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TOPIC 6 LEARNING THEORIES

Topic 6 Learning 
Theories

LEARNING OUTCOMES
By the end of this topic, you should be able to:
1. Explain behaviourism, social and cognitive learning theory;
2. Discuss Gagne, Ausubel, Bruner and constructivism learning
theory; and
3. Explain direct, cooperative and mastery learning.

INTRODUCTION
TeacherÊs approach in a classroom is dependent on how students learn the
content of a subject. Psychologists have studied how learning occurs and has
suggested several learning theories. These theories can be divided into behaviour,
social and cognitive.

Behaviourism learning theory focuses on behaviour and environment, social


learning theory focuses on behaviour and thinking while cognitive learning
theory focuses on thinking. This chapter describes all these theories and its
application in teaching and learning in the classroom.

It is hoped that teachers can reflect on their teaching approach and to relate them
with theories of learning. This chapter is not only important to teachers but to the
students as well to be aware of effective learning style.
128 TOPIC 6 LEARNING THEORIES

6.1 BEHAVIOURISM LEARNING THEORY


Have you ever given yourself, or your children a present (such as chocolate or
book) when they achieved something (for example getting A in an examination)?

According to behavioural psychologists, learning is a change in behaviour that


occurred in an individual as a result of experience. This learning process will be
experienced by every individual from birth that made it difficult for us to
differentiate and separate learning with growth because both are inter-related.
Behaviourism focuses on human behaviour that can be observed and measured.

Behavioural psychologists believed all things can be observed. We cannot see


thinking but we can make observation on human behaviour. From the behaviour
we can make a conclusion about what is being thought. Among the prominent
behaviourists are Pavlov and Watson classic routine members and Thorndike and
Skinner routine operation members.

6.1.1 Pavlov’s Classic Routine Theory


According to Pavlov, every stimulus will cause response. Response means any
behaviour as a result of a stimulus. Stimulus is any form of energy that caused
response. For example, when teachers hear the bell ringing, will leave the staff
room to go to the classroom to see their students. This behaviour is carried to
their homes that is when they hear the bell ringing they will leave their room to
observe his family members. From this example, the bell is the stimulus while the
teachersÊ action is the response.

From his study, Pavlov opined that learning can occur as a result of stimulus and
response. Learning that occurs as a result of the relationship is known as routine
and learning that occurs as a result of this stimulus is known as classic routine.
From PavlovÊs experiment on a dog, three stages of routine appeared that are (a)
pre routine, (b) while routine and (c) post routine. The result of Pavlov
experiment is summarised in Figure 6.1.

Several important concepts in teaching and learning process developed through


Pavlov classic routine principle include (a) generalisation, (b) discrimination and
(c) elimination.

(a) Generalisation
Generalisation means the same stimulus will produce the same response.
For example, Ali is worried each time when the chemistry test is held. He is
also worried each time is biology test is held because both subjects inter-
TOPIC 6 LEARNING THEORIES 129

related. So his worry in one subject (chemistry) has been generalised to


another subject (biology).

Figure 6.1: PavlovÊs experiment

(b) Discrimination
Discrimination happens when someone responses to one stimulus but not
to the others. In the study on a dog, it was found that the dog only
responded to the bell. In AliÊs case, he was not worried about his English or
History tests because both subjects are different from the Science subjects.

(c) Elimination
Elimination happens when a conditioned stimulus is not concurrent with
unconditioned response. In PavlovÊs study, when the bell (conditioned
stimulus) was not accompanied by food (unconditioned stimulus), the dog
eventually stopped salivating when it heard the bell. This is an example of
when elimination takes place.
130 TOPIC 6 LEARNING THEORIES

Elimination Process

Dog gradually stopped


Food not given when bell was rung
salivating
Relearning

Food was given whenever bell was rung.


Dog salivated.
Eventually, only bell was rung.

Immediate Rehabilitation

Bell was rung again after a short interval. Dog salivated

Generalisation
Bell was replaced by a similar sound Dog salivated

Meat was given only when the bell is rung. Dog salivated when it
Similar sound was not accompanied by meat. heard the bell.

Figure 6.2: Summary of Pavlov StudyÊs findings

6.1.2 Watson’s Classic Conditioning Theory


Besides Ivan Pavlov, John B. Watson is another psychologist who uses the word
behaviourism to explain behavioural changes during the learning process. He
conducted a study to prove that human emotion can be classically conditioned.
He studied a white mouse and an 11-month-old boy, Albert.

During his study, he showed Albert the white mouse. In the beginning, the boy did
not show any fear towards the mouse. However, when a loud sound accompanied
the appearance of the white mouse, the boy started to cry. This was repeated
several times that eventually, the boy developed a fear towards the white mouse.

