Unit I: Psychology and Theories of Learning

1.1 Educational Psychology – Nature, Importance and Scope.

1.2 Individual differences and methods of dealing with the differences

1.3 Importance of principles of psychology for the educators of children with disabilities.

1.4 Theories of Learning: Behaviorist (Classical & Operant), Social Learning (Bandura), Cognitive Learning (Information Processing).

1.5 Role of teacher and learner in different teaching-learning situations- Learning Styles and Learning in Constructivist Perspective






1.1 Educational Psychology – Nature, Importance and Scope.

The word, ‘Psychology’ is derived from two Greek words, ‘Psyche’ and ‘Logos’. Psyche means ‘soul’ and ‘Logos’ means ‘science’. Thus psychology was first defined as the ‘science of soul”.

According to earlier psychologists, the function of psychology was to study the nature, origin and destiny of the human soul. But soul is something metaphysical. It cannot be seen, observed and touched and we cannot make scientific experiments on soul.

In the 18th century, psychology was understood as the ‘Science of Mind’. William James (1892) defined psychology as the science of mental processes. But the word ‘mind ‘ is also quite ambiguous as there was confusion regarding the nature and functions of mind.

Modern psychologists defined psychology as the “Science of Consciousness”. James Sully (1884) defined psychology as the “Science of the Inner World”. Wilhelm Wundt (1892) defined psychology as the science which studies the “internal experiences’. But there are three levels of consciousness – conscious, subconscious and the unconscious and so this definition also was not accepted by some.

Thus psychology first lost its soul, then its mind and then its consciousness. At present only its behaviour exists. William McDugall (1905) defined psychology as the “Science of Behaviour”, W.B. Pillsbury (1911) and J.B. Watson (1912) also defined psychology as the science of behavior.

Behaviour generally means overt activities which can observed and measured scientifically. But one’s behaviour is always influenced by his experiences. So when we study one’s behaviour we must also study his experiences.

Psychology should, therefore, be defined as a “science of behaviour and experiences on human beings” (B.F. Skinner)

According to Crow and Crow, “Psychology is the study of human behaviour and human relationship’”.

What is Educational Psychology?

Educational psychology is that branch of psychology in which the findings of psychology are applied in the field of education. It is the scientific study of human behaviour in educational setting.

According to Charles. E. Skinner, “Educational psychology deals with the behaviour of human beings in educational situations”.

Thus educational psychology is a behavioural science with two main references– human behaviour and education.

In the words of E.A. Peel, “Educational Psychology is the science of Education”.

Education by all means is an attempt to mould and shape the behaviour of the pupil. It aims to produce desirable changes in him for the all-round development of his personality.

The essential knowledge and skill to do this job satisfactorily is supplied by Educational Psychology. In the words of E.A. Peel, “Educational psychology helps the teacher to understand the development of his pupils, the range and limits of their capacities, the processes by which they learn and their social relationships.”

Crow and Crow:

“Educational psychology describes and explains learning experience of an individual from birth to old age”.

In the same way Educational Psychologists, who is a technical expert in the field of Education, supplies all the information, principles and techniques essential for understanding the behaviour of the pupil in response to educational environment and desired modification of his behaviour to bring an all-round development of his personality.

In this way, it is quite reasonable to call Educational Psychology as a science and technology of Education.

Thus, Educational Psychology concerned primarily with understanding the processes of teaching and learning that take place within formal environments and developing ways of improving those methods. It covers important topics like learning theories; teaching methods; motivation; cognitive, emotional, and moral development; and parent-child relationships etc.

In short, it is the scientific discipline that addresses the questions: “Why do some students learn more than others?” and “What can be done to improve that learning?”


Its nature is scientific as it has been accepted that it is a Science of Education. We can summarize the nature of Educational Psychology in the following ways:

·        Educational Psychology is a science. (Science is a branch of study concerned with observation of facts and establishment of verifiable general laws. Science employs certain objective methods for the collection of data. It has its objectives of understanding, explaining, predicting and control of facts.) Like any other science, educational psychology has also developed objective methods of collection of data. It also aims at understanding, predicting and controlling human behaviour.

·        Educational Psychology is a natural science. An educational psychologist conducts his investigations, gathers his data and reaches his conclusions in exactly the same manner as physicist or the biologist.

·        Educational psychology is a social science. Like the sociologist, anthropologist, economist or political scientist, the educational psychologist studies human beings and their sociability.

·        Educational psychology is a positive science. Normative science like Logic or Ethics deals with facts as they ought to be. A positive science deals with facts as they are or as they operate. Educational psychology studies the child’s behaviour as it is, not, as it ought to be. So it is a positive science.

·        Educational psychology is an applied science. It is the application of psychological principles in the field of education. By applying the principles and techniques of psychology, it tries to study the behaviour and experiences of the pupils. As a branch of psychology it is parallel to any other applied psychology. For example, educational psychology draws heavily facts from such areas as developmental psychology, clinical psychology, abnormal psychology and social psychology.

