Learning theories present the conceptions of learning process. They describe the acquisition, processing, and retaining of information.
Learning is an unobservable process of the cognitive structures reorganization. This process aims to acquire new knowledge, skills, attitudes or to alter existing. As a result we have lasting changes in behavior with a purpose of personal accommodation to the environment.
The idea of transformative learning theory, being very old, claims that to learn, student must listen, follow, imitate, rehearse and apply. The knowledge taught in schools is presented as an object external to cognition. In addition, the teaching methods are largely designed to facilitate the learning usually in two preferred ways: verbal and visual.
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Currently, there are three main trends: the transformative learning theory, behaviorism and constructivism.
According to behaviorism, learning is a change in behavior caused by stimuli from the environment. Burrhus F Skinner (1904-1990) was an American psychologist who developed this approach and took it as a fundament for his pedagogical practice. Learning can be achieved by the use of rewards called “positive reinforcement” and punishments called “negative reinforcement.” This procedure is called “operant conditioning”. Skinner criticized the traditional teaching methods based mainly on negative reinforcement and suggested replacing them with positive reinforcement.
Cognitive psychology that has developed from the 60s, gradually superseded the behaviorist theory. Cognitive psychologists try to understand what happens in the black box of the human psyche. The subject does not merely assimilate raw data: it selects and formats.
Jean Piaget (1896-1980) affirmed that in his intellectual development child goes through different stages:
- sensorimotor intelligence (birth to two years)
- pre-logical or symbolic intelligence (two years to eight years)
- concrete operational intelligence (seven years to twelve years)
- operative or formal intelligence (from twelve), which gives real access to abstraction: a child is able to reason about a problem making assumptions a priori. According to Piaget, this sequence is both genetically determined and depends on the subject’s activity on the environment.
For those who writes their research paper on learning theories it is also important to mention historic-cultural approach of Russian psychologist Vygotsky, who believed that thought and consciousness are determined by the activities carried out with congeners determined in a social environment. The researches must also explain the theory of transformative learning, which describes how individual revise and reinterpret meaning.
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