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Course 1, Chapter 4 - Theories of and Approaches to Learning

Module by: Fred Mednick. E-mail the author

Figure 1: A flyer distributed in Nigeria
Calling All Teachers
Calling All Teachers (flyerfortwb.JPG)



In Learning Section 2 you will be doing a lot of reading and discussing about theories and approaches to learning. Please take a moment now to review Assignment 3 by clicking on "Outline." Looking at Assignment 3 ahead of time may help you to become an active reader taking notes in a journal while you read about the theories and approaches to learning presented in this section. As you talk with colleagues in the TWB Learning Cafe, you may also wish to take notes. For example, you might spend some time writing in your journal about one or two things you heard someone else say in conversation that has sparked your thinking.


Swiss biologist and psychologist Jean Piaget (1896-1980) is renowned for constructing a highly influential model of child development and learning. Piaget's theory is based on the idea that the developing child builds cognitive structures - in other words, mental "maps," schemes, or networked concepts for understanding and responding to physical experiences within his or her environment. Piaget further attested that a child's cognitive structure increases in sophistication with development, moving from a few innate reflexes such as crying and sucking to highly complex mental activities.


Piaget's theory identifies four developmental stages and the processes by which children progress through them. The four stages are:

  1. Sensorimotor stage (birth - 2 years old) - The child, through physical interaction with his or her environment, builds a set of concepts about reality and how it works. This is the stage where a child does not know that physical objects remain in existence even when out of sight (object permanance).
  2. Preoperational stage (ages 2-7) - The child is not yet able to conceptualize abstractly and needs concrete physical situations.
  3. Concrete operations (ages 7-11) - As physical experience accumulates, the child starts to conceptualize, creating logical structures that explain his or her physical experiences. Abstract problem solving is also possible at this stage. For example, arithmetic equations can be solved with numbers, not just with objects.
  4. Formal operations (beginning at ages 11-15) - By this point, the child's cognitive structures are like those of an adult and include conceptual reasoning.

Piaget outlined several principles for building cognitive structures. During all development stages, the child experiences his or her environment using whatever mental maps he or she has constructed so far. If the experience is a repeated one, it fits easily - or is assimilated - into the child's cognitive structure so that he or she maintains mental "equilibrium." If the experience is different or new, the child loses equilibrium, and alters his or her cognitive structure to accommodate the new conditions. This way, the child erects more and more adequate cognitive structures.

How Piaget's Theory Impacts Learning

Curriculum - Educators must plan a developmentally-appropriate curriculum that enhances their students' logical and conceptual growth.

Instruction - Teachers must emphasize the critical role that experiences - or interactions with the surrounding environment - play in student learning.

Erik Erikson's Developmental Stages

Psychoanalyst Erik Erikson describes the physical, emotional, and psychological stages of human development, and relates specific issues, or developmental work or tasks to each stage.

Infant (Trust vs. Mistrust)

Needs maximum comfort with minimal uncertainty to trust himself/herself, others, and the environment. It is essential to create an atmosphere of care - a sense that a child feels as if s/he exists in the world and is valuable.

Toddler (Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt)

Works to master physical environment while maintaining self-esteem. Here, the toddler wants to be a whole person, ready to take on the world and moves past immediate rewards and punishments. This is the beginning of the child's realizing that s/he is a person that has rights. It is essential, at this stage, to give some choices while ensuring that rules are followed and that adults are in charge. The child will make some unsafe gestures, so it is important for caregivers to be vigilant.

Preschooler (Initiative vs. Guilt)

Begins to initiate, not imitate, activities; develops conscience and sexual identity. S/he realizes that s/he can begin an activity, not just be told what to do. The child begins to make some sense of "right" and "wrong." It is important to talk with the child calmly and with reason in the process of helping her/him develop a sense of moral judgment.

School-Age Child (Industry vs. Inferiority)

Tries to develop a sense of self-worth by refining skills. A school-age child learns to distinguish between himself and the others in terms of judgment. What am I good at? How am I doing? It is here that the child begins to try different activities to test some theories about who s/he is. It is important to provide an atmosphere of trust, experimentation, and praise for accomplishments, while minimizing competition between students where the result is lowered self esteem. Try to bolster the confidence of ALL students.

