Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Social Learning Theories

Social learning theories have really become mainstream today’s education world as a result of the increase of social media (Laureate, 2010). The theories are based on the basic principle that knowledge is built through social interactions. The concept of the zone of proximal development provides a baseline for this theory. It states that a learner can only acquire a certain amount of knowledge on their own. To reach above this zone, the learner needs a “more knowledgeable other” (Laureate, 2010). This other person is needed to aid the learner in acquiring knowledge. This is where we as educators should be. The acquisition of knowledge that falls into our students’ zone of proximal development should be individual. The knowledge that falls above the zone is where we need to focus our attention and there are a variety of methods available to accomplish this.

One of these methods is cooperative learning. By having students work together, students themselves become the more knowledgeable others. They become supports for each other and are integral parts of building their knowledge together (Palmer, Peters, & Streetman, 2003). As educators, it is important that the tasks that cooperative learning groups are asked to complete are challenging and are in fact above the zone of proximal development. A common error that educators make when using cooperative learning activities is that students are not challenged enough to effectively allows students to build knowledge together (Laureate, 2010).

Technology has led to an increased focus of social learning theories. With social networking websites and applications becoming the norm for today’s teenagers, it’s important for educators to examine possible effectiveness in the classroom. Understanding why social networking has become so popular is the key to understanding how it can be used in education. This really boils down to the fact that individuals enjoy sharing thoughts and ideas and getting feedback from peers. It is the sharing of knowledge and the feedback that draw the interest of users. If this is the case, we as educators need to embrace this interest and include it in our cooperative learning activities. Not only can students learn cooperatively with students in their class, but they can now work cooperatively with anyone with an internet connection.


Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2010). Program eight. Social learning theories [Webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Baltimore, MD: Author.

Palmer, G., Peters, R., & Streetman, R. (2003). Cooperative learning. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved March 26, 2012, from

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Constructivist Theory

The constructivist/constructionist learning theories have become a hot topic in the education world over the last several years (Lever-Duffy & McDonald, 2008).  Piaget and Papert are two notable theorists contributing to these theories, which state the learning takes place when the learner actively constructs knowledge (Han & Bhattacharya, 2001).  Constructivism is theory of knowledge and constructionism is more of a theory of learning (Laureate, 2010).  In the education world, we focus more on the constructionism aspect and how we as educators can help students construct knowledge and understanding of the material.

Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, and Malenoski propose that technology strongly aids in student learning in terms of generating and testing hypotheses (2007).  The basic approach to this strategy includes students predicting, based on their own experiences and knowledge, the results of a problem, researching their predictions, and modifying their knowledge based on the results yielded by research.  In the field of language arts, we are discovering a push towards having students master the skill of informational text reading, as well as having students master the skills of research and informational writing. This shift in the paradigm of language arts is forcing—yet also allowing--the learner/student to predict, analyze, and solve the issues alluded to in the informational readings presented.  Moreover, it is forcing students to initiate process of research by first predicting the results and forming a hypothesis on the subject.  When students are engaged with the process of predict initial results, forming an original hypothesis from the information, and then researching the field of study, they are actually constructing knowledge through their experiences with the material--material that they will be forced to cross-reference in order to analyze the validity of the source and information.  Nevertheless, this type of strategy has strong ties to the constructionist theory. 

The constructionist approach actually combines aspects of behaviorism and cognitivism.  In generating and testing hypothesis, students are receiving reinforcement or punishment as to whether their predictions are correct or incorrect based on testing their hypotheses.  In addition, elaboration theory of cognitivism is based upon making connections to prior knowledge, which is what the learner is doing in making predictions.  The idea of predicting is allowing students to become more focused in not only their research, but also in their gathering of information.  So while three different theories exist, aspects of each are shared, and in reality parts of all three may be accurate.


Han, S., and Bhattacharya, K. (2001). Constructionism, Learning by Design, and Project Based Learning. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved 3-21-2012 from

Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2010). Program seven. Constructionist and constructivist learning theories [Webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Baltimore, MD: Author.

Lever-Duffy, J., & McDonald, J. (2008). Theoretical foundations (Laureate Education, Inc., custom ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.

Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Cognitive Tools...

