Learning and behaviourist learning theories impact current educational practices

Learning
theories have a great impact on the way teaching is delivered on an everyday
basis. Over the years there have been a number of different theories that have appeared
and they continue to appear as more research is carried out. This essay will
focus on the ways constructivist and behaviourist learning theories impact
current educational practices in Wales using the backdrop of the Foundation phase
as well Higher Education educational practices in Wales. It will discuss what
appears to be a pedagogical shift in education, moving away from the essentialist
views to the more student led/ friendly philosophy of progressivism. This
change in the philosophy of education sees a shift in power and attention from
the teacher to the student.

 

The
Foundation Phase is the curriculum framework for children between the ages 3
and 7 in Wales. It was first piloted in 2004 and it was fully rolled out in
2011 for all primary schools and nurseries across across Wales (Lewis and Thomas, 2016). This new
framework signalled a shift in pedagogical priorities from a traditional
educational experience with the teacher at the centre to an educational
pedagogy where the child learns through active and experiential learning. The
curriculum framework stated out 7 different areas of learning which include:
knowledge abd understanding of the world and creative development. There is a
strong focus on the child learning first hand and outdoors in an active manner.

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The Welsh Assembly Government intended for the Foundation Phase to focus on the
holistic development of the child. The role of the teacher is to be a
facilitator and provide support to the child (Waters,2016). This change in practice from a teacher led learning experience
to a student/child led learning experience shows a shift in educational
philosophy. A classroom under the Foundation Phase would have all the signs of
what a constructivist classroom would look like.

 

Constructivism
is a ‘psychological and philosophical perspective contending that individuals
form or construct much of what they learn and understand’ (Bruning et al., 2004 cited in Schunk,2011 P.231). Constructivism
views knowledge as being actively constructed by the the learner rather than it
being something that learners acquire. Therefore, students learn better when
they have constructed their own understanding (Pritchard,2017). Key theorists in this perspective include John
Dewey, Vygotsky and Bruner. Although these researchers differ in their emphasis
on factors that affect learning and learners’ cognitive processes, the theoretical
perspectives they espouse may be loosely grouped and referred to as
constructivism. In their research, they all tend to provide human factors as
explanations for learning and how it occurs rather than environmental explanations.  John Dewey is seen as being one of the most
influential theorists in experiential learning. Lee Vygotsky was a Russian
psychologist whose work became influential and popular relatively recently.

Bruner was an American psychologist that built upon the work of Vygotsky. Dewey
is seen as being the philosophical founder of this approach while Bruner is
seen as a key theorist in cognitive constructivism. Vygotsky on the other hand,
is seen as being the founder of social constructivism. This essay will mainly
focus on the work of Vygotsky and social constructivism.

 

Social
Constructivist theory places a great role on the interactions between the
students themselves as well as with the teacher (Pritchard,2017). According to Vygotsky, student’s interactions
with their environment whether it be through support from a teacher or
collaboration with their fellow students encourages and stimulates their
developmental processes as well as cognitive growth (Schunk,2011). This view is highlighted in the Foundation Phase by
the focus on active and collaborative play. In the Foundation Phase, the power
in the classroom ideally lies equally between the teacher and the student. The importance
of meaningful collaborations between the students and the teachers are further
shown in the Foundation Phase by the improved ratio of teachers to students
down to 1:8 (Lewis and Thomas, 2016). This
proves how Vygotsky’s Social Constructivist theories have influenced
contemporary educational practice.