There are many different ways to go about learning. Two of the more prevalent approaches are behaviorist and cognitive development.
Behaviorists believe that people learn best through the behaviors they exhibit. These behaviors require reinforcement in order for people to learn them. There are two types of reinforcements, positive and negative. Positive reinforcement often reward good behavior with a treat, money, or other type of incentive (Woolfolk, 277). For instance, if a dog sits, rolls over, or follows directions, they are often given a treat. This reinforces that they need to follow directions in order to get rewarded. On the other hand, negative reinforcement encourages a behavior by subtracting a stimulus (Woolfolk, 277). For instance, if you drive without a seat belt on, there is small beeper that keeps going off until you put your seat belt on. In order to get rid of the beeping noise you must put your seat belt on, thus reinforcing that you need to drive with your seat belt fastened.
The other prevalent approach to learning is cognitive development. People who use a cognitive approach to learning believe that knowledge and strategies can be learned and eventually changed, which leads to a change in behavior (Woolfolk, 312). The big emphasis is on gaining knowledge. There are many different ways in which people gain knowledge. There is sensory memory which helps us relate information to things that we touch, taste, see, smell, and hear. By relating the information to our senses we can pull the information from memory whenever we experience those senses again. There is also the working memory. the working memory takes new information and combines it with information in long term memory to solve problems (Woolfolk, 319). This memory often helps people understand lectures in college or presentations for work. The ultimate goal of the cognitive approach is to take new information, process it, and put it in long term memory so that people can draw upon it in the future. This often worked best for me in college when I wrote down notes in a notebook during lectures and would type up those notes later on, thus going through the information at least twice.
Both of these approaches to learning are important in the classroom because every student learns differently. Some students act out and don’t behave when in class. They need to learn that that behavior is unacceptable, the behaviorist approach can help with developing that. Other students learn best by learning out of a book, or having the teacher lecture at them and taking notes, or working in groups. The cognitive approach can help teachers narrow down how students learn best and can apply that in the classroom.
When it comes to teaching history, the area that I’d like to teach, I feel that students learn best by analyzing primary sources and discussing an overall theme to the documents, rather than reading it out of a textbook. I also like to incorporate powerpoint presentations into class, so as to give the kids a bullet point list of the main ideas and something visual that they can hold on to. Students would also greatly benefit from discussion of the documents to gauge other student’s perspectives. This is a very constructivist view of learning. Instead of me just telling the students about history, they are learning through reading sources that were actually from that era.
My O&P teacher uses this approach in his class. He is going for his masters and is teaching one class out of a textbook and the other two are using primary sources he provides and discussing over-arching questions about a particular era of US History. For instance, one of the questions he had them answer was Were African Americans really free after the Civil War? He provided them with documents supported the freedom of African Americans, as well as, denied that African Americans were free. He then left it up to the students to decide what was true using text evidence. He pulls a lot of these lesson plans from this website https://sheg.stanford.edu/rlh.
By understanding how best the students learn, we, as teachers, can adjust our lesson plans so that learning is maximized.
- Woolfolk, Anita. (2014). Educational Psychology: Active Learning Edition, 12th Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ. Pearson Education Inc.