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Learning Theory

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In psychology and education, learning is commonly defined as a process that brings together cognitive, emotional, and environmental influences and experiences for acquiring, enhancing, or making changes in one’s knowledge, skills, values, and world views (Illeris, 2000; Ormorod, 1995). Learning as a process focuses on what happens when the learning takes place. Explanations of what happens constitute learning theories. A learning theory is an attempt to describe how people and animals learn, thereby helping us understand the inherently complex process of learning.

Learning theories have two chief values according to Hill (2002). One is in providing us with vocabulary and a conceptual framework for interpreting the examples of learning that we observe. The other is in suggesting where to look for solutions to practical problems. The theories do not give us solutions, but they do direct our attention to those variables that are crucial in finding solutions. There are three main categories or philosophical frameworks under which learning theories fall: behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism. Behaviorism focuses only on the objectively observable aspects of learning.

Cognitive theories look beyond behavior to explain brain-based learning. And constructivism views learning as a process in which the learner actively constructs or builds new ideas or concepts. Contents [hide] •1 Behaviorism •2 Cognitivism •3 Constructivism •4 Informal and post-modern theories •5 Other learning theories •6 Criticism •7 Other interests •8 See also •9 Notes •10 External links [edit] Behaviorism Main article: Behaviorism Behaviorism as a theory was primarily developed by B. F. Skinner. It loosely encompasses the work of people like Edward Thorndike, Tolman, Guthrie, and Hull.

What characterizes these investigators are their underlying assumptions about the process of learning. In essence, three basic assumptions are held to be true. [original research? ] First, learning is manifested by a change in behavior. Second, the environment shapes behavior. And third, the principles of contiguity (how close in time two events must be for a bond to be formed) and reinforcement (any means of increasing the likelihood that an event will be repeated) are central to explaining the learning process. For behaviorism, learning is the acquisition of new behavior through conditioning.

There are two types of possible conditioning: 1) Classical conditioning, where the behavior becomes a reflex response to stimulus as in the case of Pavlov’s Dogs. Pavlov was interested in studying reflexes, when he saw that the dogs drooled without the proper stimulus. Although no food was in sight, their saliva still dribbled. It turned out that the dogs were reacting to lab coats. Every time the dogs were served food, the person who served the food was wearing a lab coat. Therefore, the dogs reacted as if food was on its way whenever they saw a lab coat.

In a series of experiments, Pavlov then tried to figure out how these phenomena were linked. For example, he struck a bell when the dogs were fed. If the bell was sounded in close association with their meal, the dogs learned to associate the sound of the bell with food. After a while, at the mere sound of the bell, they responded by drooling. 2) Operant conditioning where there is reinforcement of the behavior by a reward or a punishment. The theory of operant conditioning was developed by B. F. Skinner and is known as Radical Behaviorism.

The word ‘operant’ refers to the way in which behavior ‘operates on the environment’. Briefly, a behavior may result either in reinforcement, which increases the likelihood of the behavior recurring, or punishment, which decreases the likelihood of the behavior recurring. It is important to note that, a punishment is not considered to be applicable if it does not result in the reduction of the behavior, and so the terms punishment and reinforcement are determined as a result of the actions. Within this framework, behaviorists are particularly interested in measurable changes in behavior.

Educational approaches such as applied behavior analysis, curriculum based measurement, and direct instruction have emerged from this model. [1] [edit] Cognitivism Main article: Cognitivism (psychology) The earliest challenge to the behaviorists came in a publication in 1929 by Bode, a gestalt psychologist. He criticized behaviorists for being too dependent on overt behavior to explain learning. Gestalt psychologists proposed looking at the patterns rather than isolated events. Gestalt views of learning have been incorporated into what have come to be labeled cognitive theories.

Two key assumptions underlie this cognitive approach: (1) that the memory system is an active organized processor of information and (2) that prior knowledge plays an important role in learning. Cognitive theories look beyond behavior to explain brain-based learning. Cognitivists consider how human memory works to promote learning. For example, the physiological processes of sorting and encoding information and events into short term memory and long term memory are important to educators working under the cognitive theory.

