Learning Theory Within The Practice Of Instructional Design Education Essay

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This article presumes five learning theories and the theorist who created them. It analyzes their work, strategies and how they can be incorporated in the Science Instructions arena. The main aim it to conclude which theory is best suitable for science teaching. There are among us several teachers having their very own method of teaching, likewise an abundant group of students who learn differently and they should be able to work hand in hand to insure maximum success of understanding what is being taught and learnt. There is a place for each learning theory within the practice of instructional design. A well articulated response was gathered from books, articles and online journals.


The introductory of science at the primary level is a natural pre-cursor to creating a scientifically capable population. The methods of science teaching allow children to discover and construct knowledge of the natural and physical world, and are therefore well matched to the natural curiosity and questioning nature of children and the world around them. It is a fact that children always wants to know more, therefore we must be able to facilitate this need of wanting to know about everything around them. Knowing each learning theory and how they work will enable us to determine which methods will be best for learning science to take place.

A learning theory is an attempt to describe how people and animals learn; thereby helping us understands the inherently complex process of attaining knowledge. Theories seldom have to be thrown out completely if thoroughly tested but sometimes a theory may be widely accepted for a long time and later disproved. The theories do not give us solutions, but they do direct our attention to those variables that are crucial in finding solutions. Behaviourism focuses only on the objectively observable aspects of learning. Cognitive theories look beyond behaviour to explain brain-based learning. Humanism is a philosophy approach that believes learning is viewed as a personal act to fulfil one's potential. The Multiple Intelligence suggests that the traditional notion of intelligence, based on I.Q. testing, is far too limited. And constructivism views learning as a process in which the learner actively constructs or builds new ideas or concepts. Brain based approaches emphasizes the teachers should create a comfortable and productive atmosphere to facilitate learning. The child learns when his or her needs are met and teacher are encourage to allow students to use all of their intelligences mostly being activately involved, physically and mentally as much as possible.

As teachers we must strive to develop aspects such as scientific capability, competence, the ability to investigate scientifically, curiosity and inquiry, understanding, and the way science works, in our children. We must also take into consideration that learning is a process of experience and discovery which helps us to understand everything around us and enables us to apply the acquired knowledge in new situations.

Sometimes it may become difficult for us to choose a single learning theory that would fit the needs of all our students; we must therefore understand them in order to meet their needs. We must find the perfect theory that would enhance our student's learning.


Behaviourism is a learning theory that focuses on objectively behaviours and discounts any independent activities of the mind. Behaviour theorists define learning as nothing more than "the acquisition of new behaviour based on environmental conditions". Behaviourism focuses on a new behavioural pattern being repeated until it becomes automatic.

The theory of behaviourism concentrates on the study of overt behaviours that can be observed and measured (Good & Brophy, 1990). It views the mind as a "black box" in the sense that response to stimulus can be observed quantitatively, totally ignoring the possibility of thought processes occurring in the mind. Some key players in the development of the behaviourist theory were Pavlov, Watson, Thorndike and Skinner. Teaching methods in behaviourism are devised with a view to rewarding desirable behaviour and punishing undesirable learning behaviour by means of a reward and punishment system of evaluation using average points or grades.

A teacher is made to believe that they are the primary authorities and judges the assessment of learning. They decide what children should learn and how much. They emphasise the mechanics of textbook knowledge and encourage rote memorisation. They encourage learners to depend on extrinsic motivation in their pursuit for good grades for good learning behaviours and learners are encouraged to learn for someone else- parents, teachers, school and society. There is little or no concern for the learner's active participation in the learning process.

Behaviourism in science is disqualified from making valid conclusions about an individual's potential for attaining optimal positive education because they fail to recognize the most important aspects of science nature. Behaviourism in science and behavioural psychology ignore the other psychologies. Consequently they ignore those dimensions of consciousness which originate in the individual's thoughts and feelings. They fail to recognize the validity of the individual's subjective experience.  They do not acknowledge the individual's potential for attaining a level of awareness which is needed for the educational benefits of consciousness.  

I believe that behaviourism will have a negative impact on science teaching because students will not get the main concepts of experiments and they will not get an understanding in depth of the subject because of the fact that they just regurgitate what the teacher teaches. They will not get the opportunity to figure things out for themselves; they are basically "spoon fed".


The Theory of Cognitive Development, first developed by Jean Piaget, proposes that this learning theory of psychology attempts to explain human behaviour by understanding the thought processes. The assumption is that humans are logical beings that make the choices that make the most sense to them. "Information processing" is a commonly used description of the mental process, comparing the human mind to a computer. This theory is assisted by

Social Cognitive Theory is a subset of cognitive theory which focuses on the ways in which we learn to model the behaviour of others. Students learn by observing their teachers, a process known as vicarious learning, not only through their own direct experiences. Although learning can modify behaviour, students do not always apply what they have learned. Individual choice is based on perceived or actual consequences of behaviour. Children are more likely to follow the behaviours modelled by someone with whom they can identify. Self-efficacy is a fundamental belief in one's ability to achieve a goal. If you believe that you can learn new behaviours, you will be much more successful in doing so.

