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Learning Theory

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  • The intention of this lecture is to explore the theory underpinning, what many educational researchers and practitioners claim to be the crux of the learning process, namely, the interaction between the teacher and learner in the classroom setting (Webster et al, 1996; Reed, 1999, Galton et al, 1999). More specifically, ' . . . all [those] points where contact is made between people which renders learning outcomes possible' (Fontanna, 1995, p. 283).  
  • The lecture will begin by exploring the notion of interaction and mediation. Some specific descriptors used in relation to it will be expanded on and linked to prominent perspectives of development and learning: constructivism, behaviourism and socioconstructivism.   As well as providing a basic grammar of the subject, an exploration of the thinking underpinning the terminology deployed and an exploration of the learning theory associated with it, will provide a useful theoretical framework for considering how interaction can operate in the classroom.   The theoretical perspectives are then linked with recent research into cognition and a socioconstructivist learning approach is consequently highlighted as that which is presently most favoured by many psychologists and educators.   With a view to clarifying or demystifying the nature of classroom interaction a number of diagrammatic representations of the ways in which teachers might involve themselves with a learner or group of learners are then shared.
  • At its most simplest, interaction can be seen as reciprocal action, that is: a return made for something given, felt or shown – an interactive exchange allowing a two-way flow of information (The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, Third Edition 1983). The centrality of importance of interaction was taken up by some sociologists and some psychologists who call themselves 'symbolic interactionists'.   Underpinning their theory or theories of how social life works is the belief that: 'all humans are possessed of a self, and that they are reflexive, or self interacting' (Delamont, 1983, p. 26). By this, Delamont explains, they mean that people think about what they are doing, and that what goes on inside their heads is a crucial element in how they act. Influenced by Mead, they posit the idea of two types of human interaction, symbolic and non-symbolic:   The latter is roughly equivalent to the biological notion of a reflex action – such as pulling your hand away from extreme heat, or blinking. The vast proportion of human interaction [however] is symbolic, which means it involves interpretation [making meaning]. The idea is that when two people are interacting each is constantly interpreting their own and other's acts, and reacting, and reinterpreting, and reacting, and reinterpreting, and reacting . . . (1979, cited in Delamont, 1983, p. 27)   Fontanna (1995) refers to the symbolic interactionist's notion of 'self' in terms of 'egocentric' communication – communication which is directed to self. This he contrasts with 'socially directed' communication, consisting of interactive categories to do with 'orders, questions, information, informal speech, expressed emotions, 'performative' utterances, social routines or latent messages' (p. 301). Integral to both types of communication are the use of non-verbal signals such as smiles, nods, frowns, raised eyebrows, grimaces, the exchange of which are referred to as 'communicative synchrony'. Fontanna (1995) explains how it is through the use of non-verbal signals, some intentional, others spontaneous, that clues are given as to what might be going on in someone's mind. Similarly, Reed (1999, p. 2) argues:   Often we speak, but in signs not words – eyes grasp, face patterns, shoulders shrug, limbs gesticulate, bodies inflate and slump. We can't escape the ebb and flow of signs that pass between us. Our interactions give voice and form to our mediation with others – we make sense and nonsense from them. Watch any interaction between people for no more than a few seconds and you will see a dance of signs and a drama of actions, which cannot be reduced to spoken language alone.   As such, non-verbal signals play an important part (alongside verbal signals) in conveying meaning in any form of social interaction, the deployment of which is seen as innate. It is suggested that rather than being consciously learned, there is a slow accretion of skill in carrying out such activity (Bruner, 1985; Berk and Winsler, 1996; Fontanna, 1995). As such communicative intent seems to be present from the start or very near the start of a human beings life.
  • Often the terms interaction and mediation are used synonymously. Yet, it is clear that the two, although inextricably linked, are different and need to be distinguished. As a way forward, it is useful to reference back to Reed (p. 2) who states that 'Our interactions give voice and form to our mediation with others . . . '. In terms of the classroom, this implies that the way a teacher interacts with children (what they say and what they do), and the purpose of interaction itself will, in turn, influence how they go on to mediate between the learner and cognitive development (Selly, 1999, p. 91). As such, to mediate adds a qualitative dimension to interaction in that 'Mediation structures and narrates the physical and linguistic actions between us' (Reed, p. 3). Thus, mediation can be viewed as an arrangement of actions and interactions, which are interrelated, wrapped around tasks or activities, which, in turn, feed into planned outcomes. With this in mind, interaction should be carefully planned for so that a teacher knows when, why and how they will mediate (Moyles, 1989). For the purpose of this lecture the term mediate is used interchangeably with the term intervene.
