Learning and English Language Teaching

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How do we learn? How do we learn simple things such as; learning to ride a bike or more complex phenomena such as; learning how to play chess, learning a language? Several learning theories attempted to answer these questions; behaviourist, cognitive, humanist and constructivist learning theories respectively. In the following lines we will try to outline principles of those theories and how constructivist learning theory can be applied to English Language Teaching domain.


‘The first coherent theory of learning was the behaviourist theory based mainly on the work on the work of Pavlov in the Soviet Union and of Skinner in the United States. This simple but powerful theory said that learning is a mechanical process of habit formation and proceeds by means of the frequent reinforcement of a stimulus response sequence.’ (Hutchinson & Waters, 1986, p.40) While behaviourism defines learning just as habit formation, cognitive learning sees learning more complex; ‘learning takes place in the human organism through a meaningful process of relating new events or items to already existing cognitive concepts or propositions-hanging new items on existing cognitive pegs’.(Brown 1987, p.65). But according the humanist learning theorists learning takes place if the learner wants to learn that is the ‘must’ of the learning of any kind, the last theory constructivism points out that ‘learning is an active process in which the learner uses sensory input and constructs meaning out of it.’ ( Hein, 1991)

For behaviourism learners are passive receiver of information, for cognitive learning learners are active processor of knowledge, for humanism learners are emotional being, for constructivism learners are the constructors of the knowledge. Except for behaviourism all other three theories are learner centred. According to cognitive learning theory and constructivism learning is a process whereas it is seen as an event...
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