A Learning Theory Essay...

Psychological Theories of Learning and the Lesson Plan

The key duty of teachers in further education is responsibility for the provision and control of the conditions for effective and successful learning. So the teacher shall consider and understand important answers and recommendations given by educational psychology to key question: How do people learn?

Educational psychology is concerned with an investigation of the psychological foundations and characteristics which appear to form the teaching-learning process.

Behaviourist psychology considers that outer, enviromental factors are shaping behaviour; it is about measuring input and output of information . Learners may as well be a machine and it does not consider what actually happens in their mind. The essential forms of learning are stimulation and response, repetition, reinforcement and conditioning. The learning processs is like a systematic conveyor using successful strategies of learning according to repeated outcomes.

Purposive and neo-behaviourists suppose that people respond to a purpose, or act as if they have a purpose, and so the input output strategies also manipulate the purpose that individuals have. Human mind is selective in its actions and not just responsive. Neobehaviourists suggested hierarchical learning behaviour, one step leading to the next one. In a teaching situation it means getting the right new information in as successfully as possible, measured by outcomes and maintaining these outputs. This learning theory is associated with Pavlov, Watson, Thorndike, Skinner and Gagne.

When using behaviourist response to stimuli approach in lesson planning a teacher should consider reinforcement in the way of frequent feedback on learning or delayed feedback with trial and error. Praise, marks and prizes are used as positive or negative (low marks, lack of prizes, punishment) reinforcement.

Programmed learning was derived from behaviourist theories. This suggests the following:introduction on what exactly studets should learn by the lesson's end, the learning should progress in steps, feedback is given at each step; a contract of learning to end with a reward is negotiated and short term frequent immediate rewards to motivate learners.

The positive side of behaviourist approach is that it makes teachers think in detail and plan the learning process and assessment rationally.

This sets the guidelines for teaching methods. Learning objectives can run from designers to teachersand then to students and also become foundation for individual learning.

The weakness of this theory is that human behaviour and learning can't be reduced to conditioned reflexes, inputs and outputs. Criticism is regarding non consistency about where objectives derived and too defining objectives can limit learning, create tendency to easier, trivial objects and using them. Some subjects find criteria as a result of learning not before it. People's behaviour is not the same thing as knowledge. It makes teachers process rather than think.

Cognitive psychology is about understanding the internal processes of learning, understanding, motivation and retention. The mind is broad and complex into which event-responses are absorbed. The brain and mind is the centre of an organism changing and being changed by the environment in a reciprocal manner. It's one's own experinces which leads to crucial changes. The individual is certainly purposeful, but interacting and reacting. Readjusting means growth and we adjust best in adolescence when minds are plastic and attitudes flexible. For teaching, it is where fresh insights and new meanings modify previous important insights in a democratic setting. Having an existing understanding is crucial to receive new understanding. All the insights develop the individual as a whole and there are layers of knowledge - knowing about and knowing to do ("cognitive", "psychomotor"). Students create meaning from what the teaching means to them. This can happen in leaps and starts and developing language is crucial. The culture of society is taught as meaningful to the student, and the student adopts culture through which the whole human being develops. Representative theorists are Bruner (functionalism), Piaget and Ausubel, also Vygotsky.

Criticism is regarding how measurement can take place of what is happening - the inputs should still lead to teacher intended outputs. Also it can enlarge the students' contributions in learning from life and reduce the adaptive role of the teacher.


How students receive and arrange knowledge in individuals' heads. Individual understandings will vary. Dewey - learning to think and reflecting. Teacher plans for effective learning. Bruner says teachers must teach how to think and analyse. Dewey linked learning and social growth. Teaching facts will be forgotten but generalities will do if applied to a number of situations.

Bruner: new information is transformed into existing knowledge and checking against the new situation. There is process and prediction. Bruner speaks of "inquiry training".

Ausebel says new learning gets related to existing cognitive structures, so students must have "advance organisers" to bridge what they do know to what they must know next. In other words, description of the new material comes before a lesson so that it can be prepared cognitively for acceptance within the lesson.

So it is like behaviourism except the focus now is on the process not the inputs and outputs. (page 111) It is an active mind process.

In lesson plans:

Humanistic psychology is where students make conscious choices. Learning and teaching focusses on relationships and values. Experience is already valid. Intrinsic learning (Maslow) rejects drilling and repetition of what are to the student arbitrary meanings and responses. Learning is instead about wisdom and broad life skills. Humans have needs, from the simplest through to the most fulfilling. For teaching, it means facilitating because education relates to counselling, guiding and helping to develop potential and insight. Education should be experiential in order to be successful and fulfilling. The inner being becomes harmonious with the external world. Education is spiritual and people are essentially good (and eager to learn). Knowledge can be beautiful (and people respond to beauty). So the teacher should build a learning atmosphere, clarify the purposes of learning, rely on students' motivations, provide resources, accept content and feelings of students, learn along with the students, share feelings and accept their limitations. Representative theorists are Dewey, Neill, Maslow and Rogers.

Criticism is that motivation isn't so forthcoming (people are not so intrinsically good) and learning can end up being very limited. It is also anti-objective regarding knowledge.


(New Romanticism, Open Schooling, Alternative Education)

Education of the whole person matters more than subjects. There is student participation in shaping the curriculum and attendance. Freedom is stressed as is (page 112) dignity and self-esteem. Maslow hierarchy of needs means a student who feels theatened learning cannot achieve through learning - this first need must be tackled and so improve the learning environment. Rogers pushed student centred learning by active self discovery - learning by doing - and not stimulii. People have a positive desire to develop and the environment should be prepared for this to happen. Learning is experiential - involvement, feelings, thinking, self-initiative and self-evaluation. Students should create their own learning programmes at their own speed; it is autonomy rather than control from others (last part page 113, back to 112...).

Involved is own personality, moving towards independence and self-decision, self-generated goals, development, self-growth, search for meaning, understanding the environment and social setting for learning.

Students must not begin with knowledge misconceptions before constructing knowledge concepts. Some may have to be changed or lost before proceeding. The following from Driver and Bell, 1985.

In lesson plans (this is me):

Which psychology learning theories and methods a teacher should use depends on the nature of the subject and the students in the room. Cognitive methods are preffered for theoretical learner (reading); behaviourist and humanist approaches are useful for pragmatist (tasks, case studies); humanist approaches are attractive for reflective learners (group discussion).

Elena Worsfold



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