Adolescent (Identity vs. Role Confusion)

Tries integrating many roles (child, sibling, student, athlete, worker) into a self-image, taking into consideration other adults and other adolescents. Around the world, adolescence is not an easy task. It is a time of resistance against parents and teachers in order to distinguish oneself. Risk-taking can be much more dangerous. The role of identity is crucial, here, and it is important for students to see the consequences of their behavior, rather than to protect them from life. At the same time, their intellectual abilities are blossoming, and so it is quite important to respect the intelligences of adolescents. Finally, provide them opportunities that stir their hearts - such as service. The results will be a vital, active, interested young person who stands behind her/his beliefs and who tries hard.

Young Adult (Intimacy vs.Isolation)

Learns to make personal commitment to another as spouse, parent or partner. At this time, college-age students are beginning to see who they are and what they can do. They think about long-term commitments and about a "definition" for themselves. It is important to listen carefully and, as a caretaker still, respect their ability to make their own choices.

Middle-Age Adult (Generativity vs Stagnation)

Seeks satisfaction through productivity in career, family, and civic interests.

Older Adult (Integrity vs. Despair)

Reviews life accomplishments, deals with loss and preparation for death.



The latest catchword in educational circles is "constructivism," and it is applied both to learning theory and to epistemology (to how people learn and to the nature of knowledge). What is it? What does it have to tell us that is new and relevant, and how do we apply it to our work?

What is constructivism?

The term refers to the idea that learners construct knowledge for themselves - each learner individually (and socially) builds meaning - as he or she learns. Constructing meaning is learning. The dramatic consequences of this view are two-fold:

  1. We have to focus on the learner in thinking about learning (not on the subject/lesson to be taught):
  2. There is no knowledge independent of the meaning attributed to experience (constructed) by the learner, or community of learners.

Although it appears radical on an everyday level, it is a position that has been frequently adopted eversince people began to ponder epistemology (the nature of knowledge). If we accept constructivist theory, we have to recognize that there is no such thing as knowledge "out there" independent of the knower, but only knowledge we construct for ourselves as we learn.

Learning is not understanding the "true" nature of things, nor is it remembering dimly perceived perfect ideas, but rather a personal and social construction of meaning out of the bewildering array of sensations that have no order or structure besides the explanations that we fabricate for them.

The more important question is: Does it actually make any difference in our everyday work whether deep down we consider knowledge to be about some "real" world independent of us, or whether we consider knowledge to be of our own making? The answer is "Yes, it does make a difference," because of the first point suggested above: in our profession our epistemological views dictate our pedagogic views.

If we believe that knowledge consists of learning about the real world out there, then we endeavor first and foremost to understand that world, organize it in the most rational way possible, and, as teachers, present it to the learner. This view may still engage us in providing the learner with activities, with hands-on learning, with opportunities to experiment and manipulate the objects of the world, but the intention is always to make clear to the learner the structure of the world independent of the learner. We help the learner understand the world, but we don't ask him to construct his or her own world.

In many cultures, the history of learning never considered the learner. The task of the teacher was to make clear to the learner the working of this "machine" and any accommodation to the learner was only to account for different appropriate entry points for different learners. Times have changed.

Constructivist theory requires that we turn our attention by 180 degrees; we must turn our back on any idea of an "all-encompassing machine" that describes nature and, instead, look towards all those wonderful, individual living beings - the learners - each of whom creates his or her own model to explain nature. If we accept the constructivist position, we are inevitably required to follow a pedagogy which argues that we must provide learners with the opportunity to: a) interact with sensory data, and b) construct their own world.

This second point is a little harder for us to swallow, and most of us constantly vacillate between faith that our learners will indeed construct meaning that we will find acceptable (whatever we mean by that) and our need to construct meaning for them; that is, to structure situations that are not free for learners to carry out their own mental actions, but "learning" situations that channel them into our ideas about the meaning of experience.

