This essay will endeavour to identify the main theories and principles of learning and communication. Examining how to plan and apply them in the classroom to enable inclusive learning and evaluating one’s own strengths in relation to the application of the principles and theories of learning and communication to identify any personal development needs. What is learning? Reece, Walker (1999) state learning is about change, whether it is purposeful or accidental it means understanding something new or developing a new skill, maintaining learning is a relatively permanent change.
Many would argue the primary purpose of the teacher is to ensure learning occurs. It therefore seems important that teachers have an understanding how the theorist’s think learning occurs to enable them to make a more informed decision when selecting teaching strategies, to make the process of learning as easy as possible for all learners. The theories of learning do not all agree on the methods of application a teacher should use. Curzon (2002) defines the essence of communication as the transmitting and sharing of information through a sharing of information through a shared system of signals or symbols.
In Schramm’s model of communication in, Reece, Walker (2004) the teacher encodes signals and the learner decodes the signal for communication to be successful. Effective communication is important for classroom management including discipline problems, assessment of learning and feedback to learners. Lasswell (1966) asserts from a single communication, different learning amongst different learner’s can occur; including non learning. There are many barriers to learning, Shannon, Weaver (1949) identified physical, emotional and psychological barriers.
To facilitate inclusive learning teachers should be aware how various factors can affect learning. These can be physical and include the environment, lack of appropriate support materials, overcrowded classrooms, noise and the atmosphere. Emotional and psychology barriers include, a poor self concept, a negative attitude, poor motivation, fear of failure and the psychological perception between teacher and learner. It first seems pertinent to outline and examine the main theorist’s view on the learning process to identify possible teaching and communication strategies to enable learning.
Merriam, Cafarella (1999) suggest that for a behaviourist learning is manifested by a change in behaviour, a relation between learner and the environment. Tennant (1991) summarises it as the acquisition of stereotyped responses and observable and quantifiable skills and knowledge. Many behaviourist theoristss linked human behaviour to animal behaviour. Pavlov’s (1927) famous experiments with dogs found if a bell was sounded a few seconds before a hungry dog was presented with food, after several trials the dog would salivate simply at the sound of the bell.
Pavlov regarded the bell as a conditioned stimulus (S) and salivation because of its association or pairing with food which elicited a conditioned response (R). This manner of behaviour or learning was termed classical conditioning. Watson (1924) argued humans are not born with instincts so as result all behaviour is learnt and we are a sum of our own experiences. He found that children’s fears could be removed by classical conditioning. Thorndike (1936) asserts that repetition or practice will strengthen S-R bonds.
He believed responses that occur just before a satisfying event are more likely to be learnt and motivation to learn is more likely if learning is rewarded; rewards being more effective than punishment. The behaviourist approach would be useful for teaching routine and learning factual material termed ‘rote learning’ where no further development is needed. Teacher’s using a behaviourist approach would use a conducive environment; make learning fun, communicating positivity about the subject, using rewards and repetition and avoiding bad associations and punishment.
In one’s own practice this approach would work well for some health and safety practices. Palardy (1991) suggests behaviour modification techniques ignore the causes of behaviour. Minton (2005) argues behaviourism fails to take into consideration motivation and attitudinal change, arguing it is largely robotic if students are not taught to think for themselves as they will not know how to apply the knowledge outside their field of tuition. The later Neo behaviourism theorists, extended the stimulus and response theory and gave extrinsic outside motivators a key role and focused on voluntary rather the involuntary behaviour.
Skinner (1968) used the famous rat in a box experiments to identify that learning is accelerated by reinforcement. He found that the most important stimulus is not an antecedent (that that follows a response) but a consequence (that that triggers it). Consequences are most likely to influence future behaviour. Learning is how voluntary behaviour is strengthen or weakened by antecedents and consequences therefore learners are conditioned by a process known as operant conditioning. Skinner (1968) believed a teacher can shape learner behaviour to get the outcome they desire.
Tolman (1949) believed we can understand behaviour by examining an entire sequence of varied activities. He believed learning fits into a pattern and reinforcement is not necessary for learning to take place, arguing particular behaviour leads to particular consequences therefore teachers must consider what leads to what? Motivation is needed to transform expectancies and learner’s need to apply learning to test its validity. His approach to classroom behaviour also makes reference to age, heredity endocrine, and previous behaviour as all being interacting and variable.
Gagne (1973 ) outlined a general process of learning, viewing learning as a change in human disposition or capability which persists over a period of time and which is not simply ascribed to the process of growth. The learning process has four phases, apprehending stimuli, the acquisition of knowledge, storage and the retrieval of knowledge He also outlined eight learner characteristics, and a hierarchy of eight phases of learning arguing the design of teaching should match the phase of learning. Every act of learning requires reflection and feedback if it is to be completed.
