Teaching and learning theories. Behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2005

24 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Definition

3. Behaviorism
3.1 Classical conditioning
3.2 The operative conditioning
3.3 Teaching and learning theoretical consequences

4. Cognitivism
4.1 Neurobiological foundations of brain research
4.2 Three theoretical contributions to a psychology of cognitive Learning
4.3 Teaching and learning theoretical consequences

5. Constructivism
5.1 What is constructivism?
5.2 Radical Constructivism
5.3 Teaching and learning theoretical consequences
5.4 Advantages and disadvantages of constructivism

6. Summary

7. Program examples

8. Discussion

9. Bibliography

1. Introduction

The human learning process has always been the subject of intensive scientific research, as it is one of the most fascinating and at the same time most complex phenomena of all. Humans are capable of learning from birth, so infants, for example, learn very quickly how to communicate their needs. The powerful brain (good memory, abstract thinking) and the natural curiosity of man underline this circumstance. Learning is not only conscious (e.B. at school) but often unconsciously (e.B. language acquisition of small children). Nevertheless, not all sensory impressions are stored by the human brain – the sensory perceptions are selected and evaluated. Especially for teachers, the question arises as to how their students learn so that they can optimally support and accompany the learning processes.

In the pedagogical discussion, three learning theories have emerged in recent decades, which explain the human learning process in very different ways: Behaviorism, which emerged in the first half of the 20th century and still has a great influence in scientific discussion today, cognitivism, which emerged from the criticism of behaviorism, and finally Constructivism, which has increasingly found its way into the discussion in the 1990s.

Starting with a definition of "learning" and "learning theories", the three learning theories behaviorism, cognitivism and constructivism are presented in a second part. Subsequently, the theoretical explanations are supplemented by three learning programs, whereby each learning software can be assigned to a specific learning theory. Finally, the advantages and disadvantages of the three learning theories and their concrete applications in the classroom will be discussed.

2. Definition

In order to be able to deal with the topic of learning theories at all, one must first clarify the question of what one understands by the terms "learning" and "learning theories".

The term "learning" is often associated with school in colloquial language, but in pedagogy and psychology the term "learning" is much broader. Bower and Hilgard define "learning" as follows:

"Learning refers to the change in the behavior or behavioral potential of an organism with respect to a particular situation that is due to repeated experiences of the organism in that situation, provided that this behavioral change cannot be attributed to innate reaction tendencies, maturation, or transient states (such as fatigue, drunkenness, driving states, etc.)."1

So learning is a change in behavior that comes from experiences with a certain situation. It is therefore a process in which the actions, thinking and feelings of the learner change and lead to a change in behavior. To be distinguished from learning are behavioral changes that arise due to other causes (e.B. innate reaction tendencies, maturation, drug influence, fatigue). The definition makes it clear that learning is not only conscious, e.g. at school, but often happens unconsciously, e.g. language acquisition or learning to walk in children. In addition, this definition shows that humans are able to learn throughout their lives, even if the focus of learning performance is on early childhood and adolescence.

Finally, learning theories "are attempts to systematize and summarize the knowledge of learning."2

3. Behaviorism

The term behaviorism is derived from the English word "behavior", which is to be translated with the German noun "das Verhalten". Thus, behaviorism is a theory of science that deals with the behavior of humans or examines it. The behaviorists are primarily concerned with describing the behavior of humans (often derived from the behavior of the animal) as accurately and objectively as possible. "The behaviorist asks: Why don't we make what we can observe the actual field of psychology?".3

The founder of behaviorism is the American psychologist John Broadus Watson (1878- 1958), who in the introduction of his essay Psychology as the behaviorist sees it the following writes: "The reader will not find a discussion of consciousness, nor the concepts such as sensations, perception, attention, perception, perception, imagination, will, etc. These words have a good sound, but I have found that I can do without them".4 As a result, it can therefore be stated that the observation of objectively perceptible behavior is the method of the behaviorists and thus one is clearly directed against the psychology of consciousness. The behaviorist limits himself to things that are observable, since "mental phenomena" are not measurable and therefore can never become scientific data. Thus, the human being is regarded by the behaviorists as a black box, whereby the feelings and the consciousness are absolutely disregarded. In principle, the behaviorist tries to understand the organism (both human and animal) according to the model of a machine - a machine, however, into which one cannot look, but whose functioning can only be deduced from the input (stimulus) and the output (reaction).

