Definition: Learning is… • A change in behavior as a result of experience or practice. • The acquisition of knowledge. • Knowledge gained through study. • To gain knowledge of, or skill in, something through study, teaching, instruction or experience. • The process of gaining knowledge. • A process by which behavior is changed, shaped or controlled. • The individual process of constructing understanding based on experience from a wide range of sources.
Some First Principles • Learning is something all humans do • Fetuses learn • Infants learn • Children learn • Adults learn • Learning is not uniquely human – all living things learn • Learning evolved as an adaptation for promoting survival
What is Learning? • Learning is a process • Learning is a product
Process of Learning • Learning involves the individual • Brain • Body • Learning involves others • Groups • Organizations • Communities • Society • Learning takes place somewhere • In physical environment • With things and tools • Learning occurs over time
Products of Learning • Learning is about ideas and concepts • Learning is about behaviors and skills • Learning is about attitudes and values
Definition: Theories are… • What is a theory? • A theory provides a general explanation for observations made over time. • A theory explains and predicts behavior. • A theory can never be established beyond all doubt. • A theory may be modified. • Theories seldom have to be thrown out completely if thoroughly tested but sometimes a theory may be widely accepted for a long time and later disproved.
So, how do people learn? • Easy answer: We don’t know for sure. • Difficult answer: We have multiple theories that provide glimpses of an answer from many different perspectives. These stem from psychologists, philosophers, sociologists, anthropologists, evolutionary biologists, linguists, neuroscientists…
Broad domains of theories • Behaviorism • Cognitivism • Constructivism • Sociocultural I believe that (the) educational process has two sides—one psychological and one sociological. . . Profound differences in theory are never gratuitous or invented. They grow out of conflicting elements in a genuine problem. -John Dewey, In Dworkin, M. (1959) Dewey on Education
How did we get to this point? A bit of history… Where can truth and knowledge be found?
Plato (428-347) • Truth is found within ourselves (rationalist) • Ideas belong to the REAL world, in which ideas are eternal and flawless. • Knowledge is innate—in place at birth • Knowledge is “drawn out” when teacher asks questions; help students recall fundamental insights they possess (self reflection) • Learning is a passive process
Aristotle (470–399 ) • Truth is found outside of • ourselves using our senses (Empiricist) • Developed a scientific method of gathering data to study the world around him. • “There’s nothing in the intellect that wasn’t previously in the senses”
John Locke (1632-1704) • Plato is wrong, Aristotle is right. • “Tabula rasa” or “blank slate” theory of learning. “Let us then suppose the mind to be … white paper, void of all characters, without any ideas. How comes it to be furnished? Whence comes it by that vast store, which the busy and boundless fancy of man has painted on it with an almost endless variety? Whence has it all the materials of reason and knowledge? To this I answer, in one word, from experience. In that all our knowledge is founded; and from that it ultimately derives itself.”
John Locke (1632-1704) • child enters world devoid of content but with biologically preformed capacities & processes. • Immediately experiences environment through senses. • “Simple ideas” remembered and built upon by “internal” phenomena (concentration, puzzlement, etc.). • child must have experience to develop & all complex ideas trace back to combinations of simple ideas. • Learner is still passive; experience happens to learner rather than learner engaging in it, even perhaps creating it.
So what? Why is an understanding of learning theory important for educators?
Epistemology – Theory - Practice • All three of these need to align • Our beliefs about knowledge • Our beliefs about learning • Our strategies for practice
Learning theories as glasses • What would a classroom look like as viewed through the lens of: • Plato (rationalist) • Aristotle (empiricist) • Locke (tabula rasa) • Or from these perspectives? • Behaviorism • Constructivism • Sociocultural • Cognitivism
Theories of Second Language Acquisition Behaviorist Theory dominated both psychology and linguistics in the 1950’s. This theory suggests that external stimuli (extrinsic) can elicit an internalresponse which in turn can elicit an internal stimuli (intrinsic) that lead to external responses. • The learning process has been described by S-R-R theorists as a process forming stimulus-response-reward chains. These chains come about because of the nature of the environment and the nature of the learner. • The environment provides the stimuli and the learner provides the responses. Production of certain aspects of language and the environment provide the reward. • The environment plays a major role in the exercise of the learners’ abilities since it provides the stimuli that can shape responses selectively rewarding some responses and not others.
