Theories and Principles of Learning

Identify and discuss the significance of relevant theories and principles of learning and communication

There are different factors which affect learning and could make a huge impact on learner achievement. It is important that these factors are addressed to enable a learner maximise their chances of succeeding in their studies. Good and bad experiences can affect learning and could determine the outcomes of a learner. The theories of learning can be generally classed as humanist, cognitive, behaviourist, neo behaviourist, andragogy and gestalt. behaviourist, gestalt and cognitive theories of learning lays its emphasis on how children learn, however andragogy seem to be centred around how adults learn . Each of these theories of learning, aims to explain the reasons for learning in different learning situations. As teachers in the life long learning sector it is essential that we understand the complex nature of teaching which is supported by different theories of learning.

Behaviourist theory of learning is supported by, Ivan Pavlov and John B Watson.
The theory was first developed by Ian Pavlov when he carried out a research on dogs. This theory was later Called classical conditioning. He realised that ringing a bell before the dogs had their meals, they gradually began to associate the bell with food, therefore when the bell rang even when no food was being given to the dogs, they still salivated. ???according to behaviourist theories which form the basis for all learning theories, all behaviour is learned, thus eliminating any biological influences??™ (Armitage, A., Byant, R., Dunnil, R., Flanagan, K., Hayes, D., Hudson, A., Kent, J., Lawes, S., Renwick, M p72) B.F Skinner later followed on the work of Pavlov and developed the idea of the neo-behaviourist theory called operant conditioning, its emphasis was on the use of reinforcement or punishment which will determine if a behaviour will be repeated or not.
In teaching today, the use of positive or negative feedback can affect the way a learner responds to what is being taught. The use of positive feedback can enhance a learners experience, while a negative feedback can serve as punishment and deter a learner from repeating the behaviour that produced the negative feedback or in some situations can actually do damage to a learners experience.??™ in a behaviourist approach to learning, progress should be step by step and build on previously learned material. In the early stages the learner should be regularly rewarded when correct responses are given??™ ( Armitage., A. etal p72). However the behaviourist theory can seem appealing in some learning situations, such as in children education, when a child learns a new skill, or does something right for the first time, the response from the adult is usually a clap of hand saying well done. In doing this the child is then made aware of the fact that they have achieved something good and would be repeating the same behaviour. Therefore learning is this situation has been observed and is measurable. What about situations where learning can seem impossible to measure, what happens then Do we assume learning has not taken place in such situations.
The cognitive theory is supported by the studies of John Dewey ( 1859-1952), his theory emphasize the experiental aspects of learning. In His theory learning results from our reflections of our experience( Jerome Brumer ( 1915) also focused on the study of cognitive theory of learning. His theory states that “To perceive is to categorize, to conceptualize is to categorize, to learn is to form categories, to make decisions is to categorize.” (

Both Brumer and Dewey agrees that Cognitive theory of learning, is about giving the learner an opportunity to explore learning by themselves. This theory is different from the behaviourist because it believes learning is not just about positive and negative feedback and modification of behaviour, it rather gives the learner an opportunity to have a deeper understanding of what is being learned, acquiring new knowledge as they progress in their learning and the application of the newly acquired knowledge. It is about a person centred approach to learning, where the learner is at the centre and the learning is made to reflect on the needs of the learner.??? the structuring and sequencing of learning is, according to Brumer, of key importance to the teaching learning process. ( Wallace, S., p100).

The humanist theory of learning supported by Carl Rogers ( 1902-87) sees the teacher as the facilitator. He argues that learning will be much more effective, when the teacher acts as the facilitator forming a relationship with the learner that is based on trust and openness. His theory originated from his client centred therapy used on his clients during consultations to the student centred approach to learning. His theory, is linked to the theory of Malcolm Knowles known as androgy most often useful in adult learning. Both theories subscribed to the need for self direction in learning. While Carl Rogers self direction is based on the learner controlling the process of learning, and Knowles where the content of the course is controlled by the learners and the teacher controls the process. ( Armitage etal p76). Another influential person in the humanist theory is Abraham Maslow. His most widely recognised theory is the hierarchy of needs, which can be described as a motivational theory. He says that the basic needs of humans have to be met such as the need for safety and comfort before we can feel the need to be self actualised. Therefore for a learner to be able to participate in the learning process, they should have their basic needs met before they can feel the need for self development. such as the provision of a safe environment which should be done by the teacher.

