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There is not single set of learning theory that if devotedly followed guarantee educators perfect results in the classroom. However, the study of learning has generated much discussion for many years. It has been at the core of educational psychology. Although the importance of learning as a topic of study is agreed by psychologists; they often disagreed on the mechanics of how learning process occurred. (Wittrock, 1977) cited by (Good and Brophy 1995) defined learning as "the process of acquiring relative permanent change in understanding, attitude, knowledge, information, ability and skill through experience". This paper seeks to explain congnitivism, behavioural and constructivist theorists of learning, examining the similarities and differences between the theories, gives examples of how theses theories could used in the classroom.
Cognitive theories focusing on how people process information and learn. They discuss concept such as memory, problem solving and decision making. David Ausubel's (1963) cognitive theory distinguishes reception learning from rote and discovery learning. It is concern with how students or persons learn large amount of meaningful material thought a verbal expository teaching method (Woolfolk1990 P. 292). He suggested that learning is based on presenting information in a hierarchical sequential, organized, manner to learners. This aid and encourage meaningful learning, connection and retention of new information. Since, information presented is usually related to previous learned "subsumer". A subsumer is a concept or idea that includes others concept (Woolfolk, 1990). Simple put, for learning to become meaningful there must be a possible fit or incorporation between learners existing cognitive structure and the information to be learned. To do this Ausubel postulates that educator should always start with "advance organizer". Advance organizers are simple statement used to introduce higher- level concepts to be learn. They provide a structure for new information in a general manner and covers the concepts to be learnt (Slavin, 2003). To illustrate, as a teacher I at times uses the KWL chart to teach certain topics, such as the continents. First I gave the students a KWL chart; I encourage them to record what they already knows about the continents, then want they wants to know about continents and finally what new information they learned.
Therefore with knowledge of advance organizers in mind educators should be cognisant of student's prior knowledge and pre-requisite capabilities should be determined before giving any instruction. When teaching new concepts teachers should incorporate and commence with advance organizers. Instructions or concepts should be integrated which will encourage integrative review, links and transfer of information. Moreover, to facilitate transfer of knowledge teachers should present information in a progressive way starting with lower- level skills before moving up to higher-level skills. Additionally, a much as possible learning material taught in one subject area should facilitate learning in another subject area. For example, students can be encouraged to make links between some English words and Spanish words or Latin words.
Also, in the classroom, instructions should include both discovery and receptive teaching. To facilitate this, after given instructions teachers should follow up with questions and assessments which will provide opportunities for students to encode material in their own way and apply the concept learn. Furthermore, provide instructions in simple steps, organizing information in sequential and logical ways which will be easy to follow. This will also aid and facilitate mastery of information at each stage. This hierarchical format of giving instruction was supported by Gagne's theory.
Robert Gagne (1979) has proposed a theory of instructions (Woolfolk, 1990). Gagne postulate several types of learning which needs different types of instructions. According to (Good & Brophy, 1995) Gagne identified five major types of learning. They are attitudes which are internal state that influence personal choices, for example how student feel after reading a poem. Motor skills involve using your reflexes such as tying your shoes. Information entails facts and knowledge stored in the memory, for example addition and subtraction facts. Using intellectual skills that allow learners to discriminate between concrete, define concepts, and solve problems using rules. Finally, use personal ways to guide learning, acting and develop solutions to problems.
Additionally, (Woolfolk, 1990) said Gagne was "more interested in the quality, permanence and usefulness of students learning". To achieve this, he postulated that teacher used nine instructional events. First teachers must gain students attention. This can and should be done using a variety of approaches and methods. For example, to get my Kindergarten's attention I sometimes incorporate music, drama, nursery rhymes, or poems to introduce my lessons. These are expected to grab students' attention and interest since children generally like these activates.
After student's attention is gain, Gagne proposed that teachers communicate to learners of the objectivities of the lesson. This can be done by reviewing prerequisites, oral questioning or quizzes. Teachers can also provide demonstrations of learning products or outcomes (Slavin, 2003). For example, when teaching students how to use different shapes to build a house I will present then with a model of what they can finally make themselves. When attention is gain educators must stimulate students recall of prior learning. This involves getting students to retrieved information they have learned. Then, present the stimulus that is presenting the material to be learnt, followed by providing learning guidelines. This could be anything from guided discovery activities, explanations or demonstrations, however, information presented should be in a logical and understanding way. After doing this (Woolfolk ,1990) said "learning does not stop there". Since, teachers has to insure learner demonstrate understanding of taught information. Gagne proposed this is done by his next step which involves providing guidance to learners. Gagne's sixth instructional event involves questioning students for understanding, their responses allow teachers to evaluate learners comprehension this also provides reinforcement, feedback and assess performance, which Gagne posited as his seventh and eight instructional level. His theory indicates that after each topic is taught teachers should assess pupils performance, this can be done via formal or informal evaluation. Finally, educators must enhance retention and facilitate transfer of knowledge to other top and subject areas and real life situations.
