Skip to main content

In todays post, we’re going to look at learning theory and how they can impact your classroom, whether you’ve been teaching for 1 year or what feels like 100! As this will form a central part of our classroom practice, it’s important to get our pedagogy in place and correct, right from the outset. It will make our classroom a little less chaotic if we have planned our environment, expectations and our style of teaching in advance of it happening. This way, pupils know what to expect and what is expected of them, and you know what to expect and what is expected of you.

Learning is a process of acquiring new knowledge, skills, or understanding through experience, study, or instruction. It involves making connections between new information and existing knowledge, and then strengthening those connections through repetition and application. The process of learning can occur through various modalities including visual, auditory, and hands-on experiences. It is also influenced by a variety of factors such as motivation, prior knowledge, and individual learning styles. Effective learning requires active engagement and deliberate practice, as well as constructive feedback to track progress and identify areas for improvement.

Learning is a complex process that involves acquiring new knowledge, skills, or behaviours through experience, study, or instruction. There are different theories and models of learning that provide insights into how learning happens.

One learning theory is the cognitive theory, which suggests that learning occurs through the formation of mental representations or schemas that help individuals organise and make sense of information. According to this theory, individuals engage in active processing of information, and learning happens when new information is integrated into existing knowledge structures or when new knowledge structures are formed.

Another learning theory is the behaviourist theory, which emphasises the role of reinforcement and punishment in shaping behavior. According to this theory, learning occurs when a particular behaviour is followed by a consequence, either positive or negative, that strengthens or weakens the likelihood of that behaviour being repeated in the future.

There are also constructivist theories of learning that suggest that individuals actively construct knowledge and understanding through their experiences and interactions with the environment. These theories emphasise the importance of social interaction and collaboration in learning, as individuals learn through engaging in discourse and negotiating meaning with others.

In this post we will look at each of these models and see how they can benefit us in the classroom and in our use of technology.

What is Cognitive Learning Theory?

Cognitive learning theory explains how people learn by processing and organising information in their minds. It emphasises the importance of mental processes, such as perception, attention, memory, and problem-solving, in learning and behaviour.

At the core of cognitive learning theory is the concept of information processing, which suggests that people actively acquire, interpret, store, and retrieve information from their environment. The theory proposes that learning occurs through the development and modification of mental representations or schemas, which are organised patterns of knowledge and information that guide perception, interpretation, and problem-solving.

According to cognitive learning theory, individuals engage in three types of cognitive processes during learning: input processes, central processes, and output processes. Input processes involve attending to and perceiving information from the environment, while central processes involve mental manipulation of information, such as encoding, organising, and retrieving it from memory. Output processes involve the production of a response or behaviour based on the processed information.

Cognitive learning theory also highlights the importance of feedback and metacognition in learning. Feedback provides learners with information about the accuracy and effectiveness of their performance, while metacognition refers to the ability to monitor and regulate one’s own cognitive processes, such as planning, monitoring, and evaluating one’s own learning.

Overall, cognitive learning theory provides a framework for understanding how individuals actively process and organise information to acquire new knowledge, skills, and behaviours. It has practical applications in education and training, as it emphasises the importance of engaging learners in active and meaningful learning activities that promote cognitive processing and problem-solving skills.

What is Behaviourism?

Behaviorism is a psychological perspective that focuses on the study of observable behavior and the environmental factors that influence it. It proposes that behavior is shaped by the environment through the principles of reinforcement, punishment, and conditioning.

The behaviorist perspective views behavior as a response to environmental stimuli, rather than as an internal mental process. It suggests that behavior can be explained and predicted based on the principles of classical and operant conditioning.

Classical conditioning involves the pairing of a neutral stimulus with a stimulus that naturally elicits a response. Over time, the neutral stimulus becomes associated with the natural stimulus and can elicit the response on its own. For example, in Pavlov’s famous experiment, dogs learned to associate the sound of a bell with the presence of food, and eventually, the sound of the bell alone would cause them to salivate.

Operant conditioning involves the use of reinforcement and punishment to shape behaviour. Reinforcement involves providing a consequence, such as a reward or positive feedback, that increases the likelihood of a behaviour being repeated. Punishment involves providing a consequence, such as a reprimand or negative feedback, that decreases the likelihood of a behaviour being repeated.

