I’m taking an introduction to sociology class at the moment, and in yesterday’s class I had one of those ah-ha moments. Back when I was studying learning theories (as part of the Master of Arts in Distributed Learning program) I had a hard time grasping the relationship between the different theories. I was trying to analyze learning theories as a “natural scientist” rather than a “social scientist”. With a background in computer science and physics, I suppose that isn’t too surprising … however, a paradigms shift was definitely necessary for me to grasp learning theories.
In sociology class we are exploring the different ways in which socialists attempt to describe culture (specifically western culture). Each of the sociologists do their analysis using a different theoretical framework. It is within the confines of their frameworks that they are able to describe how people interact with the society. Reasons for a given behavior can be describe in many different ways, based upon the framework used for the description.
This concept also applies to learning theories. For example, behaviorist learning theory is not an attempt to describe absolutely how everyone learns: rather, it is an attempt to describe how learning occurs within the constraints of the framework. In the case of behaviorist learning theory, the constraint is the stimulus-response framework. The cognitive learning theories use the framework of the brain as an empty vessel, and learning is the process of filling the vessel. The constructivist learning theories use the framework of building learning through social interactions.
Each learning theory is an attempt to describe how learning occurs given the specific framework. Learning theories are not absolutes. As an educator, my job is to alter the frameworks as necessary to ensure that learning occurs.