The focus of this assignment is to critically analyse each of learning theories that have been discussed within the module and to debate which, if any, the more effective theory for learning is. In order to respond to the title effectively each of theories must be briefly defined and analysed from both a supporting and critical perspective with the works of noted psychologists and authors to support each claim and perspective.
The first learning theory to be discussed is the behaviouristic theory of learning; this theory according to Kamen (2009) focuses on the innate human drives and how these drives influence our ability to learn and behave. The basic concepts within the behaviouristic learning theory do not consider how different contexts and different genetic make ups affect the desired results of the operant conditioning theory. Children learning with special educational needs and disabilities may not be able to recognise positive or negative reinforcement in the same way as the other children just as behavioural theories do not account for free will and internal influences such as moods, thoughts and feelings.
Another key issue within operant conditioning is how does a person determine what is positive and negative reinforcement. The grounds for so many curriculums and early years??™ courses are based upon the idea that every child matters and every child is different. The reaction one child has to a particular stimulus can be completely different to that of another child presented with the same stimulus; where one child feels proud having their work displayed for good effort another child may feel embarrassed by it. All of the factors within operant conditioning including positive and negative reinforcement, time out and punishment are not tailored to each individual; many of the factors will therefore fail to impact every child??™s behaviour.
It must be taken into consideration that the behaviouristic learning approach provides such an extensive selection of reinforcement concepts that there is an alternate suggestion if one of them should not prove effective; if time out doesn??™t work with one child then perhaps negative reinforcement will. The behaviouristic theory has also provided effective techniques such as intensive behavioural intervention and token economies, both of these approaches are often very useful in changing maladaptive or harmful behaviours in children and adults.
Meadows (1986)suggests that behaviourism is derived from an animal focus and so it is too simplistic a view of human learning and motivation, her work goes on to suggest that rewards can become counterproductive. Students will begin to identify that reinforcement only occurs when they behave as told; this can lead to possible misbehaving out of spite. Students may also become less satisfied by reinforcement the longer it continues and as a result have no self motivation to perform independently. Bee and Boyd (2007) also suggests that behaviourism sees all learning as a by-product of reinforcement and rewards; it does not account for other types of learning, especially learning that occurs without the use of reinforcements or punishments.
Indicate that another problem with behaviour modification methods is that because of their potential power they may encourage unethical and inappropriate uses. Teachers and other influential carers have the ability to use behavioural modifications to make their role easier and to achieve their desired perception of an ideal learner; encouraging a class of students to be silent throughout the lesson is easier for the teacher but not necessarily the optimum condition for learning.
People are able to adapt their behaviour when new information is introduced, even if a previous behaviour pattern has been established through reinforcement. New information can completely erase an already learned behaviour, a concept that behaviourism does not account for.
The second learning theory to be critically analysed is the cognitive theory of learning. The influential theorists of cognitive development are Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky, both of which offer educators a differing yet constructive suggestion on how teach certain material in a developmentally appropriate manner. This does however present an immediate critique of the cognitive theory is the contrasting views of these two theorists; Piaget holds that development proceeds learning while Vygotsky observed that learning proceeds development. The conflicting nature of the cognitive learning theory has, as Sternberg and Zhang (2001) suggests, left much speculation over which theorist was correct thus leaving the theory itself open to discussion.
The work of Jean Piaget strongly holds that all children pass through the stages of development in the same order with no exceptions. Bee and Boyd (2007) emphasise the widespread criticism of Piaget??™s stages of development and argue that the ages at which children reach these different stages varies greatly depending upon a child??™s genetics, background and circumstances. Piaget arguably underestimated the effects of social, motivational and educational influences of cognitive development whilst not adequately addressing any social problems confronting education today. Bruce Emphasises how gender, social class, disability and culture are detrimental factors in determining how and when a child will learn. Her work also indicates that by neglecting to consider these factors, as Piaget did, a child can develop deep rooted problems with not only their ability to learn but also their social and emotional development.
