The Spectrum Of Learning Theories Education Essay

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This assignment will evaluate the spectrum of learning theories and link this to personal school observation. Essential aspects of learning, such as personal, social and cultural will be considered for their effective presence in primary school teaching. Finally an opinion will be offered on the success of how current teaching and learning practice is catered for in our schools and clear links will be made to the standards throughout.

"Each child is different, so are their learning needs and it is incorrect to expect them to learn in a similar manner, like everyone else in the class. To bring the best out of children and help them in their learning process we need to be more aware." (Dasgupta, 2010)

Traditional education has evolved from the time when children sat facing teachers all day listening to streams of information, and clear awareness has developed of children learning in different ways and acceptance of the need to adapt teaching methods. Classroom constraints result in varying degrees of success, such an assessment culture frequently narrowing the field of teacher scope or a health and safety conscious system resulting in teachers reverting to cautious teaching strategies

The abundance of learning theories could cause confusion to teachers, but much of the theory is logical and there is much overlap. Differences do occur in the extent and depth of how far the theories go, but there is consensus in the range of learning styles. "According to researchers "learning styles" are simply ways in which individuals perceive and process information. Individuals are categorically divided in to three learning styles; visual, auditory and (sic) kinesthetic." (Dasgupta, 2010) Children generally learn in visual, auditory or kinaesthetic manners and in later life a combination of all three is more likely, although a preferred style will always remain, which is significant for teachers who should show awareness of this this in their planning. From the tests completed in SCITT, I clearly have a visual linguistic style- preferring to read, write and listen, so must be prepared to implement alternative styles in my teaching.

Much research goes further than these three styles, with Gardner suggesting 'Multiple Intelligences' adding many textured layers of learning. It is essential to appreciate these differences to be an effective teacher and learner and understand how external influences such as culture, language, social, religious and ethnicity impact on the conditions for learning. Every Child Matters (2004) created significant requirements in this thinking. Personal, Social and Emotional Aspects of learning (PSHE) will also influence how children learn.

There is much to consider in learning styles, but most important is for teachers to develop an awareness of the differences within children, which is echoed throughout research. Behind the complex theory is often a simple and logical concept which relates easily to the children a teacher will come to teach. "Understanding a child's needs and developing in him the love for learning is crucial to help him excel in everything that he does in life." (Dasgupta website, 2010)

How to recognise differences in learning styles is crucial for any teacher and can be a difficult task. Many teachers actually conduct a questionnaire, such as those available from business to establish a preferred learning style, which enables them to consider ways to tailor their teaching. Guiding children through the questions to enable them to analyse themselves is an effective tool, providing that they can respond to the format of the questions which is usually a written exercise. Classroom observation and assessment also provide invaluable information to accompany the questionnaire style, such as observing a child who struggles to concentrate on some or all activities could provide evidence to support the child's future learning (Q26b). Differentiation through lesson planning is a tangible way of meeting this need, and I have considered this in my lesson planning at Forest Fields. One example is planning a numeracy lesson, whereby tasks were set for kinaesthetic learners using physical objects, blocks and they were encouraged to draw their answers rather than writing their answers (Q 10, 8).These are only small steps, but represent an attempt at inclusivity. Inclusion and learning styles is evidenced by visual prompts such as the multi-lingual visual timetable, classroom displays in general- such as one on the Romans which introduced some physical examples of Roman artefacts such as pots, combs, coins and pictures which help bring learning alive for all children, therefore making it sensible standard practice, but especially helping kinaesthetic learners. Use of the interactive whiteboard helps the visual learners, alongside the classroom displays and the auditory learners will benefit from classroom discussion and just listening to the teacher and their peers.

Differentiation on multiple levels is essential for teachers and learners, however planning for different learning styles as well as abilities is difficult, as the tasks set might be hard to coordinate on so many levels. One observation is that the less able groups are frequently the kinaesthetic learners in any case. Or does this suggest that primary teaching is somehow failing these children by not addressing their preferred learning styles fully and assuming that these children are less able because they do not succeed in the more 'conventional ' visual and auditory methods. Most teachers I have discussed this with state that they simply attempt to allow a little of something in most of their lessons, but some lessons are naturally more disposed to kinaesthetic learners such as science which involves a degree of physical interaction. Could this mean that many scientists are kinaesthetic learners?

