Learning Theory and Classroom Practice in the Lifelong Learning Sector
eBook - ePub

Learning Theory and Classroom Practice in the Lifelong Learning Sector

Jim Gould

  1. 176 páginas
  2. English
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eBook - ePub

Learning Theory and Classroom Practice in the Lifelong Learning Sector

Jim Gould

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This book supports all trainee teachers in the Lifelong Learning Sector working towards QTLS in their understanding of the key learning theories and how these can be applied to their teaching. Existing teachers within the sector will also find this book a valuable resource for refreshing their knowledge and continuing their professional development.

Each learning theory is explored in clear and accessible language, considering the implications for planning, teaching, assessment and classroom management. Readers are encouraged to think critically about learning theories and the implications for classroom practice. Points for reflection, teaching and learning activities, and useful summaries are included throughout. This new edition has been fully revised to include a wider range of learning theories as well as annotated further reading and a glossary of useful terms.

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Adult Education



If you have picked up this book, in all likelihood you are teaching in or are intending to teach in the lifelong learning sector. What do you/will you teach? Perhaps your subject is motor vehicle studies? If so, do you think that your learners can become effective mechanics without an understanding of the theories behind combustion and electrical circuits? Or maybe you teach accounting? Can your learners become effective accountants without a sound understanding of the theory behind double-entry book- keeping? Possibly you are of a more artistic bent and your chosen subject is music. Do you think your learners can become effective musicians without an understanding of the theory relating to scales and harmonics? The same questions could be asked of just about every subject in the lifelong learning curriculum, but hopefully these three examples are sufficient to make the point – every subject is informed by its own body of theory or knowledge.
This begs the question, can you be an effective teacher and bring about learning in others without an understanding of the theories of learning? You may not think it is necessary, citing examples of teachers who have been doing the job with some success for years without the need for any knowledge or reference to theory at all. You would probably concede, however, that as in any vocation or profession, the most effective practitioners – those who do the job best – understand the theory that underpins their practice. Certainly the current move towards professionalism in teaching in the lifelong learning sector would seem to support this view. According to Tummons (2007, p3), one of the major characteristics of any profession is a theoretical knowledge on which practical or skill-based activity rests.
The intention of this book is to help you to look at learning theory as a useful tool which can help you analyse and improve your current practice rather than something in a textbook you have to read to complete an assignment.

A note on the second edition

This second edition has afforded the opportunity to make several additions to the text in response to feedback received following the publication of the first edition. The major changes are:
  • a new chapter on social learning theory (Chapter 8) which expands on areas such as scaffolding, referred to in the first edition, but also gives a reasonably comprehensive review of the major theorists such as Bandura and Vygotsky;
  • cognitive neuroscience is gradually establishing a position for itself within the field of teaching and learning. Although, arguably, a coherent theory as such is yet to emerge an outline of its basic concepts are outlined in the chapter on memory and learning (Chapter 10);
  • while the references at the end of each chapter give an indication of sources to go to if you wish to follow up what you have read, more specific guidance on further reading has now been added;
  • a glossary of terms has been added to provide a quick reference guide to the language and terminology used within the text.
I hope these changes will prove useful and look forward to any subsequent feedback, which may lead to further improvement.

The nature of theory

First, a little about the nature of theory itself. Suppose you were shown a particular pen. It is described to you before being passed to you so that you could examine it. You might look at it, sniff it, shake it to see if it rattles, squeeze it; in short, you could get to ‘know’ the pen by using your various senses. If it was then taken away from you and hidden and you were asked to write a description of this particular pen, it is likely that your description would be reasonably accurate. If there happened to be another 49 people in the room at the same time sharing the same experience, it is also likely that their descriptions would not only be reasonably accurate, but would tally with yours. Any that didn’t, could be tested against the original pen and the reasons as to why they were wrong could be clearly identified. The final outcome is that everyone would have a common understanding of this particular pen, which could be verified and agreed upon. When it comes to learning, a repetition of this exercise would encounter several difficulties. Unlike a pen, learning is a process and not a real object – it is abstract as opposed to concrete. Rather than being shown ‘learning’ and passing it round for examination, you and the other 49 people would have to reflect upon your own experiences of learning in order to arrive at a description. This time, it is highly unlikely that the exercise would produce 50 identical descriptions. There may well be some similarities in the answers given; some may agree, but others may be completely different. Which answer is correct? Unfortunately each answer cannot be tested against the ‘real thing’ as with the pen. The different positions taken might well be debated and the evidence to support or deny each might be examined but the description ultimately settled on by any one person would be a matter of personal choice and would most likely be that which most closely resembled that individual’s own experiences of learning.
Theorists find themselves in a similar situation. Different theorists will have different ideas as to what constitutes learning and will offer different arguments and evidence to support their position. So there is not one theory of learning. There are several, each derived from a different viewpoint. Although we can have one view of a pen and can agree as to what it is, we have several different views on what constitutes learning, each with its own particular merits. These different views arise because we don’t all perceive the world in the same way – this is where psychology comes in. It contains different schools of thought, each with a different way of interpreting and understanding the world. Consequently, each has its own view on what learning is and how it takes place. These different views or perspectives on learning will be explored in different chapters of this book along with the implications of each for practice. As there is no single theory which adequately explains all the different facets of learning, you will probably identify different aspects of each in your own teaching as you read through the book.

