Learning. It’s complicated.

I loved Amy’s intro in her blog this week and I think that we can all relate to the feeling when we start thinking about learning theories. I think that when it comes to learning theories and perspectives things can seem a little overwhelming. But like Amy said, it really isn’t that difficult to understand. If we want to talk learning theories I think they can easily be described in ways that everyone can understand and relate to. I think what makes learning theories difficult is to understand how and when we should be using each theory. Before I go on to try and answer that I think a brief description of each theory will be helpful.

Simply put, behaviourism can be described as learning a response from a given stimulus. Most of us are probably familiar with Pavlov’s Dog and use this experiment to recall how behaviourism works. I am sure that we can all think of a time in our classroom or our own learning experience when learning happened through the behaviourist perspective. If a you were bitten by a dog as a small child, you may be scared of dogs even as an adult. The dog bite was the stimulus and the pain/fear was the response. You were trained to think that way. In school, we were taught to line up after the recess bell goes. The bell was the stimulus, lining up was the response. We were taught to do that. We might use stickers, charts or apps like class dojo to encourage good behaviour in our classrooms.

What behaviourism forgot to take into consideration was the process of learning. This is where cognitivism comes in. Cognitivists are concerned with the way we learn. How do we process and synthesize things? Learning is viewed not as what you can do, but what you know and how you acquired it. Things like graphic organizers, reflection questions and examining the learning are a few examples of cognitivist theory in practice in a classroom. Constructivism was developed next and takes learning from being purely external to more internal. It is concerned with the way students make connections with their experiences in order to relate to what they are learning. With the introduction of technology came connectivism which attempts to look at how learning happens in a social setting through connections. For more on my perspective and thoughts on connectivism check out my post from a previous class with Alec.

Like Roxanne I can think back to my experience as a learning and through my experience so far as a teacher and I can define moments in which each of these perspectives has been used with the exception of connectivism. In my learning experience, I can’t say that there was one learning theory that was used more often or one that I think I learned best from. As a teacher, I don’t focus on any perspective more than the other but I use them all throughout my classes in different instances.

Photo Credit: Yoshi Shih-Chieh Huang Flickr via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Yoshi Shih-Chieh Huang Flickr via Compfight cc

As teachers I think that it’s important that we avoid getting caught up in which theory is the BEST theory to use. As Peggy and Timothy mention all the theories are valuable. It is important to think about the learner and what they are learning about. Smaller children learning rules may be better suited towards behaviourist learning while older students might be better suited for a constructivist approach by completing an inquiry activity.

It is important to understand that technology has changed the way we do things. I really liked that Peggy and Timothy went back after 20 years to re-evaluate their article because a lot has changed in 20 years. Although a lot has changed the underlying concepts of the theories has stayed the same.  What matters most is that we are willing to adapt and try to make learning as student-centered as possible. This is the only way we can reach out to students and ensure their learning needs are being met. We need to understand the learner and learning outcome in order to find a learning theory that is best suited for the job. I feel this is something that we all do on a daily basis even if it is done subconsciously. I do know that learning is far to complex to give the award to one learning theory.

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4 thoughts on “Learning. It’s complicated.

  1. It seems no matter what topic I’m addressing in life, I always tend to lean towards a balanced approach. I agree with your comments regarding how every philosophy has merit, if they didn’t, they wouldn’t really persist. I talked in my last blog about binary choices and how when we describe things as either this or that, or for or against, we lose sight of the fact that most things can exist on a continuum. It’s okay to be somewhere in the middle.

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    • Thanks Andrew. I totally agree. I think that balance is so important in everything we do. In the past we may have been taught that things were black and white but we are being encouraged more and more to find that grey area.

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  2. Pingback: Variety is the Spice of Life – Up and Atom!

  3. Pingback: Learning as a chaotic, evolving mosaic. | Logan Petlak

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