“Learning has happened when people can demonstrate that they know something that they didn’t know before (insights and realisations as well as facts) and/or when they can do something they couldn’t do before (skills).” (Mumford, 1995, p. 4) There are many theories of best learning practice and suitable models of learning. Some follow a teacher led approach, whereas other, more recent, focus on a student led approach, this is due to people learning in different ways, for example, Winston Churchill said “I am always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught” (Churchill, 1952). This shows that different people prefer different learning theories and styles and there is no perfect theory available. When teaching it is important to use a “range and mix of teaching strategies which can be used to accommodate the diverse ways in which people learn” (Gould & Roffey-Barentsen, 2014, p. 16) to ensure you are teaching in an inclusive manner. I use the following learning theories while teaching: Behaviourism, Cognitivism, Humanism, Constructivism, Connectivism and, as I primarily teach adults, the theory of Andragogy. It is important to remember that focusing on “one learning style or another is unhelpful” (Gould & Roffey-Barentsen, 2014, p. 16) and should be avoided.
The Behaviourist approach “provides a systematic approach to teaching and learning” (Gould & Roffey-Barentsen, 2014, p. 186) it is a competency based process in both educational and behavioural, for example, if a student can demonstrate they are competent at completing a particular task they are seen as successful at that element of the learning. It is only concerned with the final result and not with how the student arrived at the result. A behaviourist approach “is straightforward and unambiguous” (Gould & Roffey-Barentsen, 2014, p. 186) which also provides the added benefit of allowing “learning to be measured easily”. (Gould & Roffey-Barentsen, 2014, p. 186) I use the behaviourist theory in every lesson but more so in some classes than others, i.e. every class I teach has at least one clear objective. This makes use of the behaviourist approach in that once they have completed the objective(s) they will be able to complete a particular element of the course. A course that I teach that has a very behaviourist assessment method is a BTEC HNC in Computing, in which overall assignment is divided into multiple criteria that must be demonstrated before the student receives a Pass, Merit or Distinction. The student is aware of what is required from them (stimulus) and what they will receive if they complete the work to meet the requirements (response).
“Behaviourism was also regarded by many as being too prescriptive and over-reliant on teacher-led methods”. (Gould & Roffey-Barentsen, 2014, p. 186) This is the case with the previous example in that there is very little flexibility in the assessment; as a result the areas taught are very specific and would benefit from a wider context, for example, an IT Security unit that has no practical elements.
“The cognitive perspective on learning is concerned with internal mental processes which seek understanding and meaning in the material to be learned.” (Gould & Roffey-Barentsen, 2014, p. 186) The cognitive approach focuses on the links between existing knowledge and that “current learning builds on previous learning”. (Gould & Roffey-Barentsen, 2014, p. 188) As a result the “questions will be open, of a ‘how’ and ‘why’ nature, rather than the more closed ‘what’ type of questions used in behaviourism”. (Gould & Roffey-Barentsen, 2014, p. 188) The types of assessment most suited to cognitive approach are those that involve problem solving, such as case studies and scenarios. This is used extensively while teaching programming as there are multiple ways to meet the requirements. While marking programming assignments, the submitted work may not necessarily produce the correct final result; however, the process and methodologies used could be correct. The goal of cognitivism is “not to identify the correct answer but to encourage thinking, debating and theorising”. (Gould & Roffey-Barentsen, 2014, p. 188) This makes marking and tracking of student progress far more difficult than a behaviourist approach, however, students are more likely to have an in-depth knowledge of programming. A cognitive approach would not be suitable for practical hardware classes as the specific hardware component must be fitted to a specific standard and would be damaged if fitted incorrectly.