Principles of Learning

What are some guiding principles of constructivist thinking that we must keep in mind when we consider our role as educators? Here is an outline of a few ideas, all predicated on the belief that learning consists of individuals' constructed meanings:

  1. Learning is an active process in which the learner uses sensory input and constructs meaning out of it. The more traditional formulation of this idea involves the terminology of the active learner (John Dewey's term) stressing that the learner needs to do something; that learning is not the passive acceptance of knowledge which exists "out there" but that learning involves the learner engaging with the world.
  2. People learn to learn as they learn . Learning consists both of constructing meaning and constructing systems of meaning. For example, if we learn the chronology of dates of a series of historical events, we are simultaneously learning the meaning of a chronology. Each meaning we construct makes us better able to give meaning to other sensations that can fit a similar pattern.
  3. The crucial action of constructing meaning is mental. It happens in the mind. Physical actions, hands-on experience may be necessary for learning, especially for children, but it is not sufficient; we need to provide activities which engage the mind as well as the hands (Dewey called this reflective activity).
  4. Learning involves language. The language we use influences learning. On the empirical level, researchers have noted that people talk to themselves as they learn. On a more general level, there is a collection of arguments, presented most forcefully by Vygotsky, that language and learning are bound together.
  5. Learning is a social activity. Our learning is intimately associated with our connection with other human beings, our teachers, our peers, our family, as well as casual acquaintances, including the people before us or next to us. We are more likely to be successful in our efforts to educate if we recognize this principle rather than try to avoid it. Much of traditional education is directed towards isolating the learner from all social interaction, and towards seeing education as a one-on-one relationship between the learner and the objective material to be learned. In contrast, progressive education recognizes the social aspect of learning and uses conversation, interaction with others, and the application of knowledge as an integral aspect of learning.
  6. Learning is contextual. We do not learn isolated facts and theories in some abstract ethereal land of the mind separate from the rest of our lives - we learn in relationship to what else we know, what we believe, our prejudices and our fears. On reflection, it becomes clear that this point is actually a corollary of the idea that learning is active and social. We cannot divorce our learning from our lives.
  7. One needs knowledge to learn. It is not possible to assimilate new knowledge without having some structure developed from previous knowledge to build on. The more we know, the more we can learn. Therefore any effort to teach must be connected to the state of the learner, must provide a path into the subject for the learner based on that learner's previous knowledge.
  8. It takes time to learn. Learning is not instantaneous. For significant learning to occur, we need to revisit ideas, ponder them, try them out, play with them, and use them. If you reflect on anything you have learned, you soon realize that it is the product of repeated exposure and thought. Even, or especially, moments of profound insight, can be traced back to longer periods of preparation.
  9. Motivation is a key component in learning. Not only is it the case that motivation helps learning; it is essential for learning. This idea of motivation as described here is broadly conceived to include an understanding of ways in which the knowledge can be used. Unless we know "the reasons why," we may not become engaged in using the knowledge that may be instilled in us, even by the most severe and direct teaching.


What do you think about the "Value of Constructivism" ?

Read what others have said. Add your thoughts. Join your global colleagues in conversation at the TWB Learning Cafe, by clicking here.



Behaviorism is a theory of animal and human learning that only focuses on objectively observable behaviors and discounts mental activities. Behavior theorists define learning as nothing more than the acquisition of new behavior.


Experiments by behaviorists identify conditioning as a universal learning process. There are two different types of conditioning each yielding a different behavioral pattern:

  1. Classic conditioning occurs when a natural reflex responds to a stimulus. The most popular example is Pavlov's observation that dogs salivate when they eat or even see food. Essentially, animals and people are biologically "wired" so that a certain stimulus will produce a specific response.
  2. Behavioral or operant conditioning occurs when a response to a stimulus is reinforced. Basically, operant conditioning is a simple feedback system: If a reward or reinforcement follows the response to a stimulus, then the response becomes more probable in the future. For example, leading behaviorist B.F. Skinner used reinforcement techniques to teach pigeons to dance and bowl a ball in a mini-alley.

There have been many criticisms of behaviorism, including the following:

  • Behaviorism does not account for all kinds of learning, since it disregards the activities of the mind.
  • Behaviorism does not explain some learning such as the recognition of new language patterns by young children - for which there is no reinforcement mechanism.

How Behaviorism Impacts Learning

This theory is relatively simple to understand because it relies only on observable behavior and describes several universal laws of behavior. Its positive and negative reinforcement techniques can be effective - both in animals, and in treatments for human disorders such as autism and antisocial behavior. Behaviorism often is used by teachers, who reward or punish student behaviors.

Brain-Based Learning & Neuroscience


This learning theory is based on the structure and function of the brain. As long as the brain is not prohibited from fulfilling its normal processes, learning will occur.


