Learning theory

Explanations and Effectiveness of Different Learning Theories. In psychology and education, learning is commonly defined as a process that brings together cognitive, emotional, and environmental influences and experiences for acquiring, enhancing, or making changes in ones knowledge, skills, values, and world views. To gain an achievement in learning methodology, educators use instructional methods.

The instructional methods are primarily influenced by learning theories which are the disciplines of psychology that interest in how an organism learns. The orientations to education are concerned with understanding the conditions which improve the effectiveness of learning. Furthermore, the believes of instructors about teaching, learning, students, knowledge and what is worth knowing determine their educational philosophies.

There are three main theories which provide effective methods in learning; these are behaviorism, cognitivism and constructivism. Behaviorism emphasizes that the changes in behaviors due to the forces of external environment. The best known advocators of behavioristic psychology are J. B Watson and B. F Skinner.

According to Watson В«human behaviors are consisted of specific stimuli that resulted in certain responses.В» He is inspired by an experiment of a Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov, which is about his dog. Pavlov realizes that his dog salivates when the food is about to be given then, he rings a bell every time, before he feeds his dog.

After some time when he rings the bell whether he feeds the dog or not, he notices that the dog salivates. This experiment affected Watson’s basic stimulus-response model and he says that he can educate a healthy infant and he can train him or her to become any type of specialist that he wants, such as a doctor, an artist even a thief.

The other advocator B. F Skinner developed a more comprehensive conditioning model which is known as operant conditioning. According to the theory there is a reinforcement to reach a desired behavior, so the teacher should identify a desired behavior and an appropriate reinforcer. Then, he should ensure that the students receive the reinforcer as soon as showing the desired behavior. It is important that teacher should tell students exactly what he wants them to know and rewards them for learning it.

Cognitivism focuses on the question of how knowledge develops in mind and how the prior knowledge has a role in learning. There is a close relationship between behaviorists and cognitivists, because they accept the knowledge as given and absolute, but the importance of feedback is a major distinction between them.

For behaviorists the most important feedback comes from the environment, but cognitivists focus on internal feedback. Piaget’s research has an important effect on cognitive theory. Contrary to the behaviorists Piaget studied with small children, not with animals. He identified developmental stages. During all stages he examined the child’s environment and mental maps which the child constructed so far.

According to Piaget children adopt to their environment and then, they build their sense of reality. A cognitivist teacher focuses on learning activity, intelligence, and memory more than the environment.

Constructivism is another orientation to education which focuses on process of learning rather than the behaviors on learning. According to constructivists learning is an active, meaning-making process and learners are not passive receivers of information.

Constructivist teachers support student-centered curriculum and instruction methods, and they focus on mental processes that students used to learn. In addition, constructivist teachers create a democratic lesson environment and ensure students to studying in small groups. The students learn to make connection between what they already know and new knowledge.

In reality, many teachers use learning theories to make an effective learning method in their classes. According to descriptions of these three theories, a teacher may feel that no single theory fits perfectly with his ideas about education so he can develop an eclectic method which is a blending of two or more theories.

It is important for me to provide a democratic class environment and promote the mental processes of students. Hence; constructivist theory fits with my ideas about education.

In summary, behaviorism stresses the effect of environment in changes on behaviors. Cognitivism emphasizes that memory and prior knowledge have an important role in learning and internal feedback. Constructivism focuses on learning process more than the changes on behaviors. In conclusion, learning theories help teachers to find some answers about educational problems, and provide teachers to improve the effectiveness of learning in their classrooms.