Based on his research, Watson suggested that teachers can condition studentsÊ
learning experience by controlling the given stimuli and the expected responses.
By combining several stimuli, specific responses can be expected in different
situations. During the learning process, teachers should choose exciting stimuli.
TOPIC 6 LEARNING THEORIES 131

6.1.3 Thorndike’s Operant Conditioning Theory


E.L Thorndike is the first behaviourist who introduces the concept of Âoperant
conditioningÊ. He conducted studies on animal such as cats, chickens, dogs and
monkeys. In his study on a cat which was caged with food outside the cage, he found
that the cat made several attempts to free itself. The attempts are called „trial-error‰
learning. Through trial-error learning, the cat showed a lot of reactions; and when it
stepped on the cage lock, the cage opened. The cat went out and got the food. When
it was put back in the cage, the cat once again made several attempts to free itself. In
other words, the cat learned to open the cage through trial-error and repetitions.

Through this experiment, Thorndike claims that learning takes place as a result of
a combination of S-R ă stimulus and response. Thorndike asserts that human
learning is controlled by what he labels as law of learning. This is divided into
three: (a) Law of Readiness, (b) Law of Practice and (c) Law of Effects.

(a) Law of Readiness


According to Thorndike (1913), when an individual is ready to do
something, it will give him satisfaction. He will be disappointed if he does
not get to do it and if he is forced to do it, it will not result in a satisfying
learning process. In a nutshell, law of readiness refers to the readiness and
the preparations needed before an individual takes an action, which is
learning. Readiness can be observed based on three main aspects,
psychomotor, affective and cognitive.

(b) Law of Practice


According to Thorndike, the link between stimulus and response (S-R) will
be strengthened through repetitive practices. An individual will acquire
skills when he practices. For example, if students practice their
mathematical formula, they will remember them easily. Law of Practice
states that an action can be strengthened through application and will be
weakened without practice. Law of Practice is very suitable for
memorisation practice.
132 TOPIC 6 LEARNING THEORIES

Figure 6.3: ThorndikeÊs Law of Learning

(c) Law of Effect


Law of order stipulates that if an action is followed by exciting changes, the
probability of the action to take place is high. When a response is observed,
the link between stimulus and response can be strengthen if an exciting
consequence exists. A painful consequence can weaken the link between S-
R. For example, if the cat in ThorndikeÊs experiment was electrocuted every
time he got out of the cage, he would not have the motivation to free
himself. In short, if a behaviour is accompanied by a positive consequence,
it will be repeated. Otherwise, it will not be continued.

Teachers can use ThorndikeÊs three laws of learning as effective approaches


to strategise teaching and learning in the classrooms. Some strategies that
can be used are:
(i) To provide various stimulus to create exciting learning consequences.
(ii) To give rewards or reinforcement for the right response.
(iii) To provide conducive learning environment.
(iv) To evaluate studentsÊ readiness aspect.
(v) Teachers start teaching only after they are sure that students are
cognitively, physically and affectively ready.
TOPIC 6 LEARNING THEORIES 133

6.1.4 Skinner’s Operant Conditioning Theory


B.F. Skinner agrees with Pavlov but states that actions must be observed for a long
period of time and simple actions should mould complex actions. Skinner
conducted a lot of studies using animals such as mouse and doves. He created the
ÂSkinner BoxÊ in which he studied animal behaviour which according to him can be
controlled and the animalÊs responses can be observed, recorded and measured.
The study led him to the use of the operant conditioning theory in teaching and
learning activities in the classroom. According to Skinner (1953), in the operant
conditioning theory, response can be strengthened (repeated) or eliminated (not
repeated), if reinforcement is given immediately after the response.

Figure 6.2: B. F. Skinner


Reinforcement is something that is done to encourage repetition of actions.
According to Rachlin (1991), reinforcement is given, first to satisfy individualÊs
need; secondly to reduce pressure and stimulate the brain. Skinner states that
there are two types of reinforcement; positive reinforcement and negative
reinforcement.

There are five processes in SkinnerÊs operant conditioning theory; positive


reinforcement, negative reinforcement, punishment, Premack principle and
elimination.

(a) Positive Reinforcement


Positive reinforcement is to provide a reward after a behaviour is observed,
resulting in the behaviour to be repeated or strengthen. In a classroom,
positive reinforcement is given as a motivation in teaching and learning.
Some examples of positive reinforcement that can be given in the
classrooms are to praise students when they answer questions, smile, pat
studentsÊ shoulders and give presents. Table 6.1 shows another example of
positive reinforcement.
134 TOPIC 6 LEARNING THEORIES

Table 6.1: Positive Reinforcement

Behaviour Consequences Future Behaviours

Students provide good Teachers praise the Students provide more


questions students good questions

TeachersÊ positive reinforcement may encourage students to produce high


quality work. Reinforcements given must be clear and systematic. Only
specific behaviours can be given reinforcement. Teachers must also be
honest when they give the reinforcement. According to Brophy (1981),
effective characteristics of positive reinforcement are (a) honest,
(b) immediate, (c) not biased, (d) praise efforts and trial-error, (e) praise
specific behaviour and (f) praise spontaneous answer or responses.

