Learning Theories and Pedagogy: Teaching the Traditional Learner

Learning Theories and Pedagogy: Teaching the Traditional Learner

Lawrence A. Tomei (Robert Morris University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-824-6.ch001
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Abstract

There is little doubt that the most dominant form of instruction is pedagogy, also referred to as didactic, traditional, or teacher-guided instruction. The pedagogical model of instruction has been around for centuries. Young boys were received into schools (most often schools with religious purposes) that required them to be obedient, faithful, and efficient servants of the church (Knowles, 1984). From these beginning developed the practice of pedagogy which remains the dominant form of instruction for the traditional learner. Pedagogy is derived from the Greek word “peda,” meaning child and “agogos,” meaning “the study of.” Thus, pedagogy has been defined as the art and science of teaching children. In a pedagogical model, the teacher has responsibility for making decisions about the content to be learned, the methodology for delivering the instruction, the sequencing and presentation (i.e., when it will be learned), and ultimately, an assessment of whether or not the material has been learned. Pedagogy, by its definition and nature, places the student in a submissive/ receptive role rather than an active learning position, requiring unswerving compliance to the teacher’s directions. It is based on the assumption that the teacher knows best what the student should learn; the teacher assumes the position of “sage on the stage” and the result often is a teaching and learning environment that promotes dependency on the instructor. For the earliest years of educational psychology, teachers believed that the best way for their students to master content was through repetition, a principle derived from behavioral learning theory; a notion that dominated educational thinking since the time of Ivan Pavlov and his experiment with animals. Students should spend their time copying spelling words, reiterating historical dates and places, and proving and re-proving mathematical formulas until they ‘learned’ the information. Contemporary behaviorists viewed the environment as the single most important key to successful learning. Environmental factors provided the external stimuli to learning and the consequential behavior that resulted was deemed the response. Stimulus ? response (S ? R) became the formula for teaching in these early years of educational practice that found its place in educational practices up through the 1950’s.
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Introduction

There is little doubt that the most dominant form of instruction is pedagogy, also referred to as didactic, traditional, or teacher-guided instruction. The pedagogical model of instruction has been around for centuries. Young boys were received into schools (most often schools with religious purposes) that required them to be obedient, faithful, and efficient servants of the church (Knowles, 1984). From these beginning developed the practice of pedagogy which remains the dominant form of instruction for the traditional learner.

Pedagogy is derived from the Greek word “peda,” meaning child and “agogos,” meaning “the study of.” Thus, pedagogy has been defined as the art and science of teaching children. In a pedagogical model, the teacher has responsibility for making decisions about the content to be learned, the methodology for delivering the instruction, the sequencing and presentation (i.e., when it will be learned), and ultimately, an assessment of whether or not the material has been learned. Pedagogy, by its definition and nature, places the student in a submissive/ receptive role rather than an active learning position, requiring unswerving compliance to the teacher's directions. It is based on the assumption that the teacher knows best what the student should learn; the teacher assumes the position of “sage on the stage” and the result often is a teaching and learning environment that promotes dependency on the instructor.

For the earliest years of educational psychology, teachers believed that the best way for their students to master content was through repetition, a principle derived from behavioral learning theory; a notion that dominated educational thinking since the time of Ivan Pavlov and his experiment with animals. Students should spend their time copying spelling words, reiterating historical dates and places, and proving and re-proving mathematical formulas until they 'learned' the information.

Contemporary behaviorists viewed the environment as the single most important key to successful learning. Environmental factors provided the external stimuli to learning and the consequential behavior that resulted was deemed the response. Stimulus → response (S → R) became the formula for teaching in these early years of educational practice that found its place in educational practices up through the 1950’s.

Attempts to prove that behavior was controlled by environmental contingencies of external reward or reinforcement linking the stimuli to a response became the focus of considerable research during most of the second half of the 20th century. Teachers who acknowledge the behavioral perspective of pioneers like B. F. Skinner assume that student performance is a response to past and present environment and that all behavior is learned. For example, classroom troublemakers “learn” to be disruptive because they seek attention (reinforcement) from their teachers and peers. Withdrawn students learn that their particular environment does not reinforce social interaction, so they become reserved and silent. As a result, any behavior can (and should) be analyzed in terms of its reinforcement accounts. The next logical step for the teacher is to adapt the behavioral processes to change or modify undesirable behavior in their students. The ultimate teacher responsibility, according to the behaviorist, is to construct an environment in which the probability of reinforcing “correct” or proper student behavior is maximized. This goal is best attained by careful organization and presentation of information in a designed sequence. Together, the foundations of learned behavior, environmental stimuli, organization and sequencing of instruction present the basic concepts that apply to teaching the traditional learner.

Orientation to Behaviorism. This first school of educational psychology focused on the observable aspects of the environment instead of mental or cognitive processes. According to the behaviorist viewpoint, it is the environment that provides stimulation - the learner responds to that stimulation. The response changes the environment in ways that increase or decrease the likelihood of the same response in the future. The behaviorist view offers hypotheses for classroom management and suggests ways to prevent and resolve discipline problems. It involves managing the learning activities of students. It represents the psychology of education that most clearly defines, for educators, several critical concepts of learning:

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