People often say that everyone can learn. The reality is that everyone does learn. Every person is born with a brain that functions as an immensely powerful processor. Traditional schooling, however, often inhibits learning by discouraging, ignoring, or punishing the brain's natural learning processes.

The core principles of brain-based learning state that:

  1. The brain is a parallel processor, meaning it can perform several activities at once, like tasting and smelling.
  2. Learning engages the whole physiology.
  3. The search for meaning is innate.
  4. The search for meaning comes through patterning.
  5. Emotions are critical to patterning.
  6. The brain processes wholes and parts simultaneously.
  7. Learning involves both focused attention and peripheral perception.
  8. Learning involves both conscious and unconscious processes.
  9. We have two types of memory: spatial and rote.
  10. We understand best when facts are embedded in natural, spatial memory.
  11. Learning is enhanced by challenge and inhibited by threat.

The three instructional techniques associated with brain-based learning are:

  • Orchestrated immersion - creating learning environments that fully immerse students in an educational experience;
  • Relaxed alertness - eliminating fear in learners, while maintaining a highly challenging environment;
  • Active processing - allowing the learner to consolidate and internalize information by actively processing it.

How Brain-Based Learning Impacts Education

Curriculum - Teachers must design learning around student interests and make learning contextual.

Instruction - Educators let students learn in teams and use peripheral learning. Teachers structure learning around real problems, encouraging students to also learn in settings outside the classroom and the school building.

Assessment - Since all students are learning, their assessment should allow them to understand their own learning styles and preferences; students monitor and enhance their own learning process.

What Brain-Based Learning Suggests

How the brain works has a significant impact on what kinds of learning activities are most effective. Educators need to help students have appropriate experiences and capitalize on those experiences. Educator Renate Caine illustrates this point by describing three interactive elements essential to this process:

  1. Teachers must immerse learners in complex, interactive experiences that are both rich and real. One excellent example is immersing students in a different culture to teach them a second language. Educators must take advantage of the brain's ability to parallel process.
  2. Students must have a personally meaningful challenge. Such challenges stimulate a student's mind to the desired state of alertness.
  3. In order for a student to gain insight about a problem, there must be intensive analysis of the different ways to approach it, and about learning in general. This is what's known as the "active processing of experience."

A few other tenets of brain-based learning include:

  1. Feedback is best when it comes from reality, rather than from an authority figure.
  2. People learn best when solving realistic problems.
  3. The big picture can't be separated from the details.
  4. Because every brain is different, educators should allow learners to customize their own environments.
  5. The best problem solvers are those that laugh!

Designers of educational tools must be artistic in their creation of brain-friendly environments. Instructors need to realize that the best way to learn is not through lecture, but by participation in realistic environments that let learners try new things safely.


What questions do you have about "Brain-Based Learning"?

Read what others have said. Add your thoughts. Join your global colleagues in conversation at the TWB Learning Cafe, by clicking here.

Learning Styles


This approach to learning emphasizes the fact that individuals perceive and process information in very different ways. The learning styles theory implies that how much individuals learn has more to do with whether the educational experience is geared toward their particular style of learning than whether or not they are "smart." In fact, educators should not ask, "Is this student smart?" but rather " How is this student smart?"


The concept of learning styles is rooted in the classification of psychological types. The learning styles theory is based on research demonstrating that, as the result of heredity, upbringing, and current environmental demands, different individuals have a tendency to both perceive and process information differently. The different ways of doing so are generally classified as:

Concrete and A bstract Perceivers - Concrete perceivers absorb information through direct experience, by doing, acting, sensing, and feeling. Abstract perceivers, however, take in information through analysis, observation, and thinking.

Active and Reflective Processors - Active processors make sense of an experience by immediately using the new information. Reflective processors make sense of an experience by reflecting on and thinking about it.

Traditional schooling tends to favor abstract perceiving and reflective processing. Other kinds of learning aren't rewarded and reflected in curriculum, instruction, and assessment nearly as much.

How the Learning Styles Theory Impacts Education

Curriculum - Educators must place emphasis on intuition, feeling, sensing, and imagination in addition to the traditional skills of analysis, reason, and sequential problem solving.