(b) Negative Reinforcement


Negative reinforcement is a painful or undesirable immediate stimulus
given after a behaviour is observed. For example, a father may scold his son
for not doing his homework. As the son is tired of his fatherÊs scolding, the
son finishes his homework. The sonÊs behaviour (to finish his homework)
helps him to avoid an undesirable stimulus (his fatherÊs scolding). Table 6.2
shows another example of negative reinforcement.

Table 6.2: Negative Reinforcement

Behaviour Consequences Future Behavious

Students did not finish their Teachers scold the Students finish the next
work in time. students assignment in time.

Reinforcement can be continuous or scheduled. Table 6.3 shows a


reinforcement table which can be used to create desired behaviour. This
reinforcement table covers continuous reinforcement, fixed-ratio
reinforcement and variable ratio reinforcement.
TOPIC 6 LEARNING THEORIES 135

Table 6.3: Reinforcement Table

Reinforcement Definition Example Response Form Behaviour when


reinforcement is
stopped
Continuous Reinforcement Watch Immediate effect Less concentration
Reinforcement is given after television and fast elimination
every of response
response
Fixed-interval Reinforcement Weekly Response level Show a little
reinforcement is given after a quiz increases when concentration and
specific time reinforcement is response shows fast
frame. given but decreasing rate
decreases after when reinforcement
reinforcement. time is over.
Variable- Reinforcement Pop quiz StudentsÊ response High concentration
interval is given after a can be delayed; and slow decrease
Reinforcement non-specific may stop for a rate of response.
time frame while after
reinforcement.
Fixed-ratio Reinforcement Paid job Quick responses; No reinforcement
reinforcement after a set of according stop for a while value as the value
fixed number to rates after vanishes when the
of responses reinforcement same reinforcement
is given
Variable ratio Reinforcement Machine High response Remain high.
reinforcement after a non- that rate even after
fixed number produces reinforcement
of responses tickets
when
money is
inserted.

(c) Punishment
Punishment is a process to weaken or reduce the possibility of repeating
undesirable behaviour. Punishment is a negative effect that leads to the
decrease of the number of the behaviour. Table 6.4 shows another example
of punishment.
136 TOPIC 6 LEARNING THEORIES

Table 6.4: Punishment

Behaviour Consequences Future Behavious


Students are noisy in the Teachers warn the student Students stop making
class noise in the class.

Punishment can be divided into two; presentation punishment and removal


punishment.
(i) Presentation Punishment
Presentation punishment takes place when a stimulus causes a change
in studentsÊ behaviour. This type of punishment does not involve
anything physical but could scare the students. For example, field run,
demerit system, extra homework.
(ii) Removal Punishment
Removal punishment relates to elimination of stimuli. For instance,
parents or teachers withdraw a privilege when a student does not
behave accordingly. An example of removal punishment is no
television for a week because a student does not do his Mathematic
homework.

To make punishment more effective, some improvements must be


considered. These include:
(i) Punishment must be immediate, immediately after an undesired
behaviour is displayed.
(ii) The person punished must know why he is being punished.
(iii) Punishment is given with the intention to change oneÊs behaviour and
not as a payment for his behaviour.
(iv) Punishment must be consistent. If A is caned three times for his
undesirable behaviour, B must also be caned three times for the same
undesirable behaviour.

Some believe that punishment can create prolong emotional disturbance


and carries ethical considerations. A very harsh punishment can be labeled
as abuse and continuous punishment can develop negative behaviour such
as isolation, low self-esteem. It can also disturb oneÊs emotional
development in the long run.

(d) Premack Principle


The main concept of Premack principle is to link an undesirable activity
with a desirable one in order to reinforce behaviour towards the
TOPIC 6 LEARNING THEORIES 137

undesirable activity. Premack principle is also known as ÂGrandmaÊs RuleÊ


which is based on the statement „you can go out and play once you finish
your vegetable‰. As teachers, we can alternate interesting activities with less
interesting ones to enhance studentsÊ learning rate. For example, after a
Mathematic lesson, students can play a computer game.

(e) Elimination
Elimination takes place when a behaviour is extinguished as no
reinforcement is given. This can be overcome if:
(i) Reinforcement for the behaviour can be identified.
(ii) Reinforcement is no longer used.
(iii) Teachers can face elimination process as its benefits are not
immediate.

SkinnerÊs learning theory can be applied during teaching and learning process in
the classrooms based on the following principles:
(a) Positive reinforcement must be systematic.
(b) Rewards must be suitable to studentsÊ age. Selection of rewards can be
based on the level of difficulty of the expected behaviour.
(c) Negative reinforcement may be deemed as punishment, thus, teachers have
to be careful when giving them.
(d) Teachers should prioritise repetitive practices and responses.

ACTIVITY 6.1
1. Prepare the following information for the four behaviourism
theories.

