Theories, Approaches & Teaching

I’m currently reading Communities of Practice by Etienne Wenger and as I began a question popped into my head. Do most educators knowingly base their practice within a particular theory or approach?

A web search for theories of learning turned up a site that categorized learning theories into Paradigms:

Behaviorism – Based on stimulus-response and can be explained without considering conscious thought.

Cognitivism – Mental function can be understood where the learner is seen as an information processor.

Constructivism – Learning is an active, constructive process where students expected to construct understanding and knowledge from information.

Humanism – learning is a personal act to fulfill one’s potential where learner has affective and cognitive needs.

I imagine that most educators use a variety of these in their practice, but I wonder if most educators identify with one more than the other, if at all. Should an educator base themselves within one of these paradigms?

Does identifying one’s practice within one of these paradigms provided a entry point for a joining a community of practice?

3 comments / Add your comment below

  1. I would align myself with constructivist and seek to create PBL or AI type activities in my classroom. I believe most people’s blog posts reflect their current theories of learning whether they announce it or not. However, I think we discuss what we want to change vs. creating that community of practice that propels us along and becomes a greater agent for change. I would hope that we would all learn from each other, the theories of learning, and the practice in the classroom. By not looking at other theories, do we stay stuck in our current mode and stop learning and evolving as well? Just my thoughts.

  2. Louise, your last question is a good one. I wonder the same. I also wonder if the content educators are teaching should suggest the theory that we practice. What I mean is that not all content that is in the curriculum would necessarily fit under a constructivist approach. A particular concept might fit under a more behaviourist approach. Taking it a step further (and risking more confusion) should these approaches be used to differentiate instruction based on needs or learning styles?

  3. As I began to say yesterday, I believe that 21st century teaching and learning almost requires a constructivist approach. Constructivism can be a pretty scary concept for those who believe in right and wrong answers, but in a world where learners can get “data” anywhere, the teaching task is no longer, “this is the correct meaning of…” but rather to give learners the skills to be able to evaluate the quality (authority, accuracy, currency and point of view) of the data that they find to help construct meaningful information. For a really great explanation (or at least I think it is) of the distinction between data and information, see this short article at Diffen ( BTW, this evaluation of sources is a major component of Information Literacy.

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