High level thinking skills, such as problem solving and analysis, are often thought to be too abstract and difficult for students especially with learning problems, even though they are an important part of a constructivist curriculum. However, with some additional guidance and preparation, it is possible and in fact beneficial to emphasize these skills with such students. This will greatly assist students in developing critical problem solving skills as well as analytical skills.

In applying this approach teachers must communicate clear goals and objective meaning at the beginning of the lesson the students should know what they are expected to accomplish at the end of the lesson. We also need to remember as teachers that materials that are not attended cannot be processed and retrieved; therefore, we must include attention-getting devices. Information should be well organized so that the students can make rational links their previous knowledge.

Information when teaching Science lessons should be presented through different media e.g. video tapes, live models and manipulation of physical objects in order to encode information into the long term memory. In the teaching of Science there are lots of experiments, projects and hands on activities therefore this will allow the opportunity for discovery learning. Discovery learning provides students in being autonomous and self-directed learners and this is what science is all about.

All students learn and interpret information differently; therefore we should help students understand that different viewpoints of the same phenomena exist and that they can often be reconciled to produce a broader understanding. Teacher should provide enough support, through devices such as explanations, modelling, prompting and discovery learning.

Most importantly teacher need to practice what they preach because they are perceived by students as being competent, in high status occupation, and having power, their behaviours are likely to be noticed and imitated.


Constructivism is based on the premise that we all construct our own perspective of the world, through individual experiences and schema. Constructivism focuses on preparing the learner to problem solve in ambiguous situations. One of the well known theorists Jerome Bruner contributions from the 1960s was the concept of discovery learning (Snowman, McCown, Biehler, 2009, pp237). According to Bruner, the teacher must try and encourage students to construct hypotheses, make decisions and discover principles by themselves. The instructor task is also to "translate information to be learned into a format appropriate to the learner's current state of understanding and organise it in a spiral manner so that the students builds upon what they have already learned." Bruner (1996, as cited in Kearsley 1994b) states that the theory of instruction should address the following aspects:

1. The most effective sequences in which to present material.

2. The ways in which a body of knowledge should be structured so that it can most readily be grasped by the learner.

The Assumptions of Constructivism - Merrill

knowledge is constructed from experience

learning is a personal interpretation of the world

learning is an active process in which meaning is developed on the basis of experience

conceptual growth comes from the negotiation of meaning, the sharing of multiple perspectives and the changing of our internal representations through collaborative learning

learning should be situated in realistic settings; testing should be integrated with the task and not a separate activity (Merrill, 1991)

In a science classroom teachers can use the constructivist theory to enhance meaningful learning by; arranging the learning situation so that students are exposed to different perspectives on a problem or an issue, this can be done by asking students to discuss familiar topics or those that are matters of opinion and by providing background information by asking students to conduct a part of research etc. Also by structuring discussions by posing a specific question relating to the topic. Have all class discussions; ask questions and probe for information. (Snowman, McCown, Biehler, 2009, pp244)


The proponents of this theory are Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow. Humanism, a model that emerged in the 1960s, focuses on the human freedom, dignity, and potential. This is in contrast to the behaviourist notion of operant conditioning (which argues that all behaviour is the result of the application of consequences) and the cognitive psychologist belief that the discovering knowledge or constructing meaning is central to learning.

Humanists also believe that it is necessary to study the person as a whole, especially as an individual grows and develops over the lifespan. It follows that the study of the self, motivation, and goals are areas of particular interest. In humanism, learning is student centred and personalized, and the educator's role is that of a facilitator.

Multiple Intelligences

Psychologist Howard Gardner of Harvard advanced the theory of Multiple Intelligences (MI) in the 1980s and that theory has attracted widespread interest among educators. The basic idea is straightforward: each individual has several intellectual potentials and diverse talents.

Originally, Gardner defined 7 intelligence arenas:

- Linguistic ‹ involved in writing, reading, telling stories, doing crossword puzzles.

- Logical-Mathematical ‹ involved in interest in patterns, categories, relationships, math problems, strategy games, experiments.

- Bodily-Kinaesthetic ‹ involved in athletics, dancing, crafts (sewing, woodworking).

- Spatial ‹ involved in solving mazes and jigsaw puzzles, drawing, daydreaming.

- Musical ‹ involved in singing and making music; often discriminating listeners.

- Interpersonal ‹ involved in leadership skills, communication, understanding of other's feelings.

- Intrapersonal ‹ involved in self-motivation

Recently added:

- Naturalist ‹ involved in the awareness of surroundings.

-Existential intelligence

Gardner says that standardized tests focus primarily on two skills: linguistic and logical-mathematical. They virtually ignore other human intelligences: musical, spatial, bodily-kinaesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist. Standardized tests also "decontextuallize" learning, i.e., questions are removed from any real situation and are to be done without any help or tools. Most "real world" situations, however, require multiple approaches, tools, collaboration, and physical performance over time.

