Learning Theories In Educational Essays Topics

Modern methodologists put a lot of effort defining the best methodological model for students and for the future perspective. There are a lot of learning approaches and it’s not easy to choose the best one. In the papers I will concentrate on behaviorist and constructivist models of learning, their definitions, differences and similarities.

Behaviorism concentrates on learning through observing. Behaviorists believe that individuals need reinforcements as positive stimulus for their good actions and punishments for mistakes and blunders. According to this theory the surrounding shapes behavior and the learning process must be composed of small steps. Lefrancois defines main principles of behaviorism as following “They make use of one or both of two principal classes of explanations for learning: those based on contiguity (simultaneity of stimulus and response events) and those based on the effects of behavior (reinforcement and punishment)”.

Constructivism regards learning as a process, where the new ideas are built of constructed in the minds of learners and these models are based on the past knowledge. It puts the individual in the center of learning process and learning is regarded view as highly individual process. The knowledge is acquired through internalization. According to the constructivism theory the teacher works as a facilitator who helps to acquire the students the new material by problem-solving tasks and giving them interesting tasks. Gredlers defines constructivism as “Several related perspectives that view knowledge as a human construction. This theory was derived from Piaget’s perspective of learning, which views the learner’s knowledge as adaptive. The teacher’s role is to challenge the child’s way of thinking.” Constructivism model is associated with construction; constructing in the minds of minds of students.

Constructivism is often opposed to behaviorism. Behaviorism is interested in the study of changes of behavior caused by the changes of mental state. Learning is regarded as a process of changing or conditioning observable behavior as a response to selective reinforcement of an individual’s response. The mind of the child born is regarded as an empty vessel or “tabula rasa” to be fulfilled by the information from the surrounding. Teacher is supposed to transmit the knowledge from the world to the minds of pupils. Behaviorism relies on transmission, instructionism and hard control from the side of the teacher. It’s a teacher directed method. Behaviorists believe that there can be chosen the objective knowledge to describe the world and the process of learning can be reduced to the transmission and it states that what one person (the teacher) knows can be passed to the minds of others (students). “The goal of designers or teachers is to interpret events for them. Learners are told about the world and are expected to replicate its content and structure in their thinking” (Jonassen 1991, p.28). The behaviorist approach has created a stereotyped model of teaching which is often criticized by modern methodologists. The main points which are criticized are teacher-directed model where the students and given little possibilities for creativity and self-realization. It realizes a lot on the text books and fixed picture of what should be studied and there is very little space left for students’ creativity, making questions. While behaviorism relies on the objectiveness and behavior manifestation, cognitivism counts on the meaning, representation and thought or, to express it in few words counts on cognitive approach. Here lie the main differences in these two approaches and the way in which the knowledge is acquired, the prioritized types of knowledge, skills and activities chosen for learning process. Different goals are established and different means are chosen for their realization.

The roles of students and teachers are radically different in these two approaches. According radical constructivist conception of learning, the teachers play the role of a “midwife in the birth of understanding” which is opposed to the behaviorism “mechanics of knowledge transfer”. In constructivism the teacher isn’t supposed to transfer the new material to the students, but to make the willing to acquire new things setting up problem tasks and questions and prepare the soil for cognition, to show the way but to let the student to make the steps themselves. Gergen views, teachers as coordinators, facilitators, resource advisors, tutors or coaches. The concept of learning is central to constructivism. Unlike behaviorism which’s main goal is to give the new knowledge to the students by the way of punishment and reinforcement constructivism emphasizes the necessity to show the students the way to study correctly. Von Glasersfeld views its main goal in teaching the “self-regulation and the building of conceptual structures through reflection and abstraction”. So, we can say that behaviorism concentrates on the product of study and constructivism concentrates on the process itself. In constructivism the process of problem-solving is important but not the solutions itself. If to teach the students to look for the answers themselves they will be able to choose any problem in the future even if they don’t succeed in this very task. And different attitude to the mistakes of the students come from these differences in the approaches. In behaviorism the mistakes are corrected immediately and ambiguity is not supposed. The constructivist approach allows multiple choices and since it doesn’t concentrate on the result gentle correction of mistakes is saluted.

