I had an "ah-ha" moment regarding learning theories. It is one of those simplistic realizations that you leave asking yourself why you didn't think about it sooner?
One of the struggles I've had with learning theories is how the relate to one other. I think this challenge is compounded by the fact that they are always presented in a time linear model. We always start with behaviourism, then cognitivism, followed by constructivism. Each is described as an "advancement" on the other – that is, cognitivism came about because behaviourism didn't describe everything. The problem is, that although one was created after the other in order to describe something the previous thing missed, it didn't always describe things that the previous did. The creation of cognitivism didn't wipe out the concept of behaviourism, it just provided another view.
In class the other day, I was having a discussion about learning, and how I agreed with Dewey in that learning occurred through communication, and that learning was related to having a common understanding. The person I was discussing this with was seeking ways to debunk this theory – that is prove it false by seeking an example of learning that occurred but could be described by the need for a shared understanding.
My "ah-ha" moment was the realization that all learning theories describe "some" ways in which we learn, but not "all" ways in which we learning. Learning is such a complex concept, that it isn't really fair to expect a single theory to explain it all. This idea of some versus all helped me understand why I could relate to aspects of behaviourism, cognitivism, and constructivism and how I felt that one did not necessary exclude the other.
To help visualize, I think of learning as a large square, and within the square are circles, each representing a learning theory. Some overlap, others do not. There are hundreds of learning theory circles, and yet not "all" of learning is describe by these circles. The round circles will never completely fill the square space. There will always be room left for new theories of learning. Learning is so complex, that the sum of all theories will never describe the whole.
Being the big-picture person that I am, I just wish someone had explained that to me in the begining. It certainly would have made my study of learning theories go a lot smoother!
Leave a Reply