Instruction - Teachers should design their instruction methods to connect with all four learning styles using various combinations of experience, reflection, conceptualization, and experimentation. Instructors can introduce a wide variety of experiential elements into the classroom such as sound, music, visuals, movement, experience, and talking.

Assessment - Teachers should employ a variety of assessment techniques focusing on the development of "whole brain" capacity and each of the different learning styles.

Right & Left Brain Thinking


This theory of the structure and functions of the mind suggests that the two different sides of the brain control two different "modes" of thinking. It also suggests that each of us prefers one mode over the other.


Experimentation has shown that the two different sides, or hemispheres, of the brain are responsible for different manners of thinking. The following table illustrates the differences between left-brain and right-brain thinking:

Table 1
Left Brain Right Brain
Logical Random
Sequential Intuitive
Rational Holistic
Analytical Synthesizing
Objective Subjective
Looks at parts Looks at wholes

Most individuals have a distinct preference for one of these styles of thinking. Some, however, are more whole-brained and equally adept at both modes. In general, schools have favored left-brain modes of thinking while downplaying the right-brain ones. Left-brain scholastic subjects focus on logical thinking, analysis, and accuracy. Right-brained subjects, on the other hand, focus on aesthetics, feeling, and creativity.

How Right-Brain vs. Left-Brain Thinking Impacts Learning

Curriculum - In order to be more "whole-brained" in their orientation, schools need to give equal weight to the arts, creativity, and the skills of imagination and synthesis.

Instruction - To foster a more whole-brained scholastic experience, teachers should use instruction techniques that connect with both sides of the brain. They can increase their classroom's "right-brain" learning activities by incorporating more patterning, metaphors, analogies, role playing, visuals, and movement into their reading, calculation, and analytical activities.

Assessment - For a more accurate whole-brained evaluation of student learning, educators must develop new forms of assessment that honor right-brained talents and skills.


What does "Whole-Child Assessment" look like?

Read what others have said. Add your thoughts. Join your global colleagues in conversation at the TWB Learning Cafe, by clicking here.

Control Theory


This theory of motivation, developed by William Glasser, asserts that behavior is never caused by a response to an outside stimulus. Instead, the control theory states that behavior is inspired by what a person wants most at any given time: survival, love, power, freedom, or any other basic human need.


Responding to complaints that today's students are "unmotivated," Glasser attests that all living creatures "control" their behavior to maximize their need satisfaction. According to Glasser, if students are not motivated to do their schoolwork, it's because they view schoolwork as irrelevant to their basic human needs.

"Boss" teachers use rewards and punishment to coerce students to comply with rules and complete required assignments. Glasser calls this "leaning on your shovel" work. He shows how high percentages of students recognize that the work they do - even when their teachers praise them - is low-level work.

"Lead" teachers, on the other hand, avoid coercion completely. Instead, they make the intrinsic rewards of doing the work clear to their students, correlating any proposed assignments to the students' basic needs. Plus, they only use grades as temporary indicators of what has and hasn't been learned, rather than as a reward. Lead teachers will "fight to protect" highly engaged, deeply motivated students who are doing quality work from having to fulfill meaningless requirements.

How the Control Theory Impacts Learning

Curriculum - Teachers must negotiate both content and method with students. Students' basic needs literally help shape how and what they are taught.

Instruction - Teachers rely on cooperative, active learning techniques that enhance the power of the learners. Lead teachers make sure that all assignments meet some degree of their students' need satisfaction. This secures student loyalty, which carries the class through whatever relatively meaningless tasks might be necessary to satisfy official requirements.

Assessment - Instructors only give "good grades" - those that certify quality work - to satisfy students' need for power. Courses for which a student doesn't earn a "good grade" are not recorded on that student's transcript. Teachers grade students using an absolute standard, rather than a relative "curve."



Metacognition is the process of thinking about thinking. According to Flavell, "I am engaging in metacognition if I notice that I am having more trouble learning A than B; if it strikes me that I should double check C before accepting it as fact." ( p. 232, Flavell, J.,1976 Metacognitive Aspects of Problem-Solving.).


Metacognition has to do with the active monitoring and regulation of cognitive processes. Metacognitive processes are central to planning, problem-solving, evaluation, and many aspects of language learning.