  • The basic premise underpinning the notion of interaction is that people are active and make decisions on the basis of meanings (Pollard and Bourne, 1994). The process is essentially one of negotiation, with the response of each person at each point being strongly influenced by the response of the other: ' . . . a joint act – a relationship that works, and is about doing work' Delamont (1983, p. 28). As such, it is believed, that the way one thinks or acts is influenced by those around them. However, the form that this negotiation takes is likely to differ depending on a teacher's perspective on the relationship between learning and development.   Vygotsky (1978), in trying to distinguish his theory of learning from others outlined three prominent perspectives of the aforementioned relationship as: (1) learning and development as separate entities; (2) learning and development as identical; and (3) learning as leading development. His ideas are summarised by Berk and Winsler (1996) in the table. Of particular interest, in terms of this lecture, is how each perspective depicts the role of the child in relation to the teacher (or social environment). Presently, the most favoured theory of learning is one which strongly suggests the importance for learning (alongside experience) of the social and cultural context, and of interaction with others (Pollard, 1997). The most influential writer on this approach has been Vygotsky (1962, 1978) who Cole (1985, p. 149) claims:   set out in the middle 1920s to deny the strict separation of the individual and their social environment. Instead, the individual and the social were conceived as mutually constitutive elements of a single, interacting system . . .   Vygotsky's basic belief that social transaction is the fundamental vehicle of education and not solo performance was significantly different to most other theories of cognition and cognitive development which emphasised the separateness, or identical nature, of the natural and social lines of development (Bruner, 1985). His thinking did, however, stem from Piaget whose observations of children, and the conclusions he drew from those observations, brought about a revolution in the way that people thought about how children learn to make sense of the world.  
  • Swiss biologist and psychologist Jean Piage (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.
  • 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.
  • Littledyke and Huxford (1998, p. 10) explain how David Ausubel (1968) proposed that meaningful learning can occur when new ideas can be incorporated into a structure of thought that has already been established by previous learning. He thought of learning in two dimensions; the degree of meaningfulness and the mode of encounter. Littledyke and Huxford go on to describe how Ausubel posited three conditions which are necessary for meaningful learning:1.The material itself must be meaningful; it must make sense or conform to experience 2.The learner must have enough relevant knowledge for the meaning in the material to be within their grasp. 3. The learner must intend to learn meaningfully, that s/he must intend to fit the new material into what s/he already knows rather than to memorise from word to word. Ausubel states, also, that there is an important issue of relatedness of the new material to existing knowledge. Learning is affected by:•How complex the new material is; •How it relates to what is already known.
  • Littledyke and Huxford (1998, p. 10) explain how David Ausubel (1968) proposed that meaningful learning can occur when new ideas can be incorporated into a structure of thought that has already been established by previous learning. He thought of learning in two dimensions; the degree of meaningfulness and the mode of encounter. Littledyke and Huxford go on to describe how Ausubel posited three conditions which are necessary for meaningful learning:1.The material itself must be meaningful; it must make sense or conform to experience 2.The learner must have enough relevant knowledge for the meaning in the material to be within their grasp. 3. The learner must intend to learn meaningfully, that s/he must intend to fit the new material into what s/he already knows rather than to memorise from word to word. Ausubel states, also, that there is an important issue of relatedness of the new material to existing knowledge. Learning is affected by:•How complex the new material is; •How it relates to what is already known.
