Learning and Cognition: Education Theories

Create a graphic organizer, clarifying behaviorist, constructivist, and cognitive learning theories.

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Graphic Organizer

Scholars have developed a number of theories to explain the learning process. According to Willingham (2009), learning is a very complex process that involves a number of events in one’s mind. The process of grasping information from the external environment has been explained using a number of theories. Below is a graphic organizer that explains how behaviorist, constructivist, and cognitive learning theories play various roles in the learning process.

Graphic Organizer.
Figure 1: Graphic Organizer.

As shown in the diagram above, these three theories explain different aspects of learning processes. It is important to understand how these three theories define the learning process.

Summary of the Theories

Behavioral learning theories focus on learning skills and knowledge considered by the authorities as being relevant in one’s future life. According to Gredler (2009), behaviorism focuses on the need to learn specific skills that should be applied in a given context. Willingham (2009, p. 35) says, “The behavioral emphases on breaking down complex tasks, such as learning to read, into sub-skills that are taught separately.” Instead of bringing in a complex aspect of learning how to read, a learner will be given separate lessons involving various units of learning. This way, it will be easy to grasp the knowledge from simple concepts to more complex issues that define a given topic. The stakeholders in the education sector have the responsibility of developing appropriate pedagogy that will make this process simple.

Constructivism as a theory is widely used in observational learning, especially in experimentation. According to Gredler (2009, p. 41), “People construct their own understanding and knowledge of the world, through experiencing things and reflecting on those experiences.” This theory holds that knowledge is a mass of experiences that one gathers in life. For instance, a child may not know about the dangers of playing with a razor blade.

However, when one day the razor blade cuts it when playing with it, the incident becomes an experience that leaves a permanent knowledge in its mind. The child will know, from his own experience that playing with a razor blade is very dangerous. In a learning environment, constructivism is used to help a student develop skills and strategies based on their own experience. A good example can be in learning applied sciences. Instead of entirely basing one’s knowledge of theories given by the teacher, a learner can engage in practical activities to experience the events, which support their theoretical knowledge.

Cognitive theories focus on mental processes. It looks at how one’s thoughts, remembrance, and perception may define a learning process. Omrod (2008) defines cognition as “A set of all mental abilities and processes related to knowledge” (p. 56). What one learns in a classroom setting (behaviorism) and what one learns from experiences (constructivism) can only be considered knowledge if the individual can have their memory (cognition). The ability of a person to memorize, evaluate, reason, or make a clear judgment defines his ability to grasp knowledge.

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Important Theories in Each Category

The above section has defined the three theories, which explain different aspects of learning. In this section, the researcher will look at some of the common concepts in each of the three theories. Below are some of the important concepts of behaviorism that are widely in use in the current setting.

  1. Simulations
  2. Semantic web
  3. Drills
  4. Tutorials
  5. Integrated learning systems

Examples of constructivism include the following theories and concepts:

  1. Faraday’s candle lesson
  2. The concept of problem-based learning
  3. Reciprocal peer teaching
  4. Inquiry-based learning
  5. The jigsaw construct

Examples of cognitive theories and concepts include the following:

  1. Concept formation
  2. Language processing
  3. Judgment and decision-making
  4. Memory
  5. Perception

Important Information about Each Theory

These three theories interact very closely in the learning process. Behaviorism focuses on what a teacher gives learners in a classroom setting. Constructivism focuses on a learning process based on the practical experiences that a learner gets in his or her life. Cognition is emphasized on mental processes that make it possible for a learner to remember what one has been taught or experienced in life.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of behaviorist, cognitive, and constructivist approaches to learning?

The three theories discussed above have a number of strengths and weaknesses that should be analyzed critically. The behaviorism approach to learning is very important because it proposes a systematic approach to learning. As Omrod (2008) says, it is an orderly approach to learning where a learner moves to the higher level only after understanding concepts of the lower level. It is also easy to regulate these approaches. A teacher can determine when a learner is ready to move to the next level of learning. Despite these positive attributes, this approach has a number of negative factors. Behaviorism lays not effort into practicality. A learner is not given the opportunity to learn through practical activities.

Constructivism emphasizes the need to learn through experience. One of the main strengths of this learning approach is that it does not over-rely on a teacher. This approach allows a learner to gain knowledge from one’s own experiences or through teamwork.

It makes a learner to approach a learning process from a practical perspective. This approach has a number of weaknesses that should be noted. When learning through experience, it is not possible to define the sequence of the learning process. For this reason, it is possible to witness a scenario when a learner is subjected to an experience that he cannot grasp its concepts. In other cases, the experiences only become negative memories that instill fear instead of knowledge in the mind of the learner.

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Cognitive theories are widely used in current learning environments. According to Fischer and Immordino-Yang (2008), cognitive approaches support other forms of learning. Mental abilities will determine the capacity of a learner to grasp concepts taught in class or through individual experiences. The memory will define the ability of one to remember what he or she has learned from different settings. Judgment is helpful in one’s life as a learner.

It makes it possible for a learner to know to make judgments when faced with various issues in life. On the other hand, decision-making approaches help one to know the best strategy that one should follow. It also defines how to choose when faced with closely related concepts. Language skills are needed to enable one to share different views and concepts with peers and other people within society. The main weakness of the cognitive theory is its limited emphasis on the practical aspect of learning.

Choose one theory from the behaviorist, cognitive, or constructivist approaches that are believed to provide the greatest benefits when applied to an instructional setting. Briefly describe the instructional setting, and explain the benefits of the application of the chosen theory.

Drills are one of the of concepts behaviorism approaches of learning. This concept emphasizes the relevance of a given teaching pattern, especially when handling young learners. When using this concept, a teacher is expected to develop a teaching plan that highlights what the learners should understand. When this is defined, the teacher will use a drilling strategy to ensure that learners grasp the concept. It may involve using songs to pass knowledge. This concept is very beneficial when handling young learners who are getting to know about new concepts. Sometimes it makes the learning experience enjoyable.

Faraday’s candle lesson is one of the most popular concepts in constructivism theory. This concept insists on the relevance of observation when learning. It is a concept that has been widely used in defining practical lessons in a learning environment. Faraday’s candle lesson was a practical experiment conducted by Michael Faraday. At this time, there were no clear concepts used to define how practical lessons should be taken. However, he developed the concept and stated conventional steps that should be followed when conducting scientific experiments. This concept has remained very popular in contemporary experiments.

Concept formation is an aspect of cognitive theories of learning. According to Martinez (2010), a good learner is one who is able to understand the knowledge presented to him or her and develop new concepts or expand on existing concepts. The world is changing rapidly because of various environmental factors and it is important for a learner to understand these changes and put them into the perspective of what they are learning. This concept is particularly important among advanced learners. It is necessary for an advanced learner to formulate concepts based on the knowledge that one gathers. Understanding the existing concept is not enough until one is able to develop new concepts, expand existing ones based on the knowledge gained in the classrooms and through experience.

References

Fischer, K. & Immordino-Yang, M. H. (2008). The Jossye Bass reader on the brain and learning. San Francisco: Wiley.

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Gredler, M. E. (2009). Learning and instruction: Theory into practice. Upper Saddle River: Cengage.

Martinez, M. E. (2010) Learning and cognition: The design of the mind. Boston: MA Allyn and Bacon.

Omrod, J. E. (2008). Human Learning. Upper Saddle River: Wiley.

Willingham, D. T. (2009). Why don’t students like school? A cognitive scientist answers questions about how the mind works and what it means for your classroom. San Francisco: Cengage.

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