Research Proposal: Learning Theories

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Learning Theories

Abstract, Learned Phenomena

Unlearned Phenomena

Methods of Assessing Learning

Transfer of Knowledge, Skills, Strategies

Vygotsky Views

B.F. Skinner

Albert Bandura

Cognition and Learning

Prominent Theories of Learning

Contextual Influences

Strategies and Metacognition

Self-Regulation in Learning


Having knowledge of learning theories and is an imperative in today's teaching environment. This paper introduces, critiques and reviews a number of learning theories and strategies from some well-known and some not-so-well-known scholars and educators. But the key to the issue of learning theories is for a teacher (and a student that is truly motivated) to implement any one or a blend of several to meet the appropriate classroom challenge.

Instances of Learned Phenomena:

In music, when a person achieves an "absolute pitch" that is a learned phenomenon, according to Jasba Simpson David Huron (1994). The way in which Simpson arrived at that conclusion was backed up by the application of the Hick-Hyman law (AKA "Hick's Law"); the reaction time for a "given stimulus" relates directly to its "expected frequency of occurrence" (Simpson). Hearing the opening key / chords of Western music the learned phenomena for the vocalist allows that person to instantly achieve the learned pitch that is required to sing the song. Hick's law example: if a reader is given a particular word to find in a list, he or she must scan the list. But if the list is alphabetical, the learned phenomena takes over and in Hick's law terminology the reader uses a subdividing strategy, part of a learned phenomenon.

Critical thinking input: Our brains have functions well beyond what we humans can understand, but that isn't the point. The point is to know and understand the psychological reality that much of what we do in our lives is learned phenomena. The ability to be listening to music, and at the same time when we hear the sound of a dog scratching on the back door we do not need to abandoned the music's lyrics (which we probably know by heart) to let the dog in and give him his little reward snack.

Instances of unlearned phenomena:

Important to unlearning mechanisms are these criteria: the creation for specific new knowledge; "poor performance" on previous applications; "react[ion] to changing environment"; "changes in management"; and the phenomena "is too complicated to use" (Mustonen-Ollila, 2004). The instance alluded to by Mustonen-Ollila, et al., is that due to the "rapid diffusion of microcomputers" -- technological development was moving forward at an accelerated pace -- at the onset of the 1980s, new skills were needed and old skills had to be unlearned. "Unlearning is…a fundamental change in understanding and perception" in that previous knowledge structures "are obliterated" in organizational learning (Mustonen-Ollila).

Critical thinking input: for some Americans learning computer and other digital technological skills is extremely difficult in the first place and requires much patience; so once they have learned for example how to design a simple blog page (and post images and graphs on the page), they never want to have to unlearn that skill. However, new ways of designing pages and uploading images are "user-friendly," more than previous applications, so that person who is shy about learning new skills must unlearn the design skill and learn the new and more efficient strategy. It's about letting go. We let go of our childish habits when we emerge as young adults; the same principle applies here.

Methods of assessing learning:

Helen S. Lepke identifies five instruments for assessing learning: ELSIE (Edmonds Learning Style Identification Exercise); Cognitive Style Interest Inventory; Learning Modalities and Individual Differences Inventories; Paragraph Completion Method; and Learning Style Inventory. The ELSIE method is based on a person's response to fifty spoken words and a good example for This paper. The words cannot require the learner to have to think about what it means -- and preferably the word commonly used and is "monosyllabic to reduce the time required to pronounce the word." When he or she hears the word does the learner visualize it? Does it appear to be spelled out in the mind's eye? Is there a response to the sound of the word? In response to four modes of internalization (visualization; written word; listening; and activity) the instructor can assess the learning abilities of the participant.

Critical thinking input: There are many more strategies for assessing learning, and certainly there are assessments used in schools today that are proven and modern; it boils down to what works best for the instructor. In fact a teacher who is effective can quite literally create her own system of assessment using some of the tools from professional strategies and implementing some of her own creative, original tools. Knowing one's students well, listening to them and interacting one-on-one with them -- and being willing to update the process of assessment on a regular basis -- is part of the key to success.

Historical views -- transfer of knowledge, skills, and strategies:

Knowledge transfer. In a math class at State Teachers College in Jersey City, NJ, students were making many errors in division; the instructor believed it was caused by "lapses in attention." But also the frequent incorrect multiplication products was a result of the fact that multiplication was being used in solving division problems. If the multiplication fact had been isolated from the division process, "the pupil would have been able to give the correct product" (Grossnickle, 1936). Bottom line: there was a failure to transfer knowledge from multiplication to division dynamics. Skills transfer. "Transfer of learning is the influence of prior learning on performance in a new situation," according to Clark (2004). Without the transfer some of our skills and knowledge from prior learning," every new thing a person learns would mean starting from scratch, and that would be wasteful and nonproductive as a learning experience. Strategies: A strategy for learning was successfully carried out with first-grade students who were asked to complete tasks as individuals, and later asked to complete assignments in small groups (Gabbert, 1986). The results showed that "on all tasks, groups achieved more than did individuals"; and the higher achievement of students in the "cooperative condition transferred to individual testing" later. The strategy of placing students in groups worked and in fact students in groups used "higher level reasoning strategies in completing the tasks" than did the students working as individuals (Gabbert, p. 265).

Critical thinking input: Every competent teacher knows when to place students in groups and when to have them work individually. I had a teacher in high school in an advanced class who had us work together by row when it came to research projects (often on some difficult, unfamiliar material). And the row that presented the material to the entire class most effectively got the prize for that day (no air conditioning in the building so sometimes it was a liter of coke with glasses of ice). Incentives work, and students can transfer knowledge to one another if it is made into competition that is fun.

Vygotsky and his views:

Major processes in his learning theories. The major thrust of Vygotsky is his ZPD ("zone of proximal development"); it is the distance between "the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving" and the level of development that potentially could be ascertained through "problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers" (Chak, 2001). If learning is properly structured it can result in the development of mental processes which in turn "set in motion a variety of developmental processes" (Chak).

Constructivist learning environments and principles. Since the central task is to teach the learner to solve problems, the ZPD goal is a) to produce a process that helps the learner gain "awareness and control over one's cognition"; b) that process should be such that the child is not just a "passive recipient" and the instructor is not just a "technician" -- but rather there is a joint collaborative "negotiation and reconstruction of goals between child and adult" (Chak). Some of the exchanges in the adult-learner interactions are verbal, and some are non-verbal -- but for the adult, he or she should be aware of how their own tendencies of presentation influence the child's verbal and non-verbal responses. Major components of learner-centered principles (APA). a) nature of the learning process (habit formation; generation of knowledge; cognitive skills learning); b) goals of the learning process (relevant, well-presented goals that embrace "personal and educational" interests of the student); c) construction of knowledge (existing knowledge and new information can be linked); d) strategic thinking (these skills can be taught); e) thinking about thinking (reflecting on what is learned and how it is learned enhances the ability to solve problems); f) context of learning (since learning doesn't take place "in a vacuum" many variables come into play and it is up to the teacher to create strategies that interest the student and motivate the student too); g) motivational and emotional influences (these dynamics, if positive and interesting, help the student achieve knowledge and strategies);… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Cite This Research Proposal:

APA Format

Learning Theories.  (2009, December 3).  Retrieved May 24, 2019, from

MLA Format

"Learning Theories."  3 December 2009.  Web.  24 May 2019. <>.

Chicago Format

"Learning Theories."  December 3, 2009.  Accessed May 24, 2019.