Facilitating Reflective Learning in Higher Education

By Anne Brockbank; Ian McGill | Go to book overview

3
What is Learning? - A Review of
Learning Theories

In Chapter 2 we declared our intention of examining what is understood about learning in relation to the underlying philosophies which inform that understanding. We take the view, as explained in Chapter 2, that underlying philosophies influence theories and theoretical models, so that, while research methodologies may seem value free, almost every approach to learning so far examined reveals a (hidden) set of values and beliefs which cannot but affect practice and research outcomes.

In this chapter we explore a range of research approaches, identify the theoretical models behind them, and endeavour to appreciate the philosophies from which they come, with a view to uncovering some of the hidden (and not so hidden) influences on learning in today's higher education sector. We consider how researchers have addressed the question 'what is learning?' and evaluate their outcome measures against our philosophy and values. Student orientations, strategies and styles are variables investigated by educationists in attempts to improve student learning in higher education. Developmental stages, levels of learning, and doubleloop learning, are also described and these form a basis for our approach to learning with which we complete the chapter.

There is no science or theory of learning which embraces all the activities involved in human learning. Most of what we do, think, feel and believe is learned so the field of activities is wide and varied. Researchers have addressed learning issues, often independently of each other and approaches have been strikingly different. There is little agreement among researchers about what learning is, for example the behavioural psychologist tends to identify learning in the changed behaviour of their subject, while cognitive psychologists seek for change in the learner as evidence that learning has taken place. A continuum has been suggested from behaviourism to humanism (Entwistle and Hounsell, 1975). For higher education, surprisingly, there is little attempt to theorize on the nature of its own activity.

Early research on learning, dominated by behaviourism and cognitive

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