Learning Theories


To put it in context…

I teach in a private College in Dublin.  I have been teaching computer networking to a mix of students over the last 10 years.  By mix I mean secondary school students (on “taster” courses), first, second, and third year degree (QQI Accredited) students, and unemployed people on back-to-work and upskilling courses.

Over the years I have amassed a huge amount of teaching materials and as time passes I have seen it evolve from the traditional printed handout to a variety of lecture slides, online quizzes, simulation software and other tools.

I am now at a point where I need to step back and examine not only what I am teaching but also how I am teaching it.   To do this effectively I need to understand how people learn not only through the basic theory of learning styles but how they process information at a higher level.

This section deals with some of the many learning theories covered during our course and includes some of my thoughts and opinions on them. I have also tried to identify where I am already using them or areas where they would be appropriate.  Please note, they are my personal thoughts and should not be regarded as an “official” view of the value of a theory.  I have tried to broadly categorise them but as you go through the sections you should notice that there is no single correct theory, nor is it usual to use just one theory on its own.  Typically a combination of theories need to be applied to attempt a comprehensive approach to learning.

Behaviourism               Cognitivism                  Constructivism                      Other Theories

Below are answers to a number of questions posed at the mid-point of this module:

Moving from purely cognitivist teaching style to a more constructivist approach

Theorists who influence my teaching style : Piaget/Vygotsky/Dewey/Bruner

Where are you applying this theory? In classes, during lectures, and in lab work.

When are you doing this? Started this semester, originally I made one change per lecture but I am now doing it up to three times per lecture.

How did you carry out the application of the theory? I created activities based on slides that were coming up in the lecture so that students got to try something for themselves and felt included in the lectures.  My goal was originally to apply practice to theory i.e. do the theory then the lab, but I have found it better to let the students try something, discuss the results and then back it up with some theory.  Students seem to find it easier to relate to what I am saying once they have tried it for themselves.

Which learning theory best suits your practice?  Cognitivist/constructivist, although if I was forced to choose I would definitely choose contructivist.  Cognitivist because there are a lot of facts and figures at the start of the course and some of the course work is deterministic(?) So cognitivist approach suits that better.

Legacy/impact of the application?  Lectures are now a lot more active, I get time to go around the class and help anyone who has a problem, either individually or collectively.  So for example if I get the same question from four or five people then I know it is the instructions that are the problem and I’ll call the class to attention and clarify any ambiguities.  The students are therefore helping me to fine-tune my tutorials and get to see their changes incorporated into the notes. I am giving and getting feedback dynamically.

Produce a simple concept map of the application

concept map

What happened in the application of the theory to your practice? – Classes actually finish sooner, which gives me some time at the end for students to approach with queries they have and comments on what worked or what did not (for which they are thanked)  I found myself enjoying the classes a lot more as I was getting more time with the learners who needed help and stronger students were still being challenged.

Why did you choose this theory? It has taken me a while to recognise /realise that the learner should be at the centre of the experience, that I can learn as much from them as they can from me.  Constructivist theory advocates the use of a support mechanism and independence which to me seems like the best way to learn.


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All my material from my MSc in Applied E-Learning

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