Learning Theory Psychology Essay Example

Learning is defined as the permanent change in individuals mind, voluntary or involuntary. It occurs through an experience that can bring about a relatively permanent change in an individual’s knowledge or behavior. Behaviorist defines learning as the changes in an individual’s mind resulting in a permanent change. It is learning that takes place intentional or unwillingly in individuals. Cognitive psychologist defines learning as the changes in knowledge that can be an internal mental activity that cannot be observed directly. Learning involves obtaining and modifying knowledge, skills, strategies, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors to understand old or new information. Individuals learn skills from experiences that tend to take the form of social interactions, linguistic or motor skills. Educational professionals define learning as an ‘enduring change in behavior or in the capacity to behave in a given fashion which results from practice or other forms of experience’.
One may ask how does learning happen? Learning happens every day to every individual, it doesn’t only happen in the classrooms, colleges or universities buildings but it can happen anywhere and every day. Learning can occur through interacting with others, observing or simply as just listening to a conversation. Learning happens through experiences good and bad, or ones that can provoke an emotional response or simply offer a moment of revelation. Behaviorist and cognitive theorist believed that learning can be affected by the environment an individual resides but behaviorist focused more on the role of the environment and how the stimuli is presented and arrange and the responses reinforced. Cognitive theorist on the other hand agrees with behaviorist but tend to focus more on the learners abilities, beliefs, values and attitudes. They believe that learning occurs by consolidation which is the forming and strengthening of neural connections which include the factors organization, rehearsal, elaboration and emotional. Learning occurs in many ways, psychologist believe that learning is the key concept of living whether it’s intentional or unintentional which is why they came up with the learning theories.
Learning theories are considered theoretical frameworks in describing how information is contain, refined and maintain during learning. Learning is an important activity in the lives of individuals; it is the core of our educational process, even though learning begins out of the classroom. For many years psychologist sought to understand what is learning, the nature of it, how is it transpired and how individuals influence learning in others through teaching and similar endeavors. Learning theories tend to be based on scientific evidence and more valid than personal opinions or experiences. There are five basic types of theories used in educational psychology which are: Behavioral, Cognitive, Social & Cultural, and Constructivism.
Behavioral Theory
The behavioral approach is the behavior view that generally assumes that the outcome of learning is the change in behavior and emphasizes the effects of internal events on an individual. In the behaviorist approach, they believed that individuals have no free will, and that the environment an individual is place in determines their behavior. They believe that individuals are born with a clean slate and that behaviors can be learned from the environment. The learning theories from the behaviorists Pavlov, Guthrie and Thorndike have historical importance on learning. Although they may differ each theory has its own process of forming associations between stimuli and responses. Thorndike believed that responses to stimuli are strengthening when it is followed by a satisfying consequence. Guthrie reasoned that the relation between stimulus and responses is established through pairing. Pavlov, who developed the classical conditioning, demonstrated how stimuli can be conditioned to obtain certain responses while being paired with another stimulus. The behavior theory is expressed in conditioning theories that explains learning in the terms of environmental events but is not the only conditioning theory.
B. F. Skinner developed the Operant conditioning; this form of conditioning is based on the assumptions that the features of the environment serves as cues for responding. He believed that we learn to behave in certain ways as we operate on the environment. In operant conditioning reinforcement strengthens the responses and increases the likelihood of the occurring when the stimuli are present. The operant conditioning is a three-term contingency that involves the antecedent (stimulus), the behavior (response) and the consequences. Operant conditioning involves consequences which can determine how individuals respond to environmental cues. Consequences can be either good or bad for individuals, it can reinforce behavior that increases it or a reinforcement that decreases behavior. There are other operant conditioners such as generalization, discrimination, primary and secondary reinforcements, reinforcement schedules and the premack principle.
Shaping is another form of operant conditioning, it is the process used to alter behavior in individuals. Shaping is the successive approximations which involves the reinforcing progress. It is the complex behaviors that are formed by the linking of simple behaviors in the three-term contingencies. This operant conditioning involves self-regulation which is the process of obtaining an individual stimulus and reinforcement control of themselves.
Cognitive Theory
The cognitive theory focuses on the inner activities of the mind. The cognitive theory states that knowledge is learned and the changes in knowledge make the changes in behavior possible. Both the behavioral and cognitive theory believe that reinforcement is important in learning but for different reasons. The behaviorist suggests that reinforcement strengthens responses but cognitive suggest that reinforcement is a source of feedback about what is likely to happen if behaviors are repeated or changed. The cognitive approach suggests an important element in the learning process is the knowledge an individual has towards a situation. Cognitive theorist believe that they information we already know determines what we will perceive, learn, remember and forget.
