November 20, 2017

Learning

 

Graham Hooper                               4/10/2004

Aspects of Psychology and Communication as applied to Learning

This essay will look at the characteristics of effective teaching and learning and it has

been suggested that it is inefficient and ineffective to use traditional lecturing styles or

whole class teaching for most of the time, and that collaborative learning, often arranged

in groups, is a more effective way of promoting learning in the classroom.

One theory, is learning and knowledge are constructed this is called constructivism and

that there are two types cognitive constructivism and social constructivism, the latter

owes its roots to Vygotsky who sees learning as a social, collaborative and interactional

activity in which it is difficult to ‘teach’ specifically- the teacher will set up the

environment which will enable learning to occur, with intervention to provoke and

prompt that learning through scaffolding. Scaffolding is helping students to think for

themselves and take responsibility for their own learning, the teacher supports and

encourages the students to become independent learners capable of developing

and thinking for themselves. Cognitive constructivism owes itself largely to Piaget and is

concerned with thinking and learning. Some of the characteristics of cognitive

constructivism is that students construct their own knowledge and that knowledge is

uncertain, evolutionary, pragmatic and tentative it is also creative, personal and

individual and that learning is marked by the learners capacities to explore and

experiment. (page 168 Cohen et al).

It is suggested that students will be able to construct their own knowledge

rather than it being transmitted directly from the teacher, it will largely depend on the

teacher and no matter which learning strategy is initiated it is the teacher who will

nurture and respond to the needs of the student. Because the student is an individual and

will not respond to any form of teaching unless they want to, it often will depend on

whether the student is there voluntarily of their own free will, whether any learning can

take place, It can be argued that unless the student has the motivation to learn or can be

helped to discover a motivation they may drift through their education only waiting for it

to finish or their education is curtailed for them due to their non participation, one of the

keys which may unlock the door is developing learning skills which simply may be

learning to learn, some teaching methods such as chalk and copy plus show and tell can

have a negative effect on the learning process because the teacher decides when and how

to give help, they then correct the student’s mistakes and take away the decision making

and responsibility from the student, making them dependant passive and subordinate,

these characteristics are not helpful in developing people for a work place where

errors may not be accepted, where also they may be asked to work in a team in which

knowledge and learning must be shared and are expected to work on their own initiative

if something needs doing. So some students need to learn to learn and being able to

identify their learning style could prove useful. The work of Kolb could prove useful in

identifying different preferences of learning styles, he suggested that learning follows a

cyclical process involving:

Divergers,

 who need to be personally involved in the task, who perceives in the task and who reflects on it?

 

 

Convergers, who prefer detailed steps in learning who perceive information abstractly and reflect on It.

 

Assimilators, who thrive on problem solving activities, and who perceive and process information abstractly and actively respectively.

 

Accommodators, who enjoy taking risks, who thrive on flexibility in learning activities, and who process information actively.

 

Kolb argued within this cyclical process there are four types of learner.

The reflector, who seeks alternatives to create options, who is prepared to wait and watch others until the time is ripe for action, and who tries to retain a sense of perspective.

The theorist, who tries to gather all the facts and who is well organised, reviewing alternatives and calculating probabilities, working well independently and learning from

his or her own past experiences.

The pragmatist, who is keen to try out new ideas, techniques and theories, who evaluates options and is good at finding out information, who sets goals and takes positive action to meet them, working well independently.

The activist, who is prepared to take risks, to become involved with others and to gain new ideas and insights from them, who is active and relies on personal gut feeling to drive his or her actions.

The above apply to Kolb and his experiential learning theory which is different to that

of the behavioural learning theories and it also differentiates experiential learning from

cognitive learning theory because of its emphasis on experience  combined with

perception, cognition and behaviour.

There are also lots of different learning styles for example visual learners, kinaesthetic

learners, tactile learners, focusers, scanners, impulsive versus reflective thinkers to name

a few, it could be said that the job of the teacher is to identify these learning styles and

then effectively help facilitate learning.

This brings us onto the thinking of Carl R. Rogers who believes that teaching is a vastly

over-rated function (p228 culture and process of adult learning) as teaching means to

instruct and to impart knowledge or skill and ‘to make to know’ he suggests that teaching

has it place in a society that does not change or want to change such as the Australian

Aborigines and that their survival in a wilderness is down to teaching and passing on

knowledge. Teaching and the imparting of knowledge makes sense in an unchanging

environment but in today’s world which is constantly changing and where preconceived

ideas and theories will be challenged and what is taught today could easily become

outdated in 20years. We only have to think about the arrival in our lives of computers,

the internet and mobile phones and how quickly today’s technology is often outdated in

months, let alone years and decades. Rogers argues that there is an entirely new situation

in education and that the goal in education, if we are to survive, is the facilitation of

change and learning. (page 229 Edwards et al) ‘The only man who is educated is the man

who has learned how to learn’ and this is what the teacher know has to do, they can be

the catalyst for change and be able to assist the facilitation of learning so as the student is

able to free their curiosity and to change direction following their own interests so as they

become more inquisitive, question, explore and recognize that everything is open to

change. To be able to be this teacher, who is able to facilitate this learning often requires

a gut instinct or maybe a natural ability but will definitely be someone who has a good

relationship with their class, someone who is genuine and is a real person and not an

actor on a stage and can communicate with their student on a one to one basis in a direct

personal encounter, this person will be accepted by the class and the class will trust them

because this teacher will care for the learner as an individual and a person in their own

right, if the teacher is able to do these things they will create an atmosphere which will

encourage and facilitate learning in a classroom that is so different, that if there is any

resemblance to an old classroom situation then it is purely coincidental. Carl Rogers was

a humanist psychologist who provided a framework of understanding for Malcolm

Knowles who presents andragogy, ‘the science and art of helping adults to learn’

(Knowles 1984:52) as a theory of adult learning.

