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Sandra Taylor

Learning Theories

Learning how our students learn helps us to make curriculum engaging, relevant and efficient.


  • All behaviors are acquired through conditioning (classical or operant).
  • Behaviors are learned (conditioning) through interaction with the environment.
  • Responses to stimuli shape our behavior.

Theorist and Characteristics

Ivan Petrovish Pavlov (1849-1936)

Behavior change stems from environmental influence Learning will be exhibited in an observable behavior change. All behavior comes from the formula stimulus-response.

Edward Thorndike (1874-1949)

Defined learing as habit formation. Knowledge results from the accumulation of stimulus-response association. Teaching is changing the environment to promote desirable connections and associations.

Burrhus Frederic Skinner (1904-1990)

Behavior is a reflection of internal processes. Believed that learners are active participants and not passive. Added understanding of operant conditioning and reinforcements.

Learning & memory

  • Pavlov: classical conditioning
    • Paring naturally occurring stimulus and response change with a different stimulus
    • unconditioned stimulus -- response
    • conditioned stimulus -- response
  • Skinner: operant conditioning
    • does not believe in punishment (inhibits learning)
    • Through positive (adding something) and negative reinforcement (taking something) an association is made between the behavior and a consequence.
    • Extinction (removal of something to increase a behavior)
  • Bandura: observational learning
    • Attention, retention, motor reproduction, and motivation.
  • Learning is described as habit formation.
  • Knowledge results from the stimulus-response associations.
  • Learning occurs through interaction with the environment.
  • Learning occurs through observation and modeling. (i.e. coaching and student modeling the behavior).


Curriculum and Instruction in the Behaviorist Theory

Instruction is based on pretesting, diagnosing, using step-by-step teaching and structure.

Teachers can use drills, guided practice, regular review, positive reinforcement, and presenting new materials in small chunks. Change the environment to achieve a result.


  • This theory focuses on how our minds receive, organize, save, and retrieve information. How does the mind work?
  • Views the learner as an information processor.
  • Acknowledges the existence of the mind.

Theorist and Characteristics

Jean Piaget (1896-1980)

Theory of cognitive developmetn stages: sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operations, and formal operations. Mental operations are sequential. Assimilation, accommodation, and equilibrium.

Maria Montessori (1870-1952)

Cognitive development and the use of appropriate learning experiences. Structured classroom environment based on student's interests. Believed children develop at different rates. Emphasized looking and listening to provide sensory experiences.

Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934)

Language is the primary tool that enables the organization of thinking.. Child developmetn is based on the interaction of speaking and playing with in ones culture. Enculturation: part of formal education.


Learning & memory

  • Learning relies on external factors, like information, and internal thought processes.
  • The learner acquires knowledge and stores it in memory.
  • Bruner: Learners construct new ideas upon existing knowledge.
    • Learning is the integration of capabilities and the human invented technologies.
    • Three methods of representation: enactive (learn through movement), iconic (learn through images or icons), and symbolic (learn through the use of words and other symbols).
    • Three learning stages: acquisition (assimilation of new information), transformation (processing new information), and evaluation (is the information appropriate for the task at hand).


Haward Gardner's multiple intelligences

Teaching Strategies and Curriculum and Instruction.

Spiral curriculum, and discovery learning. .

Learning strategies: encourage reflection, finding new solutions to problems, encourage discussions, and explore and understand how ideas are connected.


  • Addresses the nature of knowledge and the nature of learning.
    • Learners construct knowledge through interactions
    • Focuses on the collaborative nature of learning
  • Individuals are actively involved in thinking and learning.
  • Learners' background and previous knowledge impact how they learn.

Theorist and Characteristics

Jean Piaget (1896-1980)

Cognitive Constructivism Learning should be related to the learner's stage of cognitive development. Learn new information by connecting it to prior knowledge. Learners make modifications to current intelligence to accomodate new information.

Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934)

Social Constructivism Focuses on the collaborative nature of learning. The development of knowledge is done through how people interact with each other, their culture, and society. Learning from others helps construct knowledge and reality.

Ernst von Glasersfeld (1917-2010)

Radical Constructivism Focuses on the idea that learners and the knowledge they construct tell us nothing real. This constructed knowledge only helps us function in our environment

Learning & memory

  • Knowledge is constructed (built up on other knowledge).
  • Learning involves constructing meaning and systems of meaning.
  • Learning is an active process of sensory input to construct meaning.
  • Learning is associated to our connection to other people.
  • Learning is contextual. We learn things associated to things we already know.
  • Knowledge is personal, based on one's ideas and beliefs.
  • motivation is key to learning.


Teaching Strategies and Curriculum and Instruction.

Focus on students' questions and interests, interactive learning, and student-centered. .

Shared knowledge and authority between teachers and students. Teachers are guides or facilitators.

Memory is divided into short term and long term memory. Short term memory: working memory, can only process a limited amount of information. Long term memory: deals with semantic and procedural information. Has infinite capacity. information is recalled to working memory and stored when not needed. Effective learners transfer information from working memory to long term memory quickly.

Assimilation is the prosses of adding new experiences to existing ones. Accommodation is adapting or modifying ideas in response to the environment. Equilibration is the process of balancing the assimilation and accommodation of our environment.

Concentrate on thinking and understanding rather than rote memorization. Working memory and long term memory work together to relate to new information.

Memory in the Behaviorist Theory Rote learning and memorization are unnecessary instead connections are made and patterns formed.