To enhance teaching practice, practitioners must be aware that how children are taught will impact on their future career choices and more importantly teachers should consider steering children who have a preferred learning style into more 'suitable' subjects. All children do not develop in the same manner. "Let's accept the fact that not everybody is gifted to be the next Isaac Newton or Einstein and we are equally in need of people like Milton, Mother Teresa and Sir Winston Churchill." (Dasgupta, 2010) Less dramatically, society also needs policemen, teachers, lawyers, retail workers and the range of careers evident today. Significantly teachers need to prepare children for careers that do not even exist today, so it is essential that children are equipped with diverse skill sets to apply in future roles. Understanding how children learn is therefore even more relevant to education than before. Gardner's Multiple Intelligences lend credence to this, with the individual learning traits directing children to career choices. For example, 'kinaesthetic' learners frequently become builders, soldiers, sports people, and those with the 'interpersonal' intelligences lean towards teaching, social work or political life, logical- mathematical learners might typically progress into engineering

The key learning theories stem back over centuries and their impact on classroom is still felt today. Much of what is written is clearly evident in daily teaching practice, although some does not appear to have filtered through effectively in standard practice.

Piaget, renowned for his study on developmental or constructivist theories is important to primary education as he directed teachers to "the possibility that children at different stages of cognitive development were interpreting experiences in different ways from adults." (Galloway, Edwards, 1991, p62) This has directly influenced pedagogy and provides a "justification for the age structure of the British School System." (Galloway, Edwards, 1991, p62) with stages of development starting with the Sensori-Motor Period linking to Infancy, the Pre-operational Period with Preschool and infant school and the Concrete Operative Period connected to Junior schools. Broadly this mirrors foundation and KS1 and KS2.

The processes of learning are an integral part of primary education and in particular 'assimilation' or how the mind accepts new information needs to be balanced by 'accommodation' or how the mind integrates and adapts the new information. Crucially Piaget emphasized the importance of play in learning and his "model places the child actively at the centre of his or her own learning." (Galloway, Edwards, 1991, p62) Essentially children are active learners and not just blindly receiving information and are "busy trying to understand the world and each experience results in changes in mental function." (Smidt, 2002, p3)

Essentially children understand new information to an extent to which they are developmentally capable, which forces teachers to reflect on the suitability of what they put before children (Q?)

Vygotsky builds on Piaget's concept stressing that children's learning is not just based on their maturity but also on their previous experience, and significantly the teacher is vital in enabling the children to learn.

The basis for this theory was that social interaction results in increased knowledge and it also changes children's thoughts and behaviour. Vygotsky believed that social exposure to a range of cultures expands children's broader knowledge, which is logical as the more experience we have the more we learn. Educators implore that the more children actually experience themselves the more they will remember; children remember their school play from 25 years ago, but might struggle to remember a numeracy lesson from 2 weeks ago. From some perspectives the amount of physical effort put into a lesson will result in better, more enduring learning and the more experience the child gets the rounder their knowledge of the world becomes.

Vygotsky promoted three learning styles, the first 'imitative' is simply when the learner copies from another person, either teacher or child, explaining why 'modelling' is such an integral part of any lesson planning. The teacher must show how something is done first to instil confidence, providing a visual reference point for children to draw upon before they apply the new knowledge themselves. The second method of learning is 'instructed' learning, whereby children literally follow the direction of the teacher to complete a task. Naturally mistakes can occur with this, as with other learning techniques but these are all part of the learning process. Finally, 'collaborative' learning is when children learn or perform tasks together, drawing from each other and discussing the way forward, which is evident in the group work of the 'apply' stage in many lessons.

Vygotsky's study of children talking to themselves to establish understanding is also interesting. Children are frequently heard rehearsing a task, or talking through the steps, reassuring themselves that are completing a task correctly. Generally older children and adults conduct such conversations internally as they get older, although many adults can be heard talking a through a particularly complex task to themselves. More commonly an adult will speak to another person to seek reassurance or merely internalize the conversation.