In modern methodology there is a tendency to change the behaviorist approach which was popular during past years into new approaches such as constructivism and others which let develop thinking, creativity and imagination.


  • http://.www.artsined.com/teachingarts/Pedag/Constructivist.html
  • Tynjala, P. 1999. Towards Expert Knowledge? A Comparison between a Contructivist and a Traditional Learning Environment in University. International Journal of Educational Research 31(5), 357- 442.
  • Extraordinary Teachers by Fred Stephenson Jr
  • Students’ ideas of learning: Conceptions, approaches, and outcomes in different educational contexts by Gunilla Eklund-Myrskog
  • Multimedia Learning by Richard E. Mayer
  • Collaborative Learning Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty by Elizabeth Barkley, l 2003

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1 Introduction

2 Learning theories
2.1 Behavioural learning theories
2.1.1 Implication of the behavioural learning theories
2.2 Cognitive learning theories
2.2.1 Implication of the cognitive theories of learning to the development of teaching
2.3 Developmental theory of learning
2.3.1 Stages of cognitive development
2.3.2 Contribution of developmental theories in teaching and learning;
2.4 Constructivism theories of learning
2.4.1 Contribution of Constructivism theories to teaching and learning
2.5 Information processing theory of learning
2.5.1 Contribution of the theory in teaching and learning process
2.6 Humanistic theory of learning
2.6.1 Contribution of Humanistic theories to teaching and learning

3 Conclusion


1 Introduction

In this paper the concept of teacher development is well examined, and theories pertaining to it are also linked to. There are some important terms that need clarification and defining before the concept is explored in deep. The reasons why some terms are worth clarifying is the need for shared understanding. The absence of shared (common) understanding threatens construct validity, and difficulty in identifying teacher development process.

Development is a process that involves change from a primitive state to a more advanced one. The United Nations Development Programme uses a more detailed definition and according to them development is to lead long and healthy lives, to be knowledgeable, to have access to the resources needed for a decent standard of living and to be able to participate in the life of the community. Human development can be viewed as freeing people from obstacles that affect their ability to develop their own lives and communities. Development is about empowerment, it is about people taking control of their own lives, expressing their own demands and finding their own solutions to their problems Teacher development is a process whereby teachers’ professionality and/or professionalism may be considered to be enhanced (Evans, 2002). This is to say that the process of teacher development is about both the status and attitude towards the profession. Professionalism is about the status of the profession and in this regard it is about developing teachers’ status professionally. Professionality is about the attitude towards the profession and in this regard it is about developing positive attitude towards it. Evans (2002) asserts that teacher development process may enhance the status of the profession as a whole and improve teachers’ knowledge, skills, and practice.

A profession refers to an occupation that requires specialised education, knowledge, training and ethics whose members earn their living from what they do and are expected to meet and maintain common standards (WiseGeek, 2012). Generally a profession is an occupation, vocation and/or high status career usually involving prolonged academic training, formal qualification and/or membership of a profession or regulatory body.

The teaching profession not only ought to have the qualities but also strive to maintain them. Teacher professional development is the acquisition of different perspectives and ideas, and the incorporation of a wider vision of what teaching involves (Evans, 2002). Koda (2006) defined teachers’ professional development as one component of school improvement involving teachers seeking guidance through strategies such as clinical supervision. Generally professional development for teachers is the process whereby teachers upgrade and improve their practices whose end is not pre-determined.

A theory as defined by Chunck (2012) is a scientifically acceptable set of principles offered to explain a phenomenon. A theory provides frameworks foe interpreting environmental observation and serves as a bridge between research and education. Ary, Jacobs, and Sorensen (2010) give characteristics of a theory which among others include:

- A theory should be able to explain observable factors relating to a particular problem.

- A theory should be consistent with observable facts and with the already established body of knowledge.

- A theory should provide means for its verification.

- A theory should stimulate new discoveries and indicate further areas in need of investigation.

In teacher development, theories of learning are of concern. This is because in the teaching profession much of the practice and development in the field borrow ideas from learning theories.

2 Learning theories

Learning is an enduring change in behaviour, or the capacity to behave in a given fashion which results from practice or other forms of experience (Chunk, 2012). Learning can also be looked at as a relative permanent change of behaviour as a result of experience.

