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The importance of learning as a process has been an area of research for years. The ultimate goal remains to discover the best ways to learn, so as to enable humankind to learn more effectively (Reigeluth, 1999). A revolution is taking place in education, one that addresses philosophies on how to teach, the relationship between teacher and student, on the way the classroom is structured, and the nature of the curriculum. At the heart of this revolution is a powerful pedagogy, one that has been developing over the past century. It embraces social issues, the culture of the classroom, life-long learning concerns and, last but not least, technology (Norman & Spoher, 1996, para. 1). There are three main theoretical perspectives that make up the Learning Revolution:
Behaviourism: primarily concerned with objective, observable events (stimuli, responses, reinforces).
Cognitivism: primarily concerned with mental processes such as thinking, problem-solving, perception, and decision-making.
Constructivism and all its derivatives (Lefrancois, 1995).
Other modern theories, such as accelerated learning, have based some of their assumptions on the above group of theories.
This learning theory emerged in the 1930s, based on Skinner's research first with animals and then with humans. Skinner (1938) concluded that a child has a relatively passive nature and is shaped by external factors, such as the environment, in the form of operant conditioning. He asserted that if the occurrence of an operant behaviour is reinforced by the presence of a reinforcing stimulus, the operant behaviour is strengthened. This is the stimuli-response-reinforcement conceptualisation of learning (Figure 1). Reinforcement can be a reward or a positive commentary. According to Skinner, learning is therefore determined by reinforcement and punishment based on stimuli and responses.
Figure 1. Stimuli reinforcement model (Skinner 1938)
Behavioural instruction involves the elaboration of objectives and provides the necessary path and strategies for the subject to reach these objectives. Assessment is based on the fulfilment of these objectives (Braden, 1996). Gagné (1985) goes further by suggesting that different kinds of instructional goals and different strategies are required in order to achieve learning. Behavioural instruction involves:
Drill and practice environments, such as laboratories for language instruction or some edutainment products.
The teaching of psychomotor activities like driving, typing, or playing musical instruments.
The creation of mathematical formulas or models for quantitative descriptions.
1.7.i Derived Perspectives
Different perspectives have emerged from within behaviourism, such as objectivism, social learning theory, and instructionism. Objectivism relates to the idea of an objective reality that goes beyond the learner (Duffy & Jonnassen, 1991). Mathematical instruction, which is considered objective and universal, falls into this type of conception. In objectivism, knowledge splits from the process of knowing (Reeves & Reeves, 1997). Social learning theory adds to behaviourism the notion of imitation as a form of learning. This theory indicates that children tend to select both whom to imitate and which behaviours to imitate (Bandura, 1977). Instructionism comes from a behavioural perspective. The learner is a passive recipient of information, with a teacher-centred approach.
A fundamental criticism of behaviourism is that by focusing solely on measurable behaviours and skills, it fails to acknowledge the existence of internal cognitive processes (Venezky & Osin, 1991). It was only through the work of scientists such as Piaget that a new perspective emerged in the 1960s (Kail & Cavanaugh, 2004).
Cognitivist learning theories relate to internal mental processes. The word cognition indicates a learning experience whereby knowledge is built up. From a cognitivist perspective, the mental methods employed in problem-solving are the fundamental means of learning. The focus is on what learners know and how they learned what they know rather than on their behavioural responses.
1.8.i Origins of Cognitivism
Cognitivist theories are deeply rooted in the work of the Swiss scientist Jean Piaget, whose research on human development dates back to the 1920s. Piaget concluded that children make sense of their world in a natural way. His main thesis is that a child builds his/her own understandings through a variety of channels such as reading, listening, exploring, and experiencing their own environment (Piaget, 1950). The intelligence of a child matures with the growth of their mental structure or schemata. This mental structure or schemata acts as a tool in the process of adaptation to the environment. From the first day of birth, all babies reflect their environment. The moment a specific stimulus is presented the infant reacts to it (Dacey & Travers, 1996). Child behaviour emulates that of a researcher who creates a hypothesis about a specific event or stimulus. Once the stimulus repeats, the child tests its validity by mentally comparing it to the previous case. If the child's assumption is proved correct, then his/her belief in the hypothesis increases. When their expectations are not met, they revise their hypotheses accordingly. Piaget's (1950) ideas go further, by considering the existence of certain stages wherein the child reviews all of his/her assumptions in a radical way. These changes are schematised in Table 2.
Table 2. Piaget's stages of cognitive development
Birth to two years
Child's understanding of the world comes from sensory and motor skills.
First mental schemas appear at the end of this stage.
two to seven years
Child commences to use symbols like words and numbers. They answer to objects and events based on how they appear to be in their own perspective.
seven to 11 years
Child commences to think in a logical way by applying logical operations.
11 years and beyond
Child begins to think in an abstract manner. Thought is systematic and speculative in relation to possible outcomes.
