Unit 4 – Theories and Principles for Preparing
and Enabling Learning
In the following essay, the author will identify some relevant theories and principles of learning and communication, select and critically analyse the impact of two of these theories on his own teaching and reflect on these insights with regards to his own practice and personal development.
One of the defining characteristics of human beings is their ability to learn. However, learning is an extremely complex and problematic process which, regardless of years of research, is still not fully understood (Arthur and Davies, 2010). Learning is the key to an individual’s development and, as a result, professional teachers are usually driven by this ideal. They are propelled in some way to help elevate their learners’ understanding or to simply help them reach their full potential in life. These aims lead teachers to have a set of principles, core values or beliefs that they aspire to. Wilson (2009) refers to these principles, stating that:
“These may be as simple as always stating your aims and outcomes at the start of the class….or maybe you will always give verbal feedback or praise to learners after they complete an activity.”
These principles can also include behaviour and dress codes, attitudes and relationships, but their general purpose is to allow teachers to meet the needs of their learners. Underlying these principles are many learning theories that attempt to make sense of them and explain why they work. There have been years of research into the process of learning and many theories have been established which attempt to explain how people learn. Wilson (2009, p.350) states “a theory is something which either attempts or has been proven to explain something” and summarises that “a principle is a value, belief or ethic relating to something you do and the theory is that which explains why it works”. The author has chosen three of the main theories or ‘schools of thought’ concerning learning. These are behaviourism, cognitivitism and humanism.
Behaviourist theory states that learning is mechanistic and that people learn in response to external stimuli (Wilson 2009). Therefore, learning must be measurable, in the form of some sort of change in an individuals behaviour, in reaction to these stimuli. A stimulus could be within the environment of an individual, e.g. the school bell rings and the child has learnt to respond by lining up with the other children or, in the case of Pavlov’s dog, a bell rings and the animal learns to expect food. It is, however, this association with research into animal behaviour, rather than that of human beings, that makes behaviourist theory slightly controversial. But at the same time, it is suggested that some kind of measurable effect is always sought within an individual as a result of learning having taken place (Gary et al. 2005).
Although simplistic in its outlook, behaviourism can be seen as being very significant in the classroom and the application of its principles can be attributed towards successful teaching and learning. For example, the use of a reward to encourage positive behaviour from students (e.g. “if you all complete this task then we will go for an early break!”) is a method that can encourage the repetition of this positive behaviour. Also, the use of defined measurable targets can help students to achieve their goals and this can also be used to encourage learners. These principles can be used for learners of all different ages and levels, but obviously they need to be adapted and appropriated correctly for a particular group. Ivan Pavlov is often recognised for his research into behaviourism, but Thorndike, Watson and Skinner are also notable theorists.
Cognitivist theory is often thought of as being the challenger to behaviourism. The cognitivist model suggests that ‘knowledge’ is missing from behaviourism’s stimulus theory and that, as...
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