Learning theories are theories whose main concern is to link research with education. In other words learning theories explain how learning and teaching processes should be and/or should take place. As teachers deal with teaching and of equal importance learning of students, the contribution of various learning theories to teacher development is with some detail given hereunder.

Although theories differ in many ways, including their general assumptions and guiding principles, many rest on a common foundation. These theories differ in how they predict that learning occurs—in the processes of learning—and in what aspects of learning they stress. Thus, some theories are oriented more toward basic learning and others toward applied learning and, within that, in different content areas; some stress the role of development, others are strongly linked with instruction; and some emphasize motivation.

2.1 Behavioural learning theories

Behavioural learning theories view learning as change in rate/frequency of occurrence, or form of behaviour or response which occurs primarily as a function of environmental factors (Chunk, 2012). They also contend that learning involves the formation of associations between stimuli and responses. Behaviourists explain learning in terms of observable phenomena, and reinforcing consequences make the response more likely to occur whereas punishing consequences make it less likely. The role of environment specifically how stimuli are arranged and presented and how responses are reinforced are of most important. Motivation is the process whereby goal-directed activities are instigated and sustained.

2.1.1 Implication of the behavioural learning theories

As environment properly arranged help learning to occur, teachers should prepare the environment that will help learners to learn such as arranging activities that suit environment. Teachers also need to help learners make practice of what they have learned. This is important as learning is subject to the rate of occurrence of behaviour. The practicing is important for strengthening the responses.

Learning should be reinforced. Students should therefore be given rewards. Teachers are to reward any desired behaviour in learning. However to weaken the undesired behaviour learned, teachers should apply punishment. In developing the profession of teaching, teachers have to note that developing professionally has some benefits such as being able to help learners learn. Increasing the knowledge base, being rewarded economically and developing/improving their personal lives. This is to say teachers plan to develop professionally due to these observable benefits as well.

2.2 Cognitive learning theories

Cognitive learning theorists stress the acquisition of knowledge and skills, formation of mental structures and processing of information and beliefs (Chunk, 2012). To cognitivists, learning is an internal mental phenomenon inferred from what people say and do. They contend that learning best takes place by doing it (Aggarwal, 1994).

Cognitivists acknowledge the role of environmental conditions as influences on learning, but teachers’ explanations and demonstrations of concepts serve as environmental inputs for students. Practice of skills and correct feedback as needed promote learning. What students do with information, how they attend to, rehearse, transform, code, store, and retrieve is critically important. In general cognitivists suggest that learning takes place in the mind as is a result of mental processes on the information received.

2.2.1 Implication of the cognitive theories of learning to the development of teaching

Teachers should organise the teaching materials in a way that the concept in them can easily be acquired and processed by learners’ mind. Teachers need to use variety of teaching techniques. This helps teachers lead students to explore the concepts from different angels. Observational learning by Albert Bandura suggests that students learn by observing. Teachers therefore need to be role models to their students.

Current learning builds upon the previous one. Teachers therefore should seek for students’ prior knowledge before they launch new concepts. Teachers need to provide exercises and practices to the learners. This is because students learn best in the course of doing exercises. Exercises help to accommodate the information into the mind. Courses and topics should be divided into subparts which can easily be understood by students. The small parts should be taught in such a way that they reinforce each other.

2.3 Developmental theory of learning

This theory was put forward by Jean Piaget whose study focused on the development of children understanding. He did this through observing them while talking and performing different activities. His view was on how children`s minds work and develop has contributed a lot in education. His particular insight was on the role of maturation in increasing capacity of children to understand their world. It was recognized that, children cannot undertake certain tasks until they are psychologically mature enough to do so (Atherton, 2011).

Piaget put forward some ideas relating on his study;

- Assimilation: The process by which a person takes material into their mind from the environment, which may mean changing the evidence of their senses to make it fit

- Accomodation: The difference made to one's mind or concepts by the process of assimilation. Note that assimilation and accommodation go together: you can't have one without the other

- Conservation: The realization that objects or sets of objects stay the same even when they are changed about or made to look different.

- Egocentrism: the belief that you are the centre of the universe and everything revolves around.