Sternberg and Zhang (2001) explain how Piagets focus on qualitative development had a substantial impact on education; while Piaget did not directly apply his theory to education many educational programs are built upon the concept that children should be taught at the level for which they are developmentally prepared. There is however much debate about how Piaget could identify if a child had successfully completed one stage and effectively moved onto the next. Bee and Boyd (2007) explain that there does not seem to be the consistency of thinking at each stage of development that Piaget believed; students may understand the conservation of number but may not be able to understand the conservation of time.
Piagets clinical method of collecting data has been suspected of using far too complex experiments for young children to understand, it is therefore very likely that young children are much more capable than Piaget had indicated. While Piagets research contributions to our understanding of cognitive development are substantial, Wood (2001) sees his work as often focused exclusively on the use of logical patterns of reasoning and largely neglected other cognitive processes that are important such as creativity.
According to Meadows 91986) Piaget??™s findings from the observations of his own children are widely criticised and deemed bias. The criticism originated not only because Paiaget knew his children, so would anticipate the results, but he only observed white European children. This emphasises the little consideration Piaget gave to culture and its influential effect over learning. Counter arguing this Wood (2001) identifies that Vygotsky performed observations in a variety of different countries and cultures in order to help him identify the effects culture had upon learning.
The cognitive theory is responsible for perhaps one of the most used principles in learning today, the zone of proximal development; a concept that relates to the difference between what a child can achieve independently and what a child can achieve with guidance and encouragement from a more knowledgeable other; Wood (2001) explains that this concept is crucial in enhancing a Childs learning capabilities.
The third and final theory of learning to be discussed is the Humanistic theory of learning. The major focus of humanistic education according to Meadows (1986) is the development of the whole child; this including the child??™s values, emotions, goals and needs. The fundamental belief of humanistic psychology is that people are innately good and that mental and social problems only arise when individuals deviate from this natural tendency. The Humanistic theory of learning has been criticized for its seemingly naive and optimistic view of behaviour; ???it assumes that all people are good and are motivated toward good in attaining self actualization.??? Wood (2001:84)
The Humanistic approach to learning concentrates upon the development of the individuals self concept; learning is the means to progress towards self actualization, a termed coined by Robert Maslow. An individual learns because they are inwardly driven and they deduce a reward from the sense of achievement that having learnt something affords. This concept greatly contradicts from the behaviouristic theory of learning that emphasises the importance of extrinsic rewards through positive and negative reinforcement. Behaviourism is therefore focussed upon rewards from others whereas humanism is focussed upon individuals rewarding themselves.
The work of Meadows (1986) indicates that humanism is perhaps too subjective; the importance of individual experience makes it difficult to objectively study and measure humanistic anomaly. The only means of telling if someone is self actualised is to rely on their own assessments of their experiences, therefore there is no accurate way to measure or quantify the qualities of observations taken in regard to humanistic learning.
Humanistic psychology gives much more credit to the individual in controlling and determining their state of mental development. Rather than simply focussing on a person??™s internal thoughts and desires, humanism also credits the influence of the environment upon a person??™s experience.
Each of the theories discussed hold both advantages and limitations. When considering the relevance that each theory discussed holds over learning, it becomes apparent that there is no dominant theory of relevance. Each of the theories although different, can be used to provide equally substantial explanations and suggestions upon a person??™s ability to learn. From the detailed discussions of the theories above, it is justly summarised that each is conformant to the explanation of learning. It is therefore concluded that without the explanation and confliction of each learning theory, people would not have the ability to consider learning through different perspectives of psychology.
Bee, H. And Boyd, D. (2007) The Developing Child (11th edition), Boston, mass: Allyn and Bacon.
Hetherington, E, M. And Parke, R, D. (1999) Child Psychology; A Contemporary Viewpoint (updated 5th edition) New York: McGraw-Hill.
Kamen, T. (2009) Psychology for Childhood studies, Abingdon: Arrowsmith LTD.
Meadow, S. (1986) Understanding Child Development, London: Junwin Hyman LTD.
R.J. Sternberg and L. Zhang (2001) Perspectives on Thinking, Learning, And Cognitive Styles. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Wood, D. (2001) How Children Think and Learn (2nd edition) Oxford: Blackwell.