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The problem of accounting knowledge, how the individuals develop knowledge, from which phases evolve, and to determine the causes, is a topic that has interested human beings for a long time.
In the evolution of the theories of learning, it is worth mentioning Greek philosophers, Plato and Aristotle, whose theories were based in idealism and realism. The Sophist, who presented themselves as "Knowledge Masters" or Socrates, who defined himself as a simple man "searching for wisdom". It can be said that their thoughts and believes have been the supporting columns for all the current theories.
The definition of learning is very complex; and there are different views as well as many definitions. Learning is a process in which a new behaviour is acquired; amending/changing the previous behaviour or even ending it, always as a result of experience or practice. Learning is the adaptation of living organisms to survive environmental changes. Maturing is necessary to learn and adapt to the environment in the appropriately manner.
Various theories help us to understand, predict and control human behaviour, developing learning strategies and trying to explain how individuals access knowledge.
Lakatos (1978) believes that a new theory is imposed on existing theories, when apart from stating the relevant facts explained by the previous theories; it successfully faces some of the anomalies which were not previously recognised. But when do we know a theory is better than another?
This essay is a journey through some theories of learning (The traditional Behaviourism and Constructivism and the newcomer Connectivism) where questions will be answered and analysed. Discussing the implications of each theory on classroom practice will consider why they can work to increase learning, but also examining their hindrances to learning.
THEORIES OF LEARNING
There are several theories of learning and the following four are probably the most important:
Behaviourism is a worldview that assumes a learner is essentially passive, responding to environmental stimuli. The learner begins as a clean slate and behaviour is shaped through either positive or negative reinforcement.
Key proponents of behaviourism include Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov 1897 - 1902 (Pavlov's Dogs), American psychologist Edward Thorndike 1874 - 1949 (Operant conditioning within Behaviourism) or American psychologist B. Skinner 1904 - 1990 (Operant Conditioning).
Humanism, a paradigm that emerged in the 1960s, focuses on the human freedom, dignity, and potential of human beings. A central assumption of humanism, according to Huitt (2001), is that people act with intentionality and values.
Key proponents of humanism include American psychologist Carl Rogers 1902 - 1987 (Nineteen propositions), American psychologist Abraham Maslow 1908 - 1970 (Hierarchy of needs) or Brazilian educationalist Paulo Freire 1921 - 1997 (Pioneer of adult literacy programmes).
Cognitivism focuses on the inner mental activities, opening the "black box" of the human mind is valuable and necessary for understanding how people learn. Mental processes such as thinking, memory, knowing, and problem-solving need to be explored.
Key proponents of cognitivism include German professor August Köhler 1866 - 1948 (Gestalt), Swiss developmental psychologist and philosopher Jean Piaget 1896 - 1980 (Epistemological studies with children) or American psychologist Jerome Bruner 1915 (Cognitive development of children).
Constructivism states that learning is an active, contextualised process of constructing knowledge rather than acquiring it. Knowledge is constructed based on personal experiences and hypotheses of the environment. Learners continuously test these hypotheses through social negotiation.
Key proponents of constructivism included Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky 1896 - 1934 (Zone of Proximal Development), American philosopher, psychologist and educational reformer John Dewey 1859 - 1952 (Influential ideas in education and social reform) or American educational theorist David Kolb 1939 (Learning Style Inventory).
Behaviourism implications in the classroom
According to Behaviourist theory, learning occurs when two premises are met. Firstly the learner is actively engaged and secondly the learner's activity is reinforced by a reward immediately. (Sotto, 2007: 35). When the reward is pleasurable, it strengthens behaviour, while unpleasant consequences, or punishers, weaken behaviour. (Skinner 1974 in Elliott 2007: 48).
The implication of Behaviourism in my subject/specialist area (First Aid) is the introduction of programmed manuals and routine skills. These take the form of several scenarios or specific questions followed by single or multiple choice answers and repetitive exercises respectively. If the answers are correct or routines well executed, such as CPR (Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation) the learners are praised, "Passed". If incorrect they are instructed to begin again, "Failed". Through this process the learner is active and there is an immediate reinforcement of correct responses. However, this is accepted as too mechanical and ignorant of meaning and therefore not enforced in schools over a longer period of time. (Sotto, 2007: 36, 40).
Despite this, the idea of rewards and active learning are prevalent in education today and has proved highly beneficial. Wittrock (1986) has emphasised active learning as key to the learning of pupils. Wittrock claimed that classroom learning best occurred when pupils formed relationships between themselves and what they are trying to learn. He suggests that pupils learn about stories by relating them to their own life experiences and goes on to give the example that geographical ideas are adapted through being linked to field trip experiences. (Wittrock, 1986). This suggests that it is through active learning that the mind will be able to learn what is new and for this to happen links must be made to the world that exists for the pupil. Active learning is advocated by Behaviourism and has been seen to make the learning experience enjoyable and relatable. This allows pupils to have some grasp on the new concepts they are learning as well as an idea that it is attainable. (Cullingford, 1995: 8).