How does a knowledge of theory help you become a better teacher?

It is not uncommon in normal conversation to make comparisons in order to convey meaning. My new car, for instance, is much more economical than the sports model that I used to have but not nearly as economical as the diesel estate I had prior to that. The new car doesn’t correspond exactly to either of the other two but by using them as reference points I can give an indication of its relative performance. Alternatively, I might be describing the behaviour of a group of learners I teach. I may well refer to the terms ‘excellent’ and ‘awful’ in my description. It is highly unlikely, however, that the behaviour of the said learners will fit exactly into either the ‘excellent’ or the ‘awful’ category – it will be somewhere in between. To identify this in-between position, however, I need the two extremes of ‘excellent’ and ‘awful’ as reference points.
Learning is a much more complex affair than either fuel consumption or behaviour and to discuss it in any meaningful way, additional reference points are needed. Two of the theories of learning explored in this book are behaviourism and cognitivism. These might be used as the two reference points within which to locate the learning that is taking place at any given time in a particular teaching session. As with the other examples, it would be highly unusual if this learning fell neatly into the category of either reference point. It would be unusual to see a teaching session that was conducted purely along behaviourist lines or purely along cognitive lines. The characteristics of each type of learning might well be exhibited to different degrees at different points in the entire session. Learning as a whole will lie somewhere in between the two chosen reference points. Those very reference points of ‘behaviourism’ and ‘cognitivism’ are needed, however, to help in identifying and explaining more clearly the exact nature of the learning that is taking place.
So what does this tell us about learning theory? Popper (1992) suggests that theories are nets cast to catch what we call ‘the world’, to rationalise, to explain and to master it. Achieving such mastery, however, initially involves simplification and generalisation and so it is important to recognise that theory, by its very nature, rarely provides a complete match with reality. Teaching and learning invariably don’t fit neatly into the boxes that theory provides for us. What those boxes do provide, however, are reference points against which you can compare and analyse your practice, leading to a more informed view of what you do, ultimately enabling you to become a more effective teacher.

But practice, not theory, is how you get better

You might argue that the improvement of teaching comes through the ‘doing’ of it rather than through reading books about it, especially theory books. It is true that teaching is a skill and like any other skill is acquired through practice – but that doesn’t mean that theory shouldn’t inform this practice. The constant practice of crossing your hands when turning a corner in a car is not that useful to someone who is learning to drive. It would be more useful to practise turning corners by ‘feeding’ the steering wheel through the hands in the approved driving-test fashion. This would be more likely to happen if the learner driver first understood that this was the most effective way to proceed as it would give more control over the steering wheel. A knowledge of what is deemed to be effective practice and the rationale or theory which lies behind it is therefore essential.
It is useful to look at Kolb’s (1984) cycle of experiential learning at this stage. It is represented diagrammatically below:
Although the language is somewhat dense, the message it conveys is relatively simple. Kolb maintains that we learn through experience, but only if we process that experience and make sense of it. Experience alone is insufficient to lead to improvement as is suggested by the point of view that 30 years’ experience can be one year’s experience repeated 29 more times. Experience is what Usher (1985, p60) describes as raw material and as such requires ‘processing’ before it can lead to real learning. So how can benefit and learning be extracted from experience?
The process of self-evaluation is intended to lead to improved practice. Consider how you might go about this process after a teaching session with a group of learners. The sequence of events might include the following steps.
  1. Teach the session. This is Kolb’s concrete experience.
  2. Afterwards, you re-run the session in your mind: what were the significant features, what went particularly well, what didn’t go as well as you had hoped, did anything surprising happen? You are now engaging in what Kolb describes as reflective observation.
  3. You then ask the question Why did that happen? You would engage in some analysis of the events you had identified in stage 2, looking for the reasons as to why some things went well and others didn’t. This is what Kolb calls abstract conceptualisation.
  4. The results of this analysis would lead you to some conclusions about how you might do things differently and hopefully more effectively next time. Kolb’s term for this is active experimentation.
This process can follow any experience – that first date, a job interview, taking part in some kind of sporting event … the list is endless. But in each case finding the answer to that why? question is crucial and often the most difficult part of the process. This is where learning theory comes in. It provides a framework against which to analyse and test out those experiences that take place in a learning environment and leads to the identification of the possible ways in which things might be done differently next time round.
So while experience is a better teacher than books, it is books and the theory they contain which provide the means of learning effectively from these experiences.