There are three main theorist of the cognitive development Gestalt, Kohler and Koffka. Gestalt learning theory approach proposes that learning consists of grasping of a structural whole and not just a mechanistic response to a stimulus. The main concept of his theory was that when we process sensory stimuli we are aware of the configuration or the overall pattern which is the whole. Kohler theory stated that learning can occur by a ‘sudden comprehension’ as to gradually understanding. This theory could happen without any reinforcement and there will be no need for review, training or investigations. Koffka theory suggested that he supported the fact that animals are can be participants in learning because they are similar to humans in many ways. He believed that there was no such thing as meaningless learning, and that the idea interdependent of facts was more important than knowing many individual facts.
Social & Cultural theory
The social and cultural theory is based on how individuals functioning are related to cultural, institutional and historical context. Vygotsky was a psychologist in Russia who identified the Social & Cultural theory also known as sociocultural theory. The Sociocultural theory is known as the combining theory in psychology because it discussed the important contributions society makes on an individual development and cognitive views of Piaget. The theory suggested that learning occurs between the interactions of people. Lev. Vygotsky believed that Parents, Caregivers, Peers and culture played an important in the development of a high order function. According to Vygotsky ‘Every function is the children cultural development that appears twice: firstly on the social level, secondly on an individual level. In the social cultural theory tends to focus not only on how adults or peers influence learning but how an individual culture can impact how learning takes place.
According to Vygotsky children are born with the basic constraints on their mind. He believed that each culture provides ‘tools of intellectual adaptation’ for each individual. Theses adaptation allows children to use their basic mental ability to adapt to their culture for example a culture may utilized tools to emphasize on memorization strategies. Vygotsky was a brilliant man, he worked along with Piaget in developing the cognitive theory their theories differ in certain ways. Firstly Piaget theory was basically based on how children interactions and explorations influenced development, Vygotsky placed greater emphasis on the social factors that influence development. Another difference is the Vygotsky suggested that cognitive development can be different between cultures while Piaget theory suggested the development in universal. There is one important concept in the sociocultural theory known as the zone of proximal. The Zone of proximal is considered to be the level of independent problem solving and a level of potential development, through problem solving under the guidance of an adult or with peers. It includes the skills that a person cannot understand or perform on their own yet, but is capable of learning with guidance.
Constructivism Theory
The constructivism learning theory is defined as how learners or individuals construct knowledge from pervious experiences. Constructivism is often associated with a pedagogic approach that often promote learning or learning by doing. Constructing is known as the meaning for learning because constructivism focuses on the individual thinking about learning. The constructivist theory argues that individuals can generate knowledge from interactions between experiences and ideas. Constructivism examined the interactions between individuals from infancy to adulthood to try to comprehend how learning is done from experiences and behavior patterns. The constructivist theory is attributed to Jean Piaget who articulated the mechanisms by stating that knowledge is internalized by learners. Piaget stated that through the processes of adaptation the accommodation and assimilation, individuals can construct new knowledge from past experiences.
According Piaget theory of constructivism accommodation is the process of an individual reframing one’s mental view of the world and tries to fit in new experiences. Accommodation can be understood when failure leads to learning, as humans if we have an idea that the world works only one way and that way fails us then we will fail. In accommodation we learn from our failure or the failures of others. The constructivism theory describes how learning happens whether the individuals learn from using their experiences to understand information or by just following instructions to construct something. In both cases constructivism suggest that learner construct knowledge from experiences. The constructivism theory tends to be associated with active learning because5 individuals learn from experiences, something that was already did. Several cognitive psychologists argued that constructivist theories are misleading or can contradict findings.
As an educator I can facilitate learning by encouraging my students, helping them to develop to their fullest potential. As an educator I am compelled to vie and asses learning styles so that I can meet every student needs within the classroom. As an educator I want to be able to allow students to learn gradually. I would want my students to thrive academically and socially in and out of the classroom. From my understanding the four learning theories discussed in the paper all contribute to my understanding of learning. Despite all the different theories each theory gave me a new insight on learning occurs in and out of a class, college or university. From Behaviorist perspective view of learning is the change in behavior and emphasis of external events on an individual. For example Pavlov experiment in classical conditioning, where he taught dogs to salivate when they hear the tuning of a fork. If we used both conditioning theories with the classrooms can train students to behave and operant in the way they would want them to.
The theory that can be used in Music is the Behaviorist theory, I say this because music is the incorporating of knowledge and feeling. Music sets the atmosphere for an environment for example if a relaxing song is being played at home, that song puts the individual in a relaxing mood , in the behaviorist theory the environment influences the response of an individual so the relaxing song will evoke a relaxed response as done in Pavlov experiment of classical conditioning with the dogs that provoke salivating when hearing the tuning of a fork. In music classical conditioning is where students can be conditioned to like or enjoy a piece of music. For example if a classical song is being played that the students don’t know or like the teacher can play it repeatedly so they can get an understanding of it and eventually the students will enjoy the music because of the repetition of the song being played. There response to the song might be in the way of moving their bodies, tapping their feet or nodding their head.

