Teaching and Learning Approaches: Behaviorism, Cognitivism and Social Constructivism

Weiler, S.O. (2014). Teaching and Learning Approaches: Behaviorism, Cognitivism and Social Constructivism

Behaviorism (Skinner)
Cognitivism (Piaget)
Social Constructivism (Vygotsky)

… Non-scientist educators usually have poor understanding of behaviorism and make up many straw men they can knock down. Behaviorists do not believe knowledge is transmitted. Responses (your know, the R in S-R) are important. Animals emit behaviors that are the basis of their learning. Behaviorism is about reinforcement and punishment, not positive and negative reinforcement. Behaviorists look only at behavior without making up non-explanatory mental constructs (like self regulation). Social constructivism mainly claims that children acquire their behavior and thinking by interacting with others (e.g., parents, culture) and modeling them. This, if you think about it, is a assertion that knowledge is transmitted to the learner, not that they are somehow responsible for what is learned.

robotczar (n.d.) YouTube comment. Source: https://youtu.be/gkzLAz25KPI

Examining these learning theories can lead one down a rabbit hole of theory, interpretation and re-interpretation, which I’m going to get into here. As robotczar’s comment above (n.d.) indicates, there may be some questions with Weiler’s interpretations of the three types of learning theory she discusses. For example, I fail to see how Weiler’s statement that Constructivism posits that “all humans should act the same way according to universal standards of bezhavior ” matches with Skinner’s statement:

“Operant conditioning is as much a part of the genetic endowment as digestion or gestation. The question is not whether the human species has a genetic endowmment, but how it is to be analyzed. It begins and remains a biological system, and the behavioristic position is that it is nothing more than that…”

Skinner, B.F. (1969). Contingencies of reinforcement: A theoretical analysis. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall 2Skinner, B.F. (1974). About behaviorism. New York: Alfred A. Knopf as quoted at https://aboutbehavior.webs.com/apps/faq/#anchor-101474-1

Overall, I wonder if a video like this, which tries to summarize the lifelong works of many scholars can possibly be effective, or completley correct.

I did like being able to extract the following notes from the video:

  • Behaviorism: Reinforcing learning through negative and positive reinforcements such as start charts and timeouts (harking back to Pavlov’s dog experiments). I saw this often practised in my own and my children’s education. Human beings are all the same, unless there is something wrong with them.
  • Cognitivism: Focus on intelligence– providing an appropriate environment, activities, etc. to allow intelligence to flourish. Grouping children by developmental stage. An example of this that I’ve seen is things like baccalaureate programs and other streaming approaches in schools. Human beings are all different. Learning depends on developmental stage.
  • Social Constructivism: Focus on action, we can transform the world and ourselves. I am a bit disturbed by the inherent bias shown by the choice of the fists-raised group of protestors shown during the discussion of this type of learning theory. I see Constructivism as building positive learning experiences, not as protatest against anything.
    • Educators as mediators and co-creators of knowledge
    • Human beings are all different
    • Development is led by learning
    • Concept of the Zone of Proximal Development

In my own secondary education, I found myself placed in a group of high-performing students who were able to do “Special Projects” instead of attending regular classes for a few of our credits. This has aspects of the Cognitive approach, but there was also aspects of the Constructivist approach, since the class size was small and we were guided by our instructor to complete high-quality projects in areas of interest to us.

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