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Brian's Class Materials- FALL 2009 - SEYS 362

SEYS 362 Home

Queens College/CUNY
Education Unit
Fall 2009


Notes on Learning Theory


Dr. Brian Murfin

(material from George DeBoer's 1991 A History of Ideas in Science Education, and other sources)

The following research psychologists greatly influenced the thinking about teaching and learning science in the 60s, 70s, and 80s:

1) David Ausubel

2 ) Robert Gagne

3) Jean Piaget

4) Jerome Bruner

Lev Vygotsky's work was recognized much later and has had important influences on views on science learning.

Jean Piaget

-according to Piaget, "individuals develop the ability to perform mental operations in a fixed temporal sequence through physical

maturation, direct instruction, and involvement with their environment over time. The process of mental development involves the transformation of new knowledge to

fit into existing mental structures (assimilation) and the alteration of existing mental structures to accept the new knowledge (accommodation)"

- preoperational ---> concrete operational --> formal operational

-students should be given material which is at their appropriate cognitive level

-cognitive development is a function of four processes

1) physiological development

2) personal interaction with the environment

3) social transmission or direct instruction

4) "self-regulation" a movement from a state of cognitive conflict or disequilibrium to one in which cognitive order and equilibrium is regained. Disequilibrium

provides the energy by which reorganization of mental structures takes place

David Ausubel

-direct didactic instruction is the best way to teach concepts

-old cognitive structures are modified to accept new concepts (the new concepts are assimilated with the old)

-ideational scaffolding

-subsumers-concepts that take in other concepts

-Reception learning- concept lables and the regularities they represent are explicitly taught by the teacher in contrast to Discovery learning (regularities are discovered

by the students themselves)

-Joe Novak of Cornell applied Ausubel's theories, he distinguished between

1) rote reception learning - (no connection between new concepts and old)

2) meaningful reception learning - new knowledge is associated with ideas or concepts in the learner's cognitive structure

-a new concept should be related to a pre-existing concept

-during assimilation both the old and new concepts are altered

-Ausubel's theory is different from Piaget's in that an older child has a more elaborate cognitive structure than a younger one and this, not a "unique cognitive

ability" determines why the older child is capable of higher level thought

-Ausubel advocates direct teaching of concepts

- Advance organizers "are brief introductory instructional episodes organized by the teacher to facilitate meaningful learning. The

advance organizer is intended to organize relevant concepts so that the new material will be more easily assimilated in the existing conceptual structure."

-Ausubel believes that eventually the use of physical, concrete objects in teaching should be eliminated in favor of verbal instruction

Robert Gagne

- Hierarchical learning

-a learning objective can be represented by prerequisite skills and concepts. Intellectual skills can be taught by combining these prerequisite skills.

-cumulative learning model- the acquisition of specifically learned rules is a cumulative process

-learning material is broken down into small segments and arranged sequentially

-systems of individualized instruction based on mastery of a sequence of performance objectives

Jerome Bruner

-wrote The Process of Education (1960)

-"According to Bruner, the current practice of teaching the conclusions of the sciences without providing a sense of the scientists' spirit of discovery produced

knowledge unrelated to the essence of the subject itself."

--presenting the fundamental structure of a subject helps the student comprehend better and aids in memory

-teaching general problem-solving would enhance intuitive thought

- Three levels of learning:

1) enactive - learning by doing

2) iconic/ikonic - learn by seeing pictures, models

3) symbolic - learn by using verbal symbols

- a famous quote from Bruner (1960) " We begin with the hypothesis that any subject can be taught effectively in some intellectually honest form to any

child at any stage of development."

-Bruner advocated a " spiral curriculum "

The learning Cycle

-less teacher directed

-Developed by Robert Karplus (1977) for use in the SCIS elementary program

-set of instructional steps linked to Piaget's notion of cognitive development

-Inductive teaching is when students can be inquirers in the classroom and generate meaning more or less independently...the teacher acts as a guide and facilitator of

learning rather than as an authoritative dispenser of learning. Other associated instructional practices that are associated with inquiry teaching

include discovery learning , teaching by problem-solving method , and heuristic teaching.

