Who are the key educational theorists and how have they influenced education policy today?
Who are the key Education theorists?
Education theories are ideas about how students learn in the classroom. These ideas can help an educator develop effective lesson plans, assess student progress, and make adjustments to their teaching practices.
Teaching strategies that incorporate these theories may offer various approaches to the traditional classroom setting which can help build relationships between educators and learners while still working towards shared educational goals.
Education theories often focus on understanding how humans process information and use it to develop meaningful understanding. The research literature is quite varied, having contributions from a wide range of domains, from sociological theories to online knowledge exchanges.
These perspectives include cognitive theories which focus on acknowledging different types of intelligence and learning styles, as well as behaviorist theories which emphasize reinforcement and operant conditioning. A combination of these perspectives is often used to create more holistic approaches to teaching methods.
Learning theories describe how the process of learning takes place. Theories of education focus on an array of principles that educators may use to help students in class. Learning theories guide an educator’s teaching strategy and help to design a lesson or curriculum.
Certain theories have lasted the test of time and continue to dominate education policies worldwide.
Below is a list of some of the most influential education theorists.
Albert Bandura's Social Learning Theory
Albert Bandura is famous for his Social Learning Theory and Social Cognitive Theory. Albert Bandura’s social learning theories of education focus on the significance of observation, modelling and imitating the attitudes, emotional reactions and behaviour of others.
Albert Bandura clarified the concept of learning by doing and experiencing the consequences of a person’s actions. In Albert Bandura's bobo doll experiment, children aged 3 to 6 were shown a video of an aggressive adult hitting a 'Bobo doll.'
In this famous experiment Albert Bandura divided the children into 3 groups: the first group saw that the aggressive adult was rewarded after hitting the doll, the second group saw that the aggressive adult was punished after being aggressive towards the doll, and the third group did not see the adult getting punished or rewarded for showing aggression towards the doll.
Albert Bandura’s doll experiment revealed that the children who saw that the adult was rewarded after being aggressive were more likely to exhibit aggressive behaviour themselves. Albert Bandura’s doll experiment also showed that girls are less likely than boys to imitate the aggressive attitude of the grown-ups in the video. This supported Bandura's theory that children learn through observation and imitation rather than solely through reinforcement and punishment.
Apart from the doll experiment, Albert Bandura also proposed a comprehensive theory of child development which focuses on how children learn and gain knowledge about themselves and the world through their interactions with others. His Social Learning Theory outlined factors such as observational learning, progressive mastery, self-efficacy and reciprocal determinism which all contribute to how children develop mentally.
Albert Bandura's social learning theory is a critical theory that rose to prominence in the 20th century. Central to this theory is the idea that people learn through observing others' behaviors, attitudes, and outcomes of their actions. Bandura's influential research on childhood development, particularly his infamous "Bobo Doll Experiment," has had a lasting impact on the psychology of learning, development, and behavior.
Bandura's social learning theory has had enormous implications in fields ranging from education to criminal justice. It highlights the importance of modeling positive behaviors and using positive reinforcement to encourage learning and development. Furthermore, it suggests that factors like cultural norms, peer pressure, and the media can all have significant impacts on learning and behavior.
Overall, Albert Bandura's work in social learning theory has had an enduring legacy in the fields of psychology, education, and beyond. His research emphasizes a more nuanced understanding of childhood development and the complex factors that influence it.
B.F. Skinner and Operant Conditioning
B. F. Skinner was one of the most famous operant conditioning theorist and educational psychologists of the 20th century who proposed that changes in behavior take place as the outcome of a person's response to stimuli (events) occurring in the environment.
In his operant conditioning theory or Reinforcement theory B.F. Skinner states that the human behavior is guided by the consequences. Skinner believed in power of association that negative behaviours must not be rewarded positively or must be punished. Positive behaviours must be rewarded.
Skinner states that positive reinforcement increases the likelihood of a specific response by incorporating a stimulus after performing a positive behaviour. Skinner mentioned that the negative reinforcement increases the likelihood of a specific response but by eliminating an unwanted consequence.
B. F. Skinner's theories are often applied in child development settings, particularly when it comes to teaching children how to behave properly through positive and negative reinforcements. Examples of positive reinforcement include praise and rewards, while examples of negative reinforcements involve disciplinary measures or withholding privileges.
Through this method of reinforcement, Skinner firmly believed that children can be trained to alter their behaviour for the betterment of themselves and others around them.