The aim of this learning theory is the prediction and control of behavior, i.e. it is about the description and control of learning through hints and reinforcements, so that the desired behavior takes place at the end. (This process will be explained in more detail in the further course of this term paper.)

3.1 Classical conditioning

The prime example of behaviorism is classical conditioning or signal learning. The term conditioning is now understood to mean the learning of new stimulus-reaction connections, which means a certain stimulus then also leads to a very specific reaction. The prerequisite for this, however, are knee-jerk reactions that are inherently innate. In the course of this conditioning process, a neutral stimulus finally becomes a conditional stimulus, which then also triggers a conditional reaction. In order to make these theoretical approaches a little more comprehensible, I will illustrate this concretely on the basis of a typical experiment on classical conditioning.

The founder of classical conditioning is the Russian physiologist Ivan Petrovich Pavlov (1848- 1936), who founded the physiological laboratory for experimental medicine in Petersburg, in which he then also carried out most of his famous research work - as well as his well-known experiment for the investigation between the connection between salivation (reaction) and feeding (stimulus) in dogs.

For this experiment, a dog was placed in a special apparatus in which the intensity of salivation could be measured in response to certain stimuli. The dog has not been able to move very much in this apparatus, so that his head has been straight ahead and he has always looked forward. A round collection container, which has been tied to the side of the dog under the mouth, has collected the separate saliva of the dog; the outflow of saliva has been directed outwards through a fistula with the help of surgical intervention. Directly in front of the dog stood a bowl, which could be filled with food from the outside as you like.

When the dog has now stood in this apparatus, a bell has been sounded. As a result, the dog (naturally) showed no special reaction and did not secrete saliva. At the beginning of this experiment, there was therefore no connection between the bell and the spoke separation of the dog. In the next step, the dog was then given food, whereupon the dog secreted saliva. Now various test passages, in which shortly before the feeding / the food delivery the sound of the bell is sounded, followed. As a natural reaction to the food, the dog has also secreted saliva here. After this combination of the bell with the lining has been repeated even more often, Pavlov has only let the bell sound alone in the next step. The amazing reaction of the animal has now been that it has already secreted saliva at the sound of the bell, without getting food at the same time. Thus, the dog has learned a new stimulus-reaction connection through this experiment. In the course of this conditioning process, the initially neutral stimulus (bell) becomes a conditional stimulus, which in turn triggers a conditional, i.e. learned, reaction. The basic requirement for this, however, is that a dog has an innate saliva reflex as soon as it gets food. This fact is often seen as something normal or self-evident, but these knee-jerk reactions, which are already innate, are definitely necessary if new stimulus-reaction connections want to be learned.

Through classical conditioning, the following three research results were obtained: Kontiguity, extinction and generalization. that Law of Kontiguity says that a spati-temporal proximity of the stimuli is absolutely necessary. This means that only if the neutral and the conditional stimulus (here: bell and lining) briefly follow each other and lie spatially together, the process of conditioning takes place.

The so-called extinction describes the deletion of the conditioned stimulus-reaction compound after the separation of these two stimuli. For our example, this means: if the dog is no longer given food for a long time after the bell has sounded, then at some point the saliva separation of the dog will also set in again as a reaction to the sounding of the bell. The conditional stimulus thus becomes a neutral stimulus again. However, if this experiment is repeated again after some time, the dog shows the conditional reaction to the conditional stimulus again after considerably fewer experiments. Thus, it is proven that the conditioning has not been completely deleted, but has merely been inhibited.

With the generalization it is meant that similar stimuli can also cause the corresponding reaction. An everyday example of this would be that the fear that a small child feels towards the father can be transferred to a male teacher or uncle.

3.2 The operative conditioning

In addition to classical conditioning, there is also surgical conditioning, which is also called instrumental learning or reinforcement learning. This is also about learning new behaviors and it is believed that learning is done through reward and punishment. You could also say that the environment reacts positively or negatively to a certain behavior and thus influences the organism. The aim of this learning program is thus the accumulation of behavior that has pleasant consequences.

An important representative of surgical conditioning is the American psychologist Edward Lee Thorndike (1874- 1949). He also carried out many behavioral studies on animals and ultimately drew parallels between the behaviors and learning processes of humans and animals. Since it would be going too far to explain these experiments in more detail now, I would just like to briefly discuss Thorndike's most important research results. Thorndike has now formulated two laws for learning: that law the impact And that Law of practice.

that Law of Impact states that the effects of the reaction to a stimulus affect the likelihood of recurrence of the reaction. In my opinion, this also seems quite plausible, because if, for example, someone is praised for their behaviour, they will continue to try to repeat this behaviour in the future.

