A Look into Learning Theories

#ECI833

Learning is something that sustains our society and drives our world. It is integrated into every facet of our lives. Are you curious how to bake bread? Are you interested in becoming a skilled guitar player? Do you want to know how to solve an intricate math problem? You can learn it! You can learn through storytelling, reading books, researching online, or through experience.

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The list is endless.

If you’re like me, however, you are probably unaware of the theories that are behind this driving force of learning. Behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism… these are all learning theories that have been established over time. Little did I know, these theories (and more) have been interwoven in my teaching practices throughout the past seven years. Paul Stevens-Fulbrook does a great job of breaking down the meaning of each theory in regards to education.

Behaviorism:

“Behaviourism is based on the idea that knowledge is independent and on the exterior of the learner. In a behaviourist’s mind, the learner is a blank slate that should be provided with the information to be learnt.”

This theory is about repeating certain actions and then receiving a reward or consequence based on that action.

Cognitivism:

“Cognitivism focuses on the idea that students process information they receive rather than just responding to a stimulus.”

This theory allows the student to reorganize information with their past knowledge, process it, and then apply it to their own world. In the article, “Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism: Comparing Critical Features From an Instructional Design Perspective”, Peggy A. Ertmer and Timothy J. Newby state that “when a learner understands how to apply knowledge in different contexts, then transfer has occurred.”

Constructivism

“Constructivism is based on the premise that we construct learning new ideas based on our own prior knowledge and experiences. Learning, therefore, is unique to the individual learner. “

The theory of constructivism is not about facts or memorization, but instead, it allows the learner to gain knowledge based on interactions and experiences.

Theories in my Teaching

All three of these theories have showed up in my classroom in various ways. They have even played a part in my pedagogy, and some currently still do.

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I am intentional about cultivating deep discussions with my students, using real-world examples in my lessons, and encouraging problem solving in learning… which all resonate with cognitivism. I have facilitated inquiry based learning, group collaboration, and research projects in my grade 3 classroom… which all fall under the theory of constructivism. However, the theory that I connect with the least is behaviorism.

When I first started teaching, I didn’t understand the negative connotations that this “action and reward” theory can have in education. I am guilty of using it in the past for different activities in my classroom, such as classroom incentives, student behaviour charts, and positive feedback or reward for good behaviour. I now realize that when the theory of behaviorism is used in this way, it has the potential to cause shame and guilt within our students. Like I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post, specifically about Class Dojo, it “can create a negative label for students at a young age and wrongfully gives teachers the opportunity to present their own biases towards certain children.”

My Connection to Connectivism

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As I evolve and grow as an educator, especially as an educator who uses EdTech, so do my theories and educational practices. I have never been able to put a name to my current educational pedagogy, but through our readings this week, connectivism resonated with me. This theory has been established within the internet era, unlike the three other theories mentioned above. I appreciate the modern take on learning that connectivism brings. In an article called “Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age”, George Siemens reminds us that “over the last twenty years, technology has reorganized how we live, how we communicate, and how we learn”, and “learning now occurs in a variety of ways – through communities of practice, personal networks, and through completion of work-related tasks.” The theory of connectivism gives freedom to the individual to learn in their own way and to seek knowledge through different avenues. Learning doesn’t necessarily have a start and an end.

As I look forward in my teaching career, my desire is to give ownership to the students in their learning process so that they learn the skills necessary to “flourish in a digital era”. My pedagogy and practice may continue to change over time, but my desire to instill a love for learning in my students will stay the same. At the end of the day, isn’t that what it’s all about?

-Amanda Brace

12 thoughts on “A Look into Learning Theories

  1. “The theory of connectivism gives freedom to the individual to learn in their own way and to seek knowledge through different avenues. Learning doesn’t necessarily have a start and an end.”

    I love that Amanda! The goal, as you said, is to in still a love of learning in our students so they truly never tire of or stop learning.

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  2. Oh wow! What a great post! I can tell you put your heart into both your teaching practice and your own learning! I, like you, feel student ownership and student say is essential. When students are active participants in their own learning it is so amazing to see what is produced… I never liked Class Dojo either. Instead, if we have had a great week, we may reward ourselves with some outdoor actities! I find this much more beneficial! Thanks again for your reflections and thoughts!

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  3. Thank you for the explanation of the theories in plain language. Like you, I was not familiar with the academic approach, but certainly could relate when you described each of these theories. The article you shared about Connectivism in a Digital Age is a great find! It perfectly describes what we are practicing in this course too!

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  4. Always a great post Amanda. I love how you concisely explain each of the learning theories that you have included. Thank you for pointing out some of the negatives around Classdojo, as it can cause shame and guilt among the students. I am curious if you think that the whole concept of the grading system has a negative impact on students, or do you think this is good for some students who are motivated by grades? (This is something I have always wondered myself about).

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    1. Thanks for reading, Curtis! I always go back and forth about assessment and grading. I think it needs to be done in a way that is beneficial for the students. If they are left out of the conversation, then who is the assessment really for? I think grading can have a positive impact in certain scenarios, but it can also have negative outcomes. Even if I think about my university classes, I find it much less stressful when it is Pass or Fail. I also feel more motivated to learn just for the sake of learning. It’s not an easy answer though. If I ever come to a conclusion about my thought on grades… I will let you know haha.

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  5. Amanda,
    I agree with Jocelyn. You did a great job of breaking down the theories. I also use a mixture of theories in my teaching but I am working very hard to get away from behaviourism. Today in class I caught myself telling students if they work quietly we would go outside for a break. Offering them a reward for the behaviour I was seeking. I had a few students being chatty so we did not go outside. When I realized I did it I cringed. So tomorrow is a new day and I will be hitting the refresh button and restarting!

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    1. Wow thanks for sharing that! As teachers, I’m sure there are many things we do that follow the theory of behaviourism. That’s cool that you recognized that and then wanted to start fresh!

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