In terms of the implications for a classroom, one of the key tenets of Skinner's theory is the idea of shaping behavior through the use of rewards and positive reinforcement. He believed that by providing students with positive feedback and incentives for exhibiting desired behaviors, educators could increase the likelihood of those behaviors being repeated in the future. This critical approach to education has been widely adopted in many educational settings as a means of promoting student success and growth.
Furthermore, Skinner's theory has been influential in many fields beyond education, including psychology and business management. The concept of positive reinforcement has been used in countless studies examining motivation, job performance, and organizational behavior.
Overall, Skinner's positive reinforcement theory has had a lasting impact on the field of education and beyond. His critical approach to shaping behaviors through reward and feedback has brought about significant positive changes in many areas of human activity, demonstrating the power of positive reinforcement to encourage growth and development.
John Dewey's Instrumentalism
John Dewey was one of the pragmatic theorists and American philosopher who proposed the theory of instrumentalism, also referred to as pragmatism. He was a progressive-democratic educator and a functional psychology pioneer.
Like other pragmatic educators, John Dewey believed that schools must be viewed as social institutions and social interaction leads to effective education. John Dewey considered education as a way of life and not a way to prepare for future living.
John Dewey is credited with developing the Experiential Learning Theory, which argues that learning should be based on experiences rather than on abstract ideas. He argued that by engaging in hands-on activities and participating in group projects, learners could better understand concepts, retain knowledge and apply their understanding to other areas. These experiences become the basis for ongoing education and allow students to engage more actively in their learning process.
This idea of 'learning by doing' is still used in classrooms today and it largely supports the concept that students learn better when they are actively engaged in their own learning process. John Dewey believed in tailoring education to meet the needs of each individual learner, as opposed to having a uniform curriculum dictated by textbooks. He wrote extensively on this concept and his work continued to heavily influence educational theories up until the present day.
Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences
The three most common types of learners proposed in this theory include auditory learners, visual learners, and kinesthetic learners. However, Howard Gardner proposed that other than these 3 types of learners, there are several other types of learners, such as those possessing interpersonal, musical, linguistic and spatial-visual intelligences.
Howard Gardner's theory is significant because instead of paying attention to just one cognitive ability, Howard Gardner’s theory focuses on all different types of learners and categories of mental strengths that a student may possess.
According to Gardner, there are seven types of learner: Visual-Spatial Learners, Bodily–Kinesthetic Learners, Musical Learners, Interpersonal Learners, Intrapersonal Learners, Naturalistic Learners and Existential Learners. By understanding each of these different types of learners and their unique strengths and weaknesses, teachers can adjust their teaching methods to meet the needs of each student.
Howard Gardner is considered the original theorist behind the idea of multiple intelligences, which he published his landmark book, "Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences," in 1983. Due to this work and other publications, he is known as one of the most prolific education theorists in recent history. His multiple intelligence theory still influences many educational systems today.
John Hattie's Visible Learning
John Hattie was one of first educational theorists to propose that practical application of visible learning and teaching takes place when educators view learning from the students’ eyes and help them become teachers for themselves. Visible Learning indicates an enhanced role for educators as they begin to evaluate their teaching.
John Hattie felt that how students view themselves, and what they consider the most important with regards to their learning and their desired results, will have a major impact on their observable behaviors in class and motivation to learn.
John Hattie indicates that schools need to create the cultures and structures that nurture effective teacher collaboration – collaboration that pays attention on factors to impact both young and adult learners experience of learning in a positive manner.
John Hattie is considered a critical theorist who supports the idea of positive learning environments. His research has found that greater learning occurs when collaboration between teachers leads to shared decision-making and knowledge acquisition.
He believes in promoting a constructive and inquisitive attitude among students, which emphasizes the importance of issues such as fairness, and non-cultural values that facilitate better educational outcomes.
He advocates for pragmatic educators, who design learning environments which focus on visible teaching skills and desired outcomes. This allows for targeted instruction which can effectively address any issues faced by a particular student.
John Watson's Behavioral Theories
John Watson is best known for his behaviorist theory and its practical application on child development. John Watson thought that a child's observable behaviors are primarily shaped by his environment over his natural temperament or genetic makeup.
John Watson believed that most social knowledge, such as trust and loyalty, must be learned. He proposed the 'Law of Effect', stating that individuals will respond to stimuli in the direction and degree of pleasure or comfort. Watson argued that this ability to learn allows us to transfer our experiences across different contexts and promote more complex problem-solving.
