People have been trying to understand the learning process for over 2000 years. It was discussed and debated at great length by the Greek philosophers such as Socrates (469 – 399 BC), Plato (427 – 347 BC) and Aristotle (384 – 322 BC) (Hammond et al, 2001). This debate has carried on through the ages and still goes on today with a multitude of viewpoints on the purpose of education and how best to encourage learning to eventuate.
Plato and his disciple Aristotle were inaugural in this debate and asked if truth and knowledge were to be found inside of us, or whether they would be learned from outside by using our senses. Plato believed the truth would be found from within through reasoning, deduction and self-reflection and so brought about rationalism. On the other hand Aristotle believed the truth would be found through experience and founded the idea of empiricism and so these antithetical views were born. Aristotle’s approach was far more scientific compared to Socrates’ dialectic method of discovery through conversations with fellow citizens. An approach that calls for discussion and reflection, as tools for developing thinking, owe much to Socrates and Plato (Hammond et al, 2001).
Learning theory is about learning as a process and how it may take place. It is about how information can be absorbed, processed and retained and the influence that emotions, environment and mental processes can have on acquiring, augmenting and modifying knowledge and skills.
Having knowledge of learning theory equips teachers to better understand the multitudinous categories of learners they will encounter and the numerous strategies they can employ to create an effective learning environment.
Although the Greek philosophers are considered to be some of the earliest thinkers on learning, it was not until the mid 1800’s when psychology emerged as a separate discipline that any new learning theories emerged. The first of these was behaviourism,
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