In reviewing the process of learning theories a definition of learning would appear to be a fundamental focus point from which to initiate discussion. Without the knowledge of how we learn, how are we to understand its importance for learners and their abilities to grasp the information being given? This definition of learning implies three objectives: 1. that learning must change the student in some way;
2. that this change comes about as a result of experience; 3. that this is a change in the student’s potential behaviour; Cohen et al. (2003:15)
I intend to explore three theories of learning - the behaviourist approach of Frederic Skinner, the cognitivist model of Jerome Bruner and Abraham Maslow’s humanist approach. I shall explain these approaches and there use in practice using examples from research, my teaching experience and observations of colleagues. Finally I shall consider the implications they have for my future practice.
The behaviourist and cognitive approaches have predominated in education overtime. Operant conditioning was expounded by Skinner a behaviourist, in his theory of positive reinforcement. This theory makes three assumptions; firstly that learning is manifested by a change in behaviour, secondly that the environment shapes behaviour and thirdly that the principles of contiguity and enforcement (how close in time two events must be for a bond to be formed) are central to explaining the learning process. (Moore, 2000)
I have observed colleagues using negative and positive reinforcement. For example, whilst observing a year 9 PSHE lesson the teacher made it clear from the onset that she would be rewarding those students who she thought had contributed well, remained on task and behaved appropriately. She also instructed the students to place their school reward...