Similar to behaviorism, in the cognitive learning theory there are a variety of variations.  The similarities include the idea that information is received through the senses and stored in short-term memory until it is rehearsed and moved to long-term memory (Laureate, 2010a).  Aspects that various researchers have contributed to the cognitive learning theories include duel coding and elaboration among others.  These contributions are focused in the attempt to get students to transfer information from their short-term memory to their long-term memory.  With the cognitive learning theories come a couple different instructional strategies that have been found to be effective.
Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, and Malenoski present the idea of using cues, questions, and advance organizers as a means to move information from a learner’s short-term to long-term memory.  The idea behind these instructional strategies is that students find a way to connect the information they are learning with information that they already know (2007).  This follows along the lines of elaboration theory.  Dr. Orey explains that in making connections, the learner is more likely to be able to recall information (Laureate, 2010a).  Concept mapping and advance organizers both allow students to connect information they already know with what they are learning. 
A second instrucational strategy that Pitler et al. encourages educators to use is summarizing and note taking (2007).  In using these, students are constantly analyzing and evaluating the importance of information they receive.  Through this rehearsal, students are able to move information from their short-term to their long-term memory.  These strategies also allow students to connect the information with information that they already know.  Once again the ideas of elaboration theory are met.  Students can also use their notes to summarize ideas through the use of concept maps.  Novak and Canas discuss cross-links in concept maps and how they are important for students to see how different domains of a concept maps are connected (2008).  In making connections, students are more able to recall the information.
Dr. Orey discusses the effectiveness of virtual field trips (Laureate, 2010b).  Students can now experience situations that they were not able to in the past due to the internet and other media.  By gaining formation by through reading, listening, and seeing pictures, the experience of virtual field trips gives the students information from multiple senses.  This idea was explored through duel coding theory, which states that the learner is more likely to recall information that was gained through multiple senses (Laureate, 2010a). 
Through exploring these instructional strategies, an educator should see the importance of making connections to previous experiences and gaining information through new experiences.  As an educator, one should look to incorporate such activities and strategies to help students move important information from short-term to long-term memory.
Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2010). Program five. Cognitive learning theory [Webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Baltimore, MD: Author.
Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2010). Program six. Spotlight on technology: Virtual field trips [Webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Baltimore, MD: Author.
Novak, J. D., & CaƱas, A. J. (2008). The theory underlying concept maps and how to construct and use them, Technical Report IHMC CmapTools 2006-01 Rev 01-2008. Retrieved from the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition Web site:
Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


Theorists Skinner, Thorndike, and Watson are all researchers who have helped build the learning theory of behaviorism (Smith, 1999). The theory is often summed up with the terms stimulus-response and operant conditioning. The learner is either positively reinforced for a good behavior or a proper response or punished for an unwanted behavior or improper response.  The concept of being punished for an improper response is misleading because of the term punished.  The idea of an incorrect response must be corrected immediately so that the proper behavior and thinking is ingrained. The idea behind behaviorism is to make sure incorrect (improper) thinking is eliminated, while correct thinking is rewarded. In school systems today, behaviorist theories are applied most commonly with student discipline (Standridge, 2002).

Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, and Malenoski discuss the importance of reinforcing effort in the classroom. Behind the concept lie the notions that if students are made aware of their effort, track their progress, and receive feedback from an instructor, their classroom performance increases (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, and Malenoski, 2007). By applying numerical values to the aspects of effort, which include attention, participation, and studying among others, students are able to track a correlation between their effort and their grade. This applies itself to the behaviorist theory as the strategy provides students—hopefully immediately--with feedback, either positive or negative, that in return directs them to the different areas of effort that need improvement. Poor grades are the punishment of poor effort. If the student desires passing grades, their effort, or behavior, needs to change. While the focus is on giving the student a correlation between their effort and their grades, the reinforcement aspect of this strategy falls into the behaviorism category of learning theories.  The true struggle—when applying behaviorism--is having the backing of the school district when implementing this time of mannerism into the classroom. 

A second strategy that Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn and Malenoski involves homework and practice. Several guidelines and recommendations are presented, but the idea of homework and practice hinges on a reference to Marzano’s finding that a skill needs to be practices 24 times to reach an 80% mastery level (Pitler, et al., 2007). However, key to practice and homework lies in the feedback. If students complete 24 problems incorrectly, they would have mastered a skill incorrectly. Furthermore, if feedback is provided immediately upon completion then if a student does 24 problems correctly and is aware that they were correct there is a realization that the skill has been mastered.  If feedback, positive reinforcement, or punishment is not being provided it may be more damaging to the development of the skill. The importance of feedback falls directly in line with the behaviorist theory.

As both instructional strategies indicate, feedback from the instructor is important for both tracking effort and reinforcing its effects.  Feedback is also beneficial for reinforcing skills through homework and practice. Without the positive reinforcement or punishment, both of these strategies fall short of being beneficial for students. Both are commonly used in education today and have been found to have success as Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, and Malenoski have discussed (2007).


Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Standridge, M.. (2002). Behaviorism. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved March 6, 2012, from

Smith, K. (1999). The behaviourist orientation to learning. In The encyclopedia of informal education. Retrieved from