Reflective practice

The professional is someone who is continuously developing his or her underpinning knowledge through reflection on their own (and others’) practice.
(Gray, Griffin and Nasta, 2000, p25)
The process of experiential learning is an essential component of reflective practice which underlies the training and professional development of teachers. Reflective practice draws on the results of reflection and on analysis of previous experience to inform future actions or practice.
The most well-known advocate of this approach is Donald Schön who published The reflective practitioner, his seminal book on the subject, in 1983. Schön suggests that the knowledge we gain from practice in the real world is every bit as useful as that supplied by books and courses. This is not always a conscious process. For example, have you ever dealt with a situation in a way that seemed right at the time, but afterwards you had not been able to satisfactorily explain why you did what you did? If so, you have engaged in what Schön calls knowing-in-action. Your actions were informed by reference to the subconscious store of prior knowledge and experience you have built up through your practice to date. Schön identifies two further types of much more active, conscious reflective practice. Reflection-in-action occurs when you deal with something as it happens, while simultaneously reflecting upon it, thus arriving at a considered response. The process of self-evaluation discussed above is an example of reflection-on-action, Schön’s third category of reflective practice.
A knowledge of learning theory informs the last two of these. This is where psychology comes in. The theories we will be exploring in this book are rooted in the field of psychology.

Structure of the book

Chapter 2 starts with a consideration of behaviourism, the perspective that made the first major impact on the way in which teaching and learning are conducted. This perspective interprets the world in terms of externally observable behaviour. The chapter summarises the work of the major behaviourists, identifying their contributions to the teaching and learning debate. Chapter 3 spells out the implications of this perspective for practice within the lifelong learning sector, with particular reference to planning, methods, assessment...


  1. Cover Page
  2. Title
  3. Copyright
  4. Contents
  5. Acknowledgements
  6. 1 Introduction
  7. 2 Behaviourism
  8. 3 Implications of behaviourism for practice
  9. 4 Cognitive approaches
  10. 5 Implications of cognitive approaches for practice
  11. 6 The humanistic approach
  12. 7 Andragogy
  13. 8 Social learning
  14. 9 Attention, perception and learning
  15. 10 Memory and learning
  16. Glossary of terms
  17. Index
Estilos de citas para Learning Theory and Classroom Practice in the Lifelong Learning Sector

APA 6 Citation

Gould, J. (2012). Learning Theory and Classroom Practice in the Lifelong Learning Sector (2nd ed.). SAGE Publications. Retrieved from https://www.perlego.com/book/1431383/learning-theory-and-classroom-practice-in-the-lifelong-learning-sector-pdf (Original work published 2012)

Chicago Citation

Gould, Jim. (2012) 2012. Learning Theory and Classroom Practice in the Lifelong Learning Sector. 2nd ed. SAGE Publications. https://www.perlego.com/book/1431383/learning-theory-and-classroom-practice-in-the-lifelong-learning-sector-pdf.

Harvard Citation

Gould, J. (2012) Learning Theory and Classroom Practice in the Lifelong Learning Sector. 2nd edn. SAGE Publications. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/1431383/learning-theory-and-classroom-practice-in-the-lifelong-learning-sector-pdf (Accessed: 14 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

Gould, Jim. Learning Theory and Classroom Practice in the Lifelong Learning Sector. 2nd ed. SAGE Publications, 2012. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.