Critics of the Cognitive approach argue the need for constant reinforcement place too larger responsibility on the teacher as there are simply too many learners. Many believe by rewarding behaviour students lose interest in learning for learning sake and by rewarding one student this can lead to a detrimental effect on the class. The Neo Behaviourist teacher’s role is as designer and manager of learning. Ensuring curriculum design and lesson planning meet the needs of individual learners, managed so low order skills are mastered before higher order skills.
A logical construction is used to show how topics can be approached by a variety of paths and opportunities provided for the learner’s need to apply learning to test its validity. Effective communication between teacher and learner is essential, strategies include communicating with learners to find out what they already know at the start instruction and starting instruction at that point can be used. The provision of swift accurate feedback and positive reinforcement to strengthen behaviour are essential.
Communicating consequences of learning is essential to guide learner’s to the desired behaviour and signs used to lead learners from one thing to another e. g. summarising the beginning and end to make use of previous learning and provide sequence. The Neo behaviourist approach is good for skills development and training, computerised and programmed instruction, competency based education. Social Learning theory was one of the last of the Neo Behaviourist approaches claiming one learns behaviour by observing others, so learning takes place through observation and sensory experiences.
The theory bridges cognitive and behaviourist theory. The most influential study being Bandura’s (1986) famous Bobo clown. The experiment showed children following the lead of an adult by hitting a clown therefore supporting the premise that learning takes places by imitation. Bandura (1986) regards learning as involving a reciprocal determinism between interdependent individuals and social environment issues Jarvis et al. (2003) stressing that individuals are capable of self regulation and self direction.
The learning process involves intrinsic reinforcement, attention, retention, reproduction and motivation. Information is communicated / by watching observing others. SLT teaching strategies include collaborative learning, group work, modelling responses and expectations and observing experts in action. Bandura (1986) found that individual’s will more readily model behaviour if it results in outcomes they value and if they admire the ‘observed’. In one’s own practice I have found that peer learning can be a good strategy in practical work.
I have observed that weaker learners can significantly improve their practical work if they are sitting close to a more able learner by modelling imitating their correct behaviour. If they fail to be able to intimate their behaviour, it can however have a detrimental effect. Hartley (1998) maintains Cognitive theory had a profound effect on education pre-empting the shift away from teacher centred methods He identified some of the key principles of learning associated with the cognitive approach, rather than acquiring habits the learner acquires plans and strategies.
Learning is connected with what is already known and learners build connections between new and existing information. Material must have meaning to the individual if it is to be learnt. Learning is an internal mental process including insight, information processing, memory and perception. Piaget (1926) studied the changes in the internal cognitive structure and identified stages of mental growth believing our knowledge of the world grows in stages. He also outlined the process within the brain which deals with new information.
Accommodation is process by which we modify what we already know to take into account the new information and assimilation is the process by which new information is changed, modified or merged into our minds to fit into what we already know. Equilibration is the balance between what is known and what is currently being processed; a mastery of new material. He was a progressive thinker and reformer. ’’Our problem is what is the goal of education? Are we forming children who are capable of learning what is already known? Or should we try to develop creative and innovative minds? Bruner (1977) extended Piaget’s theory, he saw the learner as an independent problem solvers. Learning being the development of conceptual understanding, cognitive skills and learning strategies rather than acquisition of knowledge, arguing any topic can be taught to any learner provided that it is presented at a conceptual level appropriate to the learner’s present stage of intellectual development. Unlike Piaget, learners do not move through the stages but use the model of representation from each stage to support their learning.
Identifying discovery learning is the acquisition of new knowledge and then assimilated or accommodated based on the modes or representation. When a learner does something with new knowledge e. g. they manipulate it and apply it to working out a problem it is called transformation. In the evaluation stage the learner assesses the usefulness of the new knowledge. Bruner (1977) also proposed a spiral curriculum, believing learning should be constantly revisited. He believed in our learning life we repeat the same experiences and activities and as we learn how to cope with them and feel more comfortable with them the more we do them.
Ausubel (1956) believed learning must relate to something the learner already knows arguing learning must be meaningful to be permanent and effective. A threshold concept is a Eureka moment when the penny finally drops. Once this threshold is passed the learner cannot return. Threshold concepts are counter intuitive and go against prior knowledge. Gestalt theory is essentially the study of perception and sensations and uses a holistic approach, consciousness is the focus of study. Gestalt is German for pattern or structure and theorists are interested in the overall perspective of learning; the whole picture.
