Major Theoretical Approaches of Learning

Several ideas and priorities, then, affect how we teachers think about learning, including the curriculum, the difference between teaching and learning, sequencing, readiness, and transfer. The ideas form a “screen” through which to understand and evaluate whatever psychology has to offer education. As it turns out, many theories, concepts, and ideas from educational psychology do make it through the “screen” of education, meaning that they are consistent with the professional priorities of teachers and helpful in solving important problems of classroom teaching. In the case of issues about classroom learning, for example, educational psychologists have developed a number of theories and concepts that are relevant to classrooms, in that they describe at least some of what usually happens there and offer guidance for assisting learning.

Various perspectives on learning are represented in the diverse views and theories that form the four pillars for teaching: behavioral, social cognitive, constructivist, and information processing. It is helpful to group the theories according to whether they focus on changes in behavior or in thinking. The distinction is rough and inexact, but a good place to begin. Behaviorism considers learning as changes in overt behavior and focuses on means of influencing behavior without much consideration of the cognition involved. Social cognitive theories are also interested in the behavioral outcomes but do consider the cognitive processes involved in behavior. Meanwhile, constructivism considers learning as changes in thinking and can be further divided into psychological constructivism (changes in thinking resulting from individual experiences), and social constructivism, (changes in thinking due to assistance from others). The last pillar, information processing, considers the processes involved in thinking in learning. The rest of this chapter discusses these four concepts as they apply to education. Each perspective suggests things that you might do in your classroom to make students’ learning more productive.