Another theory useful to the learning process is the gestalt theory, this is different to the other theories, especially to the behaviourist theory because it sees learning as a complex process, not just as behaviour modification or stimuli response. This theory was developed by Wertheimer, Kohler and Koffler in the 1920s. although their work is less known unlike the work of the others in learning psychology but it is still influential in understanding the learning process. Gestalt believes that learning should be seen as whole, where everything is taken into consideration in the learning process. The learner as suggested by gestalt comes into learning with their own experience. ??? The gestalt concluded that the way we look at thing and the ways in which we perceive things will depend on our own prior experience??? ( Armitage etal p73). Hence as teachers we need to include learners experience in our teaching, especially in adult learning, this will enable learners to draw on their experiences, which will probably give them a new insight or understanding of what is being learnt.

However having examined the theories of learning, we can also acknowledge that there are different factors which can affect learning and if ignored can impact on learner acheivement. These factors include social, cultural, disability, the learning environment, communication, background, learning materials, economic hardship some of the above theories can be used to addressed these factors. When a learner is having financial hardship it will affect their achievements in learning, because they lack the feeling of security and comfort. For that learner to be able to participate more in the learning process, the financial hardship will; need to be addressed. Which is supported by Maslow??™s theory of hierarchy of needs. The theory of Carl Rogers also highlights the need for the environment to be conducive for learning to take place. The teacher needs to make the environment comfortable for learners, which could include changing the seating arrangement and making learners feel more relaxed with bringing their life experiences into the classroom as part of the learning process.
As we are aware every learner is different, each learner have a different approach to learning and have their individual learning style. Hence the need to take into consideration the needs of learners when planning lessons. theories and principles of learning can be applied to promote inclusive practice.

Select and critically analyse the impact of two principles or theories of learning on the planning and delivery of teaching in own setting

The teaching and learning strategies used during delivery of a lesson will depend on how the outcomes of the lessons will be achieved and also the individual learning styles of the learners. Some of the teaching and learning strategies that can be used to promote inclusive practice includes, role plays, games, lectures, question and answer, presentation, workshop activities, small and large group activities, simulations, arrangement of the environment, using large fonts and pictures for presentation
Most of these strategies can be used in conjunction with the other, but as teachers we have to access the suitability of the strategy in meeting the learning outcomes and needs of the learners. Inclusiveness is used to plan for a range of learners. ??? as Wallace says, we should create learning activities which are accessible to all the students and which do not make any student feel excluded, directly or by implication??? ( Wallace 2005:47 cited in Armitage etal p94 )
As a teacher in health and social care, there are a range of activities and resources that I use in order to promote and maintain an inclusive environment for my learners. health and social care is a practical course as well as a knowledge base course. In order to meet the learning outcomes and assessment criteria for both the practical and knowledge specification of the course, I use role plays, simulations smart board with projectors which can be very useful when playing a video to the class. The role plays, simulations, video projectors will be meeting the learning styles of visual learners as well as learners whose area of intelligence according to Howard Gardner??™s theory is spatial-visual. I also use group activities, pairing the high ability learners with low ability so that the low ability learners will benefit from the high ability. My handouts given at the end of the lesson is always in large fonts and presentations are made to be colourful yet readable with pictures and graphics to keep learners entertained.

