Learning Styles and Theorists

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As a result of the work of many Educational Psychologists-over many years-various explanations of learning styles have evolved. All of these studies were undertaken to determine how we as humans learn. "In its broadest sense, learning can be defined as a process of progressive change from ignorance to knowledge, from inability to competence, and from indifference to understanding....In much the same manner, instruction-or education-can be defined as the means by which we systematize the situations, conditions, tasks materials, and opportunities by which learners acquire new or different ways of thinking, feeling, and doing." Cameron Fincher,"Learning Theory and Research," in Teaching and Learning in the College Classroom, edited by Kenneth A. Feldman and Michael Paulson, Ashe Reader Series, Needham, MA: Ginn Press, 1994 Traditional learning theorists seem to mainly fall under the following headings: Behaviourist, Humanist and Cognitivist-Constructivist. Behaviourism refers to the school of psychology founded by John B Watson 1878-1958. It is divided into two processes of learning. These are classical and operant conditioning. B.F Skinner developed these theories and even applied them to his own children. Skinner believed that by praising a child for good behaviour or actions, it encouraged them to repeat the positive behaviour. “All we need to know in order to describe and explain behaviour is this: Actions followed by good outcomes are likely to recur and actions followed by bad outcomes are less likely to recur” (BF Skinner 1953). Operant Conditioning is a theory in which focus is given to reinforcing positive behaviour with rewards, or punishing negative behaviour with withdrawal of privileges. Skinner studied experiments Pavlov did on his dog-stimulus and response. He rang a bell and gave the dog food. He repeated this many times and observed that when the bell rang the dog knew that food was coming-an example of a positive action followed by a positive outcome. This is an example of Classical Conditioning used to shape behaviour- by controlling the rewards and punishment behaviour can be shaped. Skinner compared this learning with the way children learn. This process can be used in the classroom with stickers or house points for positive behaviour and losing golden time (for younger children) or house marks for older children. Skinner argued that control is not wrong, but some of his critics felt that his theory was too controlling and manipulative.

Albert Bandura (1977) states, "Learning would be exceedingly laborious, not to mention hazardous, if people had to rely solely on the effects of their own actions to inform them what to do. Fortunately, most human behaviour is learned observationally through modelling: from observing others one forms an idea of how new behaviours are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action." This is a concept that would be useful with all age groups. If the classroom is very noisy use a quiet voice to model the noise level required, encouraging the children in turn to use their quiet voices imitating the teacher’s behaviour. On reflection the behaviourist and Humanistic approach is very successful when working with the slightly less able children who may have lost confidence due to lack of success compared to their peers in the classroom. Setting achievable targets and giving rewards and praise for success (e.g) sending the child to head of year with their work, boost confidence self esteem. Giving this extra reinforcement using a behaviourist/humanistic approach also builds trust, and with this trust, self confidence and reinforcement they can build the necessary skills to move on to the next level. Many psychologists were not happy with Behaviourism as there was too much emphasis on single events and external stimuli. This was felt especially by Gestalt psychologists. Where Behaviourists looked to the environment, others were...
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