Insight (or understanding) is when the learner suddenly becomes aware of the relevance of learning. If the solution can also be applied to comparable problems in different contexts and the solution can be retained over a period of time then the knowledge is termed as insight. Critics of Gestalt theory argue there is lack of factual or empirical evidence to support the theorists as it is very difficult to observe or measure insight. Others maintain not all learning needs requires insight e. g. Rote learning.
Teachers using this approach could communicate information by grouping similar things together, so patterns can be more easily understood and use diagrams that show or communicate the whole in one glance. Teacher’s should ensure that time is allowed for students to apply insight / patterns to their own previous experiences. To use cognitive theory effectively , Oxendine, Rothebinson, Wilson (2004) suggest learning strategies where learner’s can be engaged in realistic experiences discussing content and experimenting with newly formed concepts and experiences.
Reece, Walker (2009) agree maintaining learner’s learn best when they discover concepts and principles themselves. To communicate effectively a teacher could gain the attention of learners by posing questions at the beginning of a session and instantly repeating information so the learner can store information in the memory for later recall. Instruction should be well organised and clearly structured with logical relationships between key ideas and concepts which link the parts together. Curriculum design can be flexible allowing continuous assessment.
To facilitate learning teaching should be challenging, using inquiry oriented projects, opportunities for testing hypotheses, mind maps, advance organisers, and by communicating information by incorporating pictures text and sound bites and video clips. Feedback should be communicating knowledge of results to aid reinforcement, rather than a reward. Critics of the Cognitive approach argue it does not account enough for individuality and there is little emphasis on the characteristic of what it is to be human.
Tennant (1997) suggests humanistic psychology reaffirmed the human qualities of the person, identifying the concern with ‘self’ as the hallmark of humanist psychology. Their basic concern is for growth, personal freedom, choice, motivation and feelings. The learner is seen as a person who has emotions, attitudes, self assurance and intrinsic and extrinsic motivation For the Humanist emotions affect learning; learning is a personal act to fulfil potential and education should nurture the learner in their quest for self actualisation.
Maslow (1979) observed humans are striving to control behaviour and gratify themselves. He identified a hierarchy of needs / motivation. When lower needs are satisfied learners will be more motivated to go to a higher level. At the lowest level are physiological needs at the highest self actualisation. Only when the lower needs are met is it possible to fully move on to the next level. A motive at a lower level is always stronger than a motive at a higher level. Learning can thus be seen as a form of self actualisation, and contributes to psychological health’. Sahakian (1984) in Merriam and Caffarella (1991) p133. Many argue the most persuasive exploration of a humanistic orientation to learning came from Karl Rodgers. For him education should engage the whole person and their experiences and learning should combine the logical and intuitive, the intellect and feelings. ‘When we learn in that way, we are whole, utilising all our masculine and feminine capacities’. Rogers (1983) p20.
He placed the learner at the centre of the learning process through active self discovery. Experiential learning is the key to long term learning which involves, personal involvement, stimulation of feelings and thinking, and self evaluation. Rogers (1983) believed the only kind of learning which significantly influences behaviour is self directed or self appropriated learning; truth that has been assimilated in experience. Kolb’s (1984) developed an ‘Experiential Learning Cycle’, for learning to occur one must pass through four stages.
Active Experimentation is planning and trying out what you have learnt, Concrete Experience having an experience or doing, Reflective Observation is reviewing and reflecting on the experience and Abstract Conceptualisation is concluding learning from experience. To apply the cycle to practice would be to facilitate learners to make as many choices as possible to manage their learning. To enable inclusive learning a humanistic teacher would create an environment that fosters self development, cooperation, positive communications and the personalisation of information.
They would act as facilitator enabling learners to develop positive feelings about their selves learning form insight, experience, evaluation and reflection. Strategies could include role play and simulation and where possible the use of the taxonomy of educational objectives and the affective domain to help identify specific goals of humanistic education. Teachers communicate by using Socratic questioning techniques by not imparting any information to learners but asking the right question to gain understanding. Supporters of the approach argue it enables learners to develop critical thinking and creativity. Humanist perspectives attend to be grounded more in philosophy than research’ Ormrod (1999) p412. This means there is little research to back up the theories. Critics of Maslow’s hierarchy argue do lower level tasks really have to be satisfied before higher ones can come into play? They disagree that we are all propelled to the sorts of qualities Maslow identifies with ‘self actualisation’. However, Knowles (1998) was very influenced by Maslow’s work in the formation of his theory of the adult learning experience termed ‘Angragogy’.
