Theories of learning essay

Submitted By Matthew-Shaw
Words: 2357
Pages: 10

Date:15th February 2013
Name:Matthew Shaw
Essay Title” Discuss how you apply theoretical perspectives of learning and communication to your teaching. Outline how the theories can help you improve your practice”

There are a number of theoretical perspectives of learning and communications. At a general level, the main theories seem to conflict and contradict one another. A closer analysis will show however that they can be complimenting theories, and I shall argue that there are benefits to the student and learner if one adopts the key principles in each when providing learning opportunities.

The notion of “Classical Conditioning” as advocated by Ivan Pavlov, B.F. Skinner and J.B Watson suggests that individuals learn through providing an external stimuli to a particular activity to gain a desired response. Behaviourists such as these concluded in their experiments that when the external stimuli is then applied to a learner without that activity taking place, then the same response can be gained and “taught”. Pavlov showed effectively that he was able to condition or “teach” dogs to salivate (the desired response) at the sound of a bell (the external stimuli) when that bell was previously rang at the same time as food was presented (the particular activity).

Such schools of thought have lost favour since the 1960’s in favour of other theories outlined later, largely because many of the experiments conducted by Pavlov et. Al. were conducted on animals, and were less effective on humans as humans have the power of insight and are more inclined to independent thinking. John B Watson demonstrated effectively in his infamous and morally questionable “Little Albert”[1] experiment that he was able to instil or “teach” a fear of white rats (that was evidently not there at the beginning of his experiments) in an 11 month old boy by making loud noises whenever a white rat was presented, showing that humans can be taught a desired response as well as animals, but this does leave me questioning the extent validity of his argument if it were to be applied to more adult learners. Nevertheless Watson was convinced that despite not having the evidence to demonstrate it, he could take any infant at random, and “train him to become any kind of specialist…[be that]… doctor, lawyer beggar man or thief” through such classical conditioning.

Such brainwashing, it could be argued finds itself a familiar home in some religious and political doctrines among adults as well as children.

The theory of Operant Conditioning, like that of Classical Conditioning outlined above also proposes that learning can be developed when that learning activity is exposed to stimuli, but proponents of Operant Conditioning will emphasize the benefits of reinforcing good work or behaviour with rewards, coupled with punishments or zero affirmation from teachers when behaviour or work is below what is expected. By this methodology the teacher can modify the behaviours or efforts of their students by giving them a short term remuneration that will motivate students to continue to produce good work, or dissuade them from producing less valuable contributions.

I have more sympathy with this form of conditioning, and have seen evidence of it in my own classrooms where students have received a particular praise for work that is outstanding for them personally, but would be considered average when compared with the rest of their classmates. This has had the desired effect of demonstrating to learners that they can achieve when they do apply themselves, as opposed to them creating a self-fulfilling prophecy (caused by a low self-esteem) by thinking that they will not achieve because they have never previously attained acknowledgement and appreciation for their efforts, and so have not applied themselves. Classical Conditioning implies that a stimulus automatically triggers an involuntary response, which may be true, but is less valuable in the educational arena that Operant