Communication skill is a very important skill to have as a teacher, effective communication ensures that information is passed on correctly. As a teacher it is important that I am aware of my communication skills, so that I can constantly strive to improve on it. During lessons in order to ensure the flow of communication between me and the learners, I make sure that no learner is seating with their back facing me, I regularly make eyes contact with the learners when teaching, I do not have a desk in front of me, thus preventing a physical barrier between I and the learners. I also ensure that I don??™t just stand in front of the class during the delivery of lessons but I walk around the class, getting the learners involve in the lesson. I ensure that the vocabulary and syntax used during the lesson is not above the ability of my leaner??™s. Am also very mindful of my body language and that of the leaner??™s and what its telling me. I also ensure that I check learning through feedback method and using question and answer skill. I avoid asking the learners questions such as do you understand But rather I give an open questions, closed questions and leading questions to get feedback from learners
As a teacher it is also important that I maintain confidentiality when communicating with my learners as well colleagues. I make sure the appropriate method of communication is used when communicating with learners and relevant others in the organisations
???Minimum core was introduced by FENTO in August 2003 and fully implemented as an integral part of FE teacher training programmes form September 2004??? ( Wallace, S. p21). The application of minimum core during the delivery of lessons is very important, they include literacy, numeracy, ICT, language. These skills will enable leaners participate in the society, and enable them to confidently express themselves. The use of ICT in lessons provides variation and differentiation to the lesson, to meet the needs of diverse group of learners such as visual learners.

Theories and principles of learning has been used to understand the different ways people learn. Thus making it possible for the different learning styles of individuals to be taken into consideration during the planning and delivery of lessons. Inclusive practice takes into consideration all the abilities and learning styles of learners. In planning for inclusiveness in lessons, learners with disability have to also be catered for. It is very important that teachers should be aware of the disabilities of learners both seen and unseen disabilities.
Howard Gardner is well known in education because of his theory on multiple intelligence which he wrote in 1983. In his work he identified intelligence as the ???ability to solve problems or to create products that are valued within one or more cultural setting??? ( Gardner 1983/2003) he also identified seven areas of intelligence which includes linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily kinaesthetic, music, interpersonal and intrapersonal. His theory can be linked to individual learning styles because they both seek to understand peoples??™ preferred method of learning. Howard Gardner??™s theory, offers an opportunity for teachers to provide a varied and entertaining lessons for learners because it makes room for differentiation during the lesson. By using differentiated learning we are recognising that not all learners learn in the same way and at the same pace
Another theorist in Education that promotes inclusiveness is Robert Gagne. His theory of the conditions of learning and nine events of learning identifies that there are different conditions of learning which will require a different types of or level of instructions. In his theory he identified five categories of learning known as verbal information, intellectual skills, cognitive strategies, motor skills and attitudes. For
learning to occur in each of these categories, it has to be included as part of the strategies to be used in the lesson during lesson planning. For example, some learners may like learning through verbal communication while some may prefer learning by using their motor skills. during the lesson the teacher would give task to learner That prefers learning by using cognitive skills a task where he all she has to find a solution to a problem and while giving the other learner that likes learning by using their motor skills, a practical task.
The nine events of instructions are 1 gain attention 2 inform learner of objectives 3 stimulate recall of prior knowledge 4 present the materials 5 provide guidance for learning 6 elicit performance 7 provide feedback and performance 9 enhance retention and transfer. ???These events should satisfy or provide the necessary conditions for learning and serve as the basis for designing instruction and selecting appropriate media (Gagne, Briggs & Wager, 1992)

Most education theories promote inclusive practice in education as described above, however there are also legal, statutory requirement for teachers to practice inclusiveness in all aspects of lesson planning and the delivery of the lessons. Special education needs act ( SENDA) is a legislation that aims to prevent the discrimination of disabled students in education, as a teacher I have to take in to considerations the disabilities of my learners when planning and delivering my lessons. I may need to change the layout of the classroom to make space for a wheel chair user, give handouts to learners with large fonts and pictures, make my PowerPoint presentations bolder and in colours that are visible enough for every one to see especially for my learners with visual disability. I also have to take into consideration the equal opportunity Act of 2006 and ensure all my learners are given equal treatment according to their needs. The practicing of equality and diversity as a teacher is central to our values and professional standards because it means equal opportunity will be given to all learners enabling the learners to succeed in the course.

