Saturday, June 23, 2012

Module 2: Cognitivism, Learning Theories, and _Isms... Oh MY!

Being a student of education, I have taken more than one class on learning theories. At every institution I have attended from community college to ASU to NAU and now Walden, I have had at least one class dedicated to this subject. And I have groaned more than once in regards to having to read and learn about learning theories again. I have been teaching for the past seven years. My classroom experience ranges from grades 4th - 8th. I have taught general ed, ESL, ELD, and dual language classes. I have written and planned lessons for a variety of different subjects and classes. And never once in my experience in the classroom did I stop and ask myself is the a behaviorist, cognitvist, or constructivist approach? And here I am after eight years of higher education and seven years of teaching, asking myself why are learning theories so relevant as I try to comprehend Marcy Driscoll'Psychology of Learning for Instruction.  See the ironic thing is that after having taken multiple classes on learning theories, my grasp and understanding for them is minimal at best.  The congitivist frame of thought would explain this phenomena to the fact that I have failed to find learning theories relevant.  Without relevance, I have not given anchors to true learning and understanding.  So I took a break from Driscoll's book and began to read blog posts by Bill Kerr and Karl Kapp. After reading Bill Kerr's post, "_isms as filter, not blinker" the importance of learning theories began to make sense to me.  He states, "How else could we have a big change without a theory to justify it and help us think about it?" (Kerr, 2007, pp. 2).  Learning theories are externalization of our thought process and how we learn.  We need those learning theories to justify, support, revamp, reform, and change the way we teach. For example, Kerr referenced a comment that Stephen Downs made stating that "much of the instructional design community remains rooted in behaviorism" (Kerr, 2007, pp. 5) and then goes on to make the statement that behaviorism was a theory that the majority of people had left behind decades ago (Kerr, 2007).  I had made the realization last module that the high stakes of standardized testing keeps behaviorism to be an approach that most teachers utilize, even though best practices show that there are other, more effective approaches to teaching.  Without learning theory to support what best practices are and what type of teaching is most effective, we would be blindly picking at what the best thing to do is.  Kerr and Kapp both agree that one learning theory does not completely explain every aspect and every situation in regards to how we process information.  Instead of subscribing to only one form of thought, they propose taking pieces of multiple different learning theories and "apply it effectively" (Kapp, 2007, pp. 3).  I like this idea because while I see the problems with taking solely a behaviorist approach to teaching, I also see that it has its place.  The whole concept of a grade system seems to be a behaviorist concept.  As I continue to contemplate the meaning and significance of learning theories, I am beginning to realize that "learning theory is indispensable to the curriculum reform effort" (Kerr, 2007, pp. 2). And for some additional food for thought, I came across an excellent four minute video by Dr. George Siemens as he speaks about the conflict of learning theories and human nature.


Kerr, B. (2007, January 1). _isms as filter, not blinker [Web log post]. Retrieved 

Kapp, K. (2007, January 2). Out and about: Discussion on educational schools of thought [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Comments Left at:


  1. Yes, as educators, we have created and developed numerous of lesson plans for students. I personally think about the structure of the lesson and the products. Therefore, I believe Kapp and Kerr are practical in the beliefs about education.

  2. Hi Laura,

    I really enjoyed reading your post. I totally agree with what you are saying about standardized testing. The stakes are extremely high when it comes test scores which makes it almost impossible to implement the cognitive method into instruction. In the county where I teach, skill and drill is definitely utilized the most because of the pressure that is put on teachers to improve test scores.

  3. Hey Laura,
    I agree about the constant exposure to learning theory and the lack of comprehension. I have an adequate grasp of the 'big 3'. But as I blogged this week, I find it incredible that as practioners, many of us us still can not easily and clearly articulate the difference between them. It would seem to me that this would be a must for those of us in the field. But maybe it has something to do with the fact that the experts often times disagree on their definitions.

  4. It does seem that we seem to stick with the behaviorist theory many times in education. I also like the idea of taking parts of each theory and then using these particular parts, versus just using one particular theory. In the end, this allows you to see the different strategies and tools that is included in each kind of learning theory.

  5. I agree with you about the learning theories. I'm like you. I never said to myself, "Self, you need to create a behaviorist lesson plan for tomorrow morning." I do think that they are useful, however, for guiding thinking. Theories become a framework for looking at a subject. My way of looking at is take the good from each and ignore the rest (and groan when you read about it)!