity based work, for an example- in maths lesson for addition; this type of a learner can be given counters rather than asking him to work out the sums mentally. Kinaesthetic learners should be able to experience and explore the learning aids/ models which are available in the classroom or lab. Learners with strength for visual learning tend to process information by visualizing and seeing it. During a PD training which I attended recently I learnt that about 65% of the population prefers to learn visually. Visual learners in schools can be given opportunities to use colors to organize, receive written instructions and lists, look at graphics like film, flow charts, or diagrams, use visualization when memorizing information, take detailed notes and draw graphics as they learn by looking. People with strength for auditory learning tend to remember information they hear and discuss. According to what I learnt, about 30% of the population prefers learning with an auditory style. Auditory learners in the classroom can be given recordings of materials like video clips of rhymes or documentaries to be learned; can participate in discussions or discussion groups, have questions read out loud, receive verbal instructions and read written information out loud. It is very sad to say at the time of my learning in the schools I did not see teachers had any knowledge of the types of learners and teach them according to their needs but learning was on going in the classroom. If this is the case how did I learn? This is a very difficult question for me to answer.

The learning theories of the school where I studied were forced me to learn in the way I did not want to, the classroom instruction in my school life was mostly suitable for visual learners as there were activities like reading text with pictures, key points of the lesson given on the chalk board and copying texts from the chalk board to the note books. There were hardly any resources around the classrooms; the teaching aids were the text books, chalk board and the chalks. I liked to spend more time in the Science lab it’s because of the laboratory equipment which our Science/Maths teacher used during practical lessons. I enjoyed these subjects though there were limited resources available in the school lab; the teachers conducted the lessons as for the whole class without realizing the individual needs of the children. I did not study the English language as the way I studied Maths/Science. English was taught through visualizing things, long instructions and reading paragraphs in texts.

“If teachers use a lecture style for instruction, the English language learner will not receive as much comprehensible input. ” (Haynes, 2007, p. 6)

Haynes argument is right. I became impatient listening for long periods during English. Once my English teacher caught me reading my favourite story book in the class and said ‘you must spend time with your text books, you should never read story books it is a waste of time’. I followed her instructions and never read story books ever since she told me. Why did not this teacher realize that reading open doors for many worlds? Had I read a lot or be encouraged to read that time I would have had a rich vocabulary when I entered the High school. Another day a story teller visited our school to read stories to each year group and involved the students in making story props and acting out the stories. This was the most enjoyable moment during my English lesson; I had an opportunity to learn new vocabularies too. Everyone had fun during this lesson because the story teller involved each and every student in a kind of activity.

Another issue was no school policies were read to us on the first day of school as there were no many policies constructed for the school at that time. We knew how to go in a line to the library, hitting and verbally abusing the peers not allowed, wore neat uniform every day, respect the teachers and so on but we were never taught any of these. I think the hidden curriculum in my school was stronger than the curriculum which was in use that time.

Then I moved to a college for my higher education. I can say from my college experience that many higher education instructors still do not realize that students vary in the way that they process and understand information or attempt to respond to those differences in their pedagogical efforts. Effective teaching cannot be limited to the delivery of information; instead it needs to be based on a model of minds at work. Effective instructors are those who understand the importance of involving all of their students in learning how to learn. Effective learners are created when instructors affirm the presence and validity of diverse learning. At the college level the cognitive development occurs at the same pace but the learners experience different kind of problems or issues due to many changes. One of them is ‘culture shock’.

Newcomers have usually left behind family members, friends, teachers, and pets. They are no longer surrounded by a familiar language and culture. Children often do not have the full support of their parents because the parents are experiencing culture shock, too. (Haynes, 2007, p. 2)

I agree with Hayens because the greater the difference between the student’s new culture and the student’s primary culture, the greater the shock. During this stage, I as a newcomer was excited about the new lives. Everything was wonderful and we were having great time learning about the environment. For me the differences between the new culture and the old one become more apparent. I rejected my new surroundings because there was so much that I did not understand. At times I felt sleepy, irritable, uninterested, or depressed; there were few more students who felt the same as I did. In my college the English language learners were frustrated because they could not communicate and are bombarded with unfamiliar surroundings, unreadable social signals, and an unrelenting barrage of new sounds. I was homesick and missed my family, friends, and familiar sights and sounds but, our instructors failed to realise this and started their duty – stuffing our brain with Physics, Chemistry and Biology. I was compelled to listen and follow what they instructed but, I did not know how much I learnt at that stage. In fact, I was surprised and overwhelmed by the lectures though we were forced to learn what we were supposed to, because the instructors knew so much about the subject taught. At times I asked myself, how did the instructors prepare themselves so well in order to answer all types of questions asked by the students? I saw them as good role models from the way they socialized with others, and delivered the content of the subjects during lectures. Listening to a lecture involves active attempts to construct new knowledge but, most of the time I felt that the instructors could have included videos to their instructions, involved us in presentations or group discussions as I loved these types of activities.