With this information in mind, educators must be mindful that different instructions are required for different learning outcomes. For example in my classroom when I want my class to identify letter "a" I do not focus on the letter's sound but on its formation or differentiating it from others. Furthermore teachers must be purposeful in selecting instruction strategies, understanding the limitations and advantages of the strategies they choice. Additionally, strategies choice should be based on the students, content and situation of it used, for individual differences are to be considered. Likewise, lessons should commence with declaration of what and why students are required to learn the information. Additionally,
Pavlov's and Skinner's theory were behaviourist. Behaviourism is concern with observable and measurable aspects of human behaviour (Good & Brophy, 1995). This means that their theories focused on observable, measurable behaviour. Classic conditioning is a term used to describe learning which has been acquired through experience. According to Legge & Harari, 2000). Pavlov used animals mainly dogs in his experiments to demonstrated classical conditioning, he arranged for the study of salivary conditioning. The dogs he used showed a salivation response when they where offered food (unconditional stimulus). The food was offered a number of times with the sound of a buzzer (conditional stimulus). After this, the sound of the buzzer alone could produce the salivation response. This theory has some links to classroom situations. For instance, a bell ringing is used in schools to indicate the end of instruction time, recess time, or use a whistle to get students attention during physical education exercises.
Like Pavlov's theory B. F. Skinner agreed that some human reflexive behaviour is clearly encouraged by specific stimuli. However, Skinner proposed that reflexive behaviour accounts for only a small proportion of all actions (Slavin, 2003). He proposed the use of pleasant and unpleasant consequences. He work focused on placing subjects in controlled situations and observing their behaviour. Operant conditioning is sometimes referred to as instrumental conditioning is a method of learning involving reward and punishment of behaviour (Legge & Harari, 2000). Skinner's theory has has some important principles, is that, behaviour changes according to its immediate "consequences". Pleasant consequences strengthen behaviour, unpleasant consequences weakens it (Slavin 2003). Simple put a person will repeat a behaviour if the consequences of that behaviour is pleasing or pleasant. Slavin also, posit that pleasant consequences are call reinforcer, unpleasant consequences are called punishers. Reinforcers are any consequence that strengthens or increase behaviour. Reinforcers can be positive or negative and both are used to strengthen behaviour. Positive reinforces which are favorable events that are presented after the behaviour, such as, praise, grades and stickers. Negative reinforcers are unfaviourable Negative reinforcers involve the removal of an unfavorable events to strengthen a behaviour.( ww.psychology.about .com)
Obviously, teacher can apply Skinners' and Pavlov's theories. They can decide what behaviours they want students to emulate, and reinforce these behaviours when they occur. For example in my class when I want my students to practice raising their hand to indicate they desired to give an answer, I praise them when they do so and over time I get the desired behaviour I want. However, as teacher we must be careful not to praise or reward work that do not deserve praise. Since, students may not strive to work to their fullest capabilities. Also, after determining of the objectives teachers must analyze the task into prerequisite skills and sub-skills.
Additionally, rewards for academic effort should be meaningfully, such as extra recess time, opportunities to work on the computer or extra credit on key projects. Furthermore, students should know what behaviour you desire and when students exhibit the desired behaviour and they are reinforce, you tell them why. Additionally, as educators we must ensure reinforcement is truly reinforced. For example, when presenting class rules, set up both negative and positive consequences for breaking or following the rules. Also, use cues to help establish new behaviours. Sometimes at the beginning of the school year I Call students attention to the notice board, which usually has list of material they should have or will need when official class begins. Moreover, teachers must remember to reinforce appropriate behaviour as soon as possible. For delayed reinforcement are usually less effective than immediately reinforcement. In addition, one must keep in mind anything children like can be use as an effective reinforcer, although all can not be utilize in the classroom. However, as a teacher I sometimes use what whatever practical reinforcement to motivate my students.
Constructivism is a philosophy of learning founded on the premise that, by reflecting on our experiences, we construct our own understanding of the world we live in. According to Slavin (2003) it draws many of it philosophy on the work of Piaget and Vygotsky, they emphasis the social nature of learning, and both suggested the use of different abilities grouping to promote conceptual change.
Jean Piaget (1896-1980), is one of the most influential child psychologies. He proposed a theory of cognitive development which has many implications on teaching and learning.
In Piaget's theory he viewed cognitive development on two biological tendencies organization, and adaption( Legge & Harari 2004). Organization as Piaget saw it involved organising experiences and observation into cohesive systems. Adaption involves adjusting to the environment. It is a process by which individual create matches between their pervious learnt information and new information that might not exactly fit together. This is where individuals demonstrate patterns of behaviour or thinking described by Piaget as 'schema' (Slavin 2003 P.30). This involves using two techniques assimilation and accommodation. Assimilation involved trying to understand something new by fitting it into what one already knows. For example, the first time many children see the moon they call it a 'ball'. They are assimilating the information into their current view of the world. If the child observation does not fit into their existing schemas they accommodate or change schema. When the individual has strike a balance between assimilation and accommodation that person has achieved equilibrium because existing schemes and change schemas now fits.