  • Littledyke and Huxford (1998, p. 10) explain how David Ausubel (1968) proposed that meaningful learning can occur when new ideas can be incorporated into a structure of thought that has already been established by previous learning. He thought of learning in two dimensions; the degree of meaningfulness and the mode of encounter. Littledyke and Huxford go on to describe how Ausubel posited three conditions which are necessary for meaningful learning:1.The material itself must be meaningful; it must make sense or conform to experience 2.The learner must have enough relevant knowledge for the meaning in the material to be within their grasp. 3. The learner must intend to learn meaningfully, that s/he must intend to fit the new material into what s/he already knows rather than to memorise from word to word. Ausubel states, also, that there is an important issue of relatedness of the new material to existing knowledge. Learning is affected by:•How complex the new material is; •How it relates to what is already known.
  • The model presented by Reed allows teachers and learners to distinguish between four quadrants of mediatory power in teacher/learner interactions, with each quadrant suggesting different qualities of interaction. Reed posits this as a more pragmatic version of actions of teaching and learning, overcoming, in part, the problems identified in his analysis of the theoretical description of the ZPD. He goes on to explain that by adding more information concerning the qualities and types of interaction observed in ordinary educational settings, teachers are helped to envisage more clearly the different qualities of interaction through mediation it outlines. His thinking is not new. Earlier attempts at making more transparent classroom interaction have also been provided by Walker and Adelman (in Delamont, 1983, p. 127) and Ausubel (cited in Littledyke and Huxford, 1999, p. 136):
  • Delamont (1983) explains how Walker and Adelman locate their teaching strategies along two dimensions, which they call ‘definition’ and ‘open v closed content’. Definition, refers to the pupil’s role. High definition equates to the children’s role being positional, that is, to provide right answers – to play ‘verbal ping pong’. Low definition (or fuzzy) is personal not positional and the correct answers to questions are not clear. As such, the children have more flexibility and ambiguity. Delamont (1983) goes on to explain how the orthogonal dimension refers to the organisation of lesson content in relation to pupils. Open content allows the children to be genuinely engaged in negotiating new knowledge. Closed content is organised into tight, logical steps over which the pupil has no control. The discourse reflected in each quadrant is defined in the following way:High definitionLow definition•Focusing – this is what most teachers are doing most of the time. The pupil’s role is to give right answers (high definition) and the right answer is logically determined by the teacher (content closed). The teacher is leading the class to coverage on one right answer, which is predetermined.•Cook’s Tour describes a discourse which still has right answers, but in which the topic is shifted in an unpredictable manner.•Freewheeling allows the class to contribute in unpredictable ways. The children’s contribu- tions are not labelled right or wrong. Walker and Adelman had no name for the style which would occupy the fourth quadrant. Indeed, Delamont (1983, pp. 127-128) believes that it is not easy to see what such a discourse would look like.
  • Each quadrant of the interactive framework (Figure 2.2, Reed,1999), is bounded by pedagogic conventions or social ‘rules of use’ which demarcate the potential for mediation depending on the degree of the control allowed between the teacher and the learner. Clarification of these conventions, Reed argues, allows attention to then be drawn to them – the conventions can be explained to both teachers and learners.Reed considers how educators might extrapolate and explicate the pedagogic conventions for each of the quadrants, considering each quadrant from the perspective of the teacher and the learner (see Figure 2.5). This, he argues, continues the dialogic sense of the framework as a shared resource – one which is open to interpretation, discussion and reconceptualisation. Reed states that it is impossible to produce one version which suits all age groups and all educational settings and so the framework posited by him is still an action-theoretic, which becomes redefined in accordance with the pragmatic circumstances of different users in their specific institutional context. Reed’s model below has evolved out of earlier versions (see Figures 2.6 and 2.7):For valid use to be made of the models to support the critical exploration of the quality of encounters between teachers and their more able, attention must first be paid to the particular learning needs and learning preferences of the more able. With this in mind Chapter 3 sets out to explore what it means to be more able. Definitions and the nature of intelligence are explored and the learning preferences of the more able highlighted. Generic qualities associated with learning are focused on rather than specific. Finally, attention is paid to the type of teacher and theory of learning that would best fit with their needs as learners.