- Schema (or scheme): The representation in the mind of a set of perceptions, ideas, And /or actions, which go together (Atherton, 2011).

2.3.1 Stages of cognitive development

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Jean Piaget believed that humans learn through the construction of one logical structure after another. He also concluded that the logic of children and their modes of thinking are initially entirely different from those of adults.

2.3.2 Contribution of developmental theories in teaching and learning;

- A teacher's planning should provide opportunities for both learner and teacher to obtain and use information about progress towards learning goals. It also has to be flexible to respond to initial and emerging ideas and skills. Planning should include strategies like; how learners will receive feedback, how they will take part in assessing their learning and how they will be helped to make further progress to ensure that learners understand the goals they are pursuing and the criteria that will be applied in assessing their work (alternative assessment).

- Learner involvement: the learner is engaged as a partner and encouraged to take the driving seat in learning so that they develop their own skills and awareness through self-assessment and peer review as well as through constructive feedback from teacher

- In teaching and learning teachers should treat students according to their level of maturity .This will enable learners to impart knowledge and skills compatible to their understanding ability. For example our education system in Tanzania is 2-7-4-2-3+ .where 2 stands for preschool education, 7 stands for primary education, 4 stands for ordinary level secondary education, 2 stands for advanced level secondary education and 3+ stands for tertiary education respectively (MoEVT, 1995).This structure also reflects also the age of learners for example preschool children can start at the age of 5-6 years the time where their is rapid language development. Teachers of this level do so to meet this objective.

- Teaching should commence from simple to complex or from abstract to concrete as far as development and maturity are concerned

2.4 Constructivism theories of learning

Constructivism is a theory of knowledge with roots in philosophy, and psychology. The founders of this theory are : Vygotsky, Brunner and John Dewey, they believe that (1) knowledge is not passively received but actively built up by the cognizing subject; (2) the function of cognition is adaptive and serves the organization of the experiential world . In other words, "learning involves constructing one's own knowledge from one's own experiences." Constructivist learning, therefore, is a very personal endeavor, where by internalized concepts, rules, and general principles may consequently be applied in a practical real-world context. Meaning that humans generate knowledge and meaning from an interaction between their experiences and their ideas i.e. students will learn best by trying to make sense of something on their own with the teacher as a guide to help them along the way.

Hawkins (1994) said that knowledge is actively constructed by learners through interaction with physical phenomenon and interpersonal exchanges. Mathew (1994) said that constructivist teaching and constructivist learning are Oxymoronic terms meaning that they are two terms which goes together but they are controversial to each other. In constructivist teaching the teacher is required to enact agendas from outside the classroom that is it has to be of societal imperative but intended to enrich the curriculum at classroom level. Bell (1993) describes four forms of constructivist relationship between teacher and student these are;

Power on: This is a traditional approach of instruction where the teacher teaches and he/ then allows students to construct new knowledge post teaching process.

Power of: This is also a traditional approach of instruction where the teacher ignores learning opportunities in the course of teaching but students are told to take note of them to be explored post learning process.

Power for: This is a democratic approach of teaching where the learner is freer to explore physical environment so as to solve some problems and create new knowledge.

Power with: This is a democratic approach of teaching where learners have high opportunity in the course of learning. It was contended that, constructivist teaching scheme has five phases which are:

(i) Orientation: Focusing learners interest on a particular area for learning

(ii) Elicitation: Helping children become aware of their prior knowledge so that teacher can know student range of ideas.

(iii) Restructuring ideas: Helping children become aware of an alternative point of view these goes together with modifying, replacing or extending views.

(iv) Application of new idea: Reinforcing the newly constructed idea

(v). Review: Reflection on how learner`s ideas have changed (Methew,1994)

2.4.1 Contribution of Constructivism theories to teaching and learning

The theory has far-reaching consequences for cognitive development and learning as well as for the practice of teaching in schools.

- Constructivism views each learner as a unique individual with unique needs and complex backgrounds, teacher must help these students to attain their goals.

