Saturday, April 21, 2012

Learning Theories

In education there are several theories that are used in the field. The three popular theories are Behaviorism, Cognitivism, and Constructivism.

1.    Behaviourism
In the nineteenth century, Charles Darwin published his well-known work, The Origin  of Species. Scientists soon realized that although humans may differ in many ways  from   other members   of  the   animal   kingdom,  they   do   (at   least   as   far   as   biological  aspects     are concerned)     share    many    similarities  with  them.    Studying    biological  processes   in   animals   could   therefore   shed   some   light   on   the   same processes   in  humans. Scientists interested in psychological processes soon followed the trend.

Around the turn of the twentieth century, Edward Thorndike attempted to develop an objective experimental method to study the behavior of cats and dogs. He designed  a so-called ‘puzzle box’ in which an animal was placed. Each puzzle box had a lever  or   mechanism   that   would   release   the   door   lock   if   the   lever   or mechanism   was  pressed. The animal had to learn to press the lever or mechanism to open the box. Thorndike noticed that he could measure animal intelligence by using this equipment.  He   was   particularly   interested   in   discovering   whether   animals   could   learn   through  imitation or observation.  He noticed that when an animal found itself in a problem situation it had encountered  before,   it   was   more   likely   to   perform   the   same   action   that   had   earlier   brought   the  desired reward. The   reward   of   being  freed   from   the   box   strengthened   the  association  between   the stimulus    (being   placed    in  a  closed   box)   and   an  appropriate    action.   Thorndike  concluded that rewards act to strengthen stimulus-response associations. This basic  principle    he   applied  to  humans     by  claiming    that  humans     develop    a  myriad   of  stimulus-response associations.

JB Watson continued the experimental work along the same lines. He was familiar  with    the classical     conditioning   work      of  the  Russian     physiologist,   Ivan   Pavlov.  Pavlov’s research on dogs revealed that certain behaviour (responses) in dogs could  be    made     into  a  habit.   Watson     believed    that  classical   conditioning    is  the   key  mechanism underlying all human learning.  Consider,   for   example,   the   child   who   refuses   to   go   to   school   in   the   morning.   Who  taught the child to behave in this way? Possibly, a bully scared the child and instilled  fear in him/her. The child linked going to school with the bully and therefore going to school   became   a   frightening   experience   to   him/her.   The   result   is   that   whenever  school time comes, the child becomes unruly and scared. Watson saw these ‘built in’ (conditioned) behaviours everywhere.

In the 1930s, BF Skinner did a lot of research on laboratory rats and   pigeons. He found that he could change the behaviour of his laboratory animals in startling ways just by the judicious use of rewards.  In one of his famous experiments he taught a pigeon   to   dance  by   using   rewards.   What   he   found   in   the   laboratory,   he   applied   to human learning. He     was   confident    that  the   mechanism      of  reinforcement      (reward)   of  responses (Operant      behaviour)    was    at  work   everywhere      in  all  types   of  learning.   Skinner (1996:6) wrote: “While we are awake, we act upon the environment constantly, and many of the consequences of our actions are reinforcing.” Contrary to Watson, who focused on the stimulus that produced a response, Skinner focused on the behaviour (or Operant) and how it was reinforced.

My opinion
     Behaviourism is a theory based on assumption that behaviors are acquired through conditioning and there are responses of the stimuli. Behaviourism describes learning happens in an observable change in behavior so, behavior is the product of conditioning. The behaviors are learned in the process. It uses reward and reinforcement. Behaviourism views learning as something that happens to a person, with the person being passive. The main role is the teacher which have to transfer the knowledge, and the learners need only sit quietly and listen to the teacher.  So, the learner will tend to be passive and they may not have a chance think about what they have known (their opinions).  The learner has a little responsibility concerning his/her own education because they uses low level processing skills to understand the material. And the interaction in the classroom is only between teacher and student. The teacher has the main and important  role (teacher-centered). 

The Relationship with ICT
In technology development, we know  the models of computer use. One of them is Tutor model. I think, tutor model, for example,  computer-assisted instruction (CAI) is recent example of behaviorism.  Why? Because the computer controls the learners by giving instruction (conditioning) and it functions as a tutor. The interaction is just between computer and learners. The learners is just as the receivers, so they they tend to be a passive learner because they are controlled by the computer. In computer as tutor, for instance, learners can answers questions provided by computer and then the computer can score the results of answers.

2.    Cognitivism
The cognitive view of learning, like the behaviourist view, sees knowledge as given  and absolute. Many of the information processing models of teaching and learning  are   based  on   the   cognitive   view   of   learning.   Also   note   that   some   of   the   theorists discussed   so   far   can   be   classified   as   either   behaviourist   or   cognitivist.   This   is   so because       of  the  close relationship between certain   of   the  ideas connected  to memorisation.