Therefore, with the above information in mind teachers or educators should facilitate assimilation process by matching new learning experiences with learners existing thinking patterns. However, the match between new experiences and existing thinking scheme of learners should not be too exact, for no or little accommodation will occur. When planning teachers should create opportunities of experiences that generate novel ideas and divergence views this will require some reconstructing of thinking and belief. Also, when presenting new information to learners it is essential that this is done in a sequential and meaningful way this will facilitate organization of information and encourage learners to organize their thought into main ides, concepts and generalisation; this helps students to consider past learning in a divisive and integrated way which can becomes problem solving tools.
According to (Woolfolk 1990) Piaget also postulates a stage theory. He suggested that all children regardless of factors such as race and gender go though different stages of development, and that at each stage they think qualitatively different to the stage before. In the first stage sensorimortor, (birth to 2 years) is the time when infants gain knowledge about the world though manipulating objects and innate reflexes. They learn that an object will continue to exit even if it is out of sight Woolfolk (2003). The preoperational stage (2 to 7 years) children can now use imagery based on his or her memory of previous behaviour in the same situation (Good & Brophy, 2008). Preschooler's language develops at an incredible rate. However their thinking remains egocentric and central. Therefore, teachers should use visual aids whenever possible. When given instructions to preschoolers, educators can allow them to act it out as well as give them oral information and do not expect students in the preoperational stage constantly see the world from others perceptive. Moreover opportunities must be provided for group word, this facilitates co-operation, and reduce subjectivity.
The next stage is the concrete operational (age 7 to 12) Children at this age are in schools they are able to solve concrete (hands on) problems (Slavin 2003). They heavily depend on concrete experiences to facilitate his or her thinking. Therefore, teacher must provide opportunities for learner in this stage to meaningfully manipulate objects. For example, when I am teaching topics such as addition or time I give student models of clocks or counter to aid their understanding. . Also, importantly students must have occasions to interact with the physical and social environment
The final stage (age 12 and beyond) of cognitive development is defined by the child's ability to think abstractly and use logical hypothesis testing to solve problems. Teachers must therefore integrate new examples and illustration from previously taught lesson to extend old learning. Also provide higher level problems to engage student in critical abstract thinking. In my teaching my questions and problems are set at different levels such as requires knowledge to answer, others required comprehension skills while other may need analysis skills.
Vygotsky (1896-1934) is a Russian psychologist who made significant contributions to developmental and constructivism theory. He proposes a theory of development in which he presented several key concepts Legge & Harari 2004). He viewed cognitive developments as a result of a dialectical process, where a child learns through shared problem solving experiences with someone else.Â It is primarily through their speech that adults are assumed to transmit to children the rich body of knowledge that exists in their culture.Â As learning progresses, the child's own language comes to help as his or her primary tool of intellectual transformation (Slavin 2003).
Another concept is his theoretical construct of the zone of proximal development (ZPD) which provides an explanation of how a child develops with the help of others (Woolfolk 2003). It is the gap between what children are already able to do and what they are not quite ready to accomplish by themselves (Slavin 2004). He explains how children develop through contact with others such as parents, teacher, siblings or a peer.The person interacting with the child undertakes most of the responsibility for guiding the problem solving, but gradually this responsibility transfers to the child.
Vygotsky also posited scaffolding. It is similar to scaffolding around a building. In that, it can be removed after the need for it ends. For instance, when a child is shown how to something and has mastered the idea he or she can now complete this assignment on his or her own.
Vygotsky's theory can be applied to the classroom, he suggests the teachers
Is important in the process of the transmission of knowledge .This means teacher must ensure information given are accurate and useful to learners. Moreover, they must provide opportunities for peer tutoring, cooperative learning arrangements among student with mix-abilities. Personally I can attest that this approach works. Since, I have successful use this in many of my lessons. Allow students to gradually take on more independent responsibilities, removing the scaffold.
Teachers responsibilities are to facilitate learning, what teachers do in the classroom are important to the overall effect of students learning. Therefore, teachers endeavour to making learning occur must be his or her best efforts. In so doing teachers can draw of all of the theories discussed in the essay. However, one must be mindful that these theories ha some thins in common and differences.
Behaviourism is concern about behaviour that can be observed while cognitive psychology assumes that humans have the capacity to process and organise information in their mind. It is concerned less with observable behaviour and more with the thought processes behind it. Constructivism like congnitivism focuses on thinking processes and problem solving but also considered students reactions which is an important feature of the behaviourist theory. All three discussed theories attempt to explain and describe how learning occurs and viewed education and the instructional process as a whole. However, behaviourism formed the basis for all learning theories.
Cognitivism and constructivism both stressed the importance of forging relation between previous learnt information to new information. In other words, learners are expected to relate new information to prior knowledge and experiences.
As stated before there is no ideal educational theory. However the approach teachers used in their daily instructions are important. The approaches they use should be based on a variety of issues, such as the age of the students, their cognitive processing level, the subject matter and difficulty of the required task in order to successfully achieve all the objectives.