- Uniqueness and complexity of the learner encourages the teacher to utilize it as an integral part of the learning process. Professional development should consider the important of using learners experience in teaching and learning process

- Learners are challenged within close proximity to their current level of development. By experiencing the successful completion of challenging tasks, learners gain confidence and motivation to embark on more complex challenges Vygotsky call it as zone of proximal development(ZPD) (Vygotsky, 1978). Teachers should encourage and accept student autonomy and initiative. They should try to use raw data and primary sources, in addition to manipulative, interactive, and physical materials. So that students are put in situations that might challenge their previous conceptions and that will create contradictions that will encourage discussion among them. In our teaching therefore we need to use some activities which originate from our environment so that learning can be meaningful to students.

- Constructivist approach insists that instructors/ facilitator must help the learner to get to his or her own understanding of the content i.e. teacher should encourage student critical thinking and inquiry by asking them thoughtful, open-ended questions, and encourage them to ask questions to each other. So that students can construct their own meaning when learning (Hawkins1994).

2.5 Information processing theory of learning

Ashcraft,(1994) contends that, information processing is a cognitive process which attempts to explain how the mind functions in the learning process. With this theory more emphasis is on how the information is processed than, how learning happens. The theory has three basic components which are;

- Sensory register(SR)

- Short term memory (STM) or working memory

- Long term memory (LTM)

Sensory register

This is a stage, where the learner receives the information through senses and stores it in a short tem memory. At this point the information stays for only a fraction of a second; this is because this region is continuously bombarded by information which tends to replace the first information (Shunk,1994).

Short term memory

The information registered at (SR) is then shunted to the short term memory, where its storage at this region is facilitated by process called chunking and rehearsal. Information here stays for not more than twenty seconds. If chunking and rehearsing does not occur within 20 seconds then the information will lapse. This region has an ability of storing seven plus or minus two units of information.

Long term memory

In order for the information to be available in a long term memory it must be transferred from short term memory to long term memory by a process called encoding. At this point the new knowledge is related to the prior knowledge stored in long term memory resulting into persistence and meaningful learning by a process called spreading activation. Mental structures called schema are involved in storage, organization and aiding of retrieval of information. Met cognition is an awareness of structures and the process involved (Bigus, 2011).

2.5.1 Contribution of the theory in teaching and learning process

- The theory depicts to teachers on the role of organizing properly the process of teaching and learning, so as to make sure that processing of information goes smoothly

- The theory also shows that curriculum should be organized in such a way that the sequence of materials reflects the notion of repetition so that the content at one level is built on the basis of the previous one.

- The theory also stipulates the kind of knowledge and the way learners can inculcate them .These are procedural knowledge and declarative. Where it is known that procedural knowledge needs more emphasis and time than declarative knowledge.

2.6 Humanistic theory of learning

The founder of the theory is Albert Bandura who used the term social learning or observational learning to describe this theory of learning. He believes that learning is essentially a human activity and every person‘s experience. Learning can be due to incidental social interaction and observation. Learning occurs through imitational and modeling while one observes others. The behavior of the teacher has more influence to learners because learner will imitate the behavior of the teacher regardless of whether is good or bad (Omari, 2006).

2.6.1 Contribution of Humanistic theories to teaching and learning

To implement this type of learning the following should be considered;

a. Learning focus on the need of the learner and human development

b. Learning which lead to acquiring personal emotional and satisfaction e.g. imitating some body‘s style of dressing, talking, acting etc.

c. Teacher must plan teaching materials which help student to develop individual skills and unlearn what is not good which was learned some time ago e.g. during child hood time.

In general theories of learning help teachers in many ways while developing the curriculum, these theories help teachers in Grade placement for objectives which are educationally attainable, Tyler (1949), use educational psychology to filter/screen the curriculum objectives before it is used in planning of the curriculum, suggestion of time i.e. age/level required to attain certain educational objective and at which it is appropriate to teach certain content. Teacher use educational learning theories in solving some psychological problem for their students like using punishment, psychology of learning help instructor in deciding the nature of learning and how to achieve it when planning for teaching and learning process.

3 Conclusion

To sum up the discussion it can be said, that learning theories are of great importance to teachers in implementing their responsibilities. In Tanzania education system behaviorism and cognitivsim are the theories which are much applied by educational stakeholders this is manifested in the way teachers teach and the way assessment is conducted. For example in assessment teachers and other examination boards set examinations aiming to measure understanding in cognitive domain leaving behind affective and psychomotor domains


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