Learning Theorists

Topics: Maslow's hierarchy of needs, Psychology, Abraham Maslow Pages: 9 (3399 words) Published: August 22, 2013
Assignment 5 – Learning Theories
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, which was brought to prominence by Ivan Pavlov (1849 – 1936) who won the Nobel Prize in 1904 for his experiments on digestive glands for which he experimented with dogs. Behaviourists are of the opinion that learners are passive and respond to stimuli and do not take in to account internal mental states or consciousness. Gestaltism came to prominence in Germany in 1910 when there was social turmoil in Europe but had moved to the US by the 1930’s to avoid persecution. The lead figures in this movement were Wertheimer, Kofka and Kohler who utilised a holistic approach that sought to reject the mechanistic perspectives of the behaviourists. Considered to be the first educational psychologist, Edward Thorndike continued with the behaviourist theory believing learning was incremental and achieved through a trial and error approach with B. F. Skinner, considered by many to be the father of modern behaviourism, developing this theory further with programmed learning (Ashworth et al, 2004). Behaviourist learning theory had a substantial influence in education but there was a growing body of evidence that more complex tasks requiring a higher level of thinking were not well learned this way with Jean Piaget (1896 – 1980) being the first to state that learning was a developmental cognitive process. Russian teacher Lev Vygotsky expanded Piaget’s developmental theory of cognitive abilities to go beyond the individual and implicate the concept of social cultural cognition. They were both leaders in the cognitivist approach that sees the mind as a “black box” and this box should be opened and understood. This paradigm did not really come to prominence until the early 1960’s when it replaced behaviourism as the dominant force (Anon nd). In the 1960’s we also saw the emergence of Humanist learning theory. Some of the preeminent advocates of this field were Abraham Maslow (1908 – 1970) and Carl Rogers (1902 – 1987) who believed that learning was viewed as a personal act to fulfil...

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