At the Law of practice the point is that the more often and the more interested a learning task is repeated, the sooner you can memorize the learning material. This is also a point that many people can understand from their everyday experiences and therefore confirm.

Another representative of surgical conditioning is the American psychologist Burrhus Frederic Skinner (1904- 1990). One can certainly say that Skinner the Law of Impact von Thorndike, because he, too, was convinced that consequences that directly follow a behavior would influence behavior in the future. For Skinner, the combination of stimulus and reaction is not simply present through repetition and kontiguity, but is also bound to a reinforcement. Here, too, it should not be discussed in more detail on individual experiments, but it should be noted that the principle of Skinner's experiments is quite simple, i.e. if an experimental animal randomly performs the desired action, it receives a reward. In this way, the animal (or even the human) quickly learns the connection between action and reward.

Skinner has now come to the conclusion through his research that the occurrence of the desired behavior increases, a.) with an added stimulus, i.e. a positive reinforcement (e.B. recognition, praise, money) and b.) with a loss of stimulus, i.e. a negative reinforcement (e.B noise, electric shock, the omission of praise, etc.). The third variant is punishment (e.B. taking away a toy from a child), which does not lead to a strengthening, but to a suppression of behavior. However, it must be borne in mind that some stimuli are perceived by some people as punishment, but not by others.5

In a direct comparison of classical and operatic conditioning, it can be stated that the former, in which the learner appears rather passively, is based more on associations and the latter on adaptive hedonism. In order for the process of classical conditioning to be truly successful, the critical stimulus must in any case take place before the reaction, whereby the stimulus (either reward or punishment) occurs only after the reaction during reinforcement learning. With regard to the behavior, it should be noted that this has no consequences in the classical variant, but the future behavior in surgical conditioning is only shaped by the consequences.

3.3 Teaching and learning theoretical consequences

In behaviorism, knowledge is regarded as an input-output relation, since the learning process is first activated by a stimulus from the outside and then brings a corresponding reaction with it. Repetition is very important for the learning process, as only then do the desired behaviors be memorized and thus also lasting. The learning process itself is quite rigidly predetermined, because the learning goal for the behaviorists is actually to practice the "right" behavior; and this happens precisely through certain stimuli or through reward and punishment.

Behaviorist learning theories are useful for action sequences that are to be automated (e.B. vocabulary trainers). Here, the material is clear and clearly structured - but it is questionable whether the knowledge is really understood or has only been bluntly indented. However, since the learning result is clearly measurable in any case, this is very helpful for grading. In addition, the direct feedback can be very motivating for the learners.

"With regard to behaviorist theories, it has become fashionable today in the age after the "cognitive turn" or "constructivism" to use all doctrinal approaches [...], which are characterized as behaviorist, simply by describing them as indisputable". Thus, it should also be noted that behaviorism deals exclusively with behavioral forms that are observable. He thus neglects individual factors, the problem-solving ability can not be observed, for example, because the individual remains unnoticed. In addition, classical conditioning cannot explain a number of learning phenomena, such as the emergence of new behaviors that were previously not in the behavioral repertoire of an individual (e.B. riding a bicycle). The neglect of human consciousness and emotions leads the behaviorists to see man as a black box. Thus, there is a denial of meaning, will and motive as action-based properties, because one holds the opinion that the behavior is only triggered by stimuli and fixed for reinforcement. In addition, there is no consideration of the (self-) reflexivity of the human being, and there is also no promotion of the ability to solve problems, since a reduction to conditioning processes is clearly in the foreground. It is also questionable whether there really is a "right" or "wrong" behavior.


1 Bower G. H. and E. R. Hilgard (1983): Theories of learning. Bd. 1. Stuttgart. P. 32

2 Edelmann, W. (1996): Learning psychology. Weinheim: P. 32

3 Baumgart, 2001, p. 118.

4 Watson, 1984. Einleitung.

5 cf. Baumgart, 2001, p. 130.

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Teaching and learning theories. Behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism
University of Münster
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behaviourism, constructivism, cognitivism, learning theories, teaching theories
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Stephanie Reuter (Author), 2005, Teaching and learning theories. Behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/1154700


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