PSYC 3120: Psychoeducational Aspects of Early Childhood Education
Course Objectives

Last Modified: December 2004

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There are Power Point Presentations available for some of the objectives. If you are using Microsoft Internet Explorer, simply click on the term "Power Point Presentation." If you are using Netscape Navigator (4.2 or before), right click on the "PPT Presentation" and save the file to your harddrive. If you do not already have the Power Point program, you can download the PowerPoint 97 Viewer.] Guidelines for writing an essay are provided at the end of the objectives.

Page numbers refer to Eggen & Kauchak (2004)

Forward to: Unit 2Unit 3Unit 4Unit 5Unit 6Unit 7Unit 8


1.Define and differentiate the following terms: (2-12)  [PPT Presentation]

    a. Psychology
    b. Education
    c. Schooling
    d. Educational Psychology
    e. Teaching
    f. Learning

2. Define and contrast descriptive, correlational and experimental studies, giving examples of how each of these have be used in educational psychology. Define and contrast the four basic methods used to collect data in educational psychology (systematic observation, participant observation, paper/pencil, and clinical), giving an example of how each has been used in the study of important variables in educational psychology. In your discussion, define and differentiate the following terms: fact, concept, principle, hypothesis, theory, and law. (Study Guide) (12-31)  [PPT Presentation]


Name and define the stages of mastery an individual is likely to pass through on the way to becoming an expert professional educator. Discuss the major influences and give examples of appropriate activities or goals for each stage. Define and differentiate critical thinking and self-regulated learning as they apply to classroom teachers. [Trotter, 1986] [PPT Presentation]

4. Draw and discuss the significant aspects of the model of the teaching/learning process presented in class (or discussed in one of the required readings), giving specific examples of the types of variables considered in educational psychology. Describe relationships among variables you discuss.[Cruickshank, 1985] [PPT Presentation #1] [PPT Presentation # 2] [PPT Presentation # 3]

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1. Define and contrast the three types of behavioral learning theories, (contiguity, classical conditioning, and operant conditioning) giving examples of how each can be used in the classroom. (194-213) [PPT Presentation]

