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There has been much research into the question ‘how do children learn?’ Are social, environmental and cultural influences primarily the source of the construction of an individual’s knowledge base, or are individuals born with a pre-disposed ability to acquire knowledge distinct from any environmental factors.
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This paper aims to outline two influential theories of learning, Piaget’s theory of development, ‘cognitive constructivism’ and accelerated learning, in addition to recognising their similarities and differences and the impact they independently have on how children are educated and the education system as a whole.
Accelerated learning is a technique developed to ensure the specialised learning areas of the brain work effectively with one another, ensuring any learning taking place is at its full potential for both children and adults alike (Call, 1999).These specific areas of the brain are not as rigid and inflexible as once thought, so due to the continuing research and development into the science of learning, our understanding of how we learn has also improved (Call, 1999). This is being reflected in the recent teaching practices of many educational establishments throughout the world, where the accelerated learning method and recognition of learning styles has made a massive appearance (Sharp, Ward & Hanklin, 2009). In turn leaving behind the more conventional teaching practices of repetition and focused concentration (Rose, 1985)
The most famous individual connected to the emergence of accelerated learning and teaching methods based on how the human mind actually takes in new information was Bulgarian psychiatrist Georgi Lozanov (1926, Learning doorways publishing, 2009), who found that when music, play and positive suggestion was introduced to his psychiatric patients they made significant improvements. He then applied these techniques to education and also found individuals learned more effectively and significantly faster (Meier, 2000). Emphasis on many factors such as making learning fun, drawing out a learners full potential and the a rich learning environment, made the basis for Lozanov’s methodology which he called ‘Suggestopedia’ (Learning doorways publishing, 2009)
The accelerated learning method recognises individuals preferred learning styles, if a learning style is matched to the appropriate technique, a person is said to learn in a more natural and productive way, therefore speeding up the learning process (Accelerated Learning Systems Ltd, 2001), by absorbing new material simultaneously in the sub-conscious and conscious mind (Rose, 1985).
“People will discover their preferred way of learning and use their brain capacity more fully. Learning becomes more enjoyable, easier, more effective and faster for people who have discovered ‘accelerated learning’.”
(Open learning today magazine, cited in Accelerated Learning Systems Ltd, 2001)
Accelerated learning is now widely recognised as an ‘umbrella term’ for numerous learning approaches, such as mind mapping, multiple intelligences and brain based theories. However one of the main learning approaches associated with accelerated learning and widely recognised throughout education is VAK, incorporating the three learning styles, visual, auditory and kinaesthetic (Bartlett & Burton, 2007).
Individuals according to the accelerated learning technique are said to have a preference to the way information is received. If information is given in a way that is more effective to that particular learner, either in a visual, auditory or kinaesthetic manner, then processing is more successful and learning is improved (VAK, 2010).
Visual learners receive information more effectively through images, diagrams, objects/props and words. The reading and writing of information for these individuals involves visualisation, therefore any information that supports the visualisation process is beneficial to their learning (New Haven, 2010).
Auditory learners effectively relate to the spoken word (Mind Tools, 2010) and learn most effectively through sound, music, conversation and voices. Information that is heard is processed most effectively, and incorporating the experience of music into learning is an ideal framework for success of auditory learners (New Haven, 2010).
Kinaesthetic learners prefer a more hands on approach when new information is being communicated. Physical experiences are of most benefit to these individuals. Activities such as moving around, handling objects/props, using equipment, physical experiments and drama assists and engages them in their learning experience (VAK, 2010).
Not everyone has only one exclusive learning style; many individuals may have a preference for one but prefer to incorporate all three into their learning to ensure a full and effective educational experience. Therefore teaching methods and classrooms need to be and are being adjusted to a more ‘child cantered learning’ approach with personalised learning programmes implemented to ensure pupils learning is facilitated and tailored to their specific styles and therefore reaching their full potential (The National Strategies, 2009).
”child-centred learning allows students to work in ways that complement their various learning styles”
Child centred learning has significant connections to the VAK model integrated in accelerated learning, however its original principles relate closely to educational researcher and child psychologist Jean Piaget (Hersh, 2009), claimed to be one of the ”most significant psychologists of the twentieth century.” (Dimitiadis & Kamerelis, 2006, p.169). Piaget’s contribution has left the educational world a clear, comprehensive and rich description of how children think, learn and develop (Bruce and Meggit, 1999) with his work said to be the catalyst to further research into childhood development (Growing Babies, 2010) with his theory of cognitive development still influencing how children are taught in educational settings all over the world today (Meggit, Stevens & Bruce, 2000).
Piaget like Alistair Smith (1998) modern advocate for accelerated learning, stressed the importance of a rich, comfortable and stimulating learning environment in which children acquire knowledge. For Piaget the environment plays a key role in the development of learning and intelligence, the way a child interacts with their environment gives them the ability to construct meaning and understanding from one experience to another (Boden, 1994).
”Environmental input adds both detail and ‘depth’. As pathways develop, they become more nicely adapted to specific environmental conditions.”