·        Educational psychology is a developing or growing science. It is concerned with new and ever new researches. As research findings accumulate, educational psychologists get better insight into the child’s nature and behaviour.

Thus, educational psychology is an applied, positive, social, specific and practical science. While general science deals with behaviour of the individuals in various spheres, educational psychology studies the behaviour of the individual in educational sphere only.


1.     To know the student:  It enables a teacher to know his learner and identify his/her potentialities, capabilities, strength and weaknesses.

2.     Needed for selecting and organizing the subject matter or learning experiences: When a teacher knows his students the it become easy for him to select and organise learning experiences and also selects or develops learning materials.

3.     It suggests the tools and techniques of teaching and learning: Educational psychology suggests different tools and techniques which the use to make his class more attractive, so that he can involve students in the teaching learning process.

4.     To arrange learning situations or environments: Educational psychology helps the teacher to create or arrange appropriate learning situations for students. For example the knowledge of group dynamics or group behavior gives the necessary art for teaching or learning in the group.

5.     Rendering guidance services: The knowledge of educational psychology helps the teacher in rendering guidance services to the students. He can better diagnose his students the abilities , interests, and aptitudes of his pupils.

6.     Solving classroom problems: There are innumerable problem like backwardness, truancy, bullying, cheating   situations which a teacher has to face in the classroom. Educational helps the teacher in this field also.

7.     Knowing about himself: Knowledge of educational psychology helps the teacher to know about himself. As a result he can know about his own behavior pattern, personality characteristics, likes and dislikes, motivation, anxiety, conflicts, adjustment etc.



The scope of educational psychology is ever-growing due to constantly researches in this field. The following factors will indicate the scope of educational psychology:

·        The Learner. The subject-matter of educational psychology is knitted around the learner. Therefore, the need of knowing the learner and the techniques of knowing him well. The topics include – the innate abilities and capacities of the individuals, individual differences and their measurements, the overt, covert, conscious as well as unconscious behaviour of the learner, the characteristics of his growth and development and each stage beginning from childhood to adulthood.

·        The Learning Experiences. Educational Psychology helps in deciding what learning experiences are desirable, at what stage of the growth and development of the learner, so that these experiences can be acquired with a greater ease and satisfaction.

·        Learning process: After knowing the learner and deciding what learning experiences are to be provided, Educational Psychology moves on to the laws, principles and theories of learning. Other items in the learning process are remembering and forgetting, perceiving, concept formation, thinking and reasoning, problem solving, transfer of learning, ways and means of effective learning etc.

·        Learning Situation or Environment. Here we deal with the environmental factors and learning situations which come midway between the learner and the teacher. Topics like classroom climate and group dynamics, techniques and aids that facilitate learning and evaluation, techniques and practices, guidance and counselling etc. For the smooth functioning of the teaching-learning process.

·        The Teacher: The teacher is a potent force is any scheme of teaching and learning process. It discusses the role of the teacher. It emphasizes the need of ‘knowing thyself’ for a teacher to play his role properly in the process of education. His conflicts, motivation. Anxiety, adjustment, level of aspiration etc. It throws light on the essential personality traits, interests, aptitudes, the characteristics of effective teaching etc so as to inspire him for becoming a successful teacher.

·        Though the entire scope of Educational Psychology is included in the above mentioned five key-factors, it may be further expanded by adding the following:

·        It studies Human Behaviour in educational situations. Psychology is the study of behaviour, and education deals with the modification of behaviour; hence, educational psychology pervades the whole field of education.

·        It studies the Growth and Development of the child. How a child passes through the various stages of growth and what are the characteristics of each stage are included in the study of educational psychology.

·        To what extent Heredity and Environment contribute towards the growth of the individual, and how this knowledge can be made use of for bringing about the optimum development of the child; form a salient feature of the scope of educational psychology.

·        Educational psychology deals with the Nature and Development of the Personality of an individual. In fact, education has been defined as the all-round development of the personality of an individual; personality development also implies a well-adjusted personality.

·        It studies Individual Difference: Every individual differs from every other individual. It is one of the fundamental facts of human nature which have been brought to light by educational psychology. This one fact has revolutionalised the concept and process of education.

·        It studies the nature Intelligence and its Measurement. This is of utmost importance for a teacher.

·        It Provides Guidance and Counselling: Education is nothing but providing guidance to the growing child.

·        We can conclude by saying that Educational Psychology is narrower in scope than general psychology. While general psychology deals with the behaviour of the individual in a general way, educational psychology in concerned with the behaviour of the learner in an educational setting.

1.2 Individual differences and methods of dealing with the differences

Meaning of Individual Differences:

Dissimilarity is principle of nature. No two persons are alike. All the individuals differ from each other in many a respects. Children born of the same parents and even the-twins are not alike. This differential psychology is linked with the study of individual differences. Wundt, Cattel, Kraepelin, Jastrow and Ebbing Haus are the exponents of differential psychology.