2. Compare and contrast the four methods used to modify behavior in operant conditioning (positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, punishment, and response cost), giving original examples of how each can be used in the classroom. Include in your answer a discussion of the four schedules of reinforcement, describing the likely response pattern associated with each. Give original examples of how each can be used in the classroom. (200-213) (Study Guide) [PPT Presentation] [PPT Presentation - Behavior Modification]

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1. Define cognition and differentiate among the stage, levels-of-processing, parallel distributed processing, and connectionist models of information processing. Draw and describe a model of the stage approach to information processing to learning, giving original examples as to how you as teacher could use this theory to structure the learning process to help students learn better. (Be sure to define the following terms: rote rehearsal, elaborative rehearsal, declarative, procedural, and imagery organizations of knowledge.) (234-276) (Study Guide) [PPT Presentation -- Overview] [PPT Presentation -- Information Processing] [PPT Presentation -- Stage Model] [PPT Presentation --Using the Theory]

2. Name and define the six levels in Bloom's Taxonomy for the Cognitive Domain. Describe how each level fits with the cognitive theory of learning.  (464-467) [PPT Presentation--Domains]

3. Discuss Piaget's theory of cognitive development, giving examples of how this theory could impact teachers' behavior.(Be sure and discuss both the process and stage aspects of this theory). Compare and contrast this with Vygotsky's views. How do these theories relate to a constructivistic view of learning? (32-63; 279-298) (Study Guide) [PPT Presentation] [PPT Presentation--Stages] [PPT Presentation--Constructivism]

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1. Discuss the process of instructional planning and describe why it is an important teacher behavior. Compare and contrast goals and objectives. Rewrite poorly written instructional objectives in a behavioral objective format  according to the standards set forth by Mager. Write a general/specific instructional objective according to the style developed by Gronlund that addresses all six levels of Bloom's taxonomy of the cognitive domain..(460-472) [PPT Presentation--Planning] [PPT Presentation--Objectives] [Video--Aligning Standards]

2. Describe why classroom instruction is an important teacher behavior. Name and define the specific events of instruction that would be included in your model of direct instruction and give an example of a teacher behavior and a student behavior for each event. (472-490) (Study guide) [McCarthy, 1985; Rosenshine, 1995]  [PPT Presentation--Overview] [PPT Presentation--Direct Instruction]

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1. Compare and contrast the constructivistic learning approach and a direct or explicit teaching approach, giving specific examples of how these should be considered when teachers design classroom activities. (32-63; 279-298; 472-490) (Study Guide) [PPT Presentation--Constructivism][PPT--Constructivism in Spanish] [Video--Cooperative Learning]

2. Describe the importance of classroom management and its impact on academic learning time. Name and describe three general categories of the events of classroom management from a behavioral perspective, giving examples of specific teacher activities for each category. (424-459) (Study Guide) [Randolph & Evertson, 1994] [PPT Presentation] [Video-- Classroom Mangement]

3.Using the research on the first-week management behavior of effective classroom teachers, state what you would do during your first week as a new teacher and why you would do that. Discuss the difference between focusing on increasing on-task behavior or decreasing off-task behavior (Give specific, original examples, not just generalities.). [PPT Presentation]

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1.   Determining whether learning occurs in the classroom is a vital task for a classroom teacher. Assessment, measurement, and evaluation are important terms associated with this task.  Define each term, describe why each is of value in the learning process, and give an example of how you would use each in the classroom.

As you collect data you must be concerned about timing (formative vs. summative) and standards for judging quality (criterion- vs. norm-referenced). You must also make decisions about the type of questions you use on examinations (selection vs. supply).  Additionally, whenever you collect data and make decisions about learning, you must be concerned with the issues of reliability and validity. Describe how each of these can be used in the process of evaluating learning and assigning grades? (492-539; 549-550) (Study Guide) [PPT Presentation]

2. Compare and contrast evaluation of ability or aptitude versus achievement. Define and differentiate the following terms, stating the advantages and disadvantages of each:

a. mean, median, mode, and standard deviation;
b. raw scores, percentile rank scores, grade-equivalent scores, and standard scores.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of standardized evaluations? (540-568) (Study Guide) [PPT Presentation]

