The focus on process obviously takes us into the realm of learning theories - ideas about how or why change occurs. On these pages we focus on four different orientations (the first three taken from Merriam and Caffarella 1991).
the behaviourist orientation to learning---the cognitive orientation to learning--the humanistic orientation to learning---thesocial/situational orientation to learning
As with any categorization of this sort the divisions are a bit arbitrary: there could be further additions and sub-divisions to the scheme, and there a various ways in which the orientations overlap and draw upon each other.
As can seen from the above schematic presentation and the discussion on the linked pages, these approaches involve contrastingideas as to the purpose and process of learning and education - and the role that educators may take. It is also important to recognize that the theories may apply to different sectors of the acquision-formalized learning continuum outlined above. For example, the work of Lave and Wenger is broadly a form of acquisition learning that can involve some more formal interludes.
the behaviouristorientation to learning
The behaviourist movement in psychology has looked to the use of experimental procedures to study behaviour in relation to the environment.
John B. Watson, who is generally credited as the first behaviourist, argued that the inner experiences that were the focus of psychology could not be properly studied as they were not observable. Instead he turned to laboratoryexperimentation. The result was the generation of the stimulus-response model. In this the environment is seen as providing stimuli to which individuals develop responses.
In essence three key assumptions underpin this view:
* Observable behaviour rather than internal thought processes are the focus of study. In particular, learning is manifested by a change in behaviour.
* The environmentshapes one's behaviour; what one learns is determined by the elements in the environment, not by the individual learner.
* The principles of contiguity (how close in time two events must be for a bond to be formed) and reinforcement (any means of increasing the likelihood that an event will be repeated) are central to explaining the learning process. (Merriam and Caffarella 1991: 126)
Researcherslike Edward L. Thorndike build upon these foundations and, in particular, developed a S-R (stimulus-response) theory of learning. He noted that that responses (or behaviours) were strengthened or weakened by the consequences of behaviour. This notion was refined by Skinner and is perhaps better known as operant conditioning - reinforcing what you want people to do again; ignoring or punish whatyou want people to stop doing.
In terms of learning, according to James Hartley (1998) four key principles come to the fore:
* Activity is important. Learning is better when the learner is active rather than passive. ('Learning by doing' is to be applauded).
* Repetition, generalization and discrimination are important notions. Frequent practice - and practice in varied contexts - isnecessary for learning to take place. Skills are not acquired without frequent practice.
* Reinforcement is the cardinal motivator. Positive reinforcers like rewards and successes are preferable to negative events like punishments and failures.
* Learning is helped when objectives are clear. Those who look to behaviourism in teaching will generally frame their activities by behaviouralobjectives e.g. 'By the end of this session participants will be able to...'. With this comes a concern with competencies and product approaches to curriculum.
the cognitive orientation to learning
Where behaviourists looked to the environment, those drawing on Gestalt turned to the individual's mental processes. In other words, they were concerned with cognition - the act or process of knowing....