Learning theories to support student learning.
Much of our current education system was developed without the knowledge that learning is a brain function. I’ll never forget the impact Sir Ken Robinson’s animated video about Changing Education Paradigm had on me, both as an educator but also as a human, since much of my life has been spent in the classroom. It made so much sense ( and not in the best way). If the origins of our education system were created for a world that looks vastly different than it does now, what learning theories should influence reform?
The 3 main learning theories are behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism. Connectivism is the latest to be added to the bunch as a response to learning in the digital age. Since I’m such a visual learner, I wanted to add the chart below to show these four perspectives on learning, instructional methods associated with each, adjacent to the respective quadrant. The orange quadrants represent a student-focused learning approach, blue instructor-focused.
Diving more into Connectivism, this article highlights significant evidence to support the need to lean into this theory more heavily as the original three present limitations. It was often said that we learn by experience but since we can no longer personally experience all that may be needed to act, our competency for learning comes from the connections we form.
Karen Stephenson states:
“Experience has long been considered the best teacher of knowledge. Since we cannot experience everything, other people’s experiences, and hence other people, become the surrogate for knowledge. ‘I store my knowledge in my friends’ is an axiom for collecting knowledge through collecting people (undated).”
If I’m being honest, I mix all four learning theories. And I think that’s a natural response.
What’s different in my classroom?
As much as possible, I try to be student-centered. I’ve found that it’s not always easy depending on social and cultural contexts. I’ve worked in environments where the students weren’t used to student-centered or active learning approaches and it left them feeling vulnerable or they suspected I wasn’t a competent teacher (or both).
I want my students to be problem-solvers, prepared to tackle the social and environmental issues of the 21st century. I hope they have practice considering multiple perspectives when making decisions, and taking risks, in our classroom.
I think it’s important to model learning, to admit when you are wrong or when you don’t know and be transparent about how to acquire the desired knowledge or skills.
One thing I have a big problem with is grading. I think it’s helpful to communicate expectations but it presents many challenges. When students are solely motivated by grades and not through personal or collective inquiry, it can degrade learning. My year spent in university counseling solidified my discontent. I love this new digital age model of a high school transcript called the Mastery Transcript Consortium. If you aren’t familiar, please check it out.
What I’m trying to say is, education should be changing and adapting new practices to reflect the ever-changing world. More than ever, isolated content knowledge holds less significance in the digital era. And the alignment between curricula, classroom learning theories and collected evidence of college and career readiness seem more disjointed than ever. I know that idea needs to be more fleshed out, maybe my connections online can help me do that!
In the meantime, I’ll be reading these key findings and implications of the science and learning of development to further my learning about this topic.
Here are some innovative schools I’ve always admired for their application of learning theories.
- High Tech High in California, USA
- Green School in Bali, New Zealand, South Africa, and Tulum
- International College Hong Kong in Hong Kong
Are there any other schools out there that take theory to practice in such an authentic way that truly works for their community?