3. Discuss how the Georgia Teacher Observation Instrument GTOI would measure the teacher behaviors of planning, instruction and managment. [PPT Presentation]

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1. Name and discuss the principles and objectives of the humanistic approach to learning and describe how it might influence teaching. [DeCarvalho, 1991] [PPT Presentation]

2. Name and describe Erikson's theory of psychosocial development. Note behaviors associated with each stage and the implications of the theory for classroom practice. Evaluate the theory--that is, what evidence exists for its validation or what evidence would lead you to reject it? (89-93) (Study Guide) [PPT Presentation]

3. Define the terms self-concept and self-esteem and discuss how these might influence learning.  (93-100) (Study Guide)[PPT Presentation]

4. Describe the observational learning and social cognitive theories of learning. How do these reflect operant conditioning and information processing theories? (Study Guide) (214-233) [Hoy, 1998] [PPT Presentation]

5. Define conation, describe how it works and how it might develop. How does goal-setting impact conation and learning? How does conation relate to self-regulation and self-control? What can educators do to help students develop conation? (221-223; 390-393) [PPT Presentation]


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1. Define character and describe why it may be an important issue for today's educators. Describe three different approaches to impacting character development and relate these to theories and issues discussed in the course. Include a discussion of Kohlberg's stages of moral development and compare Kohlberg's theory to Gilligan's theory of female moral development.  (101-112) [Huitt & Vessels, 2003] (Study Guide)[PPT Presentation]

2. Define service learning and describe some of its major components. Describe some of the major benefits stated by its proponents. Evaluate the approach in terms of recent research. [PPT Presentation]

3. Name and discuss at least 5 principles of learning that most learning theorists agree on, regardless of their theoretical orientation. Give specific examples of how these principles could be used in the classroom. [PPT Presentation]

Required reading:

  • Cruickshank, D. (1985, Winter). Profile of an effective teacher. Educational Horizons, 90-92.
  • DeCarvalho, R. (1991). The humanistic paradigm in education. The Humanistic Psychologist, 19(1), 88-104. 
  • Hoy, W. (1998). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control (Book Review). Educational Administration Quarterly, 34(1), 153-158.
  • Huitt, W., & Vessels, G. (2002). Character education. In J. Guthrie (Ed.), The Encyclopedia of education (2nd ed.). New York: Macmillan.
  • McCarthy, B. (1985, April). What 4MAT training teaches us about staff development. Educational Leadership, 42(7), 61-68.
  • Randolph, C., & Evertson, C. (1994, Spring). Images of management for learner-centered classrooms. Action in Teacher Education, 55-64.
  • Rosenshine, B. (1995). Advances in research on instruction. The Journal of Educational Research, 88(5), 262-268.
  • Trotter, R. (1986). The mystery of mastery. Psychology Today, 20(7), 32-38.

In general, when you write an answer to an essay question you should follow the format you learned in Freshman English:

  • General
    1. Use complete sentences
    2. Use proper punctuation
    3. Use proper spelling
  • Organization
    1. Introduction
      1. What is the issue to be addressed?
      2. Why is this issue important?
      3. What will be included in your answer; how will your answer be organized?
    2. Body -- Present information in clear, concise, and logical manner
    3. Summary/Conclusions
      1. Summarize your main points
      2. Relate information in body to original proposition (why is this issue important?)

Some examples of good essay writing are provided by the Educational Testing Service, developer of the GRE-Writing Test.

common errors in student writing that you should avoid. If you are not comfortable with writing, you might want to write some sample essays have have them checked by someone in the student writing center located in West Hall, Room 204.

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Dr. William G. (Bill) Huitt
Dept. of Psychology, Counseling & Guidance
Valdosta State University
Valdosta, GA 31698-0001

Office: (912) 333-5930
FAX: (912) 259-5576

whuitt AT valdosta DOT edu

Copyright (c) 2004 -- Bill Huitt


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