Contemporary Theories of Learning and Pedagogical Approaches for All Students to Achieve Success

Contemporary Theories of Learning and Pedagogical Approaches for All Students to Achieve Success

Tianhong Shi (Oregon State University Ecampus, USA) and Eliza Blau (Rutgers University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4036-7.ch002
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Learning plays a key role in the development of human society. Learning theories and pedagogical approaches from the past can inform teaching and learning today. However, as society becomes more technologically advanced, as science uncovers more about the human brain, and as educational institutions become more open to persons historically excluded from educational environments, there is a need to understand and apply contemporary theories of learning to meet these changes. This chapter seeks to summarize contemporary theories of learning and pedagogical approaches for all students to achieve success. Summarizing these theories will help educators see the unique approach each theory offers and understand how multiple learning theories and pedagogies can be applied to their learning environment to support student success.
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The ability to learn is common to most animals and humans: honeybees learn to associate certain colors with the food they are seeking (Poli, 1988); a pet cat learns to go potty in a litter box; and a child learns to write, draw, and do mathematical calculations. What exactly is learning? The past has seen many definitions of learning. Merriam-Webster Dictionary (2014) defines learning as the act or experience of one that learns, knowledge or skill acquired by instruction or study, or modification of a behavior tendency by experience (such as exposure to conditioning). As neuroscience discovers more about how humans learn and the science of learning, the definition of learning has evolved. For example, Brown, Roediger III, and McDaniel (2014) define learning as “acquiring knowledge and skills and having them readily available from memory so you can make sense of future problems and opportunities” (p. 2). The key is to be able to use what one has learned in the future.

In ancient times, learning was accomplished through various means, for example, observation, apprenticeship, oral chanting, recitation, exposition, question and answers, stories and parables, discussions, lectures, speeches, debates, deliberation, or lived experiences. Thinking, meditation and self-study were greatly emphasized (Thinkering, n. d.). Confucius, Socrates, and Buddhist masters all used dialogic questions and answers to teach their students. Moving into the 1900s traditional learning theories such as behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism, and socio-constructivism began to emerge in Europe and the United States. Siemens (2005) developed connectivism. Each of the traditional epistemological approaches has its own strengths and weaknesses. Their pedagogical representations can be seen in direct instruction, whole-class lecture, rote memorization, active learning, constructive learning, participatory learning, open-ended instruction, integrated learning, inquiry learning, differentiated instruction, experiential learning, cooperative learning, peer-teaching, case studies, reflective approach, constructive approach, collaborative approach, critical pedagogy, and transformative pedagogy.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Open Pedagogy: Substituting expensive commercial resources for open educational resources in order to increase student access to instructional material.

Digital Pedagogy: When digital and/or electronic tools allow the educational experience to be transformed so students can create and share content.

Inclusive Pedagogy: The application of the diversity and inclusion social movement into education: a student-centered approach to teaching and learning that supports learners of all backgrounds.

Heutagogy: A learner-centered environment where the learner can design their own environment, including developing learning contracts, learning paths, and assessments.

Neuroscience: The study of the brain.

Net-Aware Theories of Learning: A theory proposed by Anderson and Whitelock (2004) that focuses on powerful, low-cost communication: an abundance of open information; and the ability to gather, aggregate, synthesize, and filter content.

Neuropedagogy: Applying the findings from neuroscience to teaching and learning.

Significant Learning: Dee Fink (2003) created a taxonomy of significant learning that believes in the importance of prior knowledge, understands that learning is goal-directed, and realizes that learners have emotional needs that should be considered when designing learning experiences.

Internationalized Learning: Internationalizing the curriculum to educate students about their local community and cultivate active leaders and responsible citizens of the interconnected global community.

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