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Learning approaches and the way they are implemented may dramatically differ not only in the widest scope of the entire world but even on a single school's scale. Within certain peculiarities and practical results some of them might be regarded either as the most optimal approaches to learning in the educational process or might be considered as static, non implementable in modern educational system requirements. Nowadays, the major educational goal is to prepare in "ever-changing world" a student orientating on "critical thinking, problem solving and life learning" development (Kaucic 2010, p.2). This paper will discuss the approaches to learning from behaviourism, constructivism and socio-cultural prospective through comparison and contrast. What kind of learning approach is far more effective and productive? Which of theories is substantially acceptable for modern teachers and parents? How principles of behaviorism, constructivism and socio-cultural approach are used in nowadays school? The paper is targeted to provide deliberate answers to these questions on example material of educational process. More than that, a learning approach must be applied basing on the competence in scientific evidences from the angle of the three learning theories, practical outcomes, a relevant classroom situation and specific environment a learning process takes place in.
To begin with let us look at the situation: a parent/teacher is teaching a child how to solve jigsaw puzzles. What principles should a parent/teacher stick to in order to make a process really effective? Those backed by behaviourist, constructivist or socio-cultural traditions?
Behaviourist view of learning.
As it was interpreted by Rachel Shirley (2009, p.2) "behaviourism is a tenet based on the idea on that behaviour can be learned without involvement of the mind". B F Skinner, the father of behaviourism, argued that behaviour is controlled by environment bearing effect and framework but not by the mind and purposeful speculations. It is "conditions and training" that briefly define the key principles of behaviourism (Walker 2010, p.3). According to the philosophical worldview, an individual in learning process is absolutely passive and reacts solely to the stimuli from outside world. Initially, a learner is assumed to be a "tabula rasa" who receives ongoing impacts from positive and negative reinforced factors from his/her environment. The experiment about Pavlov's dog gives vivid evidence to the effect of those "positive and negative reinforcements" which provoke the potential prior behaviour's reiteration (Entwistle &Ramsden 1988, p.27). For instance, the stimuli, both of positive and negative assessment result into either deliberate try to act the same way (in case of positive reinforcement) or withholding of the negative one.
The prominent scholar Bloom suggests the "pyramid of learning" and its primary layer is reproduction (a child recites an alphabet) and the highest one is evaluation (a learner is able to formulate his/her own point of view) (Walker 2010, p.5). Hence, according to behaviourism approach, learning model is characterized as obviously teacher-supervised, appointed and formative. Thus, behaviourist principle "do what and how I tell you" implies the lowest layer of Bloom's pyramid of learning. Therefore, a person who is gifted enough to attain the evaluation top of the pyramid, is sure to succeed at the lesson where behaviourism approach predominates.
Classes designed with regard to behaviourism dominant are well-structured with techniques of bad behaviour punishment as well as discipline encouragement; there prevail direct instructions followed by models and examples of the right way to learn. The scholars evaluate the behaviourist learning approach as "structured, directed and concrete" (Meyer & Muller 1988, p. 131).
It is strongly recommended that the behaviourist approach should be used within educational process involving youngest learners and less gifted as the teaching material is quite simple. The approach is proved to be effective, for it forms the general understanding of academic discipline (deadlines, healthy relationships teacher-student, individual works etc.). It is highly effective in the high school in case a teacher leads educational process with deviant teenagers.
In case a teacher turns the behaviourist approach into a dominant, there exists risk to disorganize more gifted children. However, the majority of scholars are inclined to think that a teaching process is not of a great success if it is completely deprived of behavioural component (Kaucic 2010, p.6).
For instance, teaching a child to do a jigsaw puzzle a parent who mainly supports behaviourist approach to learning, would rather give certain instructions how to solve it and would immediately demonstrate it so that a child could familiarize himself with the jigsaw puzzle solving techniques and then obviously coping the parent's approach to the problem, a child would complete the task.
Constructivist approach to learning.
The scientist Ernst von Glasersfeld considers constructivism as "a theory of knowledge" and discusses the major principles of the approach which are as follows (Confrey 1990):
knowledge is solely achieved in direct participation of an individual; in contrast to the behaviorist approach, constructivists reject a premise about passive learning;
"coming to know is a process of adaptation based on and constantly modified by a learner's experience of the world" (Confrey 1990, p.25).
Constructivism treats a learner as a scientist with his/her own approaches and the way to learn. Students have a possibility to explore their environment the way they feel, while when following behaviourist approach, a learner is restricted to certain plan of class/lesson and a teacher's instruction as for the methods and way of a task accomplishment is concerned. A constructivist teacher is a kind of a supportive assistant who only hints on the positive direction in day-to-day learning but not a not "a leader everyone must follow" (Confrey 1990. p26). The theory of constructivism treats a student first and foremost as an individual with his/her peculiarity in context of learning with different level of difficulties, life experience, the way the learning process perceived, which singles a student out from the peer group.
