Introduction

Chapter 1 of Learning and Instruction: Theory into Practice by Margaret E. Gredler, Sixth edition.
Learning, as defined in the dictionary, is the act or experience of one that learns, knowledge or skill acquired by instruction or study, and modification of a behavioral tendency by experience.

Learning is important for individuals and for society, and for the growth of both. As indivduals, we acquire knowledge and are able to perform skills to a greater degree. These skills allow us to function to a higher ability, and it also may change our attitudes and values. There is a correlation between the amount of education a person has and the amount of money that they make. Basically, the more education one has then the amount of money they make will also rise. Learning is also important for society to grow and progress. One's culture is learned through observation and participation. Information is passed on to the next generation and that new generation learns what is already known plus new information. Society does not stagnate, but rather expands the knowledge to prosper. For instance, we have computers and know more about space then ever before and that knowledge continues to grow.

Before learning theory came to be, man attempted to understand his surroundings in various ways. The Greeks had myths to explain the natural world. Then traditional wisdom arose with proverbs and sayings. Both myths and traditional wisdom could be misinterpretted or taken in several ways. Philosphy, a belief in wisdom, is a structured belief. Plato, over 2300 years ago, developed idealism, defined as the pure ideas of the mind. Plato believed that knowledge was present in humans at birth. His philosphy was used, in one school practice, into the 20th century. One of Plato's pupils, Aristotle, developed a contrasting view called realism. His view looked at reality living in the real world and not in one's mind. He also felt that learning occurred with contact with the environment.

In the 16th century Galileo began using objects and experimentation. His method developed knowledge of the physical world. During the 19th century, Charles Darwin introduced his book Origin of Species and it showed a reality based on change and not on static order. Also in the 19th century, Herman von Helmholtz introduced the concept of scientific empiricism, which used an accumulation of facts through the careful use of the senses and experimentation. Next, Wilhelm Wundt established the first psychological research laboratory and researched the senses.

Learning Theory
Classical conditioning, in the early 20th century, became the first theoretical approach to learning. Other theories soon followed. There are four essential criterias for education theories.
  • Explicit assumption that are the theorist's beliefs
  • Definitions of key terms
  • Derive principles form the body of the theory
  • Explain the underlying psychological dynamics of events that influence learning (Applies only ot learning theories)

There are differences between a philosphy and a theory. Philosophies are a broad value system and theory will identify real-world events required for learning. Theories must be testable through research and must be independent of any defintion of knowledge while a philosphy must be consistent with definitions of reality and knowledge. Theories are specific principles of learning and events that support learning and philosophies are general identifications that are up for interpretations.

There are four general functions of a learning theory.
  • Serve as a framework for research
  • Provide an organized framework for itmes of information
  • Identify the nature of complex events
  • Reorganize prior experience
  • Serve as a working explanation of events (not accomplished)

Learning theories should also address some specific functions.
  • Serves as a guide for planning instruction
  • Evaluate current products for classroom use and current practices
  • Diagnose problems in classroom instruction
  • Evaluates research conducted on theories


Comparison of Seven Contemporary Theories Influential in Learning (Table 1.8)
Theory
Type
Focus
Skinner's operant conditioning
Learning process
The arrangement of consequences for
learning behavior
Gagne's conditions of learning
Learning process
The relationship of the phase of information
processing to type of learning task and instruction
Gognitive theories
Learning process
The processes of acquiring information,
remembering,managing one's learning, and
problem solving
Piaget's development epistemology
Cognitive development
The growth of intelligence from infancy to adulthood
Vygotsky's cultural-historical theory
Cognitive development
The role of cultural symbols in the development of
higher mental functions
Bandura's social-cognitive theory
Social context
The influence of models and other environmental
and personal factors on behavior
Motivational models and theories
Social context
Influences on achievement-related behavior

These theories will be discussed further in chapters later in this book.