It then could be argued that there is a problem in this area and it has it roots in the people

who do not want to learn who are only in the classroom because it would be illegal for

them not to be there or they would lose their benefits to give these people a free rein may

result in chaos, the means to assist these pupil’s are probably beyond the realms of a

Teacher in a normal classroom as quite often it is these peoples own personal, social and

economic backgrounds where the problem lies, all outside the classroom in an area

where the teacher may have very little knowledge. It could well be that a teacher who

was brought up in a middle class background with two parents may have no

understanding of a child whose mother is a single parent who has four children with each

child in that family having a different father who lives on a council estate where degrees

of dishonesty and lawlessness is part of everyday life. The child is unlikely to have any

respect for the teacher or authority as they have very little respect for themselves, this

will lead to a situation in the classroom where discipline would be impossible to keep

and the only solution may be a school or college for people with special needs and a job

for teacher’s or facilitators of learning with expert skills in these field.

It could be suggested that behaviourism may be the best type of learning theory in these

circumstances because the pupil could be motivated by reward. Behaviourism suggests

that the pupil responds to stimuli based on reward, this learning theory suggests that by

receiving a stimulus that provokes a response and this response is reinforced by praise,

marks, prizes, work, money, promotion etc, this leaves the teacher in control because

they can control the stimuli. It then becomes necessary to set behavioural objectives or

learning objectives these have three main concepts aims, goals and objectives, a learning

objective can be defined as a change in the learners behaviour because the result of that

change can be observed by noting what the learner can do, as compared with what they

where unable to do before the teaching commenced. The learning objective is a statement

that describes what a learner will be able to do on completion of an instructional process

for example at the end of the lesson the pupil will be able to stop the car in a safe and

convenient place on the left hand side of the road. This will then have to be broken down

into more specific objectives, like the student will be able to describe the correct routine

for parking, plus the student will be able to identify where it is not safe and convenient

to park in accordance with the highway code.

It seems that it does not matter one iota what and how people learn but that we can learn

some methods are more effective than others in certain situations and with certain

types of students and it seems to be best practice that a combination of the three main

models of learning behaviourism, humanistic and cognitive may be the most effective.

Having looked at behaviourism and the humanistic approach we can look at what the

cognitivists base their theory on. It is based on how student’s gain and organise

knowledge and that the student actually creates a pattern of what the information actually

means to them. (page 76 Armitage etal) A key feature of cognitive theory is that

knowledge is constructed through interaction with the environment. It is a cognitive

process which involves acquiring new information which enables the learner to evolve

and transform their existing knowledge and then check out and apply the new state of

knowledge to new situations; and so the process goes on. New patterns of meaning and

understanding is formed to enable further learning to take place. The process is

dynamic.

How do we apply these theories to our learning and teaching? If we go back to Kolb and

his theoretical learner, pragmatist, reflector and activist it is argued by Kramlinger and

Huberry (op cit) (page 95 Armitage et al) that the theoretical learner learns best with

cognitive methods, the pragmatist learns best with a mixture of behaviourist and

humanist approaches, the reflective learns best with humanist approaches and the

 

activist responds to a mixture of behaviourist and humanistic approaches. Kramlinger

and Huberry (op cit) conclude that humanistic techniques answer the why questions :

cognitive approaches answer the what question; and methods which are predominantly

behaviourist but with some humanistic techniques answer the how question. So if the

student preferred learning style can be identified then it may be able to enhance their

learning by using their preferred style or a combination of learning theories.

Finally as we often teach a skill it may prove useful to be able to identify the

characteristics of a skill, the source of my information comes from an edited version of

two chapters in A.Gallantly (ed), the skilful mind, Milton Keynes, Open University Press,

1986. The characteristics of a skill can be broken down into five headings these are;

fluency, rapidity, automaticity, simultaneity, and knowledge using the mnemonic

FRASK can be a helpful way to remember this.

Fluency is when a task can be repeated with a minimum of pauses and hesitations,

rapidity involves the ability to make the appropriate response quickly, automaticity is

when the skill becomes natural and is able to be performed without thinking,

simultaneity is when the coordination of hands and feet can be executed at the same time

and it can be possible to perform an unrelated task such as talking all at the same time,

knowledge is when you are an expert in your field and this knowledge is available at the

appropriate time, it is of no use knowing that amber means stop unless it is followed by

 the necessary physical actions. This leaves the question how is the skill acquired? Is it

inherited? Or is it acquired by opportunity and practice? If it is a natural talent gifted to

us through our genes or does it require some nurturing to full fill its potential or can it

be developed by conditioning and behaviour?

Even though I conclude this essay with more questions, it will seem that as humans we

have a quest for understanding and knowledge which is probably what drives our

societies. Does it matter whether you use a traditional style of teaching or you adopt a

more constructive approach? It will only matter if the style is ineffective and learning

does not take place, so it will seem that the teacher that can adapt and use all styles, will

become the most effective teacher.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

Armitage A et al (2003) Teaching and Training in Post Compulsory Education 2nd edn Maidenhead Open UP

Cohen L, Manion L and Morrison K (2004) A Guide to Teaching Practice 5th edn London and New York Routledge Falmer

Edwards R et al (eds) (1993) Culture and Processes of Adult Learning Routledge: New York

Murphy P (ed) (1999) Learners, Learning & Assessment London: Paul Chapman

Reece I and Walker S (2003) A Practical Guide to Teaching, Training and Learning 5th edn Sunderland: Business Education Publishers

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