The theory of constructivism is viewed from an epistemological point of view. Epistemologists develop the idea of the notions of knowledge which is based upon experience of cognition. As vivid evidence to it, the scholar Noddings (qtd in Podger 2010, p.4) set an example of a student who calculated as he felt it convenient and satisfying for himself. From the traditional mathematicians point of view the student is absolutely inadequate on the background of the sufficient experience. On the other hand, this may be regarded on the scope of constructivism as "the knowledge which fits the student's experience" (Podger 2010, p.4). If a student acquires additional experience, his knowledge is to be consequently modified. Thus Noddings example demonstrates very tolerant attitude of the constructivist approach to mistakes students obviously do in the learning process. Though, behaviorist theory does not exclude mistakes, the wrong way of thinking is treated as it is but not as a lack of experience. In this context, Von Glasersfeld gives an example of a lock and a key:
"In order to open a lock it is not necessary for a key to match the lock only to fit it. Many keys will fit a particular lock. However, when we want to open a lock which our key will not fit, it is necessary to get another key" (qtd. in Confrey 1990, p.26).
Accordingly, there crops up a problem when a students way of understanding and explanations do not overlap with wider conceptions of learning material a teacher possesses in his mind and often expects a learner to have the same. Therefore, scientists are concerned with the problematic question about consistency in the discourse between a teacher and a student. This question touches upon rather how conceptions of different participants meet than the degree of the right and wrong (Meyer & Muller1990, p.140).
The experimental documentary "Pre-school in Three Different Cultures" is perfect to observe the difference of constructivist and behaviourist approaches (Confrey 1990, p.16). The film illustrates main principles of behaviourism and constructivism in work on the episodes of learning process in pre-schools of the USA (Hawaii), China (Dong-feng) and Japan (Komatsudani) (Meyer & Muller 1990, p.17).
At St. Timothy (Hawaii, the USA) where the constructivist approach is widely applied, a teacher gave children the opportunity to choose individually the assignment they found more interesting, that led to more active process of learning. The constructivist approach can be observed in the situation where teacher stimulated the children to name the object associated with the activity they were more curious about along with it developing oral English. It should be noted that she did not give direct instructions with demonstration how to form a sentence but enabled them to pronounce their own phrase and comparing with others to eliminate mistakes within communication. Children were asked to construct blocks without any limits for tries and without any direct guideline. The constructive method is exceptionally used at this school and its advantages were explained in the following way:
"When you let children build their own structures they will sometimes come up with things that the teacher would never even think of" (Meyer & Muller 1990, p.17).
This example perfectly serves to demonstrate that children have not less interest than real scientists to explore the world from their own environment and experience. Thus, if a parent orients on constructivism, he teaches the child without direct commands and performs a role rather of an assistant keeping an eye on the situation than a concrete tutor teaching according to a certain plan.
The approach to discipline question was also purely constructivist: according to Japanese pre-school policy it was allowed and even recommended for boys to fight. This fact is motivated by male nature and the alternative way and experience to solve problems. Although some critics may call it a simple negligence and carelessness, the teacher of Japanese pre-school went on allowing children act as they want and watching them closely so that such interpretation of the constructivist approach could remain safe and effective. However, here it is easy to notice the overuse of constructivism and its adopting it to national traditions and reality.
Within the episode from the Chinese school (Dong-feng) where a teacher gave specific guideline and time limits for the task to construct blocks. There were no engaging reinforcements for those who managed (in contrast to the situation in the American school). All this gave an impression that the teacher pursued the aim to teach children how to follow a model with no options for creative self-expression or the display of individual thinking.
Thus, the behaviourist theory is more "repetitive" as it is mainly targeted at exercise practice as a pillar learning principle (Meyer & Muller 1990, p.18). In contrast to constructivism, variation in the direction to the learning point is not acceptable. The use of the pure approach of behaviourist approach in Chinese school reflects the overall educational tendency: teachers envision the main pedagogical goal to correct the mistakes in child education cultivated by parents with "excessive attention and spoiling" (Meyer & Muller 1990, p.18).
Socio-cultural learning approach.
Socio-cultural approach is concentrated on interconnection of social and individual factors in the process of knowledge acquiring (Clay & Cazden 1990, p.206). It was a Russian scientist L. S. Vygotsky who was the first to develop and implement the socio-cultural approach to learning and development. The essence of the theory lies on the idea that human actions exist only in cultural framework, are intervening of language system. Socio-cultural approach is believed to be better "when investigated it its historical development" (Forman & McPhail 1993, p.213).
