There are many theories on how people learn. The social learning theory, constructivism, behavioral, cognitive information processing, and many others all suggest ideas about how people process information and learn. While they all make strong cases and have valid points about how individuals learn information and retain it, my views on the subject do not align with one specific theory. There are too many people who learn in too many ways for just one to be correct. For this reason, my informal learning theory combines pieces of different theories in order to create the most effective teaching method.
The social learning theory, proposed in 1977 by Albert Bandura, was groundbreaking. His theory was born out of traditional learning theory but Bandura was the first to realize that not all learning types could be accounted for by direct reinforcement. Basically, Bandura’s proposal consisted of behavioral learning, which was defined by an individual’s ability to retain information by observing another perform a task or operation (2013). My informal learning theory is grounded primarily in Bandura’s proposal. The potential to learn through observation is great, but often overlooked. A person assigned with teaching a task to another could save time by simply showing the individual how to do the task.
Constructivism is another learning theory, primarily theoretical, and substantiated by a more hands-on approach. The theory is chiefly based on the nature of the learner, because it offers a wide array of learning experiences simply by offering itself as a hands-on task. My informal learning theory is also built upon constructivism. I enjoy this approach because it is relatively informal and creative. Its purpose is to inspire innovation and encourage a variety of intelligences, from interpersonal to kinesthetic (2013). The constructivism approach ensures that individual’s will not only learn but will integrate the ability to discover and experiment into their task-based knowledge.
It makes sense that the behavioral elements of social learning theory as well as the hands-on elements of constructivism are the primary parts of my informal learning theory. Logically, first a person would watch somebody perform a task and then they would attempt to perform it themselves. Perhaps the way the demonstrator performed the task would work for the student and they would retain the information, having learned something successfully. Or perhaps, through the concepts of constructivism, the student would begin developing innovation and creativity as they discovered that the demonstrated way was not comfortable for them. This would entice them to try different ways, encouraging them to expand on interpersonal, intrapersonal, kinesthetic, verbal, logical, mathematical, visual/spatial, and many other types of intelligence. Rather than sticking to more traditional forms of learning theory that consist of students only listening to information, or reading information and regurgitating it, my informal theory encourages them to learn in ways that work for them. It encourages them to learn in ways that suit their learning styles, enabling them to retain information the best while also expanding their curiosity and capacity for discovery, among other things.
Another important element of education and learning are the key principles of effective instruction. Though educators can all have their own way of doing things, a set of guidelines can help in difficult situations. In some cases, despite the theories they follow, educators may need to be reminded of basic steps to follow and the key principles of effective instruction can offer that. While I do believe that some of the fact are very helpful to educators, or anybody trying to instruct another person, a few of them are unrealistic and harsh.
The first two principles are simple enough and helpful. Principle states that you will start where your students are. It is a basic concept that always needs to be followed. Educators and instructors need to start at the level their students are on. If the student knows “x” amount of information that is where the instructor should begin their lesson. A brief refresher may be in order, but nothing in depth is necessary. The second principle is to know where your student is going. This is defined by having a vision of what the student will know by the time you have finished teaching them. This is important for outlining lesson plans and keeping students on track. Having a definitive idea of what the student will know by the end of the lesson, or entirety of the coursework, will give the instructor a better idea of how to plan things out.
Principle three is where the instructions begin to get harsh. Principle three says, “Expect them to get there.” This does not seem too bad but the expectations of this principle are not based on who the student is but rather who the student will be once the instructor is “done” with them (2013). This is unrealistic. Having a vision for what a student should know by the end of the coursework is good for outlining lessons but in reality some students learn slow while others learn fast. Each student also learns differently. Expecting them to get there is good but this principle makes it sound like the instructor has decided they will get there, whether they learn the information or not.
Principle four and five are very helpful, stating that instructors will explain to students how they will get there as well as give regular progress and feedback. Explaining to students how they will get there can consist of revealing study tips, distributing organizers, and using scaffolding (2013). It is important to let the student in on how they will be learning and progressing. It is equally important to keep the student informed on how they are doing with their lessons. Regular assessments and timely feedback allow the student time to work on things that need to change while feeling good about the things they are doing correctly.
As for the last two key principles to effective instruction, they need to be entirely thrown out, or at least modified. Principle six suggests instructors take the quickest and most direct route when instructing students. I agree with the most direct route but the quickest suggests the sloppiest and this is not indicative of a dedicated educator. Instructors should find simple ways to explain things to students, but doing it quickly will not always work. Some students need time to process. Principle seven dictates an instructor never work harder than their student, which is laughable. Some students take more effort to teach than others. If instructors do not work harder than their easiest student, where does this leave the students who are struggling? They will continue to struggle and eventually be left behind. This is why we have students who fall through the cracks. If anything, instructors should work harder than all of their students and always be searching for new ways to relate information to them.
As you can see my learning theory takes on a more eclectic approach. I have combined Constructivism and behavioral elements of social learning theory in order to make an observant, hands-on teaching style. I have also modified the key principles of instruction. A few of the principles were unrealistic. One could argue that they were even mildly irresponsible for an educator to engage in, given the spectrum of learning styles that students present. I believe that even with my modifications, there is not one learning theory that is correct, nor are there any set of key principles that are correct. However, many of the theories and the principles do need to be modified for optimum success.
Gavetti, G. (2012). Toward a Behavioral Theory of Strategy. Organization Science, 267-285.
Kumpulainen, K., & Wray, D. (2013). Classroom Interactions and Social Learning: From Theory to Practice. London: Routledge.
Twomney-Fosnot, C. (2013). Constructivism: Theory, Perspectives, and Practice, Second Edition. New York: Teachers College Press.
Tyler, R. W. (2013). Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction. Chicago: University of Chicago.