The major difference between gestaltists and behaviorists is the locus of control over the learning activity: the individual learner is more key to gestaltists than the environment that behaviorists emphasize. Once memory theories like the Atkinson-Shiffrin memory model and Baddeley’s working memory model were established as a theoretical framework in cognitive psychology, new cognitive frameworks of learning began to emerge during the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. Today, researchers are concentrating on topics like cognitive load and information processing theory.

These theories of learning play a role in influencing instructional design. [citation needed] Aspects of cognitivism can be found in learning how to learn, social role acquisition, intelligence, learning, and memory as related to age. [edit] Constructivism Main article: Constructivism (learning theory) Constructivism views learning as a process in which the learner actively constructs or builds new ideas or concepts based upon current and past knowledge or experience. In other words, “learning involves constructing one’s own knowledge from one’s own experiences. Constructivist learning, therefore, is a very personal endeavor, whereby internalized concepts, rules, and general principles may consequently be applied in a practical real-world context. This is also known as social constructivism (see social constructivism). Social constructivists posit that knowledge is constructed when individuals engage socially in talk and activity about shared problems or tasks. Learning is seen as the process by which individuals are introduced to a culture by more skilled members”(Driver et al. , 1994) Constructivism itself has many variations, such as Active learning, discovery learning, and knowledge building.

Regardless of the variety, constructivism promotes a student’s free exploration within a given framework or structure. [citation needed]The teacher acts as a facilitator who encourages students to discover principles for themselves and to construct knowledge by working to solve realistic problems. Aspects of constructivism can be found in self-directed learning, transformational learning, experiential learning, situated cognition, and reflective practice and religious practice. [edit] Informal and post-modern theories Informal theories of education may attempt to break down the learning process in pursuit of practicality[citation needed].

One of these deals with whether learning should take place as a building of concepts toward an overall idea, or the understanding of the overall idea with the details filled in later. Critics[citation needed] believe that trying to teach an overall idea without details (facts) is like trying to build a masonry structure without bricks… Other concerns are the origins of the drive for learning[citation needed]. Some[who? ] argue that learning is primarily self-regulated, and that the ideal learning situation is one dissimilar to the modern classroom[citation needed].

Critics argue that students learning in isolation fail[citation needed]. [edit] Other learning theories Other learning theories have also been developed for more specific purposes than general learning theories. For example, andragogy is the art and science to help adults learn. Connectivism is a recent theory of Networked learning which focuses on learning as making connections. Multimedia learning theory focuses on principles for the effective use of multimedia in learning. [edit] Criticism Criticism of learning theories that underlie traditional educational practices claims there is no need for such a theory.

The attempt to comprehend the process of learning through theory construction has created more problems than it has solved. It further claims that in order to make up for the feeling of inadequacy in confronting a process that we don’t really comprehend, we label something “learning” and measure it. Then we’re comfortable, because at least then we have the feeling that we have a grasp on the problem. We don’t really follow the process, but in lieu of a profound understanding of what’s going on, we find something and say, “Let’s declare that to be learning, by consensus. This is basically what the entire educational system the world over has done: quantify learning by breaking it up into measurable pieces-—curricula, courses, hours, tests, and grades. The assumption is that psychologically one knows enough about the mind to identify aptitudes: the accepted (knowledge-based) conception of learning identifies four assumptions of the accepted view of learning: that (some) one knows what ought to be learned by people, why it ought to be learned, how it ought to be learned, and by whom each thing ought to be learned.

Together these assumptions are the lenses through which people have been socialized in our culture to judge whether learning is occurring or not; and a further assumption is that once one knows aptitudes, one also knows how to track a person so he will in fact reach the goal that is being set out for him. The whole approach is the ultimate in pedagogical and psychological technology. The only trouble is hat it is humanly absurd. In this society, such a process is exceptionally subtle, because it involves an authoritarian approach within a free culture. By employing a variety of ruses the system produces a process which allows it to inhibit personal freedom without really feeling that this is what is going on. The person doesn’t feel that something arbitrary is being done to him—which is in fact what is happening. [2][3]

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