“At the heart of the humanistic perspective on learning is ‘the person’” (Gould & Roffey-Barentsen, 2014, p. 205) as a result it is student led learning, whereby the teacher becomes the facilitator within the class. The humanistic approach takes into account that all the students within the group will have different goals but all will attempt to do the best they can, working on the concept of: “we all try to ‘be the best that we can be’ or, as humanists would describe it, strive for self-actualisation”, (Gould & Roffey-Barentsen, 2014, p. 205) this is a very idealistic view of students, there are many cases where students have other priorities, particularly adult learners. An important element of acknowledging that all students have different goals is being able to track their progress; an ideal way is to review their progress from where they began against their goals, known as Ipsative. “Ipsative referencing reflects individual achievement and so the point of comparison is the previous or usual performance of that individual”. (Gould & Roffey-Barentsen, 2014, p. 209) Students will likely produce completely different pieces of work, making assessment challenging, especially when performing summative assessment for an awarding body. The most effective method of assessment with a humanistic approach is to focus on the self-evaluation while observing what challenges the student has overcome. I have some experience with the humanistic perspective in which an hour long class was scheduled for students, during which they could work on anything. Normally this would be in the form of students working on the assignment due in; however, students were free to work on anything as long as it was productive. I had students practicing their touch typing, with goals of being able to type 60 wpm; in each class students had a specific smart objective. Once the student had achieved their specific goal, they could move on to the next and devise future smart objectives. There was no grading or awarding body for this class; however, students developed areas that were important to them.
The goal of constructivism is to create a “process of constructing knowledge rather than acquiring it.” (David, 2015) This is achieved by “encouraging students to use active techniques (experiments, real-world problem solving) to create more knowledge and then to reflect on and talk about what they are doing”. (Educational Broadcasting Corporation, 2004) To implement the constructivism theory the teacher must implement student led learning, whereby the “learners aren’t just passive participants in the classroom; they need to be actively involved in “the bigger picture” of the world around them.” (Educational Broadcasting Corporation, 2004) The students must go in their own direction while the “teacher’s main role becomes to encourage this learning and reflection process.” (Educational Broadcasting Corporation, 2004)
The primary benefit is that “constructivism transforms the student from a passive recipient of information to an active participant in the learning process” (Educational Broadcasting Corporation, 2004) while the students “bring past experiences and cultural factors to a situation” (David, 2015) allowing them to build on their previous knowledge.
As students can go in their own direction constructivism can be difficult to implement with a standardised curriculum, however, constructivism is ideal in my field when students work on their yearlong projects due to the flexibility students have when selecting a project. A key element of their yearlong project is an in-depth evaluation of the project as a whole, which is an essential element of the constructivism approach, removing “grading in the traditional way and instead places more value on students evaluating their own progress” (Educational Broadcasting Corporation, 2004) This yearlong project causes a great deal of stress for some students, especially when deciding upon a suitable project, this is due to the lack of structure. “The biggest disadvantage is its lack of structure. Some students require highly structured environments in order to be able to excel.” (Educational Broadcasting Corporation, 2004) Another disadvantage I have witnessed is that the constructivism theory provides students with the freedom to make mistakes and become confused; while for some this is an excellent way to learn, others will become frustrated and disillusioned with the project and possibly the entire subject. A disadvantage from the teacher’s perspective is that, due to the increased difficulty of checking student progress, it can be possible to observe students who are struggling as being on their own journey when they actually require guidance from the teacher. While I feel a constructivist approach is excellent for students to expand their knowledge, particularly with an in-depth project, I do not feel it is suitable for all educational environments. I feel the constructivist approach would be unsuitable for younger students due to the lack of structure and existing knowledge.
“Connectivism is a learning theory that explains how Internet technologies have created new opportunities for people to learn and share information across the World Wide Web and among themselves.” (Learning Theories, 2015) This is very applicable in my subject as all students have access to computers, and are comfortable using them. It is common for my teaching material to include videos from YouTube, i.e. in a recent programming class I was able to include a video from the language founder that explained a particular programming principle. A very useful resource for students is Google Scholar, in which Google has provided a large amount of books, reports, journals and patents. All Google Scholar resources are ranked by the community, based on how useful it is. Google Scholar also provides a list of documents that have cited the resource, allowing for additional sources of related material to be easily found.
It is also very common for students to explain that they have signed up for various Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) relating to the course. While students have access to huge amounts of information this is an excellent resource, although there are some downsides. In many assignments students have the freedom in a Constructivism approach to produce assignments in a very different form from what I am teaching, relying solely on online resources, this is often from experts in the specific field. This can make providing guidance and advice difficult as it may be outside my area of expertise, but also can make marking and tracking student progress challenging. Another downside is that sometimes the content provided is questionable or inaccurate, sometimes with the focus being on selling the next course available. In an attempt to avoid this I ask students to let me know if they are planning to make use of an online course so I can review the content to ensure it is accurate.
