Last Updated 27 Jul 2020

Theories of Early Learning

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This paper consists of early theories of learning and development. It starts out with the basics of learning and development and ends with the theories of a few scientists. The first theory is ACT, introduced by John Anderson. ACT is an acronym for Adaptive Character of Thought. The second theory is The Elaboration Theory, introduced by Charles Reigeluth. Jean Piaget’s Genetic Epistemology appears in this paper, along with the Gestalt Theory, introduced by Max Wertheimer. B. F Skinner’s well known Operant Conditioning is covered. Lastly, but not least, is Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory.

All of these theories are different, and shows how each individual scientist believes the children in their community learned and developed. Theories of Early Learning People may learn in many different ways. Many scientists have their own thoughts of how children learn, develop, and perceive the world around them. There are a few basic principles to learning that most people and scientists would agree on, though. The first is that a person can learn through the context of what he or she is reading or experiencing (Driscoll, 2006).

When a person reads a sentence by itself, it may not make as much sense as it would if it had other sentences around it or if the person knew background information. People will try to make sense of such sentences with other experiences in their lives or understandings they have made about something else that could pertain to the sentence they just read. The conclusions they come up with could be completely different from the true meaning of the sentence. People need other information to make sense of what they are reading and learn what they should be learning.

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The second principle is that people learn by being active in what they are learning. If a person tells a child something, the child will most likely forget it. If a person shows a child something, the child is more likely to remember it. If a person involves a child, however, the child will understand it (Driscoll, 2006). The third principle is that people learn by working in groups. It tends to be easier for a child to work through something if that child has someone else’s perspective.

Different strengths can be brought to the activity because each child has a different point of view and a different thought about what is happening with the activity. The fourth and final principle is that learning is reflective. Students do better the second time a situation is revealed to them if they get feedback from the first time they encountered the situation. If students know they spelled a word wrong on a spelling test, they most likely will not repeat the same mistake (Driscoll, 2006). Scientists have been studying the way they believe children and students learn.

A scientist named John Anderson introduced ACT (Kearsley, 2011). ACT suggests that learning comes from three types of memory. The declarative memory stores information that is factual and what the child associated with that information. The procedural memory reminds children of how they behaved to the conditions or actions that they have stored in the declarative memory. The child’s mind thinks that if something happens, there is something specific to be done because of what happened. The working memory is the memory that the child uses every day.

In this learning theory, children are generalized, making them use the responses in their procedural memory in other events or experiences. The responses are discriminated, to make them more specialized. The responses are later strengthened, to make it easier for the child to recall them. Research shows that facts are retrieved more easily and quickly if the responses are repeated many times (Cooper, 2009). A scientist known as Charles Reigeluth introduced The Elaboration Theory (Kearsley, 2011). The Elaboration Theory suggests that a child most easily learns a subject if the subject is broken down into smaller subjects that are less complex.

This theory suggests that a person must teach a child to add before the child can be taught to multiply because the child must understand that multiplication is adding numerous times. The Elaboration Theory is a step-by-step process (University of South Alabama, 2009). Jean Piaget is a scientist who introduced Genetic Epistemology (Kearsley, 2011). Genetic Epistemology suggests that an infant has specific skills, known as schemas, which guide the child through the child’s environment. An example of a schema is that children know how to pick up their rattle and stick it to their mouth.

When a child finds a parent’s watch, that child will transfer the schema to the new object. This is assimilation. When the child finds something too large to fit inside the child’s mouth it will develop a new schema. This is called accommodation. All these actions put together signify adaptation. When a child can adapt to its environment, it is easier for the child to understand it (Boeree, 2006). The next theory is the Gestalt Theory, introduced by Max Wertheimer (Kearsley, 2011). The Gestalt Theory revolves around shapes, patterns, and whole pictures. Wertheimer believed that for people to learn, they must use their brain intensely.

He made pictures that were actually two pictures meshed into one. It made the brain of the person look more deeply into the picture to find each picture inside. These activities made it easier for children to problem solve in school (Atherton, 2010). B. F. Skinner introduced Operant Conditioning (Kearsley, 2011). Skinner believed that everything a person learned was from experience. Skinner thought that he could change the way a baby reacted to a rat, and it worked. He showed the baby a rat. The baby played with the rat and did not fear it. When Skinner gave the baby the rat a second time, he produced a loud noise that startled the baby.

When Skinner showed the baby the rat once more, the baby was scared of it because the baby had associated the rat with the noise that startled him (Levine, 1999). Albert Bandura proposed the Social Learning Theory (Kearsley, 2011). Bandura thought children learned by observing, imitating, and modeling what other children do. He tested his theory by placing a child in a room alone, with toys and games in the room. He told the child he could play with anything that was in there. When he left the child did not move. Later he sent another child in the room. That child began to play with the toys and the games.

When the second child left, the first child began to play with the toys. The first child observed the second, and then imitated his actions (Learning Theories, 2008). Many people have different ideas and perspectives about how people learn, develop, and behave. Everyone is involved with other people. Everyone spends time observing other people. People develop their own thoughts as to why the human race acts the way it does. All these theories are common because they all suggest that people’s environment, peers, and resources are the main contributions to how they learn and understand what is going on around them.



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