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Theories of Learning Adapted from a presentation given by: Dr.Jane Waters

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1 Theories of Learning Adapted from a presentation given by: Dr.Jane Waters

2 Learning and knowing? Do humans learn all that they know? How do we come to know things? Is all learning the same? Do we learn in different ways? Facts – content: I know that….. Opinions – ideas: I think that….. Social position: this is my friend, this is my teacher. Emotions: I feel sad, I am angry. Self image: I am a good pupil, I am a naughty girl.

3 What is learning? The three central theories we will consider suggest learning is: responding to external stimuli – behaviourism; making meaning of experience for oneself – constructivism; making meaning of experience through social negotiation – social constructivism;

4 Behaviourism the ‘empty vessel’; the ‘blank slate’; Burrhus Skinner (1904 – 1990) American psychologist; focused on observable, quantifiable events and behaviour, the effect of the outside world on individual behaviour; not interested in hidden internal processes;

5 Reinforcement Skinner’s theory suggested:  the response a learner receives from an action can increase or decrease the likelihood of that action being repeated;  desirable action can be positively reinforced by reward;  undesirable action can be negatively reinforced by reprimand or punishment;  repetition of such patterns enables child to learn what behaviour is desirable and undesirable;

6 Pavlov’s dogs behaviourism is similar to Pavolv’s theory of operant conditioning; it is a stimulus-response model; assumes learners modify their behaviour (the stimulus) until they receive a positive response; repeated positive response will ensure the behaviour is learnt; suggests that without positive reinforcement a behaviour becomes extinct;

7 Behaviourist teaching approaches repetition of desired responses (drilling, flash cards,times tables chanting …) reward for desired behaviour (smiley faces, praise, house points, merits …) punishments for undesirable behaviour (missing playtime, loss of ‘golden time’, detention, warnings, sanctions …) have been adopted for behaviour management programmes (‘catch them being good’)

8 Constructivism ‘Making meaning’ the ‘lone scientist’; Jean Piaget (1896 – 1980) Swiss biologist observed his children’s cognitive development and thinking; concluded that the human infant actively seeks to make sense of the world; learning is a result of the child’s exploration of and interaction with the environment;

9 Mental structures schema Through the exploration of the environment the child adapts his/her mental structures schema through three processes: Assimilation  New experiences are taken in (assimilated) and added to an increasing store of memory and understanding Accommodation  A new experience does not ‘fit’ with existing understandings and some adjustment (accommodation) in understanding has to take place Equilibrium  The goal of every learner – a balance is achieved (temporarily – until another challenge to that equilibrium comes along and more accommodation is needed)

10 The active learner, the lone scientist learning is seen as an intrinsically motivated (rather than motivated by external reward) the child is mentally active (not a passive receiver) Piaget’s active learner has been described as the ‘lone scientist’ exploring the world to make meaning for him/herself, regardless of social environment;

11 The learning process it has been claimed that Piaget’s work allowed theorists to consider cognitive development (learning) as a process; ‘Learning takes place and provides a foundation for future learning’ (Smidt 2006 p.21) the learner is ACTIVE in this process; learning is not something that is done to the learner, it is something they engage in themselves;

12 Linear development Piaget is also associated with the ‘stage theory’ of cognitive development  This has been heavily critiqued but is still highly influential in UK educational provision. he proposed every child had to pass through 4 stages of learning sequentially; these stages represent different (more complex) ways of thinking and reasoning;

13 Piaget’s stages Sensory motor period: 0-2 years  Physical interaction with the world Pre-operational period: 2-7 years  Exploration of the physical world and how it related to the self (ego-centric understandings) Period of concrete operations: 7-11 years  Logical understandings of the world including reversibility, ordering, sorting, conservation and seriation Period of formal operations: 11-12 upward  Generation of hypotheses and ability to think abstractedly and scientifically

14 Constructivist teaching approaches Practical activity, direct experience Exploration and physical manipulation of materials Focus on pupils making sense of what they are doing/ thinking – explain what you think, tell us how you did it, write down your ideas Starting from current understandings ‘I hear, I forget; I see, I remember; I do, I understand’

15 Social constructivism ‘Active participant’ ‘Negotiated meaning’ Lev Vygotsky (1896 – 1934) Russian psychologist Learners actively make meaning and their social world is fundamental to this process All cognitive functions originate in social interaction and are then internalised on an individual level.

16 The role of others Vygotsky believed the role of other people (adults, siblings and other children) was essential for children's learning The tools of a culture shape the thinking of the young child Tools (cultural tools)  Symbolic tools: e.g. language, art, music  Objects: e.g. pens, phones, computers It is through children's interaction with others and symbolic tools that children collaboratively construct knowledge and understanding

17 Learning … Is not just about things (how it works, scientific concepts) Is also about being part of a community By using the symbolic tools with other people children are part of their culture  This includes beliefs, language, rules – how we act in different situations, with different people

18 Language and culture as tools for understanding All experience is mediated by the language and culture of the group Knowledge is co-constructed by an individual within the social frameworks of language and culture of the group.