He argued from the 6th form onwards learner’s need to know why, before they can learn. Meaning provides the context for learning and clear aims and objectives are linked to previous learning. He urges the use of self directed study using a process by which the teacher initially takes the lead then gradually transfers the responsibility to the learner themselves; ‘the learning continuum’. He documented the good principles for teaching adults finding adults learn better when they are motivated in planning and evaluation, building on what they know from previous experience.
He believed intrinsic motivation is more likely if the subject has immediate relevance. Arguing learning should be problem centred rather than context orientated. Mezirow (1981) believes teacher’s should avoiding activities that make learner’s feel like they are being treated like a child or patronised when teaching adults. Constructivist theory grew out of a response to Cognitivism. Learning is a search for meaning and an inherently social activity. Knowledge is actively constructed by individuals in light of and in relation to past experiences which are known as schema.
Vygotsky (1978) developed the method of scaffolding learners. This involves the instructor providing support to learners during the initial learning steps of the learning process e. g. by selecting an easy initial version or by completing the hard parts of the task maybe by providing a list of instructions or mind map, learners then complete the easier parts of the task. Critics argue it is a less rigorous approach to learning, which does not fit well with traditional age grouping and rigid terms and semesters, which do not provide a flexible time frame for learning.
To communicate effectively using the constructivist approach enable teacher should provide guidance for learners to solve realistic problems, using high order tasks and questions, diagnostic questions and answers that allow learners to explore and correct misunderstanding and facilitate the use of reflective practices. To enable inclusive learning they should use active teaching strategies that allow learner to construct meaning including creative problem solving projects, presentations, journaling, experiential activities, self directed, collaborative and cooperative learning.
The learning needs of individual students including dyslexia, dyspraxia autistic spectrum disorders can also be a barrier to learning for some learners, as can those with physical disabilities including mobility, sight and hearing problems. All learners should be supported and adequate adjustments made to enable inclusive learning e. g. adapting the teaching environment, resources and assessment. Individual learning styles can also affect learning there are several theories. Hermann (1976) developed a whole brain model, which identified how learners use different parts of the brain for different activities.
To learn effectively we should try to use both sides of the brain. VAK developed by theorist’s in the 1920’s identified three distinct learning styles, visual, auditory and kinaesthetic. Within my own practice learners complete a learning style questionnaire at the commencement of a course. Teaching strategies that suit visual learners include cards, posters, display objectives, writing key words, concept maps and using film and video. Auditory learners prefer to talk through ideas, debate, teacher should ensure thinking time to a group, introduce new words through thinking games and listen closely to learners.
Breaks and pauses and locating activities in different parts of the classroom and get kinaesthetic learners moving, other strategies include role play, drill and practice, games, and work related learning. Later, Honey & Mumford (2000) updated learning styles to include, Activist, being active learners who are intuitive disliking structure and enjoy new experiences effective teaching strategies could include problem solving visits and discovery learning. A reflectors, prefers to observe and reflect to ascertain meaning, tending to formulate and test hypotheses, affective teaching could include self assessment, and discussion.
Theorists are logical, structured, planners who dislike perceptive decision making, so structured worksheets and theoretical questions could be used. Pragmatists like activities with clear vocational, academic or practical relevance, so simulations and case studies could be effective strategies. Gardner (1993) identified seven multi sensory learning styles. The intelligences are verbal linguistic learner’s who prefer writing notes and reading, visual spatial with preference for creating mind maps watching slide or video clips.
Logical, mathematical like using problem solving and formulating patterns, kinaesthetic prefer hands on tasks and role play. Naturalists relate work to nature so would prefer to classify information in their natural patterns. Those with interpersonal intelligence work well on their own enjoying reports and self paced studies, intrapersonal work well with other so prefer debates and group work. Coffield (2004) researched over 70 theories of learning styles to test their validity. He found no conclusive evidence to support Honey and Mumford and VAK but found some evidence that the whole brain model works.
He concluded learners should not be pigeon holed to one style instead suggested using a range of styles for everyone. To identify the most effective teaching strategy to use it is important the teacher knows their learner’s. Group profiles can be used to collate information, and aid teacher’s choices. Information including learning style preference, initial assessment results, previous experience, learning difficulties, historical background, physical, and emotional differences the learners may have are included.
Learning can also be influenced by whether the learner work’s individually or collaborate. The advantages of group work are it involves independent active learning, using group member’s knowledge and skills and it maximises learner participation. However groups can be easily distracted and working together can cause conflict. An overzealous member can dominate and it can give less vocal members an opportunity to hide. Petty (2009) suggests groups should elect a leader, designate tasks, given kept clear instructions and kept on task by close monitoring of the tutor.