Constructivism implications in the classroom
"Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn."
According to Constructivist theory, learning occurs when it involves actively constructing our own meanings; this literally involves the construction of connections between neurones. We invent our own concepts and ideas, linked to what we already know (Petty 2009).
Knowledge is not discovered anymore, but built: learners build their knowledge from their own way of thinking and interpreting information. Taking this perspective into account, learners are responsible individuals who are actively involved in their learning process.
First Aid is a set of knowledge and skills to help and support individuals in an emergency situation. In first Aid classes learners are grouped in different working groups. Students learn under the guidance of the companions of different things, and each student has equal opportunity to express their ideas.
The implication of Constructivism in my subject/specialist area (First Aid) occurs as soon as learners are encourage to speak, express and discuss their thoughts and opinions, such as "The role and boundaries of First Aiders" even if they right or wrong. In this type of situations learners are able to explore and resolve problems. Eventually all learners join the discussion. Active learning is promoted by encouraging learners to share their thoughts with others, emphasising on important points, correcting mistakes and/or modifying attitudes.
Due to the limited number of hours, and in order to increase opportunities for students in simulation training such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation, group exercises and practise scenarios are key in order to encourage group work and the use of peers as resources (collaborative learning).
Connectivism and IT implications in the classroom
Connectivism posits that knowledge is distributed across networks and the act of learning is largely one of forming a diverse network of connections and recognizing attendant patterns (Siemens, 2005). As Cronon (1998) states, "More than anything else, being an educated person means being able to see connections so as to be able to make sense of the world and act within it in creative ways"
This requires learners to have IT knowledge and skills that will allow them to interact with the new technologies. With the World Wide Web (WWW) has emerged a "virtual" global library interconnected geographically where teachers and students can "surf" the Internet in search of information. The teacher's role is to facilitate learners and provide them with the right guidance, lead and support.
The World Wide Web informs, but it does not transform. The human being is the one who seeks, searches, builds, produces, and gathers the dispersed information, shaping it within the brain. In addition, learners have access to information but not knowledge. Learning is not the same with the new technologies; it is primarily a teaching communication tool.
Nowadays personal computers, laptops, netbooks, tablets and mobile phones have become learning facilitating tools, as they possess knowledge capabilities and better approaches to its best use. Even in such a new platform as Android OS new, and extremely useful learning resources and apps have been developed for First Aid providers and learners such as British Red Cross First Aid app, Saint John's Ambulances First Aid app and eTriage app developed specifically for Emergency Services staff members. Classic classroom delivery, the World Wide Web and IT (Software and Hardware) complement each other in order to reach a common goal, to successfully lead learners to the stage where active learning can occur effectively.
Millions of words have been written about theories of learning; these fill the pages of hundreds of books, articles and journals related to education and classroom practice. Each one presents its own definition of learning, offers different reasons of how people learn and show the different processes involved in learning. However, what unites these theories is their aim to provide a guide to strong teaching practice that will lead to an improvement in the knowledge of learners. (Sotto, 2007: 126).
The theories of learning are not engraved in stone and the strengths and weaknesses of each are fully transparent. They are responsible for interpreting, from the individual's point of view, how the learning process happens; in other words, they define how and what happens to the individual during and after the learning processes. These theories consist of limited and incomplete approximations of phenomena representation. Therefore it is possible to understand that in real life, concepts of one and another theory can be applied accordingly, depending on the intended purposes and situations.
Consequently, theories of learning place learners in a particular position and depending on the theory, the learning either happens to the learner by an outside force "Behaviourism", or it is something they do themselves as a result of internal processes or practice "Constructivism or Connectivism". Whilst this is not the only way in which a learner can learn, the majority of learning theories aim to lead learners to the stage where they can use the learning tools they have acquired on their own to create/develop their own way of learning.
Each learner has individual needs and slightly different ways of learning and it is because of this individuality that there will always come a time when learning theories fail to enhance any sort of learning. (Sotto, 2007: 127). This suggests that for there to be an effective use made of theories of learning they should be used simultaneously, drawing on the benefits and overcoming the limitations of each. (Sotto, 2007: 134).
Although theories of learning comprise a diverse set of theoretical frameworks which often share aspects and issues or even pose absolutely contradictory postulates, the contribution made to education is invaluable. Today, the best of each of these theories is used to develop and produce a learning system that is best suited to the real needs of students, communities, and society.