By applying Watson's theories, teachers can focus on creating an educational environment that emphasizes positive reinforcement and the development of desirable behaviors. This approach can help students learn to engage with the material more effectively and develop more productive study habits.
Additionally, it can help teachers create a culture of mutual respect and support in the classroom. At the same time, by emphasizing observable behaviors, teachers can help students develop a better understanding of how their actions can impact themselves and others.
Overall, Watson's behavioral theories provide a critical framework for understanding child development and shaping classroom environments. By focusing on observable behaviors and cultural theories, teachers can create a space where students feel supported and motivated to learn. This approach can help students become more confident and engaged in the classroom, with positive outcomes for both individual and collective learning.
Lev Vygotsky's Sociocultural Theory
Lev Vygotsky was a Russian psychologist famous for his sociocultural theory. Vygotsky's theory includes concepts like the Zone of Proximal Development, private speech, and culture-specific tools. Lev Vygotsky defined Zone of Proximal Development as the space between what a student can do without help and what he can do in collaboration with more able peers or with the help of an adult.
According to Vygotsky's theory, successful learners depend on help from more experienced peers or adults. This kind of assistance involves explaining, encouraging, and guiding the process of learning. Vygotsky argued that the help provided is crucial in facilitating the development of skills and knowledge which allows children to become independent and successful.
Lev Vygotsky's sociocultural theory is a sociological theory that focuses on the relationship between cognitive development and social interactions. As a critical theorist, Vygotsky believed that children's development is closely linked to their engagement with a body of knowledge and social knowledge. Teachers can leverage Vygotsky's theories to support the development of their students and promote better learning outcomes.
One approach that teachers can use is to create opportunities for collaborative learning, where students work together to develop an understanding of the subject matter. Vygotsky emphasized that such social interactions and collaborations can help students build on their previous knowledge and achieve a deeper understanding of the material. Teachers can facilitate these interactions by encouraging group work, peer-to-peer learning, and classroom discussions.
Teachers can also use Vygotsky's sociocultural learning theory to support individual learning by understanding each student's unique cognitive abilities and social context. Vygotsky's theory suggests that the cognitive development of each student can be supported by a socially responsive teacher who can provide the right level of scaffolding and support as needed.
Overall, teachers can use Vygotsky's sociocultural theory to promote better learning outcomes by recognizing the critical role of social interactions in cognitive development. By fostering a collaborative and socially responsive learning environment, teachers can help students construct meaning and deepen their understanding of new information.
Jean Piaget's Cognitive Learning Theory
Jean Piaget is primarily known for his Cognitive learning theory that focuses on the internal processes including memory and information. In his Cognitive Development Theory Jean Piaget suggests that children's intelligence goes through changes as children grow.
Children’s cognitive development does not only involve knowledge acquisition, they need to develop or build a mental model of their environment. The stage theory of child development is one of the most famous cognitive theories by Piaget.
According to the Stage theory of Piaget, both young and adult learners primarily learn through visual and aural channels. Stage theory by Kolberg was also inspired by the practical application of Piaget's stage theory of child development.
Piaget’s Cognitive Learning Theory states that learners progress through four developmental levels as they acquire knowledge and skills. These levels are the Sensorimotor Stage, Preoperational Stage, Concrete Operational Stage, and Formal Operational Stage. Those in the learning process must gain a basic understanding within each stage before progressing to the next. For instance, they must first begin by understanding objects symbolically before developing abstract thinking and problem-solving skills.
David Kolb's Experiential Learning
David Kolb is well known for his experiential learning theory that involves practical application of learning from experience. The psychologist David Kolb proposed his experiential learning theory under the influence of the works of other educational theorists such as Jean Piaget, Kurt Lewin and John Dewey.
Experiential learning allows students to analyze their actions, thought processes, and emotional responses.
Following are the four stages of David Kolb's Experiential learning cycle :
- Concrete Experience (feeling);
- Reflective Observation (watching);
- Abstract Conceptualization; (thinking) and
- Active Experimentation (doing).
David Kolb’s Experiential learning cycle starts with a learner’s concrete experience and terminates with the active experimentation of knowledge gained by the students.
John Sweller's Cognitive Load Theory
John Swellers proposed cognitive load theory (CLT) in 1988 stating that both young and adult learners working memory can only hold a limited amount of information at a given time and that teaching methods must avoid overloading both young and adult learners to enhance learning.