Pavlov Watson Thorndike Skinner


Traits
Example
Similarities
Differences

2. Explain with examples how teachers apply positive and negative


reinforcements in the class.
138 TOPIC 6 LEARNING THEORIES

6.2 SOCIAL LEARNING THEORY


Social learning theory was introduced by Albert Bandura (1986, 1977, 1998, 2000).
It was renamed as ÂSocial cognitive theoryÊ by Bandura himself (Moore, 2002).
Social learning theory stipulates that social, cognitive and behavioural factors
play important roles in learning (Santrock, 2001). While cognitive factors will
influence studentsÊ expectations of their success, social factors including studentsÊ
observations of their parentsÊ behaviour and achievement, will influence their
behaviour.

Social learning theory believes that humans are active creatures, able to choose and
use developmental processes to relate events and communicate. Human behaviour
is not determined by inner power and individual historical development or passive
actions towards oneÊs environment. In many cases, humans are selective and not a
passive entity who can be influenced by his surroundings. Humans need and
influence each other. Some examples of social psychologists include Albert
Bandura, Walter Mischel, Julian Rotter and Martin Seligman.

Albert Bandura (1925- ), is a psychology professor at Stanford University and he


proposes ÂReciprocal Determinism ModelÊ and ÂImitation Learning TheoryÊ.

Figure 6.5: Albert Bandura

(a) Reciprocal Determinism Model


Bandura proposes reciprocal determinism model which consists of three
main factors, behaviour, personal (cognition) and environment (see Figure
6.5). These factors interact and influence learning. Bandura believes that
oneÊs behaviour is a result of the interaction between personal (cognition)
factors and his environment.
TOPIC 6 LEARNING THEORIES 139

Figure 6.6: Reciprocal Determinism


Source: Santrock, 2001 Educational Psychology, pg 256

(b) Imitation Learning Theory


Bandura conducted a study with Walter (1963), on the effects of childrenÊs
behaviour when they watched a video showing adults hitting, kicking and
sitting on a Bobo doll and punching while screaming ÂsockerooÊ. Badura
showed this video to kindergartenÊs kids. They were then asked to go to a
playroom where there was a doll that looked like Bobo. When the children
saw the doll, they imitated the actions they watched on the video.
According to Bandura, when a personÊs action is imitated, that person
becomes a model to the imitator.
According to the theory, imitation can be done in several ways:
(i) Direct imitation.
For example, teachers demonstrate how to make a paper plane and
students follow the steps
(ii) Imitation process through restricted and non-restricted behaviour.
For example, children imitate cheering on the field which is a non-
restricted behaviour there. However, if they cheer in the class while a
teacher is teaching, he will scold and tell them that cheering is a
restricted behaviour in the classroom.
(iii) Imitation process through elicitation that emerges when we observe
otherÊs behaviour.
For example, if we get to know our neighbour has noodles for dinner,
the need to eat noodles for dinner emerges.

Imitation process follows four specific steps; observation, storage,


production and motivation.
(i) Observation; when someone wants to imitate another, he will first the
model and try to remember steps taken by the model.
140 TOPIC 6 LEARNING THEORIES

(ii) Storage; modelÊs steps will be stored in the studentsÊ memory.


(iii) Production; imitated behaviour is produced in suitable situation.
(iv) Motivation; if the imitated behaviour receives reinforcement
(motivation), imitation continues.
(Reference: http//www.ship.edu/~cgboeree/bandura.html)

ACTIVITY 6.2

Elaborate with examples the steps in the imitation process.

6.3 COGNITIVE LEARNING THEORY


Cognitive psychologists believe that learning is an active mental process to gain,
store, memorise and apply knowledge. The focus of cognitive psychologistsÊ
research is on the process of individualÊs active mind to understand his
environment. The way a person thinks about his situation, including his belief,
expectations and feelings, influence the facts that he learns as well as the way he
learns them. Cognitive psychologists believe that the acquired knowledge is the
result of a learning outcome and the power of knowledge that motivates someone
to learn (Woolfolk, 1998).

Anderson et al. (in Woolfolk, 1998) claims that:

Instead of being passively influenced by environment events, people actively


choose, practice, pay attention, ignore, reflect and make many other decisions as
they pursue goals. Older cognitive views emphasise the acquisition of
knowledge, newer approaches stress its construction.

Similarly, Slavin (1997) states that learning is an active mind process focusing on
important information, ignoring unimportant information and using present
information to make choices. To understand learning from cognitive perspective,
the following sections will explain gestalt psychology, Kohler experiment and
information processing model.

Former cognitive psychologists include Max Wertheimer, Kurt Koffka and


Wolfgang Kohler (also known as Gestalt psychologists). Kohler in his study on a
chimpanzee named Sultan, has discovered ÂinsightÊ.
TOPIC 6 LEARNING THEORIES 141

Cognitive psychologistsÊ believe towards learning is also known as the Gestalt


Learning Theory (Banks & Thompson , 1995). Other cognitive psychologists such
as Edward Tolman, develops latent learning theory which is learning without
reinforcement, also used by Jean Piaget, Jerome Bruner, David Ausebel and
Robert Gagne.