Behaviourism has been influential in areas such as education, where it has been applied in the development of behaviour modification techniques to address maladaptive behaviours. However, the behaviourist perspective has been criticised for oversimplifying human behaviour by ignoring internal mental processes and emotions, and for its limited focus on observable behaviour.

What is Contructivism?

Constructivism is a psychological and educational theory that emphasises the active role of learners in constructing their own understanding and knowledge through their experiences and interactions with the environment. It suggests that learning is an active and dynamic process of meaning-making, rather than a passive process of receiving information from a teacher or a textbook.

At the core of constructivism is the concept of the learner as an active participant in the learning process, who uses prior knowledge and experiences to construct new understandings and interpretations of the world. It proposes that learners create mental models or schemas to organise their experiences and to make sense of new information, and that these mental models can be revised or expanded over time.

Constructivism also emphasises the importance of social interaction and collaboration in learning. It suggests that learners can benefit from engaging in discourse and negotiation with others, as they share and compare their mental models and co-construct new understandings.

Constructivist learning environments are designed to be learner-centered and to promote active, inquiry-based learning. They often involve hands-on activities, problem-solving, and opportunities for reflection and metacognition.

Overall, constructivism provides a framework for understanding how individuals actively construct their own knowledge and understanding through their experiences and interactions with the environment. It has been influential in educational practice and has led to the development of constructivist teaching strategies, such as inquiry-based learning, problem-based learning, and collaborative learning.

How are Cognitive Learning Theory, Behaviourism and Constructivism Similar?

Cognitive learning theory, behaviourism, and constructivism are three different theoretical perspectives on how learning occurs. While there are some differences between these perspectives, they also share some similarities.

One similarity is that all three perspectives emphasise the importance of previous experience in shaping learning. Cognitive learning theory and constructivism both propose that learners use prior knowledge and experience to construct new understanding and knowledge. Behaviourism suggests that learning occurs through the formation of associations between environmental stimuli and behavioral responses, which also implies that past experiences play a role in shaping behavior.

Another similarity is that all three perspectives recognise the role of feedback in the learning process. Cognitive learning theory and constructivism emphasise the importance of feedback in shaping and refining mental models and schemas, while behaviourism proposes that reinforcement and punishment can shape behavior through feedback.

Finally, all three learning theories have been vastly influential in education and have led to the development of teaching strategies and approaches. Cognitive learning theory has influenced instructional design and the development of strategies for enhancing student engagement, attention, and retention. Behaviourism has been influential in the development of behaviour modification techniques, while constructivism has led to the development of inquiry-based and problem-based learning approaches.

Overall, while cognitive learning theory, behaviourism, and constructivism differ in their theoretical perspectives, they share some common ground in recognising the importance of experience, feedback, and teaching strategies in shaping the learning process.

How do Cognitive Learning Theory, Behaviourism and Constructivism Differ?

Cognitive learning theory, behaviourism, and constructivism are three different theoretical perspectives on how learning occurs. While they share some similarities, there are also key differences between them.

Cognitive learning theory emphasises the role of mental processes, such as perception, attention, memory, and problem-solving, in learning and behaviour. It proposes that individuals actively acquire, interpret, store, and retrieve information from their environment, and that learning occurs through the development and modification of mental representations or schemas. Cognitive learning theory focuses on the learner’s internal cognitive processes and views learning as an active, constructive, and individual process.

Behaviourism, on the other hand, emphasises the role of the environment and external factors in shaping behaviour. It proposes that behaviour is shaped by the principles of reinforcement, punishment, and conditioning, and that learning occurs through the establishment of associations between environmental stimuli and behavioural responses. Behaviourism focuses on observable behaviour and views learning as a passive, responsive, and automatic process.

Constructivism emphasises the active role of learners in constructing their own understanding and knowledge through their experiences and interactions with the environment. It suggests that learners create mental models or schemas to organise their experiences and to make sense of new information, and that these mental models can be revised or expanded over time. Constructivism also emphasises the importance of social interaction and collaboration in learning. It focuses on the learner’s active construction of knowledge and views learning as a dynamic, collaborative, and individualised process.

In summary, cognitive learning theory focuses on the learner’s internal cognitive processes, behaviourism emphasises the role of the environment in shaping behaviour, and constructivism emphasizes the learner’s active construction of knowledge through experiences and social interaction.

How Can We Apply These Learning Theories in the Classroom?

