Theories of Learning

As I have never been involved with education before in my academic life I found the lecture on ‘How Learning Develops’ really helpful. I especially liked looking  deeper into Behaviourism, Constructivism and Social Constructivism, they are words I had heard mentioned at various points in the past four weeks but never with an explanation of what they were.

It has led me to look a bit deeper at not only where I have seen various features of these theories for learning in the classroom but how I would like to use them as functions in my own teaching.

Behaviourism for example works really well in some circumstances, possibly schools where behaviour management is a problem and getting children to understand instruction and good behaviour is a high priority for learning. What I find troubling about Behaviourism however, is that one of its key ideas is to disregard the child because they’re only motivation for learning is the prospect of reward and not because they think it important to learn and do well. As a teacher I would worry that a child was becoming dependent on rewards and only do what is required due to a reward or fear of a sanction. Even though I think praise is an important factor in successful teaching, as is punishment for bad behaviour but I don’t necessarily agree that it should be the motivational factor for learning. I found a video on YouTube which is really good for explaining the basics of Behaviourism:

On the other hand Constructivism believes that a child learns individually, where a child learns through playing, reading or constructing their own ideas through trial and error. I really like the idea that a child can learn through their own motivations for learning and expanding their knowledge and also that the child can build up their ideas over time. It seems that this approach will lead to a well rounded and deep understanding of the things the child is learning. Social Constructivism is very similar with its ideas of  education as an active experience for the child, but more socially conductive. In that a child would then learn through joint experience and later on consolidate the knowledge that they have gained. Through this sharing of ideas it means that language is used and that a clarification of ideas is expressed.  I think both of these are really positive in terms of learning, an individual and socially motivated theory of learning, and that they don’t have to necessarily be separated into two different modes.

I see all three of the theories that were discussed in the lecture as conducive to successful learning, and they don’t have to be separate entities as such. I believe that there is a place for all three modes in the classroom, because of the varying personalities and characters you have in your class. Their past history in school may also have an impact, if you do not know what the teacher before you used – you may have a class who were motivated by learning through reward and punishment, so it would be difficult to open up ideas to learning if you then enforced Social Constructivism as the mode of learning.



3 thoughts on “Theories of Learning

  1. I completely agree Sophie. The effective teacher needs to be able to use a blend of all 3 theories to holistically cater for all the individuals in their class. It has been blatantly apparent to me, in my school experience to date, that a ‘one size fits all’ approach would not work.

    It is true that consistency is vital to the learning of children. I believe that not only would it be down to the teacher knowing their class, but also to the school having their own clearly defined policies on behaviour and high expectations of their teachers.


    • I agree with Sophie that Behaviourism works well for behaviour management. I would highlight this by my school experience. Everyday children are encouraged to follow the golden rules, be good listeners, and take their time with work etc with both formal and informal rewards such as their name on the rainbow, star of the week certificates and numerous stickers. The problem lies when the children are no longer motivated by a sticker or certificated, has the behaviour been instilled in them so they are willing to behave without the motivations of rewards?

      I agree with Sophie’s closing statement that aspects of all three theories can support each other to form a predictable routine of behaviour management and learning, all children are different and have varying needs so a one size fits all plan is not appropriate.


      • From experience in school and studying the key theories of teaching and learning so far, it is apparent that understanding a child’s level of motivation for learning and how that is influenced is a crucial element of effective teaching. Constructivist learning heavily relies on children being highly motivated and independent enough to control the pace and selection of their learning. Baumann, S. (1997), highlights how motivation is influenced by a variety of external and internal factors. School culture, teaching approaches, self belief and socio – cultural aspects play an important part in a child’s learning (Bruner, 1986). The emotional element of learning and the meanings that children attach to their schooling, both positive and negative, need to be taken into account in pedagogical practices due to the implications that this can have on attainment and future opportunities (Lazarus 1991). Behaviourist approaches have been criticised partly for creating a dependency on rewards and sanctions which may not always encourage a positive self image or authentic motivation for learning (Pollard, A. 2008). The debate about the application of different learning and teaching theories seems to suggest that a teacher’s role is to also enable children to develop a positive learner identity and disposition to learning which extends beyond their school years and is life-long (Pollard, A. 2008). Facilitating the development of this ‘learning power’ (Claxton 2002) and teaching a child how to learn, whilst taking into account their previous knowledge and experiences what influences it appears to be fundamental. (Pollard, A. 2008).

        Achieving the right balance of applying different teaching models in order for certain learning outcomes to be reached for all children seems to be a challenging part of pedagogy and the implications are far reaching. Moore, A. (2000), invites teaching professionals to be reflective about the possible constraints that particular curriculum and pedagogical practices can place on children’s learning. Barnes (1976) points to this dilemma in teaching and suggests there has to be careful consideration of what practices are used in teaching so that “it does not become a straight jacket” (in Moore, A. 2000 p.15). Therefore, as Baumann and the previous comments in this blog indicate, it is important that blanket approaches to teaching are not always used.

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