Cognitive psychologists now believe that learning involves two important mental
process; perception and conceptual development. Gagne sees these learning
processes as individual steps to process information. Ausebel, on the other hand,
proposes receptive and meaningful learning. Bruner proposes conceptual
development and discovery learning.

6.3.1 Gestalt’s Learning Theory


Gestalt psychology belief has become the foundation to the development of
cognitive psychology. Gestalt psychology was founded in Germany. Gestalt is a
German word means pattern or configuration. However, gestalt belief is more
than this. Gestalt members believe that in studying subjects from psychological
aspects through simple observations of their personality, we have to look at the
pattern as a whole. Gestalt theory can be summarised as Âthe whole is greater
than the sum of its partsÊ.

Kohler, one of the gestalt psychology founder, through his research on a


chimpanzee (Sultan) has proposed the concept of ÂinsightÊ. Insight means
spontaneous and complete problem solving. However, people need time to think
because they have to study factors related to the environment and link them to
their past experiences.

In his study, Kohler, put a hungry chimpanzee (Sultan) in a cage. Outside the
cage, there are a banana and several pieces of bamboo of different lengths. Sultan
tried to get the banana using a short bamboo and failed. Sultan sat still for a
while, studying the bamboos and thought of the alternatives he had to solve his
problem. Suddenly he got an idea. The moment he had the idea is known as an
ÂinsightÊ. He used the short bamboo to get a long one and used the long one to get
the banana.
142 TOPIC 6 LEARNING THEORIES

Figure 6.7: Insight

Kohler, Koffka and Wertheimer have founded gestalt psychology. Gestalt


psychologists discuss a lot on perceptions and conceptual development. There
have proposed principles related to organisational perceptions and human
expectations. Even though gestalt psychology is no longer in practice, many of its
ideas are used and developed by cognitive and humanistic psychologists.

6.3.2 Information Processing Model


Information processing is the humansÊ mental activities related to receiving,
memorising and producing information (Woolfolk, 1998). Information processing
model is similar to a computer model (see Figure 6.8). It composes of sensory
memory, short-term/working memory and long-term memory.

(a) Sensory Memory


Sensory memory is a short-term memory on humanÊs sense. The duration of
information storage is 1 ă 3 seconds. If the information is not processed, it
will disappear.

(b) Short-term Memory


Short-term memoryÊs capacity is small. The duration of information storage
is between 5 to 20 seconds. Information is processed, screened, arranged or
synthesised to be sent to the long-term memory storage. One of the ways to
keep new information is by rehearsing. For example, in teaching and
learning, teachers stop for a while, ask questions about the fact explained;
once the students have responded, the teachers repeat the explanation.
TOPIC 6 LEARNING THEORIES 143

(c) Long-term Memory


Long-term memoryÊs capacity is big. It stores information longer, from a
few minutes to several years. In terms of content, it can be divided into
three categories: episodic memory, semantic memory and procedural
memory.

(i) Episodic memory


Episodic memory is the memory about events that a person
experiences throughout his life, complete with time and place. For
example, falling off a bicycle.

(ii) Semantic memory


Semantic memory is a memory about ÂmeaningÊ, which includes
concepts, facts, laws, schemes or images. For example, memorising the
meaning of ÂsemanticÊ.

(iii) Procedural Memory


Procedural memory is the memory on how to do things, especially on
continuous physical activities. For example, remembering how to ride
a bicycle, if one has not ridden one for sometime.

Figure 6.8: Information Processing Model


Source: Atkinson & Shiffrin, 1968; Gagne, 1985
144 TOPIC 6 LEARNING THEORIES

Differences between sensory memory, short-term memory and long-term


memory are as follows.

Table 6.5: Differences between Three Levels of Memory

Traits Sensory Memory Short-term Memory Long-term Memory


Receiving Pre-observation Need observation Need repetition
information
Maintaining Not possible Continuous Repetition/ Drills/
information observation/ Arrangement
repeating
Capacity Big Small No limit
Losing information Not used - Disturbances -May not happen
- Too many - Disturbances
- Archaic - Archaic
Duration of memory 1 ă 3 seconds 5 ă 20 seconds Several minutes to
several years
Remembering Automatic Need searching
process.

ACTIVITY 6.3

1. Explain the opinion of cognitive psychologists about learning.


2. Discuss what is meant by episodic and semantic memories.

6.3.3 Gagne’s Learning Theory


Robert M. Gagne was born in 1916 and is an experimental psychologist who has
the experience in research on learning and has involved in educational practices
and problems. Gagne has written a lot of paper works and books on applied
psychology. Many of GagneÊs ideas revolve around task analysis that shows how
learning takes place hierarchically. This means that learning moves from the
easiest stage to the most complex.

Gagne has identified eight stages of learning. Every learning can only be achieved
if students acquire the earlier stages first. These stages are shown in Figure 6.9
TOPIC 6 LEARNING THEORIES 145

Figure 6.9: GagneÊs learning stages

(a) Signal Learning


An individual learns to respond to signs. For example, when someone
yawns, we get the sign that he is sleepy. When a father comes home looking
dejected, the children get the sign that he doesnÊt want to be disturbed.
Learning takes place through behavioural conditioning. For example, when
a teacher enters a classroom, all students will rise and greet him. In this
case, the studentsÊ behaviour has been conditioned.