Gestalt Theory
The     Gestalt   theory    was   to  a   great   extent   propagated      by  K√∂hler,    Koffka   and Wertheimer
 Proximity:   this   means   that   we   tend   to   group   elements   according   to   their  nearness to one  another and the patterns that they form.  
Similarity:    this implies that we tend to group together items that are similar in  some respect. Obviously by drawing similarities learners are at the same time drawing distinctions between items.
Closure  :  which means that we tend to group items together if they seem to complete some entity.
Simplicity:  stronger   or   more   adequate   patterns   tend   to   dominate   weaker patterns   in   perception.   We   organise   items   into   simple   figures according   to symmetry, regularity and smoothness if they are dominant.
These principles are called the laws of organisation and are used in the context of explaining perception and problem-solving.

Jean   Piaget   (1896-1980)   was   a   psychologist   and   a   pioneer   in   the   study   of   child intelligence.   His   early   studies   in   biology,   and   specifically   evolution,    influenced   his approach to human learning. He believed that the human capacity to think and learn was     an   adaptive     feature    that   enabled     humans      to   deal   effectively    environment. Contrary to the behaviourists and gestalt psychologists, Piaget did not study animals, but small children. Piaget’s     research     in  developmental       psychology      centred    on   the  question     of  how knowledge   develops   in   the   mind.   Piaget   approached   the   problems   of   thinking   and learning by focusing on the mental and cognitive processes that make them possible. This focus became the defining element of the cognitivist theory. According to Piaget, children   shape   their   own   conceptions   of   reality   through   continuous   interaction   with their environment. Cognitive development therefore occurs as children adapt to their environment, thus building their sense of reality. Piaget     regarded     knowledge      growth     as  something      that   happens     continually    in  a sequential       process     consisting      of   logically   embedded         structures    (schemata) succeeding       one    another    throughout     an   individual’s    lifetime.   This   is  divided   into stages of development and children move from one stage to the next by maturation and exploration. Piaget identified the following developmental stages:
The   sensorimotor   stage:  For   the  first   year   and   a   half   to  two   years   of   life, infants are only aware of sensorimotor experiences. Thus they do not know  how things will react, and so are always experimenting-shaking things, putting them in their mouths, or throwing them. In this way, they learn to co-ordinate their physical movements. Their learning is mainly by trial and error.
The preoperational stage: This is a stage from around 18-24 months to 7   years,   when   children   can   think   about   things   in   symbolic   terms.   They   can pretend,   verbalise,   and   understand   past   and   future.   However,   cause-and- effect, time, comparison, and other complex ideas are still out of reach.The child is still not able to construct abstract ideas and to operate on them solely   in   the   mind.   The   child   works   with   the   concrete,   physical   situation   in  front of him/her. 
The concrete operational stage:  From 7-12 years, children gain new competencies in thinking and become involved in events outside of their lives. The child is finally able to start to conceptualise things after a great deal of  physical      experimentation        with    objects.    The    child   can     do   subtraction, multiplication, division, and addition of numbers, not just things. However, the ability to tackle a  problem    with   several    variables    in  a  systematic     way    is unusual at this stage.
The formal operational stage: From 12 years old and so on, learners are able to   think   about    abstract    relationships      (as   in  algebra),  understand  methodology,         formulate hypotheses, and think about possibilities    and  abstractions like justice.
Piaget     outlined     several    principles    for   building    cognitive    structures.    During     all developmental   stages,   the   child   experiences   his/her   environment   using   whatever mental maps he/she has constructed so far. If the experience is a repeat one, it fits easily   into   the   child’s   cognitive   structure   (that   is   it   is  assimilated  into   the   existing cognitive structure) so that the child maintains mental equilibrium. If the experience is   different   or   new,   the   child   loses   equilibrium   (hence  disequilibrium),   and   alters his/her cognitive structure to accommodate the new conditions. In this way, the child builds more and more adequate cognitive structures.   
My opinion      
Cognitivism is a theory that based on the thought process behind the behavior. Cognitivism describes how information is processed to produce learning. The assumption is humans are logical beings that make the choices that make the most sense to them. Contrary to behaviorism, the learner is being very active to involve in the learning process. They are not passive receivers of given conditions, so they can control their own learning. The role of teacher is as a facilitator which brings various learning experiences in learning situation which can impact learning outcomes.

The Relationship with ICT
The relationship with ICT we can see in the model of computer use, Tutee model or LOGO computer. In the tutee model, the role of computer as a partner which the learners teaches the computer. The  learners are challenged to create their own activities by programming the computer. The learners need to be creative using the computer.

