Fundamentals of Learning Theories

Fundamentals of Learning Theories

Victor C. X. Wang (California State University - Long Beach, USA)
Copyright: © 2008 |Pages: 6
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-881-9.ch057
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Humans have different interpretations of learning theories and different beliefs about how people learn. All these beliefs may come from personal experience, self-reflection, observation of others, and through the experience of trying to teach or persuade someone else to your way of thinking. In a nutshell, everyone keeps learning every waking minute, using different learning theories. In democratic cultures, people may prefer critical thinking as an effective learning theory whereas in authoritarian cultures, people may like rote learning or memorization as an effective learning theory. It is extremely difficult to determine which learning theories are better than others because people are engaged in informal or formal learning to change the way they see themselves, change the way they see other people, and change the way they see situations (Cramer & Wasiak, 2006). All these learning theories are valuable in guiding one’s action in a particular culture, subculture, or even a particular setting. Although scholars have different interpretations of learning theories, the goal of any learning theory is the same. For example, Merriam (2004) explains a learning theory as leading to learners’ growth and development. Mezirow explains the theory of transformative learning as helping learners achieve perspective transformation. Maslow considers the goal of learning to be self-actualization: “the full use of talents, capacities, potentialities, etc.” (p. 150). Some learning theories such as the theory of andragogy encourage learners to be self-directed in learning whereas other theories emphasize the roles of teachers as information transmitters instead of learning facilitators, thus placing learners at the feet of master professors.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Purposive behaviorism: According to Tolman’s theory of sign learning, an organism learns by pursuing signs to a goal, that is, learning is acquired through meaningful behavior. Tolman (1948 , p. 192) emphasized the organized aspect of learning:

Maslow: Abraham Maslow (1908-1970 AU7: The in-text citation "Abraham Maslow (1908-1970" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ), his primary contribution to psychology is his Hierarchy of Human Needs. Maslow contended that humans have a number of needs that are instinctive, that is, innate. These needs are classified as “cognitive needs,” “cognitive needs,” and “aesthetic needs.” “Neurotic needs” are included in Maslow’s theory but do not exist within the hierarchy. Maslow assumed needs are arranged in a hierarchy in terms of their potency. Although all needs are instinctive, some are more powerful than others. The lower the need is in the pyramid, the more powerful it is. The higher the need is in the pyramid, the weaker and more distinctly human it is. The lower, or basic, needs on the pyramid are similar to those possessed by nonhuman animals, but only humans possess the higher needs.

Functionalism: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines functionalism as the doctrine that what makes something a mental state of a particular type does not depend on its internal constitution, but rather on the way it functions, or the role it plays, in the system of which it is a part. This doctrine is rooted in Aristotle’s conception of the soul, and has antecedents in Hobbes’s conception of the mind as a “calculating machine,” but it has become fully articulated (and popularly endorsed) only in the last third of the 20th century. Though the term “functionalism” is used to designate a variety of positions in a variety of other disciplines, including psychology, sociology, economics, and architecture, this entry focuses exclusively on functionalism as a philosophical thesis about the nature of mental states.

Connectionism: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines connectionism as a movement in cognitive science which hopes to explain human intellectual abilities using artificial neural networks (also known as “neural networks” or “neural nets”). Neural networks are simplified models of the brain composed of large numbers of units (the analogs of neurons) together with weights that measure the strength of connections between the units. These weights model the effects of the synapses that link one neuron to another. Experiments on models of this kind have demonstrated an ability to learn such skills as face recognition, reading, and the detection of simple grammatical structure.

Gestalt Theory: This refers to a school of researchers who maintained that phenomena could only be understood if they were viewed as structural wholes; they had a great influence on early learning theory.

Buddhism: Buddhism is a dharmic, nontheistic religion, a philosophy, and a system of psychology. Buddhism is also known in Sanskrit or Pali, the main ancient languages of Buddhists, as Buddha Dharma or Dhamma, which means the teachings of “the Awakened One.” Thus was called Siddhartha Gautama, hereinafter referred to as “the Buddha.” Early sources say that the Buddha was born in Lumbini (now in Nepal), and that he died aged around 80 in Kushinagar (India). He lived in or around the fifth century BCE, according to recent scholarship. Buddhism spread throughout the Indian subcontinent in the five centuries following the Buddha’s passing, and thence into Central, Southeast, and East Asia and Eastern Europe over the next two millennia.

Learning Theories: Learning theories deal with the ways people learn. There are a number of different learning theories in our society. For example, there are behaviorist, cognitivist, social, and experiential learning theories. All learning theories strive to lead to change in basically three domains: cognitive, affective, and psychomotor. Some theorists list more domains and others divide learning theories into different categories. According to this article, all learning theories may contain a general model that can be derived from learning theories if special attention is paid to observing these theories. Good learning theories determine the roles for the learners and the teachers and the relationships between learners and educators. Learning theory fundamentals help users of theories discern learning theories.

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