“Andragogy is the name given to an approach to teaching adults popularised by Malcolm Knowles in the 1970s”, (Gould & Roffey-Barentsen, 2014, p. 209) this is very applicable to my teaching as I only teach adults. The Andragogy approach parallels many elements of the Humanistic approach of putting the learner first in a student led approach. The Andragogy approach recognises that adult learners have different motivations, experience and orientation to learning. There are six principles to the Andragogy approach: self-concept, experience, readiness to learn, orientation to learning, motivation and needing to know.
“Self-concept relates to the way we view ourselves and has a string bearing on the way in which we behave.” (Gould & Roffey-Barentsen, 2014, p. 210) This can affect the way adults learn as they may have had a previous poor experience with education or may revert back to their childhood view of education; this can cause conflict as adults “need to be perceived as being responsible for themselves, otherwise resentment and resistance can result”. (Gould & Roffey-Barentsen, 2014, p. 210) It is important to demonstrate to adult learners that they will be treated as adults and the teaching styles will be different from their school experiences.
When teaching adults “one of the most common aspects of diversity encountered in the groups we teach is the difference in previous knowledge and experience learners may bring with them”. (Gould & Roffey-Barentsen, 2014, p. 17) Adult learners will bring a wealth of knowledge to the class and it is important to make use of this knowledge as ignoring it will make the learner feel overlooked and snubbed by the group.
Readiness to learn
An adult learners readiness to learn will be very different from a child, this readiness is “influenced by the different social roles taken on as we grow older”. (Gould & Roffey-Barentsen, 2014, p. 210) An adult’s readiness to learn is likely to be much higher than a child, as long as the adult can orient their learning toward a skill necessary for their particular role(s); this could be their job but could also be that they are a new parent.
Orientation to learning
When an adult learns something they “need to see immediate results in their learning”, (Gould & Roffey-Barentsen, 2014, p. 210) this is in contrast to child learners where they will be subject focused and have no current real-life application of the learning. For example, a child will learn long division but will have limited application for this knowledge. As an adult encounters a problem they will attempt to obtain the knowledge required to solve this problem.
Adult learners are far more self-directed, independent and autonomous, not relying on the direction of the teacher. Adult learners are far more motivated by intrinsic factors such as self-improvement or satisfying their curiosity. The Andragogy approach rates “self-esteem and quality of life or just the need to keep growing and developing … more important in giving adults a reason to learn”. (Gould & Roffey-Barentsen, 2014, p. 211) While this is true, some adults do contradict the Andragogy intrinsic approach, due to being motivated by money.
The need to know
Closely linked with motivation, readiness to learn and orientation to learning is the need to know what is being taught. “Adults do not learn ‘subjects’ but learn in order to complete tasks or solve problems which are part of their daily life.” (Gould & Roffey-Barentsen, 2014, p. 210) Adults will quickly assess whether what they are being taught is important to them and will ignore elements they deem as non-important. It is important to explain why what is being taught is important to them. An example of this that I use is while teaching Multi-tasking systems; this is a particularly difficult concept for students to understand and is non-essential in programming. To ensure learners do not ignore this element of the course I explain that programmers who understand this concept are generally treated as better and more experienced programmers, which is why these concepts are frequently included in interviews.
Churchill, W. (1952, 11 4). Speaking: The Prime Minister Winston Churchill, HC Deb 04, volume 507. Hansard. London, London, UK: United Kingdom Parliament.
David, L. (2015, 6 20). Constructivism. Retrieved from Learning Theories: https://www.learning-theories.com/constructivism.html
Educational Broadcasting Corporation. (2004, 01 01). What is constructivism? Retrieved from Concept to classroom:
Gould, J., & Roffey-Barentsen, J. (2014). Achieving your diploma in education and training (1st ed.). London: Sage Publications Ltd.
Learning Theories. (2015, 6 1). CONNECTIVISM (SIEMENS, DOWNES). Retrieved from Learning Theories: https://www.learning-theories.com/connectivism-siemens-downes.html
Mumford, A. (1995). Effective Learning. London: Charted Institute of Personnel and Development.