Transcript

  • 1. Learning TheoryDr Linda RushVice Dean, Teacher Education
  • 2. ObjectiveTo explore the theory underpinning the interaction between the teacher and learner in the classroom setting
  • 3. Structure Explore the notion of interaction and mediationConsider learning theory associated with interactionPresent theoretical frameworks for reflecting on interaction in the classroom
  • 4. Introducing interaction At its most simplest, interaction can be seen as reciprocal action, that is: a return made for something given, felt or shown – an interactive exchange allowing a two-way flow of information The centrality of importance of interaction was taken up by some sociologists and some psychologists who call themselves symbolic interactionists’ Symbolic Interactionists posit the idea of two types of human interaction, symbolic and non- symbolic
  • 5. Interaction and mediationOften the terms interaction and mediation are used synonymouslyTo mediate adds a qualitative dimension to interactionMediation can be viewed as an arrangement of actions and interactions
  • 6. Types of interaction A teacher might interact with their class with a view to imparting new knowledge or they may interact to confront misconceptions being held on behalf of a learner. Alternatively they may interact with a view to encouraging and maintaining motivation.
  • 7. Types of interaction  Reed (1999) writes about forms of interaction such as appraisal and assessment.  Within early years education there is general agreement about teachers interacting with their children (through questioning, modelling language, skills and behaviour) with a view to extending their learning.
  • 8. Types of interaction A teachers intervention or mediation can be outside whereby the teacher is on the periphery of the learning going on, but providing comments or encouragement, or on the inside where the teacher takes on a role, joins in and models, maybe, language, skill or behaviour.
  • 9. The relationship betweenlearning and development
  • 10. Piaget’s cognitive-developmental theoryPiagets 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.
  • 11. Piagets four developmentalstagesSensorimotor stage (birth - 2 years old)Preoperational stage (ages 2-7)Concrete operations (ages 7-11)Formal operations (beginning at ages 11-15)
  • 12.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9yhXjJVFA14&fea
  • 13. Piaget’s principles forbuilding cognitive structuresAssimilation
  • 14. Piaget’s principles forbuilding cognitive structuresAccommodation
  • 15. Piaget’s principles forbuilding cognitive structuresEquilibrium
  • 16. How Piagets theory impactson 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.
  • 17. BehaviourismBehavior theorists define learning as nothing more than the acquisition of new behavior.
  • 18. Behaviourism - conditioning as auniversal learning process.Classic conditioning occurs when a natural reflex responds to a stimulus.Behavioral or operant conditioning occurs when a response to a stimulus is reinforced.
  • 19. Criticisms of BehaviourismDoes not account for all kinds of learning, since it disregards the activities of the mindDoes not explain some learning - such as the recognition of new language patterns by young children - for which there is no reinforcement mechanismReinforced patterns of behaviour will alter with new information
  • 20. How Behaviorism impactson learningIts positive and negative reinforcement techniques can be very 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.
  • 21. Vygotsky’s socio-culuraltheoryThe social cognition learning model asserts that culture is the prime determinant of individual development.
  • 22. Culture makes two sorts ofcontributions to a childs intellectualdevelopmentThrough culture children acquire much of the content of their thinking, that is, their knowledgeThe surrounding culture provides a child with the processes or means of their thinking, what Vygotskians call the tools of intellectual adaptation
  • 23. Vygotsky’s socio-culuraltheoryA dialectical process – involving problem solving with more knowledgeable other (MKO)Language - primary form of interactionZone of proximal development (ZPD)ScaffoldingInternalisation
  • 24.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9yhXjJVFA14&fea
  • 25. How Vygotsky’s socio-culturaltheory impacts on learningCurricula should be designed to emphasize interaction between learners and learning tasks.Role of ‘scaffolding’ - where the adult continually adjusts the level of his or her help in response to the childs level of performance--is an effective form of teachingAssessment – prospective, not retrospective!
  • 26.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9yhXjJVFA14&fea
  • 27. Meaningful LearningMeaningful learning occurs when new ideas are incorporated into a structure of thought that has already been established by previous learning (see Bruner’s notion of a Spiral Curriculum)
  • 28. Meaningful Learning: TwodimensionsThe degree of meaningfulnessThe mode of encounter.
  • 29. Meaningful Learning: Threeconditions1.The material itself must be meaningful; it must make sense or conform to experience2.The learner must have enough relevant knowledge for the meaning in the material to be within their grasp.3. The learner must intend to learn meaningfully, that s/he must intend to fit the new material into what s/he already knows rather than to memorise from word to word