ACTIVITY 2: Why are theories of learning important?

Write down some initial thoughts about your own priorities at this stage of your development as a (head) teacher. To what extent do your own current priorities coincide with the priorities mentioned above?

There are many different theories of how people learn. What important and useful is to consider their application to how our students learn and we teach our educational programs. It is interesting to think about our own particular way of learning and to recognize that everyone does not learn the way we do. In my opinion one of the main points is a teacher should know that each student does not learn in the same way others do. This means if the teacher chooses just one style of teaching such as direct instruction or collaborative learning or inquiry learning the students will not be maximizing their learning potential. For sure a teacher cannot reach every student on the same level during one lesson, but implementing a variety of learning styles throughout the course allows all the students to experience the chance to learn in at least a way that matches their learning style.

Most of the materials used to educate students beyond primary school are largely text and lecture based, which have significant limitations. Those students are not involved in group work or discussion activities. Reading is a very important learning mode but, not all students learn effectively from reading. There are students who do not like reading a lot but, respond better to visual and audio stimuli of lecture but often get lost in the material or lose interest in the presentation. In this type of a learning environment, students have limited opportunity to ask questions or may be uncomfortable asking a question in front of the class. So the learning theories we have should cater the individual needs of the children. I believe student learn best by trying to make sense of something on their own with the help of the teacher along the way. Therefore the learners should be involved in activity based learning and given the freedom to use the classroom resources around them. Another important point is that the best way to learn is by having students construct their own knowledge instead of having someone construct it for them. For an example, for giving them the concept of Addition they should be given counters or an abacus to find the sum of two numbers rather than explaining this on the chalk board. For the language development they should be given activities for listening and writing which will be an interesting activity too. Science and Geography can be taught through pictures, video clips, lab work with a lot of experiments and the use of internet. At times I did not get the clear concepts of the subject taught when I attended the lecture type classes but I had an opportunity to understand better when I was asked to teach the same concept to someone else on my own. An experienced teacher should always use cognitive terminology such as “classify,” “analyze,” “predict,” and “create” when assigning tasks to the students, this helps the students to explore and research to find lot of information about the subject. We should encourage student critical thinking and inquiry by asking them thoughtful, open-ended questions, and encourage them to ask questions to each other. Further, we should provide enough time for students to construct their own meaning when learning something new. We should acknowledge that, students’ understanding and prior experiences about a concept before teaching them, which is as vital as breathing. Group discussions that we organize should encourage communication between the teacher and the students and also between the students.

All learning and some elements of non-learning begin with situations where there is a disjuncture between a learner’s biography (past experiences) and their construction of present experience. (Jarvis, Holford & Griffin, 2003, p. 70)

As Jarvis, Holford & Griffin explain educators should pay importance to the child’s prior learning experience in order to give them the proper foundation on learning. In the school where I work the children speak English as a second language therefore I had to construct my learning theories according to their past experience with the language of English. One of the word level objectives of English for first graders is ‘to represent in writing the three phonemes in CVC words, spelling them first in rhyming sets, then in non-rhyming sets’. This is a very simple objective but difficult for a first grader in my school as their prior knowledge in English is zero due to use of no English at home. In that case if I as a teacher insist them to learn this objective then I will be committing a crime for not having any knowledge on their biography. So it is vital for me to spend correcting prior knowledge before new learning can occur, in fact we in our school where I work now spend at least 2-3 weeks at the beginning of the first term to learn the biography of the children.

Teachers must be fair in distributing their praise and all students should receive praise. They should look for positive things to say about a student’s work even when pointing out problems or mistakes during lesson. Some might receive praise for bigger achievements than others but, even the lower performer needs a regular pat on the back. Teacher should also give praise or verbal rewards to the class as a whole to encourage the class and build team unity.