Metacognition is relevant to work on cognitive styles and learning strategies in so far as the individual has some awareness of their thinking or learning processes. The work of Piaget is also relevant to research on metacognition since it deals with the development of cognition in children.

Flavell argued that metacognition explains why children of different ages deal with learning tasks in different ways, i.e., they have developed new strategies for thinking. Research studies show that as children get older, they demonstrate more awareness of their thinking processes.

Experiential Learning


Carl Rogers distinguished two types of learning: cognitive (meaningless) and experiential (significant). The former corresponds to academic knowledge such as learning vocabulary or multiplication tables, and the latter refers to applied knowledge such as learning about engines in order to repair a car. The key to the distinction is that experiential learning addresses the needs and wants of the learner. Rogers lists these qualities of experiential learning: personal involvement, self-initiated, evaluated by learner, and pervasive effects on learner.


To Rogers, experiential learning is equivalent to personal change and growth. Rogers asserts that all human beings have a natural propensity to learn; the role of the teacher is to facilitate such learning. This includes: 1) setting a positive climate for learning; 2) clarifying the purposes of the learner; 3) organizing and making available learning resources; 4) balancing intellectual and emotional components of learning; and 5) sharing feelings and thoughts with learners, but not dominating.

According to Rogers, learning is facilitated when:

  1. The student participates completely in the learning process and has control over its nature and direction.
  2. Learning is primarily based upon direct confrontation with practical, social, personal, or research problems.
  3. Self-evaluation is the principal method of assessing progress or success.


  1. Significant learning takes place when the subject matter is relevant to the personal interests of the student. (For example: A person interested in becoming rich might seek out books or classes on ecomomics, investment, great financiers, banking, etc. Such an individual would perceive (and learn) any information provided on this subject in a much different fashion than a person who is assigned a reading or class.)
  2. Self-initiated learning is the most lasting and pervasive.
  3. Learning that is threatening to the self (e.g., new attitudes or perspectives) are more easily assimilated when external threats are at a minimum. Learning proceeds faster when the threat to the self is low.

For more about Rogers and his work, see:

An overview of Carl Rogers' life and philosophy

Carl Rogers on education

Rogers and psychological theory


Overview of Carl Rogers' life and philosophy

Rogers on Education

Rogers and Psychological Theory

Vygotsky and Social Cognition

The social cognition learning model asserts that culture is the prime determinant of individual development. Humans are the only species to have created culture, and every human child develops in the context of a culture. Therefore, a child's learning development is affected in ways large and small by the culture (including the culture of the family environment) in which he or she is enmeshed.


Culture makes two sorts of contributions to a child's intellectual development. First, through culture, children acquire much of the content of their thinking, that is, their knowledge. Second, the surrounding culture provides a child with the processes or means of their thinking, what Vygotskians call the tools of "intellectual adaptation." In short, according to the social cognition learning model, culture teaches children both what to think and how to think.

Cognitive development results from a dialectical process whereby a child learns through problem-solving experiences shared with someone else, usually a parent or teacher, but sometimes a sibling or peer. Initially, the person interacting with the child assumes most of the responsibility for guiding the problem solving, but gradually this responsibility transfers to the child. Language is a primary form of interaction through which adults transmit to the child the rich body of knowledge that exists in the culture. As learning progresses, the child's own language comes to serve as her primary tool of intellectual adaptation. Eventually, children can use internal language to direct their own behavior. Internalization refers to the process of learning - and thereby internalizing - a rich body of knowledge and tools of thought that first exist outside the child. This happens primarily through language.

A difference exists between what the child can do on her own and what the child can do with help. Vygotskians call this difference the "zone of proximal development."

Since much of what a child learns comes from the culture around her and much of the child's problem solving is mediated through an adult's help, it is wrong to focus on a child in isolation. Such focus does not reveal the processes by which children acquire new skills. Interactions with surrounding culture and social agents, such as parents and more competent peers, contribute significantly to a child's intellectual development.

How Vygotsky Impacts Learning

Curriculum - Since children learn much through interaction, curricula should be designed to emphasize interaction between learners and learning tasks.

Instruction - With appropriate adult help, children can often perform tasks that they are incapable of completing on their own. With this in mind, scaffolding - where the adult continually adjusts the level of his or her help in response to the child's level of performance - is an effective form of teaching. Scaffolding not only produces immediate results, but also instills the skills necessary for independent problem solving in the future.

