Learning Theories Behavioral Learning Theory Information Processing Term Paper

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¶ … Learning Theories

Behavioral Learning Theory

Information processing theory

Social cognitive theory

Constructivist learning theory

Postulate: Constructivist theory applies best to teaching for the construction trades

This paper covers four learning theories and the descriptors which are associated with each. The paper will discuss behavioral learning theory (operant conditioning), information processing theory, social cognitive theory, and constructivist learning theory. Each section will discuss the theory, identify its strengths and weaknesses, and give examples of how they are applied.

This author has chosen constructivist theory in a building trades teaching environment. After a review of the above theories, the author will advance the case that constructivist learning theory best fits the class and the author's personal teaching style.

Behavioral Learning Theory

Behavioral learning theory originated with the work of BF Skinner and Pavlov, who worked respectively with pigeons and dogs to demonstrate the theory of operant conditioning. The "stimulus-response" theory has proven helpful in everything from breaking bad habits (cognitive behavioral therapy) and phobias, to improving learning performance.

The theory advanced by Skinner is that one learns through changes in behavior. Behavior results due to learning from stimuli which occur in the environment. Skinner found that reinforcing responses to behavior can result in learning, and a change in response (Skinner, 1938).

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An example of the application of behavioral learning theory is the reduction in flight phobia -- the client's fear of flying. The first element in behavioral learning is to analyze the rational side of the phobia -- i.e. why is it that the client fears flying? Is he/she concerned about the plane crashing? Is he/she stressed about the lack of control of the plane's fate? When faced with the rational explanation that "planes don't crash," and "you are safer in a plane than in an automobile," the client realizes on a rational basis that the fear of flying is ungrounded in reason.

Term Paper on Learning Theories Behavioral Learning Theory Information Processing Assignment

The next phase is operant conditioning. In many cases, this takes place in steps. A client may be asked to sit in an airplane (while on the ground) and have a pleasant discussion. This associates "pleasant" and "sitting in an airplane," and teaches the client that his/her fear is ungrounded. Once the anxiety has been averted in this step, the client may then be asked to take a short flight and, during the flight, engage in a pleasant activity (talking, playing cards, etc.). The stimulus of the flight is met by a pleasant response. This 'operant conditioning' therefore demonstrates a new paradigm to the client.

The advantages of operant conditioning for learning are as follows:

1. It is goal-oriented. That is, the client is able to get to the heart of a problem very quickly, and to treat it in a focused manner.

2. It is rapid. Because it focuses on one delimited problem, the therapist can get to the issue with the client fairly quickly.

3. It can be performed with people who may not have good reading or verbal skills, such as children. That is because the stimulus/response mechanism can be related to stimuli or habit changes which are physical or involve other senses.

There are several disadvantages and places where operant conditioning is less successful. These can include:

1. A client whose problems are complex. For example, a client suffering sexual anxiety and dating problems may have deep-seated issues related to child molestation, for example. In this case, a simple aversion therapy cannot undo what the patient has experienced over a long period of time.

2. A client who has a chemical dependence or neurochemical imbalance, although calmative agents may be helpful as adjuncts for patients undergoing a great deal of anxiety.

Information processing theory

This has some similarities to the above BF Skinner approach: humans are logical beings, and like a computer, we can absorb and process information using logical strategies and rules. Information processing theory postulates that the brain changes in children over time, thus providing more-efficient processing of necessary functions as a child grows in cognitive abilities (Hetherington, 1999).

Another way in which information processing theory parallels operant conditioning is in the assumption that all stimuli -- what a person encodes, demonstrates and stores -- form the complete or nearly complete 'inputs' for brain stimuli. As children store more information, their 'hard wiring' changes to be able to generalize, form strategies and use encoded information (i.e. changed from input through thought) in order to generalize.

Unlike a computer, an individual can modify his/her brain in that they have the innate ability to process and change. Self-modification is incorporated into the growth of cognitive ability, much as postulated by Piaget, who felt that children carry 'hard wired' tools for learning which change over time.

Like operant conditioning, information processing is a system to explain thought from an input-output basis. It does less well in incorporating extraneous inputs which may not be captured through logic (e.g. sensual, hippocampus-modulated, emotions). Unlike operant conditioning, there are few specific teaching tools coming directly from information processing theory. The closest that one can come is the groundbreaking work done by Maria Montessori over a century ago, finding that children benefited when their learning was self-directed, and their environment was 'enriched' by presenting the appropriate learning tools that could be understood by children at various phases in their development.

Social cognitive theory

The best way to summarize SCT is 'monkey see, monkey do.' In essence, social cognitive theory, as advanced by Albert Bandura (Bandura, 1988), an individual can learn a behavior or a set of behaviors by observing society around him/her. This 'social' learning required not only external stimulus and information, as in the above two learning theories, but also knowledge accretion from observing role models. Modeling teaches individuals the accepted and correct strategies for dealing with their situations.

Social cognitive learning is affected through the disinhibitory and the inhibitory effects. The latter is a reduction in the undesired behavior due to punishment. The former is the encouragement of a person to foster more such behavior. It is not enough to directly punish the person for inhibitory or disinhibitory behavior -- one learns better by observing the model (another person) punished or praised for certain kinds of social behavior.

All modeling requires that the learning person feels an attachment or identification (real or imagined) with his/her role model. That is because the learner regards the other person as more advanced, more experienced and/or already having experienced the reaction of society due to certain behavior sets.

In the "real world," social cognitive theory is being put in practice all the time. Every time Rolex advertises a watch which is worn by a movie star or race car driver, they are encouraging the reader to engage in model-following behavior. Demographics can help to indicate areas where people, supposedly of similar minds due to social cognitive precepts, are more likely to act in a certain way, or respond to stimuli in a predictable manner. It therefore becomes possible to predict one's behavior in certain situations based on area, age, gender, ethnicity or other socially-relevant factors which define one's role within a societal group, and therefore what is learned and how one responds to certain stimuli.

Social cognitive theory can help to explain the deleterious effects that mass media can have on learning and an individual's feeling of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is the amount of personal motivation, affect (ability to emote with and be affected by others), and actions. Those who exhibit little self-efficacy may either be suffering from a lack of social interaction, or may be modeling their opinions and responses to stimuli based on poor role-model selection. As an example, an anorexic teenage girl may think that she is too fat, despite her being severely underweight. She may cite the prevalence of models who are shown in the mass media who are also too thin, or unhealthy.

Constructivist learning theory

Jean Piaget is generally regarded as the founder of constructivist theory. His theory was in counteraction to behavioralism as postulated by BF Skinner and his followers, and harkens back to work done in previous centuries by philosophers such as Immanuel Kant (18th century) and John Dewey (19th and 20th century). As referred earlier in This paper, Piaget's thinking may have been influenced by teachers such as Dr. Montessori, who found that children have an innate ability to structure information as part of a 'construction' of knowledge.

Piaget posited that children have within them the tools, or structure, to be able to learn on their own. These frameworks appear at different times in a child's development, and form a structure around which knowledge can be accrued and related to other knowledge. Piaget rejected the behavioralist theory that stimulus/response and the environment were the only determinants of human mental development. Rather, he saw that children formed models of how the world should work, and incorporated their experiences into these frameworks.

As children grow, the number and complexity of these frameworks increases, to the point where children are able to reframe their frameworks on… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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