True, the learning theories help support planning and teaching, help to critically evaluate classroom practice and help in the diagnosis of classroom problems but in my opinion the important person who constructs the learning theories in the classroom is the teacher who is not given enough opportunities to implement these in her classroom to experience the consequences. I hear teachers of other schools say that excess amount of paper work and work load do not provide enough time to engage the children on learning. In the school where I work our teachers are not given extra duties such as after school duty, snack duty etc in order to make sure that they spend more time in the classroom and prepare for students’ learning. We have special subject teachers for ICT, Physical Education and second languages so the class teachers can concentrate only on the core subjects like Literacy, Numeracy, Science and Geography. One may ask, why do our teachers are kept away from teaching ICT? In my opinion ICT should be integrated in learning however, in some cases, teachers feel ICT increases their workload, with some tasks taking longer time to complete. This can often be traced to one or more of: a lack confidence or lack of ICT skills, ineffective networks or a lack of appropriate training or technical support. To reduce teacher workloads in our schools in future, ICT strategies will be included specific workload aims although this should not be at the impression of continuing to find ways in which ICT can raise quality and pupil performance. (We are planning to improve ICT strategic planning through strategic aims, hardware, software, connectivity, technical support and staff training and development in future and involve the teachers in integrating ICT to learning).

Staff meeting or Curriculum meeting is conducted only once a week, which helps the teachers to spend more time with their work in the classroom and during their non contact periods they are supposed to prepare additional activities for the lesson they have planned. Progress Report for the pupils are being sent only thrice a year rather than every month, the teachers in our school have to spend less time dealing with behavioural issues because we have well constructed standardized policies for discipline, behaviour, uniform, food and bus and the Social worker is highly involved in implementing the policies. In our school calendar there are few days allocated as ‘Staff in Students out’ for professional development which is very important for the educators to upgrade their skills. I have seen few schools in this country utilize the student time I mean have shortened day in order to organise PD for the staff.

In some schools teachers spend most of their time on disciplining the children and dealing with behavioural issues because of the weak hidden curriculum in place and no proper plan or policies to manage these types of issues there. Some educators want to expose themselves as good teachers or professional and show that they can manage the children very well, so they spend more time on putting up class displays, classroom management and less time on teaching the children. I have seen educators who work only for survival, their aim is to spend the days in the school and get monthly wage on time.

The overall goal of the teachers should be to help and support students develop into self motivating learners. Students who are encouraged to become motivated lifelong learners will be more successful in and out of the classroom. When I worked as a teacher in other schools I had to teach all the subjects including IT and Physical Education, send monthly progress report home, prepare student portfolio for each child in my class, do after school duties and attend meetings with the Principal for four days in a week. I must say at that time I was frustrated for not having enough time to concentrate on the learning of my students and I was able to realise that they were not gaining anything according to their learning style.

So, when I became as a head of a school I made sure that the teachers are given more time to spend for the children not with paper work and so on. The Social Worker and I are directly involved in solving behavioural issues in the school so the teachers will not have to spend time on this issue. The school policies and curriculum should be child centred and focus only on their learning. Educators should spend more time on pupils learning for which the strong hidden curriculum of the school should be helpful so that the teachers can construct proper planning for their teaching rather than wasting their time on other issues like behaviour and discipline. What I am trying to explain is that the learning theories we construct should focus on the child’s academic and intellectual development.

ACTIVITY 3: Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

List eight ways in which you motivate pupils in your classroom and school. Explain which motivational forms are intrinsic and which extrinsic.

We know nothing about motivation. All we can do is write books about it.

– Peter Drucker

I have read a lot about ‘Motivation’ in books and on websites. I think Drucker is concerned about the nature of understanding the term ‘Motivation’. I know what motivation is but, I do not think that I have made a closer inspection to it ever in my career. I have motivated the learners to read a lot, work smarter, behave well and be a good role model through rewards and appreciation as the way the factory workers are encouraged by ‘end of year bonus’ so that production improves and absenteeism falls.

No one can know the future at least in any detail. In preparing the future, students should be able to develop viable occupational skills. Learning a discipline and doing it well provides the foundation for a sense of purpose, security and confidence in adulthood. In addition to this the students should prepare for change. As we see, change is best handled and even welcomed, when individuals possess a well developed mental skills associated with original creative and independent thinking.

Further, according to Martin V. Cavington, the greatest legacy of education is to encourage in our students a will to learn and to continue learning as personal circumstances-change in short to promote a capacity for self renewal. Today many students drop out of school without a single achievement for which they can feel uniquely responsible for it. More ever the majority of the students fail achieve their potential due to lack of motivation in schools and home.

