Theoretical Approaches to Learning Term Paper

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theoretical approaches to learning and explores possibilities of learning applications to special education. A matrix is presented and the information in the matrix is explained within a professional setting that deals with special education. The theoretical approaches to learning provide the framework for development of leaning skills and are examined in detail.

Keywords: Learning, Learning theories, Cognitive development, Bandura's social learning, Pavlov, Classical condition, special education, Erikson's theory, social development theory, experiential learning.

Bandura's Social Learning Theory

Social learning theory by Bandura highlights the societal processes in learning suggesting that people learn from each other using the means of observation and imitation. This means that children watch and learn behavior of adults and family members and during the process of observation they pick up skills which they imitate. The theory of social learning requires an analysis of the psychological processes of motivation, attention and memory and these three cognitive processes enhance social learning as motivation is the basis of how far one is able to learn, memory helps in retention of learning principles and attention is necessary in observation as only keen attention aids the learning process. The theory seems to be a development of behaviorist theory although well connected to cognitive learning theory.

Bandura's theory is based on the assumption that people learn through observation and that most behaviors acquired by us have developed through learning and observing other people's behavior. While observing others, models of ideal behavior are formed and these models which serve as coded information are stored and later serve as proper guides that could be evoked for any subsequent action. As Bandura explained this, "Most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others, one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action." (Bandura 1977). There is a continuous reciprocal interaction between cognitive, behavioral and environmental conditions and according to social learning theory, necessary conditions for effective modeling involves attention to elements such as complexity and functional value of behavior as well as sensory capacities of others, retention or memory through symbolic coding and mental imagery, reproduction of the image through physical capabilities and self observation and motivation to imitate the behavior learnt or factors that will help reinforce certain behaviors (Bandura, 1977). Bandura's thesis was based on reciprocal determinism which suggests that events and behavior cause each other and not only is environment responsible for behavior, the opposite is also true and behavior can change the environment as well. Personality and the learning process are constantly influenced by the interaction of the environment, behavior and psychological processes of mental imagery, coding etc. Bandura's social learning theory has been compared with Vygotsky's social development theory and Lave's situated learning theory both of which have elaborated on social learning.

Pavlov's Classical Conditioning

Classical conditioning is one of the earliest learning theories and the focus here is on learning as a reflexive process and automotive learning is developed through evoking a reaction to a stimulus. Generalization of the learning process which is an essential part of development happens when the original response to a stimulus is also evoked by other stimuli so a specific response of fear towards a particular object may evoke responses of fear to similar objects or related situations resulting in learning of the response of fear (Pavlov, 1927). Classical condition was first demonstrated by Ivan Pavlov in 1903.

Pavlov suggested that there could be several types of learning and the most basic form would be associative learning that helps in drawing out associations between events. Pavlov explained classical and operant conditioning with the principles of associative learning. Pavlov studied what he considered as psychic reflexes and noticed that dogs learnt to salivate not just with the smell of food but also with the sound of the bell that was associated with the food. Gradually dogs learnt to salivate at the sound of the bell even without the food. Pavlov demonstrated the stimulus response bonds that are formed in behavior as considering the terminology used by psychologists, the food is the unconditioned stimulus (UCS) and the dog's salivation is the unconditioned response (UCR) whereas the bell is a conditioned stimulus (CS) which produces the conditioned response (CR) of salivation after the bell and the food are paired several times (Pavlov, 1927).

Pavlov's findings were later used by Watson to study such parings on a child. In this experiment, Albert, an 11-month-old infant developed fear reactions after exposure to white rats was paired with loud noise. This suggested that conditioning as a method of learning could help explain phobias in humans.

Vygotsky's Social Development Theory

Social Development Theory developed by Vygotsky is based on constructivism and suggests that social interaction precedes development as cognition occurs as a process of social behavior and socialization. Social interaction plays a role in cognitive development and Vygotsky felt social learning tend to precede development as it is only through social learning that children develop cognition. Vygotsky stated "Every function in the child's cultural development appears twice: first, on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people (interpsychological) and then inside the child (intrapsychological)." (Vygotsky, 1978). There are two other important concepts in Vygotsky's social learning theory and this includes the More Knowledgeable Other or MKO and the Zone of Proximal Development or ZPD. The MKO refers to the more knowledgeable other from whom a particular task or concept is learned and this is very important as MKO is usually a social being from whom the child or individual learns certain behaviors. Thus he may be a teacher or a coach or a younger person or an older adult who the learner observes and picks up certain behaviors.

The Zone of Proximal Development or ZPD refers to a learner's ability to perform a task either under guidance or with collaboration and learning ability develops in this zone (Vygotsky, 1978). Vygotsky emphasized on connections between people, shared experiences and socio-cultural contexts, social interactions and all mediation through communication that enhances or contributes to social functions. Internalization of tools related to social learning helped in the development of cognitive ability. Vygotsky's theory of social development emphasizes on learning contexts and learning is seen as a reciprocal experience between student and teacher (Vygotsky, 1978).

Erikson's Stages of Development

Erikson identified eight stages of identity and psychosocial development and aspects of identity such as ego identity, personal identity and socio-cultural identity. Erikson's psychosocial theory considers how external factors as well as society could have an impact on personality development. Although personality development is explained for an entire life cycle and the stages are given as follows:

1. Infant (Hope) - Basic Trust vs. Mistrust

2. Toddler (Will) - Autonomy vs. Shame

3. Preschooler (Purpose) - Initiative vs. Guilt

4. School-Age Child (Competence) - Industry vs. Inferiority

5. Adolescent (Fidelity) - Identity vs. Identity Diffusion

6. Young Adult (Love) - Intimacy vs. Isolation

7. Middle-aged Adult (Care) - Generativity vs. Self-absorption

8. Older Adult (Wisdom) - Integrity vs. Despair

The eight stages of development are infancy until 18 months, stage of early childhood until 3 years, preschooler 3 to 5 years, late childhood until 12 years, adolescence until 18 years, young adult to 35 years, middle age until 55 and old age until death.

These eight stages, spanning from birth to death, are explained as follows.

1. Infancy: Birth-18 Months Old

Basic Trust vs. Mistrust - Hope

During this stage, the parent provides, food, shelter and security to the child and the child develops a sense of trust or mistrust and a thus a feeling of hope at this stage. This is also a learning process in which the child learns to trust not just parents but also strangers.

2. Early Childhood Years: 18 Months to 3 Years

Autonomy vs. Shame - Will

At this stage the child learns new skills, self-esteem and undergoes moral development. The child also develops a sense of certainty and can also show defiance, temper tantrums and stubbornness. At this stage learning skills are associated with the development of self-esteem.

3. Preschooler: 3 to 5 Years

Initiative vs. Guilt - Purpose

During this phase children try to imitate adults and develop their sense of guilt when they do something wrong. When they also move beyond the guilt and develop an initiative, a sense of purpose is learnt.

4. School Age Child: 6 to 12 Years

Industry vs. Inferiority - Competence

At this stage the child develops a significant relationship with peers, school, teaches and develops competence by learning special skills. This is the stage of learning different skills at home and school and the child generally expands the learning agenda.

5. Adolescent: 12 to 18 Years

Identity vs. Role Confusion - Fidelity

This stage involves developing and recognizing a sense of identity. The struggle of the adolescent is to fit in, and find his or her own place in this world and establish his unique identity. In this stage…[continue]

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