Lev Vygotski (1896-1934)

-Russian psychologist

- Three basic themes :

1) reliance on developmental analysis

2) higher mental functions derive from social interactions

3) human action, both social and individual, is mediated by tools and signs

-action is mediated and can't be separated from the milieu in which it is carried out

-any function in a child's development occurs twice, first socially and then psychologically

-the whole nature of higher mental functions is social

-the zone of proximal development is "the distance between a child's actual developmental level as determined by indpendent problem solving and the hiogher level

of potential development as determined through problem-solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers"

-measuring the level of potential development is just as important as measuring the actual developmental level...instruction should be based on the level of potential

development rather than the actual level of development

-higher mental functions are mediated by tools and sign

(psychological tools)

- a sign is originally a means used for social purposes and only later becomes a means of influencing oneself

-"inner speech" is important (Bakhtin)

Locus of control

-how an individual perceives the link between her/his behavior and its consequences

A Summary of Rotter's Locus of Control
internal locus of control external locus of control
she/he controls fate little control over fate
understands relation between effort and reward

no perception of cause and effect between actions and consequences

"Bowlers" (Mary Budd Rowe) "Crap Shooters" (Mary Budd Rowe)

Field independent/field dependent

"embedded figures test" used to measurable to disembed a figure from a background

-seems culturally influenced

Field independent Field dependent
-analytical -global
-prefer occupations where working with people not very important -look to others in defining their own attitudes and beliefs
-e.g., math, physical science -drawn to people, favor occupations that require involvement with others like social sciences


Click here for a good paper on learning styles

Sensory modality

-system for interacting with the environment through one of the senses

1. time most alert

2. attention span

3. amount of sound

4. type of sound

5. type of work group

6. amount of pressure and motivation

7. place

8. physical environment, conditions

9. perceptual strengths and styles

10. type of structure and evaluation

Kolb's Learning style inventory

Concrete Experience





Abstract Conceptualization


-imaginative ability




-influenced by peers



-practical application of ideas

-sigle correct answer

-things rather than people

-narrow interests

-a goal setting, systematic person


-theoretical models

-deal with abstractions

-goal-setting person

-systematic planner



-intuitive trial and error

-relies on other people for information

-at ease with people

-sometimes seen as impatient, pushy

-influenced by peers

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

Claims to indicate the way a person likes to use their perception

and judgement. A person receives a score on four different

scales: EI, SN, TF, JP

EI Extraversion vs. Introversion

SN Sensing vs. Intuition

TF Thinking vs. Feeling

JP Judging vs. Perceptive

Questioning behaviors

1. Ask a variety of questions



2. Learn to pause and wait

3. Use techniques that decrease teacher talk, also ask fewer



- the 70% rule, 70% of the time someone is talking, 70%

of the time the teacher is talking and they are mainly asking low-

level questions.

Kinds of questions

Lower order vs. higher order

1. managerial

2. rhetorical

3. closed - cognitive memory

convergent (most people come up with same answer)

4. open - divergent (less structure, more analysis, variety of


5. evaluative

Wait time I

-After a teacher question and before the student response

Wait time II

-After student response and before the teacher talks again

Changes with increased wait time:

1) more variety in student answers

2) length of responses increased

3) Number of unsolicited but appropriate respsonses increases

4) confidence increased

5) incidence of speculative thinking increased

6) number of questions asked by pupils increased

7) contributions by "slow" students increased

Ways to encourage student-student interaction

1) arrange seating so students can see each other's faces

2) refrain from talking yourself as long as the discussion is productive and on-track

3) sit down so you are on the same level as the group

4) lose eye contact with the speakers

5) when moving from group to group, join the new group with no comment at all

6) avoid high rate of overt rewards and sanctions

Behaviors that communicate low expectations

1) waiting less time for an answer

2) rewarding inappropriate behavior

3) criticizing more frequently

4) not giving feedback

5) paying less attention

6) seating low achieving students farther from the teacher

Behaviors to practice

1) ask a variety of questions

2) use open questions

3) pause/wait

4) word questions clearly

Gowin's Epistemological V (Click here for more information)