Behaviorism, Cognitivism, and Constructivism

13 Sep 2012


In education there are several theories that are used in the field. Many educators use the three most popular theories on a daily basis at any given time in a class.  These theories can be documented back to the era of Aristotle.  The three popular theories are Behaviorism, Cognitivism, and Constructivism.
Behaviorism is the theory that describes learning is due to an observable change in behavior. The behaviors are sometimes learned in the process. In this theory, the learners observe the information, practice the information and then receive reinforcement through praise. The classic example of behaviorism is when Pavlov used classic conditioning to investigate the digestive system of dogs. Pavlov conditioned the dogs to react to the sound of a tuning fork. The tuning fork became a conditioned stimulus. Other famous theorists include Edward Thorndike who is known for inventing the puzzle box to investigate problem solving in animals and B. F. Skinner who is known for inventing the concept of operant conditioning.

Cognitivism is the theory that describes how information is processed to produce learning. It is the change in a learners mental behavior. Cognitive theory looks at how information travels from the sensory memory to the working memory to the long-term memory. This theory focuses on gaining and maintaining the learners attention. After the learners attention is gained, then rehearsal and visuals are used to move the information in the memories. Reinforcement is used primarily as feedback (Woolfolk, 2004). Two famous contributors
to Cognitivism are Jean Piaget who is known for the theory that children progress through stages and J. Anderson who is know for the two types of memory procedural and declarative.
Constructivism is the theory that describes learning to due to the construction of knowledge. The theory focuses on the understanding the information. A big component of Constructivism is socializing. The learners are posed with guiding questions and the learners work together to acquire the new information. Two famous contributors to Constructivism are Lev Vygotsky who is known for the definition of Zone of Proximal Development and Jerome Bruner who is known for stating that learning is an active process.

Classroom Implication
In a Behaviorist classroom learning takes place through acquiring facts, concepts and skills. In this type of classroom one may observe a reward system for positive learning behavior. There may be a money system where the students earn classroom buck to spend at a later time. Also, there may be progress charts visible. In this classroom, there may be contracts on a
particular students desk. Also, the learners will be receiving effective praise in small and large accomplishments. Also, the teacher reinforces for both positive and negative behavior. The teacher is a supervisor in the Behaviorist classroom.Finally in this classroom there may be an emphasis on mastery learning with rewards and consequences in place.
In a Cognitive classroom learning takes place through using strategies to acquire facts, skills and concepts. In this type of classroom one may observe the teacher using props and various methods to gain the learners attention. Also, one may observe the use of visuals such as outline and graphic organizers to connect the information in the learners memory. In this classroom there may be evidence of grouping smaller pieces of information into larger groups of information.
One will witness some repetition and review in the classroom. Also, one may witness mnemonics to remember formulas and facts.The teacher serves as a modeler of strategies in the Cognitive classroom.
Finally one will witness the application of various learning strategies such as Review, Examine, Ask, DO, and Summarize. In a Constructivist classroom learning takes place through retrieving prior knowledge and collaborating to acquire new knowledge.In this type of classroom one may observe learners working in groups.The learners are discussing a possible solution to a particular problem or task. One will observe the teacher moving from group to group assisting in the discussion and asking relevant questions. The teacher serves as a facilitator in the Constructivist classroom. In this particular
classroom the learners are in charge of their own learning. The learners in this classroom are producing authentic tasks and artifacts. The learners have a choice in their presentation and products.
Instructional Technology

Learning from the behaviorist point of view involves gaining knowledge from observable behavior. Because of this, behaviorist influenced technology occurs through drills and practice. This type of software focuses on skill building by using the method of observing a particular skill and practicing the skill. Most drill and practice software gives instant feedback by telling the user whether the answer is correct or incorrect. Some examples of drill and practice software are Math Blaster, Learn to Speak Spanish and Numbers Munchers.
Learning from the Cognitive point of view involves mimicking the human thought process. The technology focuses on thinking like a person.This type of technology uses animations to keep the learnes attention and use chunking to present the information. One type of cognitive technology is trouble shooting programs. Some examples of this type of software Buggy and Logo. Other types of cognitive software that encourages learning are Cognitive Tutor by Carnegie Learning, Challenging our Minds, and Plato.
Learning from the Constructive point of view involves building knowledge collaborative through investigations and problem solving.Constructivism and technology is not limited to one type of software.Learners may use technology to research information to help in solving an authentic problem For example, the learners may investigate how to eat healthy. The learners can use the internet or books to search for relevant information. Learners may use multimedia software to create an authentic product to their problem Learners may use LCD projectors to present their product. Learners may use
technology to exchange information, email or chats.
There are a few similarities in the three theories. In the Behaviorist theory and Cognitive theory both theories believe in reinforcing the concept. Also the Cognitive theory and Constructivist theory both believe in using various representations to learn. Cognitive theory uses premade visuals where Constructivist theory use visuals discovered by learners.

Cognitive Theories of Learning.  Retrieved February, 13, 2008
Constructivism meets Technology.  Retrieved February 15, 2008
Mergel, B. (1998). Instructional Design and Learning Theory.
Educations and Communication Technology
Woolfolk, A. (2004). Educational Psychology. Boston.  Pearson 

TAGS Behaviorism Constructivism Cognitivism



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