What’s the theory behind all of this?

I have always been interested in the psychology of learning, which entails biological influences, social pressures, and environmental factors that affect how people think, act, and feel.  As teachers, we have a huge impact on how students gain knowledge, which is largely dependent on their learning style.  Believe it or not,  it is likely that our teaching practices and philosophies stem from how we learn ourselves and we tend to teach the same way.  At least at the beginning of our careers, we did because it was familiar, safe, and essentially our life preserver for those first years of trying to keep our head above water.  However, what if students don’t learn the way we do?  How do we know what type of learning styles our students have?  How do we adjust our teaching to address all of the learning needs?  How do we remain consistent?

Our prof, Alec,  asked us the following question to hook us into our topic this week, a very cognitivist thing to do.

“When is it the case that you know something?”

  • When you can teach it to someone (Catherine)
  • When you can explain it, manipulate it,… take it further (Lisa)
  • You can know something but you can know more about it (Dean)
  • When you can explain it from different angles (Jenny)
  • When you can apply something that you have learned (Caleigh)
  • When you can do something automatically without looking up instructions (Dalton)
  • Rephrase and apply to new settings (Meira)
  • Repetition (Dalton)
  • Thinking about something through a critical lens, taking facts a step further, making connections (Leigh)
  • I don’t think we ever really do- we only “know” what we are taught or experience- but it doesn’t necessarily mean we know it. That’s really abstract (Megan)

All of the responses above are correct but do we consistently allow students opportunities to repeat, explain, teach, apply, connect, analyze, and evaluate the new information that we are throwing at them on a daily basis?  If so, how do you go about doing this for all types of learners at all different levels of learning all within the same class?  It seems I have more questions than answers, which demonstrates my level of learning within this topic and this has forced me to evaluate my own teaching practices.  I am an audio-visual learner (looking forward to seeing next week’s group presentation), so I took it upon myself to find videos to help me further explore each of the learning theories discussed in class (don’t worry, Alec, you did a fine job of introducing the topics).


Watson and Skinner developed the theory of behaviourism and identify how environmental events can influence how one acts.  Behavior can be controlled or modified based on the consequences of a particular behaviour.  Reinforcers help to alter behaviours to preferred actions, such as raising your hand to speak in class.

I definitely use this type of approach to learning as it is a form of extrinsic motivation that has proven to be successful.  Although I don’t have my own class anymore, for which I used a classroom econony approach for management,  I often use the First, Then approach with students that have a difficult time initiating and /or completing non-preferred academic tasks.  This allows students to do their preferred activity after they complete the directive that is being asked of them, which is usually a non-preferred task.  For example, a student may want to draw a picture instead of writing their story, so I provide them with options to do their writing (scribe, chunk, use technology, speech to text, work with a partner) and then they can draw a picture.  For each student, it is important to know what their threshold is but it is important to remain consistent and have them part of the decision making by providing manageable choices.  I use student choices all the time but the choice options always relate to the task that is being requested.  If a student doesn’t want to draw, I offer the choices of drawing on paper with pencil crayons or drawing on a whiteboard with dry-erase rock paper scissors GIF by CBSmarkers.  Either way, their choice is about what media to use, not whether or not they are going to draw.  Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t always effective but this approach is something that is second nature to me now.  In any approach, there is usually a carrot to draw a student in to complete a task with the understanding that they can complete a preferred one afterward, such as a brain break walk, a rock/paper/scissors battle with me, verbal praise, celebrating completed work with admin or parents, etc.


Cognitivism theorists, such as Piaget and Ausubel, identify the importance of knowing how information is received, organized, stored, and retrieved by the mind of the learner.  This learning theory emphasizes retention and recall of information through the use of quality teaching practices.  “Instructional explanations, demonstrations, illustrative examples and matched non-examples are all considered to be instrumental in guiding student learning” (Ertmer and Newby, pg. 51, 2013).