The "Zone of proximal development" refers to the time it takes children to become independent thinkers. At the start they learn from others, but over time they begin to learn and understand increasingly by themselves. Research shows that teachers will use two strategies to help children attain this level of learning independence; Scaffolding enables a pupil to solve a problem by taking a step by step approach which builds knowledge and confidence in a supportive manner; reciprocal teaching which is less evident in primary education, allows open conversation between child and teacher to such extent that the child effectively takes control of their own teaching. This can occur only when the restrictive curriculum allows effective debate to take place between teacher and pupil which rarely happens due to time constraints on this style of more open, relaxed teaching.

For Vygotsky's theory to be effective in practice, children must therefore be exposed to genuine diversity of experience which tests them in new ways "Guiding children to look for answers by imitating what they see in others, listening to instruction and working as part of a group all provide opportunities for them to expand their current base of knowledge." (Kid's Development Website, 2010) Clearly this is something that primary education aspires to, but many feel this is rarely achieved.


Maslow starts at an earlier point with his theory beginning with the physical state of learners with the central concept being that learners must satisfy their most basic human needs before any future higher level needs can be addressed.

Maslow's theory revolved around a 'Hierarchy of Needs' where the central concept was to address the most basic need prior to progressing to the next, less physically necessary, but more intellectually aspirational level. The base level, 'Physiological' is to secure food, water, air and sleep amongst other basic needs. Naturally a tired child is less ready to learn than a refreshed energised child, and one who is hungry will struggle to concentrate, which is why detractors of the National Curriculum are frustrated by the fact that many subjects not deemed to be core subjects are demoted to the afternoon, when the child is naturally less attentive. 'Safety' relates to a secure environment and good health, so it is clear that an unsettled child will not prioritise learning over emotional wellbeing and feeling of security. Following this is 'Belonging' which is particularly essential to young children as this increases feelings of security. 'Esteem' which when lacking has a huge impact on a child's ability to learn imbuing a child with respect of self and others, sense of achievement and confidence. The final level is when true exposure to learning can take place. If all the other levels are in place, then the growth level of 'Self-actualization' can take place- included in this is morality, creativity and the ability to solve problems.

"The highest level is self-actualization or the self-fulfillment (sic). Behavior (sic) in this case is not driven or motivated by deficiencies but rather one's desire for personal growth and the need to become all the things that a person is capable of becoming (Maslow, 1970)." (

Maslow's theory is clearly evident in how the school day is structured, how classroom's are arranged, break times, snack time and anti- bullying policies and the five principles of Every Child Matters which sets out the way to keep children, safe, healthy and the progresses to aspirations of achievement and financial security.


The 'Multiple Intelligences Theory' depicts that there are seven way pupils understand and these are ' Linguistic, Logical-Mathematical, Visual-Spatial, Body-Kinaesthetic, Musical-Rhythmic, Interpersonal and Intrapersonal' These 'intelligences' are logical in meaning;

•Linguistic. The ability to use spoken or written words.

•Logical-Mathematical. Inductive and deductive thinking and reasoning abilities, logic, as well as the use of numbers and abstract pattern recognition.

•Visual-Spatial. The ability to mentally visualize objects and spatial dimensions.

•Body-Kinesthetic. The wisdom of the body and the ability to control physical motion

•Musical-Rhythmic. The ability to master music as well as rhythms, tones and beats.

•Interpersonal. The ability to communicate effectively with other people and to be able to develop relationships.

•Intrapersonal. The ability to understand one's own emotions, motivations, inner states of being, and self-reflection

A further three intelligences has been added, called the 'Naturalist'

These seven intelligences have been widely embraced by educators through acceptance of diversity within learners, although some reflect Gardner's approach is too personalised and that it simply reflect different personality traits. Regardless, Gardner does at least offer that there are many ways of learning, whether personality based or not so the acceptance of different styles is clear.