Intelligence is usually defined in terms of a person's ability to solve problems, use logic, and think critically. What has this got to do with "music and humour in the science classroom"? Music is a tool for a whole brain, multiple intelligences approach to teaching and learning. When listening to a song, the left brain (language, logic, mathematics, "academics") processes the lyrics, while the right brain (rhythm, rhyme, pictures, emotions, "creativity") processes the music. The WHOLE BRAIN is involved. In addition, creation of music (the writing of a song) directly addresses linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical, interpersonal, and intrapersonal intelligences. It is impossible for a teacher to plan lessons to facilitate all the different types of learners. I believe that we must get to know and understand each child so that we can compromise. We must use different strategies all the time, no one theory is the right one.

Robert Gagne

In 1962 Robert Gagne published Military Training and Principles of Learning in which he demonstrated a concern for the different levels of learning. His differentiation of psychomotor skills, verbal information, intellectual skills, cognitive strategies, and attitudes provides a companion to Bloom's Taxonomy. Later, he extended his thinking to include nine instructional events (The Conditions of Learning and the Theory of Instruction (1965)) that detail the conditions necessary for learning to occur. These events are still important for the basis for the design of instruction and the selection of appropriate media:

gain attention

tell learners the learning objective

stimulate recall

present the stimulus, content

provide guidance, relevance, and organization

elicit the learning by demonstrating it

provide feedback on performance

assess performance, give feedback and reinforcement

enhance retention and transfer to other contexts

Gagne also distinguished eight different classes of situations in which human beings learn:

Signal Learning - The individual learns to make a general, diffuse response to a signal. Such was the classical conditioned response of Pavlov.

Stimulus-Response Learning - The learner acquires a precise response to a discriminated stimulus.

Chaining - A chain of two or more stimulus-response connections is acquired.

Verbal Association - The learning of chains that are verbal.

Discrimination Learning - The individual learns to make different identifying responses to many different stimuli which may resemble each other in physical appearance.

Concept Learning - The learner acquires a capability of making a common response to a class of stimuli.

Rule Learning - A rule is a chain of two or more concepts.

Problem Solving - A kind of learning that requires the internal events usually called thinking.

Jerome Bruner

In the 1960s Jerome Bruner developed a theory of cognitive growth. His approach (in contrast to Piaget) looked to environmental and experiential factors.  Bruner suggested that intellectual ability developed in stages through step-by-step changes in how the mind is used. Its view of children as active problem-solvers who are ready to explore 'difficult' subjects while being out of step with the dominant view in education at that time, struck a chord with many.

Jerome Bruner writes, interest in the material to be learned is the best stimulus to learning, rather than such external goals as grades or later competitive advantage'. In an age of increasing spectatorship, 'motives for learning must be kept from going passive... they must be based as much as possible upon the arousal of interest in what there is be learned, and they must be kept broad and diverse in expression'. An implication of Bruner's developmental theories is that children should be provided with study materials, activities, and tools that are matched to and capitalise on their developing cognitive capabilities.

Brain based Approaches to learning

The Brain-based Learning Theory assumes that when the brain fulfils its normal processes, learning will occur. Proper nutrition, clean air and rested bodies are all normal processes. In education many students lack the basic needs and learning is greatly affected by this. Brain based is the newest theory it encompasses theories such as Multiples Intelligences, Meta -cognitive Reflection and Cooperative Learning. Brain based has twelve principles which focus on the brain functions of biological rules.

A student must have the basic need met and teachers must present meaningful lessons. The search for meaning is innate and students will want to learn. Brain based school encourage physical education, water breaks, rest periods and nutritional meals. Scientist will bridge physiology and how one learns more as scientific development occurs. As educators, students, parents understand the learning processes the more student will success. It is important to know how the brain works when planning lessons and figuring out how to most effectively teach. The brain based theory supports the importance of teaching to all the modalities. Having students use all their senses when engaging in learning. In addition, the importance of being mindful of the environment that is provided when teaching and the emotional state of the student.


Each teacher has his or her own teaching style and at the end of the day their students should have understood what was taught in the classroom. However one particular teaching style may not be convenient to teach all the subjects and topic within the school system since each child learns differently.

I believe that two best teaching styles are the constructivist approach as well as the cognitive approach. This is because these theories provides hands on activity and allows students to develop greater critical and problem solving skills. It allows the teacher to models important behaviours for students to better understand what is being taught.

In the teaching of Science there are lots of experiments, projects and hands on activities therefore this will allow the opportunity for discovery learning. Discovery learning provides students in being autonomous and self-directed learners and this is what science is all about. When students are actively involved in the lesson, they learn and retain the information.

It is also important that students learn to function in a team environment so that they will have teamwork skill when they enter the workforce. Many researches today tells us that students learn best from tasks that involve doing tasks and involve social interactions. These two theories provide the mean for team work and cooperative learning.

The best way for a person to learn depends on the person. It is well known that people have different leaning styles that work best for them. The best approach for an instructor to take is to address a variety of learning styles with their teaching plan.

It is also helpful to encourage students to understand their preferred leaning style. By the time students reach the college level it is often assumed that they have figured out the best and most productive way to study to retain information. Of course, this is not a correct assumption.

Teachers should make students aware of the various learning styles and encourage them to consider their preferred style as they complete their studies. The classroom environment can also have a big effect on the amount of learning that occurs.