Behaviorist Theory (Continued) • When the learner learns a language, this learning includes a set of stimulus-response-reward (S-R-R) chains. • The learner learns to imitate the productive responses provided by the environment. Main protagonists: Ivan Pavlov, John Watson, Edward Thorndike, B.F. Skinner. • Learning happens when a correct response is demonstrated following the presentation of a specific environmental stimulus. • Learning is changed behaviour and speech is considered primary partly because it is the first medium that the child masters. Skills are taught in a specific order: Listening and speaking then reading/writing.
Behaviourism: Main Principles • Conditioning: Learning is seen as a process of developing connections between a stimulus and a response. This process is called conditioning. • Habit formation: An individual responds to a stimulus by behaving in a particular way. If the behaviour is reinforced (i.e. rewards or punishment) then the likelihood of that behaviour occurring on a subsequent occasion will be increased or decreased. As the behaviour is reinforced, habits are formed. • Importance of environment: Learning is a result of environmental rather than genetic factors. The child is born as a clean slate and the environment writes its messages on this clean slate.
Behaviourism • It had a powerful influence on second and foreign language teaching between the 1940s and the 1970s. • Influenced the development of the audio lingual method. • Instruction is to elicit the desired response from the learner who is presented with a target stimulus. • Student as passive receiver of information memorized dialogues and sentence patterns by heart.
Cognitive Constructivism - Piaget • From the moment we are born we are actively involved in the process of learning. • We learn things as a direct result of our experiences but we make sense of those experiences at different stages of our lives. • Piaget believed that cognitive development occurs through a sequence of successive qualitative changes in cognitive structures.
Piaget’s Four Stages of Cognitive Development • Sensorimotor Stage (birth - 2 years): • actions become more intentional and integrated into patterns, there is an increased awareness of self and surroundings. • Preoperational Thought Stage (2 - 7 years): • development of language and conceptual thought occurs.
Piaget’s Four Stages of Cognitive Development (2) • Concrete Operations Stage (7 - 11 years): • increased ability to apply logical thought to concrete problems, thinking is still primarily related to immediate experience. • Formal Operations Stage (11 years on): • ability to apply logic to a variety of problems; higher order thinking occurs.
Constructivism (1) Based on the work of Jean Piaget and Jerome Bruner, Lev Vygotsky. Constructivism views learning as a process in which the learner actively constructs or builds new ideas or concepts. We can distinguish between: • cognitive constructivism which is about how the individual learner understands things, in terms of developmental stages and learning styles, • social constructivism, which emphasises how meanings and understandings grow out of social encounters.
Constructivism(2) We can distinguish between: • cognitive constructivism which is about how the individual learner understands things, in terms of developmental stages and learning styles, • social constructivism, which emphasises how meanings and understandings grow out of social encounters.
Social constructivism - Vygostky • Contemporary notions of social constructivism derive from the work of Vygotsky and Bruner. • Vygotsky’s theory states that knowledge is co-constructed and that individuals learn from one another. It is called a social constructivist theory because in Vygotsky’s opinion the learner must be engaged in the learning process. Learning happens with the assistance of other people, thus contributing the social aspect of the theory.
Implications for teaching (1/2) • Learning should be whole, authentic, and "real": Piaget helps us to understand that meaning is constructed as children interact in meaningful ways with the world around them. Thus, That means less emphasis on isolated "skill" exercises that try to teach something like long division or end of sentence punctuation. Students still learn these things in cognitive classrooms, but they are more likely to learn them if they are engaged in meaningful activities (such as operating a class "store" or "bank" or writing and editing a class newspaper).
Implications for teaching (2/2) • The richer the experience, the more elaborate the cognitive structure development. • Materials and activities should be geared for the appropriate level of cognitive development.
Bibliography • Cummins, J. (1979a). Cognitive/academic language proficiency, linguistic interdependence, the optimal age question and some other matters. Working Papers in Bilingualism. No. 19 (pp. 197-205). Toronto: Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. • Ellis, R. (2003). The study of second language acquisition (10th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. • Gass, S.,& Selinker, L. (2001). Second language acquisition (2nd ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. • Krashen, S. D. (1981). Second language acquisition and second language learning. Oxford: Pergamon press. • Thomas, W., & Collier, V. (1997). School effectiveness for language minority students. National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education Resource Collection Series, No. 9.