Both Verbal-Linguistic and Logical-Mathematical are widely used in teaching the school curriculum due to their relative ease of delivery, although this is undoubtedly derived from historical uses as teaching has traditionally been delivered by sharing information from books. The learning theories website argues also that "A more balanced curriculum that incorporates the arts, self-awareness, communication, and physical education may be useful in order to leverage the intelligences that some students may have."

John West- Burnham considered 'shallow' and 'deep' learning, reflecting that much education in school is shallow as it emphasis is on the teaching and often less focus is on the learning. The process of learning is essentially passive as pupils receive information from teachers with inadequate focus on the applying knowledge. This is certainly true of a lecture style delivery, although most lesson plans balance the actual 'teaching' with an application stage 'apply' where the children have the opportunity to apply what they have learnt to establish the level of understanding.

Honey and Mumford have developed theories based on experiential learning, focusing on learning through doing and not by receiving information.

Using Kolb's 1984 model of the learning process, Honey and Mumford designed their 'Typology of Learners'. The four stages of learning are Concrete Experience, Reflective Observation, Abstract Conceptualisation and Active Experimentation and Honey and Mumford added learner types to this of Activist, Reflector, Theorist and Pragmatist respectively. In simple terms an activist likes to do things, a reflector observes and reflects on the observation, a theorist aims to understand the underlying concept and reasons, whereas a pragmatist prefers to have a go to see if they work. The activist and pragmatist appear similar.

Key points with these theories are that it is plausible for teacher and pupil to have contrary learning styles, whereby if no adjustment is made means a significant barrier to learning is created.

Reflection: there are many diverse learning styles and the fact that all research exists must validate the philosophy behind much of them. However a clear point of scepticism is raised by Atherton who suggests that all people are different and it is impossible to cater for all the differences in a single class, furthermore "pandering to learning styles may be doing the students a disservice: they will benefit more from adapting and becoming versatile, more able to respond both to formal teaching and learning from experience, than they will from having everything made as easy as possible for them in your particular subject. " ATHERTON J S (2010) Doceo; Learning styles don't matter [On-line] UK: Available: (Accessed: 23 December 2010)

Presumably, all the research on learning styles cannot be wrong; however a valid point is made here, as children grow up in a world which expects certain conformity, so they will need to be prepared to conduct themselves in certain ways. This should not mean that we do not adapt teaching style to suit our classes; we have a responsibility to ensure children the best education and start in life so need to cater for different personalities, learning aptitudes and maturity rates. However pragmatism must inform teaching as it is impractical to differentiate thirty different ways, although offering a blend of learning techniques is prudent. Teachers must however encourage pupils to strengthen alternative learning styles as an aid to later life.

An observation of my Year 4 class in Forest Fields reveals there are clearly a diverse range of personalities in the class, as expected, and in addition learning predisposition is evident. Several children struggles to sit still for any period of time, easily distracted from the main lesson, but these children appear to spring to life in more active lessons, such as music where they are able to stand and physically 'do' something. They definitely can be categorised as kinaesthetic learners, and whilst all children enjoy the more physically active lessons, such as science, these children in particular 'need' this type of learning to be engaged. An observer cannot help but sympathise with the child who, bursting with untapped energy, is restricted to a seat for a whole hour with no channel for his natural predilection. In fairness the teacher does differentiate by enabling learning with physical objects in subjects such as numeracy, although this is not always consistently applied.

Other children in the class appear to adapt to classroom life and are a mix of visual and aural learners able to listen to the teaching aspects and apply activities subsequently. The kinaesthetic learners seem less well catered for by the confines of classroom teaching, and even in the applying, more physical stages, they seem less capable of applying themselves to the task which appears to contradict their physical nature.

John Abbott's constructivist theory is built around the concept that all learning builds upon previous knowledge and keeps growing layer upon layer. This starts from a young age and keeps going throughout life. This theory has evolved through the 21st Century Learning Initiative, which attempts to combine ideas on school reform, constructivist learning theory and modern brain research. Abbott's research effectively builds on Gardner's work, aiming to facilitate learning across communities, using insight from brain research. "We believe this will release human potential in ways that nurture and form local democratic communities worldwide, and will help reclaim and sustain a world supportive of human endeavour." (Cruey website, 2010)

In November of 1999, John Abbott and Terence Ryan published an article in the journal Educational Leadership entitled Constructing Knowledge, Reconstructing Schooling. That article helped set a tone and a direction for significant changes is the approach to education.