After doing more research on this type of learning theory, I see many ways in which my teaching practices reflect this approach.  First off, Bloom’s Taxonomy focuses on a set of three hierarchical models used to classify educational learning objectives into levels of complexity and specificity (Wikipedia).  When creating assignments, I use a three-tiered approach that relates to Bloom’s levels which are dependent on the level of each of my students.  Although they are getting the same assignment, there are ways that I can simplify the task and, conversely, enhance the task to challenge all levels of learners.  It is imperative to not only hook students at the beginning of each lesson/concept, but I try to ensure that I teach pre-requisite knowledge, review information regularly, chunk tasks into manageable pieces, provide familiar graphic organizers for independent use, apply mnemonic devices for those that benefit from it, and always have visual aids for guidance and consistent reference.
These strategies not only help build upon prior knowledge through Piaget’s concept of assimilation, but it also allows for opportunities to accommodate this new information by helping students develop new schema through experiential learning opportunities.  To understand students learning styles, I always used Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences framework and activities at the beginning of each year so I could preview my students’ learning profiles as well as have students identify them so they can start to advocate for their own learning needs.


Constructivism is a learning theory that allows students to create meaning and knowledge from lived experiences because they are able to interact with a problem or concept.  Students take on a more active role which motivates and engages them in their learning process.  Higher-order thinking skills, such as reasoning, problem-solving, and application, are utilized in this approach.

Although not used as often as the other two learning theories, I have used a constructivist approach in activities such as role-playing in my health topics and debating in my persuasive writing activities.  I consistently like to have students work in cooperative learning groups to have opportunities to share as well as experience other perspectives as these skills are transferrable into real-world experiences in the workplace.   Luckily, the education world understands the importance of this type of learning by having pre-service teachers participate in internships, the most valuable part of the program in my opinion.
Another teaching practice I partake in that relate to this approach is the gradual release of responsibility.  I often organize my lessons based on the “I Do, We Do, You Do approach.  This matches with the Zones of Proximal Development work by Vygotsky.  Some other approaches or tasks that would also work is Genius Hour, Three Act Math, and any student activism projects.



This relatively new type of learning theory by Siemens is something I have attempted in my classroom experience but not one that I use regularly.  This approach emphasizes the connectedness of learning for which we gain perspectives from others in order to grow and develop in our own way of thinking about the world.  Those that value and utilize this approach are aware of one another while they are learning and they continue to build, connect, and improve based on the help of the connections they make along the way.  It is a socially connected learning process based on the concept that knowledge is a networked product.  One learns new ideas from others, applies them to what they already know to construct a deeper level of understanding through these conceptual connections.
The way Alec structures his EdTech class is a prime example of how connectivism works.  I have learned just as much from others that I have connected within these classes as I have Alec himself.  This is a powerful community that is built from this structure and we aren’t solely dependent on the prof for our learning, we rely on each other.  Blogging, collaboration, problem-solving, and application of our knowledge are the ingredients for optimal learning in this online environment.  However, this can definitely be done in an in-person environment as well.   Years ago, I used Blogmeister or Blogster with my students to share and publish their work, although it was very surface level.  I also attempted a class Twitter account for which an individual student each day got to tweet out something we did that day.  Again, I didn’t get deep into connecting with others, but there was an early attempt when these types of platforms were just being introduced to the world.  Now we have graduate classes such as this that help us be able to better utilize these social media tools for better learning opportunities for those that thrive with developing connections.

busy cartoon network GIFAfter this reflective analysis of my past and present teaching practices and how they align with the different learning theories, I can see areas for which I can explore further and ones in which I can refine to better suit the needs of my students.  It’s imperative we meet students where they are at and include them in their learning journey for optimal learning and growth to occur.

2 thoughts on “What’s the theory behind all of this?

  1. It was interesting to read your blog this week. Like you, I am an audio-visual learner so I found the video links you provided that explained the learning theories in more detail to be very helpful. I appreciate the effort you put into using the tools and theories to create learning plans that will be most effective for your students. My son did the Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences framework in Grade 4, so I was familiar with that reference. However, his teacher did nothing to actually implement it. It reminded me of the personality assessments like Myers Briggs that people take, read the evaluation but don’t translate it to actions.


  2. This comment really got me thinking… “it is likely that our teaching practices and philosophies stem from how we learn ourselves and we tend to teach the same way”. This is so true and something I have never really thought of. I do find it harder to teach students that do not learn in the same way that I do. I loved the youtube video of each theory! Thanks for sharing those!


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