(b) Stimulus-Response Learning


Reinforcement process is important to strengthen the link between the
stimulus and response. Reinforcement must be consistent so that the
positive response can be maintained. For example, if Ali is praised for his
good efforts, he will repeat the behaviour to get more praises.

(c) Chaining Learning


Chaining learning is used in skills learning such as games, music, electronic
and mechanical. Chaining is a series of behaviours revolving around
completing a given task.

(d) Verbal Association Learning


To state some principles, students need language skills to link facts, data
and concepts. Verbal association is a network of language. It requires
language skills that have been learned before.

(e) Multiple Discrimination Learning


This is learning how to discriminate things which have been learned
according to some characteristics to ease the process of categorising and
storing. At the same time, students will be able to differentiate stimuli or
important information as compared to unimportant ones and respond
146 TOPIC 6 LEARNING THEORIES

accordingly. Multiple discrimination learning is very important in the


learning process. Students will get to differentiate important information
from the unimportant ones and this will make information coding easier for
long-term memory storage.

(f) Concept Learning


Conceptual development begins with verbal association and discrimination,
that is identifying the right characteristics of certain concepts. Students can
develop a good concept after developing a perception and observation on
an object, person and event. Students need to be exposed to many clear
examples so that they can develop a right concept.

(g) Principle Learning


This learning involves 2 or more related concepts in an order or network.
The learning needs the use of formula, principle and generalisation.

(h) Problem Solving Learning


This learning involves the use of principles, formula, generalisation and
conceptto solve problems in a new situation. There are several steps in
problem solving that is; identifying the problem, finding information,
developing hypothesis, making choices and making conclusion.

Gagne (1974, 1977) and Gagne & Briggs (1979) have proposed a direct learning
model which is based on the information processing theory where all eight
phases of teaching are compared to the 8 phases of learning (Slavin, 1997). These
phases of teaching and learning are shown in Figure 6.10.
TOPIC 6 LEARNING THEORIES 147

Figure 6.10: GagneÊs learning and teaching phases

GagneÊs learning and teaching principles can be used in teaching by focusing on


two main things:
(a) GagneÊs learning theory stresses that a learning system must begin from the
easiest to the most difficult. Before teachers teach a high order skill, they
have to ensure that students have acquired the basic skills for the new
lesson.
(b) To make learning effective, Gagne suggests teachers to plan teaching that
covers the suggested steps, covering the 8 phases of teaching that interact
with the 8 phases of learning.

ACTIVITY 6.4
Explain how you can teach a topic using GagneÊs learning and teaching
principles.
148 TOPIC 6 LEARNING THEORIES

6.3.4 Ausebel’s Learning Theory


David Ausebel (1963, 1977), proposes a learning theory which claims that
humans gain knowledge mainly through receptive learning and not through
discovery learning and this is known as Expository Learning Model. Ausebel also
proposes meaningful verbal learning which includes the importance of verbal
information, ideas and the relationship between ideas which is known as
Advance Organiser Concept. However, rote memorisation is not considered as
meaningful learning.

(a) Expository Learning Model.


Expository Learning Model stresses teaching in the forms of organised facts
which are explained completely in specific order. Ausebel claims that
learning should develop in a deductive form ă from general to specific or
from principles to examples (Woolfolk, 1998).

(b) Advance Organiser


Advance Organiser is introduced by Ausebel to ensure that studentsÊ
schemata are compatible to learning materials so that optimum learning can
take place. One of the strategies to ensure this is by starting the lesson based
on Âadvance organiserÊ. It is a structure that explains the relationship
between the concepts to be delivered on that particular day.

The function of an advance organiser is to explain to teachers and students


about things that need to be understood during a particular lesson.
Advance organiser can also link new concepts to the concepts already
acquired. Therefore, there are three main use of advance organiser; to signal
what is important in the lesson, explain the relationship between concepts
and activate studentsÊ minds to remember related concepts.

Ausebel learning and teaching principles can be used by focusing on the


following two issues:
(a) Ausebel suggests teachers to use receptive learning or expository teaching
model because teachers can deliver complete information in a specific
order.
(b) To use advance organiser in teaching to encourage students to remember
learned concepts, link them to the new ones and remind them about
important information during specific lessons.
TOPIC 6 LEARNING THEORIES 149

ACTIVITY 6.5

Explain how you can teach a topic using AusebelÊs teaching and learning
principle.

6.3.5 Bruner’s Learning Theory


Jerome S. Bruner was born in 1915 and he was an influential psychologist in the
USA. Bruner proposes that human mental development is divided into three
stages:
(a) Enactive (0-2 years)
(b) Iconic (2-3 years)
(c) Symbolic (5-7 years)

Figure 6.11: Jerome S. Bruner

(a) Enactive
At this stage (0-2 years) children will move to an object that attracts their
attention. Therefore, they use their body parts to solve problems because at
this stage, children havenÊt developed the ability to communicate using a
language. An object will be held to understand its meaning.