Each learning theory can be applied in different ways in the classroom. Here are some examples:

  1. Cognitive learning theory:
  • Use visual aids such as diagrams, images, and videos to help students visualise and organise new information.
  • Encourage students to make connections between new information and their existing knowledge and experience.
  • Provide opportunities for practice and repetition to help students consolidate their learning and develop automaticity in using new skills.
  • Encourage metacognitive reflection by asking students to reflect on their learning process, identify strategies that were effective, and set goals for future learning.
  1. Behaviourism:
  • Use positive reinforcement techniques such as praise or rewards to encourage desired behaviour or performance.
  • Use negative reinforcement techniques such as removing a negative stimulus (e.g. removing homework) to encourage desired behaviour or performance.
  • Use punishment techniques such as giving a detention or taking away a privilege to discourage undesired behaviour or performance.
  • Provide clear and specific feedback on performance to help students identify areas for improvement and build on their strengths.
  1. Constructivism:
  • Provide hands-on, inquiry-based learning experiences that allow students to explore and construct their own understanding of new concepts.
  • Encourage collaboration and peer-to-peer learning by providing opportunities for group work and discussion.
  • Encourage metacognitive reflection by asking students to reflect on their learning process, identify strategies that were effective, and set goals for future learning.
  • Allow for flexibility and adaptability in the learning process, allowing students to pursue their own interests and make choices in their learning.

Overall, each learning theory offers a different perspective on how students learn and the different strategies that can be used to support learning. By understanding and applying these theories in the classroom, educators can create more effective and engaging learning experiences for their students.

How Can We Apply These Learning Theories Using Educational Technology?

Educational technology can be used to support and enhance the application of learning theories in the classroom. Here are some examples:

  1. Cognitive learning theory:
  • Use multimedia presentations, such as videos or interactive simulations, to help students visualise and organise new information.
  • Use educational games or simulations to provide opportunities for practice and repetition in a fun and engaging way.
  • Use online discussion forums or collaborative tools to facilitate peer-to-peer learning and metacognitive reflection.
  • Use learning analytics tools to track and analyse student progress and provide personalised feedback and support.
  1. Behaviourism:
  • Use online quizzes or assessments to provide immediate feedback and reinforce desired behaviours or performance.
  • Use learning management systems to monitor and track student behavior and performance, and provide rewards or consequences accordingly.
  • Use adaptive learning technologies to adjust the level of difficulty or type of feedback based on student performance.
  1. Constructivism:
  • Use online resources and tools to facilitate inquiry-based learning and allow students to construct their own understanding of new concepts.
  • Use collaborative tools and online forums to support peer-to-peer learning and group work.
  • Use online portfolios or blogs to allow students to document and reflect on their learning process.
  • Use virtual reality or augmented reality technologies to provide immersive and interactive learning experiences that allow students to explore and construct their own knowledge.

Overall, educational technology can provide new opportunities to apply learning theories in the classroom and support more personalised and engaging learning experiences for students. By integrating technology tools and resources into the curriculum, educators can enhance the effectiveness of their teaching and support student learning in new and innovative ways.

Final Thoughts

I don’t believe there is one correct learning theory. Just looking at the three we have explored in this post, I can see that I tend towards certain models at different times. In my junior classes I will favour a Cognitive model, in order to provide a structured (scaffoleded) learning environment in which they receive extra support in their inital learning, but as they acquire greater understanding, ability and competence, I will reduce the amount of support, so to encourage their own learning independence. This also serves to demonstrate what ‘good’ looks like.

With my senior classes I will favour a Constructivist model. I want them to develop their own understanding and intellectually resolve issues that we face in I.T. in society. By assimilating new knowledge, I want them to make new learning connections and be actively involved in their own learning.

In allof my classes I will use Behaviourism to encourage and emphasise good individual behaviour. As a school, we look to encourage and reward good behaviour – we use Character Cards to celebrate and reinforce instances where pupils demonstrate positive character traits that will benefit them in school, career and life.

I find these learning theories helpful as they give me a structure to present information to my classes that in many ways, takes the thought process out of how I present information. It makes best use of the stage pupils are at and helps them to progress in a structured and measurable manner. When the pupil experiences difficulty with learning content, the learning theory allows me to step in and provide extra support to ensure pupil understanding and work in a way that is consistent for the pupil.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.