Reflect on the impact of these insights on own practice and professional development

Having examined all the relevant theories and principles of learning and communication, it has provided a wealth of knowledge of what is happening a learning environment that will shape my practice for the better and provide me with strategies that will benefit different learning styles.
My practice as a lecture/tutor in an adult training college, teaching health and social care to a diverse group of people. The subjects that makes up health and social care course comes from other disciplines such as psychology, sociology and public health. There is therefore the need for me to be able to bring all this disciplines together and relate it into one course ( health and social care).

My practice has been shaped by different learning theories such as the gestalt and behaviourist theory. Gestalt theory informed my approach as a health and social care tutor. This learning theory influences my approach because the gestalt ???believes that the human mind goes through a process of organising and re-organising its perception??? (Wallace, S p99). I place the emphasis of my leaner??™s being able to re-organise their thought and see the wider picture of the health and social care course, then they would be able to see for them selves the relationship between the different disciplines in health and social care. Also in health and social care, learners are encouraged to draw on their own experiences, using it to examine how they can possible solve problems of service users in the future. The gestalt theory also sees the need for learners to draw ???on their experiences and in constantly reorganising their data and ideas. which will occasional lead to wholly new ideas and insights??™ (Wallace, S p99).
The behaviourist theory however is different from the gestalt theory, but has also made a big impact in my practice. I believe that all learners, especially the adult learners are being motivated by different factors to learn. Therefore the way that I respond to the learners will affect learner achievement. Skinner a Neo-behaviourist theorist believes in reinforcement and behaviour modification as a method of encouraging learning. one of my strengths as a teacher is my ability to maintain eye contact with all my learners and sometimes tell a joke in class to keep my learners entertained while also passing on the information of the lessons. However some learners can be quite disruptive in the lesson, constantly wanting to tell a joke and getting my attention, or sometimes not even letting anyone else speak during a group activity. In situations like this, I tend to ignore the learner and concentrate on other learners and in time the learner begins to adjust his/her behaviour. I also try to give a positive feedback to my learners, always giving the, commendations whenever they succeed in carrying out a task or answer a question. I have realised that my learners are much more willing to participate in class discussions because they will always get a commendation for trying even if they gave the wrong answers.

However as a teacher there is a constant need for me to improve on my practice, this need to be a better practitioner as a teacher has lead to the application of other learning theories and principles and adapt my practice to a more wider audience of learners through the use of reflective practice. At the end of every lesson, I carry out an evaluation of how I think the session went and also get feedback from learners. During one of the feedback session from learners, I was told that they would prefer if they had a much more variety of activities in each lesson, such as role plays, carrying out their own research, having more case studies about things that are actually going on in a health and social care environment.. Although a lot of the suggestions made were already being implemented into my lessons, the learners still felt that it should happen more often. Recent theories of learning are centred around lessons being planned according to learners need. I feel that all my lessons will be centred around the learner giving them the opportunity to explore learning in the way that they feel they should. Different activities will be introduced in the same lesson to suit each individual learning style of my learners. More so I will be including the use of more pictures in my power point presentations, also the use of more role plays will be introduced, it will enable learners put theory into practice while still in classroom, rather than wait until they are back to their work environment.


Armitage, A., Bryant, R., Dunhill, R., Flangan, K., Hayes, D., Hudson, A., Kent, J., Lewes, S., Renwick, M ??? teaching and training in post-compulsory Education??™ (2007) third edition, open university press, Berkshire

Wallace, S ??? Teaching, tutoring and training in the lifelong learning sector??™ (2007) third edition, learning matters limited, Exeter

[accessed 14/11/2010] [ accessed 18/11/2010]

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