Learning Theories-Background Readings
Tuesday, 14 September 2010 17:31
Research in the fields of Educational Psychology, Cognitive Science, and the Learning Sciences have produced a large body of knowledge about the subject of learning and understanding. While this workshop is not intended as a course in learning theory, or educational psychology, it is important to take away a few points on what this research tells us about human learning and understanding.
Here are a few examples from this literature:
A) 3-key principles of learning - Bransford, Donovan & Pellegrino
B) Learning as internalization of the social - Vygotsky
C) Learning as experience - Kolb
D) Differences in learning styles - Honey and Mumford
3-KEY PRINCIPLES OF LEARNING
A) Three key principles of learning described by John Bransford, Suzanne Donovan & James Pellegrino - How People Learn: Bridging research and practice, commissioned by National Research Council (U.S.). Committee on Learning Research and Educational Practice, first published 1999
Pellegrino (2006) talks about 3 important principles about how people learn < for the full article download here >
1. "The first important principle about how people learn is that students come to the classroom with preconceptions about how the world works which include beliefs and prior knowledge acquired through various experiences." If their initial understanding is not engaged, they may fail to grasp new concepts and information presented in the classroom, or they may learn them for purposes of a test but revert to their preconceptions outside the classroom. This finding requires that teachers be prepared to draw out their students' existing understandings and help to shape them into an understanding that reflects the concepts and knowledge in the particular discipline of study.
2. "The second important principle about how people learn is that to develop competence in an area of inquiry, students must: (a) have a deep foundation of factual knowledge, (b) understand facts and ideas in the context of a conceptual framework, and (c) organize knowledge in ways that facilitate retrieval and application." To develop competence in an area of learning, students must have both a deep foundation of factual knowledge and a strong conceptual framework. Research that compares the performance of novices and experts, as well as research on learning and transfer, shows clearly that experts are not just "smart people"; they also draw on a richly structured information base. But this factual information is not enough. Key to expertise is the mastery of concepts that allow for deep understanding of that information, transforming it from a set of facts into usable knowledge. The conceptual framework allows experts to organize information into meaningful patterns and store it hierarchically in memory to facilitate retrieval for problem solving. And unlike pure acquisition of factual knowledge, the mastery of concepts facilitates transfer of learning to new problems. This research has clear implications for what is taught, how it is taught, and the preparation required for teaching.
3. "A third critical idea about how people learn is that a "metacognitive" approach to instruction can help students learn to take control of their own learning by defining learning goals and monitoring their progress in achieving them." Strategies can be taught that allow students to monitor their understanding and progress in problem solving. Research on the performance of experts reveals that they monitor their understanding carefully, making note of when additional information is required, whether new information is consistent with what is already known, and what analogies can be drawn that would advance their understanding. In problem solving, they consider alternatives and are mindful of whether the one chosen is leading to the desired end. Although this monitoring goes on as an internal conversation, the strategies involved are part of a culture of inquiry, and they can be successfully taught in the context of subject matter. In teaching them, the monitoring questions and observations are modeled and discussed for some time in the classroom, with the ultimate goal of independent monitoring and learning. This research, again, has clear implications for teacher preparation, as well as for curriculum design.
LEARNING AS SOCIAL
B) Learning as internalization of social experience as described by Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934) - http://www.learning-theories.com/vygotskys-social-learning-theory.html
Vygotsky’s theory is one of the foundations of constructivism. It asserts three major themes:
1. Social interaction plays a fundamental role in the process of cognitive development. In contrast to Jean Piaget’s understanding of child development (in which development necessarily precedes learning), Vygotsky felt social learning precedes development. He states: “Every function in the child’s cultural development appears twice: first, on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people (interpsychological) and then inside the child (intrapsychological).” (Vygotsky, 1978).
2. The More Knowledgeable Other (MKO). The MKO refers to anyone who has a better understanding or a higher ability level than the learner, with respect to a particular task, process, or concept. The MKO is normally thought of as being a teacher, coach, or older adult, but the MKO could also be peers, a younger person, or even computers.
3. The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). The ZPD is the distance between a student’s ability to perform a task under adult guidance and/or with peer collaboration and the student’s ability solving the problem independently. According to Vygotsky, learning occurred in this zone.
Vygotsky focused on the connections between people and the sociocultural context in which they act and interact in shared experiences (Crawford, 1996). According to Vygotsky, humans use tools that develop from a culture, such as speech and writing, to mediate their social environments. Initially children develop these tools to serve solely as social functions, ways to communicate needs. Vygotsky believed that the internalization of these tools led to higher thinking skills.
LEARNING AS EXPERIENCE
C) Learning as experience according to David Kolb - http://www.learning-theories.com/experiential-learning-kolb.html
Kolb (1984) proposes that “learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience." His theory of experiential learning describes a 4-cycle process.
image downloaded from http://www.learning-theories.com/experiential-learning-kolb.html
DIFFERENCES IN LEARNING STYLES
D) Differences in learning styles - http://www.brookes.ac.uk/services/ocsd/2_learntch/theories.html
"The idea that people learn in different ways has been explored over the last few decades by educational researchers. Kolb, one of the the most influential of these, found that individuals begin with their preferred style in the experiential learning cycle (see above)." http://www.brookes.ac.uk/services/ocsd/2_learntch/theories.html
Honey and Mumford (1986 cited in McGill & Beaty 1995 p.177) building on Kolb's work, identified four learning styles:
"There are strengths and weaknesses in each of these styles. Honey and Mumford argue that learning is enhanced when we think about our learning style so that we can build on strengths and work towards minimising weaknesses to improve the quality of learning."
Online sites with information on learning theories
http://projects.coe.uga.edu/epltt/index.php?title=Main_Page (explore the many topics on this site - examples below)