(b) Iconic
At this stage (2-4 years) children have developed the capability to picture
things in their mind. They are able to store some images. Children are also
able to mention objects not in front of them which indicates a development
of Âmental imageÊ.
(c) Symbolic
At this stage (4-7 years) children are capable to use symbols such as words
and language to relate experiences which marks the beginning of symbolic
reasoning.
150 TOPIC 6 LEARNING THEORIES

SELF-CHECK 6.1

Are BrunerÊs developmental stages similar or different from PiagetÊs?


What are the similarities and differences?

BrunerÊs Discovery Learning


Bruner proposes discovery learning. In this type of learning, students will be
introduced to a phenomenon. For example, students are asked to study why
there is water outside a glass that contains ice.

Students will study based on different resources such book from the library,
group discussions, discussions with teachers, observations and experiments.
When an answer is discovered, it will be discussed in the class.

ACTIVITY 6.6

Explain how you can teach a topic using BrunerÊs learning theory.

6.3.6 Constructivism Learning Theory


According to Borich and Tombari (1997), in their book Educational Psychology: A
Contemporary Approach (p.177)

Constructivism is an approach in which learners are provided the opportunity to


construct their own sense of what is being learned by building internal
connections or relationships among the ideas and facts being taught.

Based on the above definition, it may be concluded that constructivism is also


known as ÂconstructedÊ understanding.

In addition, according to Woolfolk (1998), in his book Educational Psychology,


„Constructivist perspectives ă View that emphasises the active role of the learner
in building understanding and making sense of information‰. Based on this
statement, it is clear that constructivism learning theory requires studentsÊ active
roles in understanding and providing meaning to the information learned.

(a) History of Constructivism Approach


Constructivism is not a new concept. It is originated from a philosophical
field and has been used in sociology, anthropology as well as in cognitive
TOPIC 6 LEARNING THEORIES 151

psychology and education. In 1710, the first constructivist philosopher,


Giambasta Vico stated that „⁄ one only knows something if one can
explain it‰ (Yager, 1999).

Immanuel Kant supports this view and states that humans are not passive
information receiver. Students for example, receive information actively as
they link new with assimilated earlier ones and make the information theirs
by making interpretations about it (Cheek, 1992). Constructivism
perspective has further developed through studies by Piaget, Vygotsky.
Gestalt psychologists, Bartlett, Bruner, Von Glaserfeld, Anderson, Dewey,
Papert and Confrey.

Meaningful learning, according to John Dewey (1966), involves learning by


doing; which later can help students to think and develop understanding
about the problems which need to be solved. Dewey was the pioneer of
progressivism movement in education. Earlier, we have seen Jean Piaget
(1951) brings the concept of cognitive development in his translation ÂPlay,
Dreams and Imitation in ChildhoodÊ. Vygotsky in his ÂMind in SocietyÊ is
linked with constructivism perspective in child mind development.

Since the past decade, AmericanÊs teaching and text books are formulated to
encourage thinking process, problem solving and developing the ability to
learn. This is the constructivism movement that has taken place in America
which takes into consideration DeweyÊs and BrunerÊs ideas. In our local
context, we have seen the beginning of this movement in the learning of
Science and Mathematics which tries to encourage constructivism
perspective.

(b) Constructivism Learning and Teaching


Learning and teaching using constructivism approach can be implemented
by focusing on these issues:
(i) Let students give their opinion about a concept
(ii) Let students share their perceptions
(iii) Encourage students to respect othersÊ opinion
(iv) Respect studentsÊ opinion
(v) Conduct student-centred teaching
(vi) Prepare hands on and minds on activities
(vii) Prioritise studentsÊ scientific and thinking skills
(viii) Encourage students to reflect on their learning processes
152 TOPIC 6 LEARNING THEORIES

(ix) Ask students to link former ideas with new ones


(x) Encourage students to develop hypothesis
(xi) Not giving direct information to students
(xii) Let students interact with teachers and other students
(xiii) Focus on studentsÊ needs, skills and interests
(xiv) Encourage students to work in groups.
(xv) (Ramlah & Mahani, 2002)

In a nutshell, there are different teaching and learning theories which have been
studied by different psychologists. These theories can be used by teachers to
facilitate their teaching and learning process. In addition, teachers need to
understand the different approaches which can be used based on these teaching
and learning theories.

ACTIVITY 6.7
In constructivism approach. Teachers need to encourage students to be
active. Explain the characteristics of teachers who practice
constructivism.

6.4 TEACHING-LEARNING APPROACH


This section explains three commonly used approaches in teaching and learning.

