Jill Hohenstein and Heather King
Learning can be defined as a relatively permanent change in thought or in behaviour that results from experience. In this chapter, we narrow the focus of such a broad topic to present a brief overview of theories of learning and the status of current thinking about learning. We then move on to explore some of the ways in which teachers can support learning both in and outside of the classroom.
Over the last three centuries, interest in the nature of learning has led to the development of a number of theories which attempt to explain the process by which we learn. In turn, these theories have shaped our approaches to teaching and the mechanisms by which we help learners to learn.
Most theories of learning fall into one of two categories: Behaviourist or Cognitivist (some span both). Behaviourism is based on the view that we should focus on externally observable inputs and outputs to determine what governs learning. This idea is related to the philosophy of Hobbes (1651), who suggested that humans are simply material systems, operating by way of inputs and outputs, and thus constructs such as 'mind' and 'free will' do not affect the way people function.
Extreme Behaviourism claims that infants enter the world as 'blank slates' and learn about the world through various forms of association, including conditioning, both classical (Pavlov 1927) and operant (Skinner 1974). Classical conditioning can be thought of as the training of behaviour on the
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Publication information: Book title: Becoming a Teacher: Issues in Secondary Teaching. Contributors: Justin Dillon - Editor, Meg Maguire - Editor. Publisher: Open University Press. Place of publication: Maidenhead, England. Publication year: 2007. Page number: 163.
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