Learning is defined as “the process through which experience causes permanent change in knowledge or behavior” (Woolfolk, 272). How people learn and retain information are most commonly divided into two perspectives. These perspectives try and help education professionals figure out the best approaches when it comes to teaching students. The two perspectives I will be talking about today is the behaviorist and cognitive approaches to learning.
The behaviorist approach is an explanation of learning that focuses on external events as the cause of changes in observable behavior (Woolfolk, 272). It claims that all behavior is determined by the environment either through association or reinforcement. The other perspective is the cognitive approach of learning. The cognitive approach focuses on the internal mental processes of acquiring, remembering, and using knowledge (Woolfolk, 312).
The best example I can use to explain these two approaches is wearing a helmet while riding a bicycle or skateboarding. When you see a child out and wearing a helmet, you usually don’t ever think twice about it. But what made them put a helmet on in the first place? Unfortunately, it probably wasn’t for safety reasons. Children learn what to do through their experiences. Behaviorist would say that the child learned to wear a helmet through association or reinforcement. They probably saw famous X-games athletes wearing helmets and winning medals and wanted to be just like them. On the other hand, the cognitive approach would say that children learn to wear a helmet for a different reason. They would say that after years of their parents nagging them to “always wear a helmet” when riding a bike or skateboard, they subconsciously put their helmet on because their brain associates the two activities together after years of hearing it.
This video is from Sarah O. Weiler who is an expert on teaching and learning approaches. It does a great job summarizing the differences between the behaviorism and cognitive approaches when it comes to education and learning.
As a future teacher, I will probably use both of these approaches. I think it is important to always have an open mind and be flexible when it comes to teaching. I do not want to make a decision of how I want to teach because I think that is unfair to my future students. I need to teach with an approach that will help all of my students and more likely than not, it will be some kind of combination of both the cognitive and behavioral approaches. I think it is important to combine teaching strategies that combine both mental processes and association. Not only will it help all the students no matter how they learn best, but it also acts as another way to reinforce the knowledge.
Woolfolk, A. (2014). Educational Psychology: Active Learning Edition. Pearson.