Figure 6.12: Teaching-Learning Approaches


TOPIC 6 LEARNING THEORIES 153

6.4.1 Direct Instruction


Direct instruction is a goal oriented approach which is structured by teachers
(Slavin, 1997). At times, this is the most effective and efficient way of conveying
information. This approach is suitable if each student need to acquire certain
information and skills. It is not suitable if the learning requires research and
discovery activities. Steps in this approach are:
(a) Teachers state the objectives of the lesson as well as the purpose of the
lesson.
(b) Teachers review the prerequisites needed to understand the topic. Teachers
have to conduct revisions if students havenÊt mastered the required
concepts and skills.
(c) Teachers present new material by teaching, providing examples and
demonstrating.
(d) Teachers conduct learning probes by asking students questions to
determine their level of understanding and to correct and misconceptions.

6.4.2 Cooperative Learning


Vygotzky (1896-1943), described cooperative learning as „⁄group learning
activity organised on the socially structured exchange of information between
learners in groups and in which each learner is held accountable for his or her
own learning and is motivated to increase the learning of others.‰

Cooperative means working together to achieve a common goal. While cooperative


learning is using small groups of students in the teaching process, so that they can
work together to maximise self-study and help other students as well.

In a cooperative learning group, students are given two responsibilities: to learn


the materials given and to ensure other members learn the materials too.
Consequently, a student works for his own benefit as well as for the benefit of his
group members. The perception of students in cooperative learning is that they
can only achieve their learning objective, if the other members study as well. In
cooperative learning, they discuss and assist one another to understand a
particular subject, and in the process they motivate each other to work hard in
their studies.
154 TOPIC 6 LEARNING THEORIES

Figure 6.13: Cooperative Learning: Learners are divided into smaller groups to achieve
their objective
Source: www.edb.utexas.edu/mmresearch/Students96/Doolittle

Here, the learning process occurs in a heterogeneous group, that is the group
members should differ in terms of capability, interest, race and religion (Slavin,
1991). Cooperative learning usually happens in a group with a combination of
intelligent and slow learners. In the group activity, the clever students should work
towards helping the slower students because at the end of the day, the marks of
each individual in the group will become the marks for the whole group.

In cooperative learning, learners are divided into smaller groups, whereby each
group will be given an objective to achieve. Learning are structured in such a
way, that the group objective can only be attained when all members complete
the tasks given to them by the teacher. The studentÊs final grade takes into
consideration the scores of each individual in the group. The characterictics of
cooperative learning are as follows:
(a) Face-to-face interaction
(b) Positive cross dependency
(c) Responsible for own self learning
(d) Collaborative skill is necessary so that group members can function well
together
(e) Ensure each member understands the process of a group and learns about
group dynamics.

(Woolfolk, 1998: 349)


TOPIC 6 LEARNING THEORIES 155

ACTIVITY 6.8

In cooperative learning, students are required to work in a heterogeneous


group. Explain the characteristics of cooperative learning.

6.4.3 Mastery Learning


Mastery learning is an approach based on the assumption that learners can achieve
learning objectives if they are taught well within sufficient time (Bloom et al. in
Woolfolk, 1998:334). Mastery learning approach has been in practice for quite some
times, traceable to the era of Comenius, Pestalozzi and Herbert (Bloom 1974).
However, its use in the modern era is mainly based on BloomÊs work.

Mastery learning application is based on learning models proposed by Benjamin


Bloom (1968) and modified by Block. Mastery learning is a student centred
approach and normally conducted in groups. However, there are times when
students need to do individual learning.

To use mastery approach, teachers need to divide a learning unit into smaller topics.
Each topic should have several specific objectives. ÂMasteryÊ means achieving at least
80% in test scores for each objective. Teachers need to inform students about the
objectives and the criteria needed to achieve them. Students who do not achieve the
minimum score or who get the minimum score but are not satisfied with their
performance, can choose to revise the topic before they move to the other topics.

In mastery learning, teachersÊ role is to provide guidance or additional teaching


to students who have not understood the smaller topics. There are several ways
how these can be done. Teachers for example, can arrange for peer-coaching.

If there is not enough time or teachers, teachers can adapt mastery teaching in
normal classrooms. This can be done by stating the objectives of the lesson at the
beginning of the class. After the lesson, teachers give a test to evaluate studentsÊ
mastery of the topic. Students who have achieved the stated mastery level can be
given reinforcement activities such as computer simulation tasks, research project
or creative problem solving.
156 TOPIC 6 LEARNING THEORIES

ACTIVITY 6.9

1. Explain with examples the steps in imitation process.


2. Explain cognitive psychologistsÊ opinion about learning.

• This topic had discussed on several learning theories and the application of
these theories in classroom teaching and learning.
• The theories which have been discussed are Pavlov and WatsonÊs classic
conditioning theory, Thorndike learning theory, SkinnerÊs operant
conditioning theory, AusebelÊs learning theory, BrunnerÊs learning theory,
and constructivism learning theory.
• The application of these theories in teaching and learning is discussed
through direct teaching-learning approach, cooperative and mastery learning.

Discrimination Social Learning Theory


Premack Principle