(Boden, 1994, p. xix)
For Piaget the learner’s knowledge is actively constructed by intellectual activities thus promoting intellectual growth (Goodman 1990, cited in Dimitiadis & Kamerelis, 2006). New information is continually being integrated into previously formed categories and frameworks for understanding known as ‘schemas’, and as the child develops these frameworks become increasingly more complex in order for the individual to organise and comprehend the world around them (Dimitiadis & Kamerelis, 2006).
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The process of the individual adapting to the world around them according to Piaget is embedded in the process of assimilation and accommodation. When a child experiences something new within their environment the process of assimilation fits the new knowledge or skill into a pre-existing schema, where as accommodation ensures the pre-existing schema receives and accommodates the new piece of knowledge (Dimitiadis & Kamerelis, 2006). This keeps the mind in a state of equilibrium in order to continue experiencing the world (Richmond, 1970).
According to Piaget’s theory, organisation of this knowledge for an individual is said to develop in an ordered and sequential system of stages (Dimitiadis & Kamerelis, 2006). The first of the stages include the sensori-motor stage (birth – 2 years) where the infant explores and learns to co-ordinate their world through their senses (Growing Babies, 2010). Infants enjoy a range of stimulating activities, and enjoy toys they can shake, squeeze and suck, all of which engage their senses (Meggit, Stevens & Bruce, 2000).
Their co-ordination of movement through exploration of their environment through this stage facilitates their developing motor skills, both fine and gross (Dimitiadis & Kamerelis, 2006).Towards the end of this stage infants develop an understanding that objects that are not visibly present still exist, this concept is known as object permanence (Meggit, Stevens & Bruce, 2000), and the development of mental representations that precedes this (Dimitiadis & Kamerelis, 2006) prepares the way for symbolic play (Meggit, Stevens & Bruce, 2000).
The second stage identified as the pre-operational stage (2 – 7 years) shows the increased development of symbolic representations (Dimitiadis & Kamerelis, 2006) and motor skills, where children’s ability to manipulate and control objects, demonstrated in a more established manner (Meggit, Stevens & Bruce, 2000). Children during this stage show difficulty in considering the perspective of others (Dimitiadis & Kamerelis, 2006) and view the world entirely from their own view point, Piaget classifies this as ”intelletually egocentric (Bruce and Meggit, 1999).
The third stage, the concrete operational stage (7 -11 years) recognised as the phase when children begin to understand the concepts of number, mass, area, quantity and weight (Bruce and Meggit, 1999), and apply these concepts to ‘concrete’ problems. Although they can begin to classify at this stage they still have difficulty forming generalisations (Dimitiadis & Kamerelis, 2006) and still need real situations to help develop their conceptual thinking (Bruce and Meggit, 1999).
The final stage is approximately between the ages of seven and fifteen years (Dimitiadis & Kamerelis, 2006); however it can extend into adulthood. When individuals reach this stage they are able to grasp abstract concepts, thoughts (Bruce and Meggit, 1999) and problems and logically solve them using appropriate and more sophisticated language to express themselves (Growing Babies, 2010), individuals in this stage also develop the ability to view ideas from multiple perspectives (Dimitiadis & Kamerelis, 2006).
Piaget’s introduction of his developmental stages within his theory has been made a permanent component of education innovation over the past forty years., with many advocates of this theory recognising the child as an active learner (Dimitiadis & Kamerelis, 2006), which is represented in the experienced focused curriculum of ‘child centred learning’ (Hersh, 2009). However Piaget’s stages have also been criticised for their inability to be flexible. It is recognised that children differ extensively as their learning progresses, and may pass through or achieve certain components of the stages as differing times; this could be due to varying factors including developmental delay, environments influence and social dynamics (Ornstein, 1991).
Piaget believed that the development of a child came ahead of any learning and their development would continue to occur without guidance or direction (Dimitiadis & Kamerelis, 2006). Piaget’s lack of recognition of a child’s social world is an additional criticism recognised by much recent research which suggested children benefit and learn more affectively if their learning is facilitated by both adults and peers, and the development of social relationships is as much a central factor in development as the constructions of ideas and knowledge (Bruce and Meggit, 1999).
Taking Piaget’s theory into consideration, with recognition of the criticisms, his work still provides education with an admiral and invaluable description of how children develop. With this knowledge the behaviour of parents and teachers and the experiences they provide for their children throughout their childhood and education, can significantly and successfully improve their learning and understanding (Schwebel & Raph, 1974).
Additionally by increasing teaching flexibility (Duncan & Szmuch, 2001), strategies of communication with pupils and utilising the auditory, visual and kinaesthetic senses into teaching, educational practitioners can strengthen pupils learning experiences and make them feel ‘in control’ of their learning, more included in the lesson, and therefore strengthen their academic development (New Haven, 2010).
The two theories discussed when used in conjunction, complement one another and provide us with an excellent foundation and effective tool to promote learning. If education utilises the understanding of knowledge constructions, individual learning styles and the importance of a rich environment, successful and engaging learning for a child will naturally follow, if Piaget’s theory is the structure of learning then VAK could potentially be the tools for its successful construction.
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