3.    Constructivism
The     constructivist      view    of  learning     assumes       different    forms    just   like   the aforementioned theories.? In essence, constructivist theories see knowledge as a constructed entity. This view of knowledge contradicts the view that knowledge is given   and   absolute.   The   constructivist   approach   is   based   on   the   premise   that,   by reflecting on our experiences, we construct our own understanding of the world we live   in.   Thus   individuals   use   their   own   mental   constructs   to   make   sense   of   their experiences.

Lev     Vygotsky     (1896-1934),      a   Soviet    psychologist,     was    convinced      that   social interaction   plays   a   fundamental   role   in   the   development   of   cognition.   According   to him  culture  was   a   determinant   of   individual       development.   Humans   are   the   only species to have cultures, and every human child develops in the context of a culture. Therefore, human cognitive development is affected to a larger or lesser extent by the culture in which individuals are enmeshed, including family environments. According to Vygotsky, culture seems to make two kinds of contributions to children’s intellectual development. Firstly, children acquire much of the content of their thinking  (cognition)   from   it   and,   secondly,   they   acquire   the   processes   or   means   of   their thinking from it. In short, culture teaches children both what to think and how to think. In   this  way,    children   are   very   likely  to  model    their  behaviour     on   the  observed behaviour of their parents. Learning is therefore dependent on social interaction.
One   of   the   notable   aspects   of   learning   that   Vygotsky   highlighted   was   that   a   child learns   better   with   the   help   of   an   adult.   He   did   not   assign   much   importance   to   the stages   of   development   of   a   child   (like   Piaget   did),   but   was   more   interested   in   the potential   for   cognitive   development.   This,   he   believed,   is   limited   to   a   certain   time span which he called the ‘zone of proximal development’ (ZPD). At any given time in a child’s development, he/she will be more susceptible to certain new knowledge. Obviously, if new knowledge is not forthcoming then the child would have probably reached the highest point of his/her knowledge. In order for the child to increase his knowledge, then an adult (for example a teacher) would have to scaffold a child to new heights of knowledge in a particular domain.

Bruner’s theory linked to child development research as he worked with children in a manner similar to Piaget. Bruner identified the following three stages of development:
The enactive stage, in which the child understands the environment through
physical manipulation and handling of objects-holding, moving, touching, and biting.
The iconic stage, in which information is carried by imagery-visual memory is 
developed but the child still bases his/her decisions on sensory impressions.
The  symbolic  stage,   in   which   the  child  is   able  to   convey  meaning   through
symbols-he/she is able to understand and interpret idiomatic expressions (like
‘too many cooks spoil the broth’) and use formulas to solve problems.
Bruner believes that learning situations should be structured to enable the learner to learn.   He   recognises  the   futility   of   trying   to   know   everything,   but   insists   that   we should    all  acquire  a   rich  conceptual   framework     (the ‘bigger   picture’).  As  far   as teaching is concerned, the educator should try and encourage learners to discover principles by themselves and to develop the ‘big picture’.

My Opinion
Constructivism is the theory that describes learning to due to the construction of knowledge. The theory focuses on the understanding the information. Learners construct their  own perspective of the world, through individual experiences or learning experiences. Different with behaviorism theory which is more teacher-center, constructivism is more learner-centered. Although both cognitivists and constructivist view the learner as being actively involved in the learning process, the constuctivists look at the learner as more than just an active processor of information. Learners create or search their own meaning of knowledge. According to Constructivism, the learners work together or learn one another and not only in isolation from others to acquire the new information (collaborative learning).

The Relationship with ICT
The relationship between Constructivism with ICT is the model of computer use, computer supported collaborative learning (CSCL). CSCL enables learners to learn not only between student and the computer, but with others in the classroom or in other country because CSCL enables learners to connect with the Internet and learning happens both conventional and virtual learning. Learners must be an autonomous learners which create their own learning experience. They can explore their own knowledge or the world through this computer. They learn by collaboration.

The differences of behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism:
  •      The focus of learning:
     Behaviorism :is on conditioning
     Cognitivism : is on increasing meaning
     Constructivism : is on constructing meaning and problem solving
  •      Learning concept:
      Behaviorism : reinforcement
      Cognitivism : elaboration
      Constructivism : intrinsic motivation
  •      Centred on:
      Behaviorism : teacher
      Cognitivism : learner
      Constructivism : learner


Zamzblog said...

Dear Rinda,

This is good presentation, quite detail and comprehensive. You have also your own opinion or comment on each theory, which are good of course. You can again give more detail discussion provided with sufficient examples, if you want to make it better. Good luck.

Your Tutor,

Zainal Arifin.

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