Vygotsky rejected prevailing theories at his period the core of which was the split of two notions, development and learning. He considered development and learning to be an indivisible process with a birth starting point.
The scholar did not accept the concept of development by Piaget who regarded development as a prerequisite to learning and suggested his own assertions:
"learning awakens a variety of internal developmental processes that are able to operate only when the child is interacting with people in his environment and in cooperation with his peers" (qtd. in Larger 1991, p.8);
"learning is not development; however, properly organized learning results in mental development and sets in motion a variety of developmental processes that would be impossible apart from learning" (qtd. in Larger 1991, p.8).
To provide the essential explanation how process of social learning goes on, the scholar introduced the notion of "the zone of proximal development (ZPD)" (Moll & Whitmore 1993, p.20). It can be defined as a distance between the current development level of a person and the potential one which reachable through guidance of a teacher or more-gifted peer in problem-solving situations (Larger 1991, p.9).
Thus, through the notion of ZPD, there was synthesized a concept of learning as "interactive, distributed and contextual taking place in a community's environment" (Forman & McPhail 1993, p.216).
Further on, socio-cultural theory was developed and there was suggested by Ann Brown that:
"active agents within the zone of proximal development "can include people, adults and children, with various degrees of expertise, but it can also include artifacts, such as books, videos, wall displays, scientific equipment and a computer environment intended to support intentional learning" (Clay & Cazden 1990, p.206).
In the context of ZPD, the scholar Brown explored how a classroom could serve as a learning community where each member contributed to his/her environmental cooperators in the learning process despite the obvious discrepancies in level of awareness (Moll & Whitmore 1993, p.24). The socio-cultural theory touches upon "reciprocal teaching" which presupposes the corresponding interchange of roles between a teacher and a learner in the course of the constructive dialogue. In this theory a teacher performs in his/her turn a role of a teacher that has analogy with neither behaviorist nor constructivist theories.
The premise of the process of "co-construction of knowledge" which is also associated with "collaborative learning" has a crucial impact on the development of the pedagogical educational process nowadays (Larger 1991, p.14). With regard to the leading point of cooperative learning, double-sided research, a teacher is expected to initiate the environment conductive for knowledge interchange. For instance, a parent who teaches how to solve jigsaw puzzles is likely ask a child how he/she thinks it is possible to do a puzzle and obviously will participate in the process as not only as a tutor but also as a partner engaged in joint discovery.
Socio-cultural key ideas reflect the necessity to establish an adequate educational reform taking in account of historical, economical political, cultural and other factors in the society, in the result of which the interests of all students would be satisfied.
Vygotsky's assertion about "spontaneous and scientific concept" elucidates the interlacement of a child's concepts (also defined as "everyday concepts")formed out of deliberate explanation of a teacher and those which overlapped with "teacher's explicit instruction" (Larger 1991, p.24). The evidence for this interdependence shows how it is important to enable a student to feel free to acquire and express his/her own assumption and speculation from the environment:
"We believe that the two processes -- the development of spontaneous and of non spontaneous concepts -- are related and constantly influence each other. They are parts of a single process: the development of concept formation which is affected by varying external and internal conditions but is essentially a unitary process, not a conflict of antagonistic, mutually exclusive forms of thinking" (qtd. in Forman & McPhail 1993, p.225)
Therefore, here it is possible to see certain similarities of the constructivist approaches and those of the socio-cultural theory. However, the roles the participants are involved in the educational and learning process dramatically differs: constructivist teacher is to perform a role of an assistant who solely orientates the flow of the process. It is rather experience that modifies a child's concepts up to the widely accepted than the explicit instruction of a teacher how it exactly happens in educational interaction between socio-cultural teacher and his/her student. In contrast, a behaviourist teacher is a leader a student must follow in virtual monologue of one personage - a teacher of behaviourist model of the learning process. These roles of the participants reflect the overall flow of learning defined by either a pure approach associated with behaviourist, constructivist, socio-cultural traditions or their balanced fusion.
In conclusion, our aim was to compare the approaches to learning based on behaviourist, constructivist, socio-cultural philosophical theories with regard to their differences and similarities. Accordingly, what method would be more appropriate in the case of the child his parent aspiring to teach him to solve jigsaw puzzles? There is no absolutely correct answer to the question. A teacher should find a "golden mean", a method to amalgamate wisely the most optimal aspects of each theory in a certain component of educational process to attain the fertile learning environment and effective results.