"The 21st Century Learning Initiative sees technology as essential to learning and as providing a link between the school classroom and the outside world," (Cruey, 2010) and this is clearly evident through the introduction of Smart Boards, Internet and IT suites in most schools. This external link is significant as it provides context for learning in the real world, making knowledge relevant to children's lives. Understanding money or food can be developed from a simple trip to a supermarket and many themes can be developed on a local level which relates to the diverse communities children grow up in.

Furthermore, Abbott promotes independent learning skills, emphasizing information and communication techniques and an ability to solve problems. The ability to work as part of a group and collaborative approaches are clearly viewed as more relevant to learning than simply sharing knowledge.

There is widespread debate on a further different learning 'style'; whether or not boys and girls learn in a different way, which is borne from preoccupation of boys seeming underachievement. There is uncertainty surrounding significance of the different attainment points, but it is valid that girls are now pushed by parents more than in previous generations, and are now expected to achieve more academically. This is not necessarily true of all cultures, as there is a growing concern in Forest Fields Primary School that some ethnic minority girls are not reaching their potential and have been earmarked for additional focus.

Others view that the curriculum leans more to girls than previously, and that boys are less suited to the current popular learning styles. Certainly, the modern employment scene reflects a stronger position for women than before with increased use of IT which is seen to favour girls. Reading is a concern for boys who commonly appear to have no inclination for reading, which can set them at a disadvantage in later life. Gareth Malone fronted a BBC television programme in October 2010 on actively encouraging primary age boys to read.

Certainly recruitment policy appears to actively seek out male role models for primary school teaching in an attempt to enhance the performance of boys in particular. Regardless of policy, it is unclear how male teachers actually differ in terms of actual teaching or behaviour from female teachers, suggesting that expert teaching is the most significant factor in child development and not teacher gender.

Care must be taken, however, to avoid generalisations as not all boys underachieve and not all girls are thriving academically either. Interestingly, the public concern over boys' underachievement might lead to girls being marginalized. Perhaps the fact that girls are doing better should be celebrated and not used as cause for concern when compared with boys? Such debate is inevitable as commentators will always identify differences and then project potential solutions. "… an emphasis on 'boys' versus 'girls' attainments precludes any appreciation of the differences between boys and boys and girls and girls." (Skelton, Francis, 2003, p 4) Furthermore the debate also detracts from the differences that exist between boys and girls and also the point that year on year improvements have been evidenced for both genders. The culture of primary schools is viewed as becoming feminized when according to Skelton and Francis it is actually becoming more masculinized with the focus on assessment and IT (?)

Teachers must consider gender when planning their strategies, thinking of their own preconceptions on how 'typical' boys and girls might behave in the classroom environment and prepare a range of stimulants for the children from toys, games, books and visual prompts. The teacher's own behaviour needs to show no gender bias, ensuring a range activities are offered to suit boys and girls. One example of this in Forest Fields was planning a choice of picture prompts to suit the children. An attempt was made to avoid the stereotypical images of Roman's fighting, replacing with pictures of Roman ships and scenes of family life.

The impact of gender bias in education is widely felt, with research suggesting that the National Numeracy Strategy has encouraged the learning styles traditionally associated with boys of "competitiveness and performativity" (Skelton, Francis, 2003, p18) Potentially this has a latent impact as girls on the surface seem to be succeeding in maths, certainly in KS2 Maths tests (DfES, 2002), but this masks the fact that girls generally do not select the subject for degree or even A level.

R4 The Today programme (31.12.2010) discussed the differences between boys' and girls' learning styles, stating that boys preferred 'doing' and 'being competitive', but the challenge was that whilst girls cope better with other ways of learning, especially since the 1980s- that they also enjoy the more physical competitive aspects of learning. (contributors: Tony Little, Stasia Duvall, and Evan David)

Professional Standards Q10, Q18,19, 21b, q31, 20, 22 25abcd,29 7a 8, 14 15