Monday, March 11, 2013

Learning Theory Systems: Part One

          For a teacher, understanding how those whom they teach learn is probably second only to understanding the material about which they will be teaching.  All the mastery one might possess is for naught if the teacher cannot communicate that material in a way that students understand and retain.  Here a brief treatment of William Yount’s views on traditional behavioral learning, social behavioral learning, cognitive learning and humanistic learning as well as Andy Stanley’s three possibilities when determining the goal in communicating the Word of God.  An assignment of this length does not allow for the detailed treatment possible for each of Yount’s learning theory systems or even of Stanley’s briefer views on the possibilities for the communicator.  What will be evident are the clinical nature of Yount’s systems and the practical nature of Stanley’s approach.  What will also be evident is that Stanley’s approach incorporates an understanding of Yount’s systems.
Learning Theory Systems
          Behavioral learning theory is the oldest of the systems discussed by Yount.[1]  The focus on this system is the behavior of the students including both academic and social skills.  IN this system we find the contributions of men such as John Lock, Wilhelm Wundt, Ivan Pavlov, John B. Watson, Edward L. Thorndike, and B. F. Skinner.[2]  All of these men contributed to what would become psychology and the branch with which we are interested here, educational psychology especially our understanding of positive and negative reinforcement in the classroom setting.  In this system the learner is treated as a machine and is best described as programmed instruction where the programs maximize reinforcement while attempting to minimize failure.[3]
          The biggest challenge for behavioral learning theory is the inability to account for learning that occurs through modeling and imitation.[4]  The acknowledged spokesman for social behavioral learning is Albert Bandura who published the definitive work on the subject in 1977 called Social Learning Theory.[5]  Social learning moved away from behavioral learning in three key ways: direct reinforcement of the observer is unnecessary for learning to occur, rational encoding and mental representations of observed behaviors, and an interaction of between the learner and the environment where the environment influences the learner and the learner influences the environment.[6]
          Cognitive learning theory focuses on the thinking of students instead of their behavior or attitudes.[7]  The view of cognitive learning theorists is that internal mental processes can be studies in a scientific manner. Here we again find the work of Wilhelm Wundt as well as that of Ernst Mach, Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Köhler, Kurt Lewin, and Jerome Bruner.  Of particular interest is Bruner’s Discovery Learning which emphasizes students discovering solutions to problems individually or in groups.[8]  Part of Bruner’s approach includes the view of presenting material in small doses to promote a greater economy of learning.  Yount goes on to describe the current state of cognitive learning theory and the continuing development of such subcategories as the Information Processing Theory Model which uses the personal computer as an analogy.[9]   
          Closing out Yount’s learning theory systems is humanistic learning.[10]  Yount then goes on to explain that the tenets of humanistic learning have not disappeared but have simply been absorbed by Radical Constructivism.  Humanistic learning is grounded in secular humanism which focuses on man to the exclusion of God.  One definition states secular humanism is a wasy of life and thought that is pursued without reference to God or religion.  It is a worldview and lifestyle oriented to the profane rather than the sacred, the natural rather than the supernatural.  In short secularism is a nonreligious approach to individual and social life.[11]  Humanistic learning theory developed in response to the rigid educational approaches from previous generations rather than in opposition to the church.[12]  The goal of educational humanism was to personalize the classroom. 

[1] Yount, William R. Created To Learn, 2nd ed. (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2010), 171.
[2] Ibid, 173-80.
[3] Ibid, 205.
[4] Ibid, 216.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid, 217.
[7] Ibid, 233.
[8] Ibid, 241.
[9] Ibid, 277-85
[10] Ibid, 309.
[11] Elwell, Walter A., ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology 2nd Edition. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 1085.
[12] Yount, William R. Created To Learn, 2nd ed. (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2010), 313.

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