An important aspect of his cognitive load theory is that an excessive cognitive load may adversely affect the success of a task. Cognitive load theory proposes that both young and adult learners experience cognitive load in different ways.
John Sweller's cognitive load theory suggests that both young and adult learners should be taught in a way that minimizes the amount of cognitive load they experience. This can be done by breaking down complex tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks and providing appropriate scaffolding to help students understand the material. Additionally, instructional materials should be designed to reduce extraneous cognitive load, such as using visuals or diagrams to explain.
To achieve better student learning outcomes, teachers can embrace this theory and design learning activities that manage cognitive load effectively. One way to do this is to understand the cognitive architecture of the mind, which consists of the working memory and long-term memory. By minimizing extraneous load, teachers can help students better focus on the germane load, or the essential information required for learning.
To reduce extraneous load, teachers can use techniques such as eliminating unnecessary information, structuring materials in a logical and organized manner, and providing clear and concise instructions. Intrinsic load refers to the inherent complexity of the learning material, which teachers can reduce by scaffolding instruction and breaking new concepts into smaller, manageable parts.
Teachers can enhance learning by using cognitive processes that facilitate the integration of new information with existing knowledge. This can be achieved by promoting active learning such as through problem-solving, discussion, and application of concepts. Finally, teachers can utilize memory resources by encouraging rehearsal and review, which helps students retain new information in long-term memory.
By embracing cognitive load theory, teachers can design learning activities that promote effective learning, reduce cognitive overload and achieve better student learning outcomes.
Ivan Pavlov and Classical Conditioning
Ivan Pavlov was the first to propose Classical conditioning theory stating that observable behaviors are learned by relating a neutral and a positive stimulus. For example, in Pavlov's famous experiment his dog heard a bell (neutral stimulus) and expected food (positive stimulus). This learned behavior is referred to as conditioned response.
According to Classical conditioning theory, learning of both young and adult learners occur due to association. In his classical conditioning theory Pavlov demonstrated that dogs might be conditioned to salivate after hearing a bell if bell was repeatedly rung at the same time of presenting food to dog.
Ivan Pavlov was the original theorist involved in this type of learning and famously conducted experiments to demonstrate how it works. He proposed that the stimulus presented would initially create a neutral response, but after undergoing repeated processes of association with another stimulus, such as rewards for desired responses, the stimuli could eventually become conditioned responses. As such his theory still has great importance as a mainstay within educational settings today.
Urie Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Systems Theory
In the 1970s, Urie Bronfenbrenner proposed ecological systems theory which is considered as one of the most influential explanations concerning the impact of social environments on human development.
Ecological systems theory states that the environment one grows up affects every aspect of his life.The ecological systems theory holds that both young and adult learners experience a variety of environments all through their lifespan that may affect their observable behaviors at different levels.
There are several child development theories put forwarded by the educational theorists. Some of these child development theories and theories of education focus on the fact that people’s personality keeps on changing during their entire lifetime; whereas some believe that early experiences play the most significant role in child development. 5 primary education theories include cognitive, behaviorism, constructivism, connectivism and humanism.
Additional educational theories include experiential, social and transformative. Reggio Emilia, Montessori and Steiner are some of the most popular contemporary education theorists highlighting the advantageous role of play in learning.
Final thoughts and implications for the classroom
In the world of educational theory, the innovative ideas of Jerome Bruner, Vygotsky, and Piaget have played an essential role in shaping contemporary pedagogical practices. Bruner's emphasis on narrative learning and the spiral curriculum highlights the importance of building upon prior knowledge and engaging students through storytelling.
Vygotsky's socio-cultural approach underlines the significance of culture and social interaction in cognitive development, advocating for collaborative learning and scaffolding in the classroom. Meanwhile, Piaget's stages of cognitive development provide invaluable insights into how children construct knowledge, helping educators to tailor their teaching methods to the evolving needs of their students.
As a teacher, embracing these groundbreaking theories can unlock new levels of student engagement and understanding. By integrating Bruner's narrative learning and spiral curriculum, Vygotsky's emphasis on social interaction, and Piaget's developmental stages into your classroom practices, you can create a dynamic learning environment that fosters critical thinking, creativity, and intellectual growth.
By challenging conventional approaches and adopting these novel perspectives, you can empower your students to reach their full potential and thrive in the ever-changing landscape of education.