How to always be motivated? Keeping our motivation high is the key factor to achieve our goals. We all face setbacks in life but, the ability to turn it into a lesson and move through a positive direction should be our aim for which motivation is highly required. If we are not motivated, we will experience difficulties in turning our great ideas into great results, wake up in the morning without any desire, ask people around us for support, give up our tasks before finishing them, postpone important decisions and wish that we will have a set of helping tips to overcome our setbacks. If we as adults will have to face a great deal of inconveniences due to lack of motivation, what will happen to those who just started their life in schools as children? What will be the consequences for being not motivated by important factors? How motivation takes place in classrooms and schools?

“A primary concern for educators is how to balance the use of extrinsic incentives as needed to promote student task engagement while establishing a climate that also fosters intrinsic motivation.” (Alderman, 1999, p. 213)

The motivation comes from the pleasure one gets from the task he does or from the sense of satisfaction in completing or even working on it. As Alderman explains, we should equally balance extrinsic and intrinsic motivation in order to promote engaging students on task. According to what I understood intrinsic motivation means motivation which comes from inside an individual rather than from any external or outside rewards, such as money, trophies or grades. Extrinsic motivation refers to motivation that comes from outside an individual. The motivating factors are external, or outside, rewards such as money, trophies or grades. These rewards provide satisfaction and pleasure that the task itself may not provide.

Is intrinsic motivation the solution for increasing student engagement? One perspective is that intrinsic motivation to learn is a necessary, but insufficient, component for academic achievement in classrooms; that is, one can enjoy learning or have an interest in a subject, but lack the strategies necessary for continuing motivation (Alderman, 1999, p. 218)

According to Alderman’s argument, an extrinsically motivated student will work on a task even when he has little interest in it because of the anticipated satisfaction he will get from some rewards. The rewards can be something as minor as a smiley face to something major like a trophy or free computer game. For example, an extrinsically motivated child who dislikes maths may work hard on maths problems because he wants the reward for completing it right.

For me it is very difficult to agree with Alderman’s point of views on ‘motivating extrinsically will result positively’ as I have teaching experience with children of some (sorry to say) arrogant parents, rich parents who are proud of their wealth and children who enjoy the most lavish life in this country which is completely different where I come from. I have implemented many strategies for motivating children in my class; I never had an opportunity to discriminate intrinsic and extrinsic motivation until I come across some readings on these topics by Jerome S. Bruner and Alderman. All I knew were about motivating children to be engaged on task. Two years back I had few children in my class, whose parents especially the mothers were not supportive at all; their children most of the time turned in completed homework, they had poor reading skills and had unacceptable behaviour in the classroom. In order to motivate them towards task, I used to tell them if they complete work on time or behave well they will get a smiley sticker or a badge but, I always had reply from these kids ‘I don’t need I can buy them when I go out with my driver’ or ‘who cares of those cheap stickers’ or ‘I have got plenty of them at home’. In such a place where I am in, most of the children are not attracted by those extrinsic motivations rather they would like to get motivated by intrinsic factors.

I have spent a lot of time trying to think of ways to motivate my more reluctant students. I have tried fear” If you are late again, I will call home”. I have tried rewards “If you follow the classroom code of conduct you will earn points that you can redeem for a free homework pass or computer game. As a motivational support fear and rewards do work, for a while but, I did not want to threaten my students, and I did not want to bribe them. I want them to develop a will to come to class and learn. I wanted their motivation to be intrinsic. The question then was how I get my students to become more intrinsically motivated so that the classroom experience is more enjoyable for everyone. When Iencouraged mystudents’ self motivation by structuringmy class and my teaching I met their needs which are love, respect, emotional support and to move about the classroom freely. I followed many ways to motivate the children but now, I can differentiate them according to intrinsic and extrinsic motivational factors.

Intrinsic motivation takes place when there is a positive relationship between the learners and the educators. As Jerome Bruner (1966), explains that extrinsic reinforcement may lead to a desirable kind of activity and cause its repetition but will not ultimately encourage sound learning. His belief was that intrinsic rewards are more important than extrinsic rewards in the long term. Intrinsic motivational factors I implemented in my classroom and school were,

1- When I asked my students to volunteer to be my assistant and assigned jobs for them more learning went on than if I did all the teaching myself.

2- When I had those students who could not sit still for very long and lose focus easily did their maths questions on the board, they were more likely to stay focused and learn which develop the interest of involvement.

3- When I greeted my students at the classroomdoor early morning with a smile and allocate games and puzzles for them to d


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