Assessment - Assessment methods must take into account the "zone of proximal development." What children can do on their own is their level of actual development and what they can do with help is their level of potential development. Two children might have the same level of actual development, but given the appropriate help from an adult, one might be able to solve many more problems than the other. Assessment methods must target both the level of actual development and the level of potential development.


Now that you've finished reading about the theories and approaches to learning, join your global colleagues in the "Old Woman or Young Woman" conversation at the TWB Learning Cafe, by clicking here.

Assignment 3: Towards an Imagined Dialogue

  1. What theories and approaches to learning fit with your current attitude towards and/or method of teaching (3-4 paragraphs)

GOAL: To deepen your understanding of the similarities and differences between several of the theories and approaches to learning, and to do so in an assignment that requires both the "right-brain" (imagination) and "left-brain" (cognitive) functions together.

GIVE: Feedback to others on their assignments at the TWB Learning Cafe by clicking here.

Assignment 3: Towards an Imagined Dialogue

Please answer the following:

1. Which theories and approaches to learning fit with your current attitude towards and/or method of teaching? (3-4 paragraphs)

2. Which theories and approaches to learning do you disagree with in part or whole? Describe your reasons.

3. "The Imagined Dialogue" - Imagine a scene, situation, or setting in which three characters in a short story, play, or myth meet. Have each of the three characters represent a different theory/approach to learning or actually be the person who created the theory. Through that character's words and actions in this imagined scenario, we will come to know something of his/her point of view and theory. This work of fiction you are creating may end up to be a serious, playful, learned, combative, funny, or all-of-the-above encounter between these three characters. To begin, you may wish to brainstorm the setting in which the three characters might meet and what each of the characters is "fighting for" or wants to get from the encounter (after all, most effective dramas include a desired outcome or something each character wants to accomplish). You are welcome to add other characters if you wish, either imagined, real, historic, or mythic to be active characters or those who simply "push a broom across the stage." This fictitious meeting of these three characters (representing each theory) may end up to be 1 page in length.

Be sure to type each of the characters' names first and tell which theory or approach to learning he or she represents. Then, type the location or setting for the story, and tell when it takes place. Follow this by writing the actual 1 - page story, play or myth.

Assignment 4: Applying Theory

Assignment 4: Applying Theory

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GOAL: To think about how you can apply what you have learned about theories and approaches to learning to your classroom practice.

GIVE: Feedback to others on their assignments at the TWB Learning Cafe by clicking here.

Assignment 4: Applying Theory

  1. Which education theory are you most attracted to? Why?
  2. Which theory are you able to apply to your classroom? Why?
  3. Describe 3 concrete ways you can apply the theory to your classroom.
  4. What kinds of support/resources exist in your school, or nearby schools to help you carry out these 3 aims? (They may be in the form of people, programs, institutional partnerships, monetary resources, internships, service projects, databases of organizational resources available to you.) Describe some of these resources and the concrete ways in which you can connect with them.
  5. What challenges or obstacles do you face in applying the chosen theory in your classroom?
  6. What kind of help do you need to overcome these obstacles?

Assignment 5: Critical Questions

A well known Nobel Peace Prize winner once said, "When I came home from school each day, my mother did not ask me: 'Did you get the answers correct?' Instead, understanding the value of education as an inquiry into ideas, she would ask: 'Did you ask any good questions?' That made all the difference to me." - Elie Wiesel

Assignment 5: Critical Questions


One Way

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GOAL: To think about how you can apply what you have learned about theories and approaches to learning to your school and/or larger community.

GIVE: Feedback to others on their assignments at the TWB Learning Cafe by clicking here .

Assignment 5: Critical Questions

  1. Utilizing the knowledge you've gained about educational theories and approaches to learning, how would you characterize the educational systems in your community?
  2. From your perspective, what positive changes in education are currently underway? What changes are needed?
  3. How are you catalyzing positive change or actively participating in the process?
  4. Graffiti exists on walls all over the world as part self-expression, part social dialogue. Type one question now on our community's Question Wall. Read the questions others have posted on the Question Wall. Add questions to it as the course progresses. Consider creating a physical "Question Wall" in your classroom.

To post a question on the Question Wall go to the TWB Learning Cafe by clicking here.


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