Individual work is usually used for essay writing and portfolio building. To be effective learners will need to be supported through tutorial, and kept on task by goal setting. The learner’s age, gender and cultural background can also act as barrier to learning. It is important that a teacher upholds the principles of equality and diversity. Promoting respect and tolerance amongst learners is essential also avoiding sexist language and reference to traditional roles but making reference to cultural differences where possible. Leitch (2006) highlighted the people of the U.
K. as the countries natural resource in the 21st century. He recommended the need to up the skills levels of the workforce in order to meet the needs of a technologically advanced employment market and urged that the government commit to becoming a world leader in skills by 2020. It is the responsibility of many teachers in further education to teach key skills to their learner’s. It is therefore important that teachers understand how to apply the theories of learning to enable learner’s to improve their skills in language, literacy, numeracy and ICT.
As I teach mainly 19+ I would use Andragogy theory by communicating to learner’s the importance of acquiring key skills explaining it will help them participate fully in public life, society and the economy . Also embedding skills within the curriculum so learner’s can relate them to real life situations that relate to their course rather than contextualising them. Teaching strategies could include supplying learners with text relevant to one’s own specialism and asking them to identify and summarise the key points.
Always correcting their written work for spelling, punctuations and grammar and making sure all resources are correctly spelt and structured. To perform numerical and ICT tasks that are connected to their specialism for example using a digital camera to photograph work, or word processing assignments. I think that the Behaviourist theory of the removal of fear is also relevant especially to numeracy and ICT use amongst my learner’s. By gradually introducing numerical and ICT tasks that relate to their specialism they will gradually feel more comfortable using them and lose their initial fears.
The Neo Behaviourism view that instruction should be at the level the student is at is also relevant learners should not be asked to perform task that are above the present level of understanding. Also relevant is the Cognitive view that the teacher’s should allow learner’s to use methods they have already been taught and fit with their conceptual understanding rather than insisting on using methods that you teach. This is particularly relevant to numeracy and ICT where various methods can be used to get the same result. ‘Study without reflection is a waste of time’ Confucius.
LLUK state all teachers should ‘Apply principles to evaluate and develop own practice in promoting equality and inclusive learning and engaging with diversity. What is evaluation? Its purpose is to identify what is successful in what you are doing and areas that could be improved finally identifying any actions you will take to improve your practice. The Neo behaviourists, Cognitive and Humanist Schools all agree it is an important part of the learning process. Evaluation for teacher’s can take two forms; evaluation of their practice and courses.
Reece, Walker (2001) suggests that whether a person will improve with evaluation depends on two factors how often they evaluate and the type of feedback that is available for improvement. Feedback, Petty (2009) advises can be gained from student questionnaires, or by discussion in groups or individually. We do use student feedback questionnaires within my own that are completed twice during the year and results are shared on the college intranet. The training cycle has evaluation as one of its stages. Within my own practice the lesson plan provides a section for evaluation after each session.
As part of my teacher training course and in house, I am observed by my tutor, specialist mentor and peer’s to gain valuable feedback of my practice. An external verifier visits the department every year to check levels of assessment and course content from which she then sends a report. We also send out questionnaires to local employers for feedback about students on our courses. I am also involved in the annually review of the course SAR in which we compare retention, achievement and success rates to identify actions for the next year.
From the various forms of feedback I have had including my own reflection, I would identify the strengths of my teaching are creating an environment where all learner’s feel welcome and demonstrating a good knowledge and positivity about of my subject. My personal developmental needs are better time management in the classroom and in organising my planning. The action I plan to implement are to use the teaching strategy of guided discovery more often as research suggests it is of preference to adult learners. This will transfer the responsibility of research to the learner.
I can see the benefits for myself and the learner’s as not only do they develop subject specific knowledge but also research skills that they can apply to other areas of learning. I have a structured approach to classroom communication and try to be clear and consistent when using instructions. I am very interested in the idea of connecting information and additional pictures of the whole and will endeavour to include these in future practice. I understand the importance of continual professional development to keep updating my skills.
I regularly attend standardisation and resource meetings with my course awarding body to share good practice. I also attend relevant staff development opportunities and keep a log of them in a personal development journal a requirement of the IFL. No single learning theory can cope with every aspect of a groups needs but a teacher who has a good basic knowledge and understanding of the theories of learning and communication is better placed to make a conscious choice about which teaching strategy to use to enable learning for all learner’s . Also a good understanding of the purpose and opportunities to develop one’s own practice should be of lasting benefit for teachers and learners.
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