19 Experiencing twice Vygotsky suggested that children gain the same knowledge on two levels  First: the social level – by experiencing it with others, maybe more experienced others  Second: the psychological level – by making mental maps of what has been understood Learning happens first through interaction then through internalisation The child is a ‘collaborative learner’ (not a ‘lone scientist’)

20 The ZPD Vygotsky introduced the idea of the “zone of proximal development” (ZPD) Child demonstrates alone what s/he has already mastered  Knowledge and skill that the child has Child can perform at a higher level when he/she is supported by a more capable peer or adult  Knowledge and skill that the child has not yet mastered

21 The ZPD Level of Potential Development Knowledge and understanding which the child may gain in the future but is inaccessible from where they are now (level of actual development) “Zone of Proximal Development” Knowledge and understanding which the child may grasp with the help of a more competent peer or adult – the child is on the edge of her capabilities and needs support [“scaffolding”] Level of Actual Development Knowledge acquired and solid conceptual understanding – what the child can do alone and independently

22 Scaffolding Jerome Bruner (born 1915 American psychologist)  ‘scaffolding’ - the social role of the adult in supporting a child’s learning It is important for anyone helping a child learn to work within this ZPD  working below means the child learns nothing new  working above means the work is inaccessible for the child and beyond their current capabilities The educator ‘scaffolds’ the child’s performance often by providing small steps of guidance  the ‘scaffolding’ is removed once the child can perform alone

23 Social constructivist teaching approaches Collaborative learning methods, encouraging talking together  Talk with your partner and write your answer together Teamwork skills development Discussion of ideas  tell us what your group did/ found out/ explored… Scaffolded learning opportunities maximised  interaction with teacher/other is central to learning process

24 Does it matter? The way teachers think about the learning process guides the way they teach…..Yes it matters! Sometimes ‘what works’ is OK is the short term Good professional practice involves reflecting on why it works, whether it works long term and what alternatives there may be Such reflections will be influenced by understandings of what learning is and how children learn

25 Children’s questions What does thinking look like? What colour is thinking? Why is the moon tall in the water? Where does the sun go? What if I went shopping and I died? Who decides about the vicar? Why did the plane go into the tower?

26 Learning – the biological process 100 billion neurons in the brain The neuron is the functional unit of the brain Neurons communicate using electrical signals and chemical messengers called neurotransmitters that either stimulate or inhibit the activity of a responding neuron

27 A neuron or nerve cell The neuron, or nerve cell, is the functional unit of the nervous system. The neuron has processors called dendrites that receive signals and an axon that transmits signals to another neuron.

28 Neurons transmit information to other neurons Neurons transmit information to other neurons. Information passes from the axon of one neuron to the dendrites of another across a microscopic gap. Information crosses the gap via hook-ups called synapses.

29 What does the research tell us? John Bruer, educationalist, states: neurosciences tell us “absolutely nothing” about early childhood There are a number of ideas that some theorists and practitioners have latched onto There is now a HUGE market for brain stimulation strategies due to ideas about:  Synaptic growth  Critical periods  Enriched environments

30 Impacts on classroom practice However, some ideas based on ‘brain research’ have made their way into the classroom These include:  Left brain, right brain  Brain gym  Visual, auditory, kinaesthetic learning

31 Left brain, right brain Language – left hemisphere Graphic and emotional – right hemisphere Myth:  Pupils are either left – or right brain users Neuroscience suggests that it is dangerous to suppose that language processing only occurs in the left hemisphere of all people Humans are not either – or in their brain use!

32 Brain Gym Look at this website: http://www.learning- http://www.learning- Myth: ‘These movements can have a profound effect, developing the brain's neural pathways through movement, just as nature intended.’ (from the above website) There is no evidence to suggest that such classroom activities have any effect on the brain of young children

33 VAK learners Learning styles Myth:  Everyone has a dominant learning style, either visual, auditory and kinaesthetic Neuroscience tells us that our brains ‘interlink input modalities’ That is, information is taken in via pathways that are inter-linked, for example:  Visual – auditory  Visual - motor  Motor – auditory  Visual - taste

34 To conclude… Three central theories  Behaviourism  Constructivism  Social constructivism You will see aspects of all three theories in practice In the classroom you may see initiatives that claim to be based on international practice or brain research too Maintain a reflective approach…. Good luck!

35 Further reading: Follow up chapter: handout  Wray D. (2006) Unit 2:2 ‘Looking at Learning’ from Arthur, Grainger and Wray [Eds] Learning to Teach in the Primary School Additional summary material:  Smidt S. (2007) Chapters 1-3 The Developing Child in the 21 st Century. London: Routledge

36 References Bruer J: ‘Neural connections: some you use, some you loose’ s.htm s.htm Blakemore S-J. & Frith U. (2005) The Learning Brain Oxford. Blackwell  Chapter 2: ‘The Developing Brain’

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