The Process of Learning

Essay by dolearyUniversity, Master'sA, September 2009

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Understanding the process of learning is important to educators in order to create an optimal learning environment. The purpose of this paper is to determine if one theory of learning can explain how learning occurs by defining the learning process and its identifiable patterns. To comprehend the learning process we must first understand the theories that define how learning happens.

Learning TheoriesLearning theories are efforts to explain how learning occurs. Behaviorism and cognitive are two dominant learning theories. Behaviorism is the belief that reinforcement of behaviors shape or control what is learned. Pavlov's classical conditioning and Skinner's operant conditioning are two behavioral theories prominently used today by those who believe learning is passive and "results from the action of the environment on the individual" (Bee & Boyd, 2007, p. 20).

Cognitive theory is the belief that the environment shapes or controls what is learned. Jean Piaget is the pioneer of cognitive theory.

But unlike most cognitive theorists, Piaget believed that the environment plays a passive role in shaping learning instead the student actively seeks out to understand the environment. Piaget surmises that learning is adapting to one's environment. His studies focused on a series of chronological stages that all children inherently go through. Lev Vygotsky, another cognitive theorist believed that the social environment directly impacts and shapes learning through the "zone of proximal development-the range of tasks which are too hard for the child to do alone but which she can manage with guidance. As the student becomes more skilled, the zone of proximal development steadily widens, including ever harder tasks" (Bee & Boyd, 2007, p. 16).

Both behaviorism and cognitive theories have plausible arguments. But is one theory more accurate than the other? Is learning a change in behavior as behaviorists believe or is learning a change in...