Note (Piaget, 1950)
In PiagetÂ´s view, a child develops through each of these stages until they reach a level where they reason in a logical manner. The child progresses to each stage in a linear way and there is no regression among stages. Advancement through each stage is achieved by organisation and adaptation. Organisation happens in a natural way and enables the individual to organise their schemata more efficiently. Schemata are constantly reorganised, and as new schemata are acquired, they come to be integrated into pre-existing ones. Adaptation involves two complementary processes:
Assimilation: in which new external experiences are integrated into existing schemata.
Accommodation: whereby existing schemata are modified to accord with new external experiences (Dacey & Travers, 1996).
1.8.ii Derived Perspectives
Cognitivist theories focus on mental processes as the central factor in learning activity. Researchers like Newell and Simon (1972) postulate that the human brain resembles a computer and can be represented as an information processing system. According to this perspective, the mental hardware is memory, where information is stored. The mental software includes groups of cognitive processes that enable the achievement of specific tasks (Kail & Cavanaugh, 2004). Mental hardware and software get progressively better as the child grows older, until the point where deterioration sets in due to the ageing process (Kail & Cavanaugh, 2004).
Gagné and Glasser (1987) expanded Newell and Simon's model by proposing that human learning takes the form of an information-processing model. Information or input accesses the human brain through human receptors. Incoming information is momentarily stored in short-term memory. Short-term memory has a section for working memory where data is retrieved from long-term memory and then compared to the new information which has been allocated to primary memory on a temporary basis. This process of integration with existing knowledge takes place after the matching and pattern recognition process. Expansion of this model has influenced other fields. Research into human information processing has led to advancements in the field of artificial intelligence, for example (Kail & Cavanaugh, 2004).
Behaviourism and cognitivism can be found together in certain conditions. Automaticity, for example, contains both learning processes. Automaticity relates to the dual capacity to perform a skill unconsciously, accurately, and rapidly, while consciously executing other mental activities at the same time (Bloom, 1986). It involves practice and the related automatisation of this activity to the memory. As Logan and Etherton put it:
"Novice performance is based on some kind of algorithmic computation. With practice, over the course of automatisation, the algorithm drops out and memory retrieval takes over. Automatisation is a transition from algorithm-based performance to memory based-performance" (Logan & Etherton, 1999, p. 166).
Constant practice and training produces the automaticity of the specific sub-skills needed to perform better. Once automaticity is achieved, these sub-skills occur without conscious attention, as in the case of arithmetical reasoning. Maintaining automaticity requires constant use rather than any special type of practice (Bloom, 1986).
Logan and Etherton (1999) indicate that "constant training under consistent mapping produces the changes associated with automatisation: a reduction in reaction time, a reduction in load effects and a reduction in dual-task interference" (p. 169). Consistent mapping is achieved by keeping the target categories intact throughout the training process (Logan & Etherton, 1999). During automatisation new knowledge is acquired through controlled processing. Controlled processing overloads the working memory through a process of cognitive loading, thereby leaving no space for higher order learning activities (Schneider & Chein, 2003). Overlearning, by means of constant mapping, training, and practice, then permits the transfer of the acquired knowledge from the working, short-term memory to long-term memory (Figure 2), and its rapid and efficient retrieval when needed (Samuels & Flor, 1997).
Figure 2. Automaticity model
There is no new knowledge in automatic processing; all new knowledge comes through controlled processing. Automaticity creates expertise through practice and is evident in sports, and in manual activities such as riding a bicycle, or learning how to drive a car. Automaticity also suits basic arithmetic instruction. Research indicates that automaticity in basic arithmetic operations, such as adding and subtracting, is highly desirable in order to achieve better results at more advanced levels such as algebra (Tournaki, 2003).
I selected automaticity as the learning theory to embed in the e-Ludic learning environment, because addition was the subject that needed to be delivered through this environment. Basic numerical addition was selected because this was the content that the people from Digital Puebla deemed as being of highest priority. However, the e-Ludic model can involve any learning theory depending on the nature of the content and the nature of the learner. E-ludic learning is learning theory neutral and depends on the user's learning style.
In the specific case of cognitivism, it is important to acknowledge the fact that it provides a deep understanding of how humans learn and the internal process that take place inside the brain. Cognitivistic instruction and learning design must consider:
That the learner brings different previously learned experiences that may affect the outcome of the new learning situation.
What is the best way to organise and structure new knowledge so as to tap into the learner's prior knowledge?
Providing learning feedback so the learner can accommodate new knowledge within their prior mental structure.
Cognitivistic thinking expanded in the 1960s with the emergence of a new learning
theory, constructivism, again based on PiagetÂ´s research results. Constructivism places greater emphasis on the subjective nature of the learning process, and acknowledges some of Piaget's critics in relation to the lack of consideration given to those cognitive tools inherited from our cultural past and our social setting (Egan, 1997).