This change is seen in physical forms like in height, weight, colour, complexion strength etc., difference in intelligence, achievement, interest, attitude, aptitude, learning habits, motor abilities, skill. Each man has an intellectual capacity through which he gains experience and learning.

Every person has the emotions of love, anger, fear and feelings of pleasure and pain. Every man has the need of independence, success and need for acceptance.

Causes of Individual Differences:

There are various causes which are responsible in bringing individual differences.

They are narrated below:

i. Heredity:

Some heretical traits bring a change from one individual to other. An individual’s height, size, shape and color of hair, shape of face, nose, hands and legs so to say the entire structure of the body is determined by his heretical qualities. Intellectual differences are also to a great extent influenced by hereditary factor.

ii. Environment:

Environment brings individual differences in behaviour, activities, attitude, and style of life characteristics. Personality etc. Environment does not refer only physical surroundings but also it refers the different types of people, society, their culture, customs, traditions, social heritage, ideas and ideals.

iii. Race and Nationality:

Race and Nationality is one cause of individual difference. Indians are very peace loving, Chinese are cruel; Americans are very frank due to race and nationality.

iv. Sex:

Due to sex variation one individual differs from other. Men are strong in mental power. On the other hand women on the average show small superiority over men in memory, language and aesthetic sense. Women excel the men in shouldering social responsibilities and have a better control over their emotions.

v. Age:

Age is another factor which is responsible in bringing individual differences. Learning ability and adjustment capacity naturally grow with age. When one grows in age can acquire better control over our emotions and better social responsibilities. When a child grows then this maturity and development goes side by side.

vi. Education:

Education is one major factor which brings individual differences. There is a wide gap in the behaviors of educated and uneducated persons. All traits of human beings like social, emotional and intellectual are controlled and modifies through proper education.

This education brings a change in our attitude, behaviour, appreciations, Personality. It is seen that uneducated persons are guided by their instinct and emotions where as the educated persons are guided by their reasoning power.

Educational implications of Individual differences are listed below:

i. Aims of education, curriculum, method of teaching should be linked with individual differences considering the different abilities and traits individual.

ii. Curriculum should be designed as per the interest, abilities and needs of different students.

iii. The teacher has to adopt different types of methods of teaching considering individual difference related to interest, need, etc.

iv. Some co-curricular activities such as Drama, music, literary activities (Essay & Debate Competition) should be assigned to children according to their interest.

v. Teacher uses certain specific teaching aids which will attract the children towards teaching considering their interest and need.

vi. Various methods such as playing method, project method, Montessori method, story telling methods are to be used considering/discovering how different children respond to a task or a problem.

vii. The division of pupils into classes should not be based only on the mental age or chronological age of children but the physical, social and emotional maturity should be given due consideration.

viii. In case of vocational guidance the counselor is to plan the guidance technique keeping in view the needs and requirements of the students.

Methods of dealing with the differences

Differentiate instruction. It’s important to recognize that “fairness” in education doesn’t mean that all children are taught in the exact same way. Instead it means accounting for the needs of individual students and adjusting the curriculum accordingly. Differentiation allows you to provide individualized instruction by changing the pace, level, or style of teaching to engage student strengths and interests. Students with mental health and learning disorders are not the only children who benefit from this instructional philosophy—all children in your classroom can achieve at higher levels when you are conscientious about providing instruction  that fits how they learn best. Differentiating instruction includes, when appropriate, reducing assignments or extending deadlines to accommodate a child’s  abilities.

Capitalize on learning styles. Students learn in a number of different ways. Visual learners learn most effectively from visual information, while auditory learners learn best from verbal or audio presentations. Tactile-kinesthetic learners do well when touching or moving in some way as they take in information (experiential learning). While students can often learn to some degree in all of these different ways, many excel in one area so that instruction based on a particular style is much more effective than that of another. Deficits in one or more areas of learning can be particularly common in students with learning  disabilities.

 Incorporate multiple intelligences into curriculum. Students often have areas of learning in which they are particularly strong. These learning strengths can be engaged to help students succeed in the classroom and reach their full potential. The multiple intelligences are a framework of strengths outlined by Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner. They are linguistic, logical-mathematical, visual- spatial, musical-rythmic, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist. Most students have strengths in one or two of these areas.

 Capitalize on student interests. One of the best ways to motivate students is to incorporate their interests into the curriculum. As much as possible, allow students to choose the topics they’ll report on in a paper or project. Also look to include interests in other smaller ways—such as in math word problems. Tying learning to interests is a potentially powerful way to reinforce core curriculum concepts.

 Involve students in educational goals. Students perform best when they feel they are active participants, as opposed to passive subjects, in learning. Try to involve students in creating goals related to learning activities. Children with mental health and learning disorders may have a negative attitude toward schoolwork so incentives are required at the outset. Your goal ultimately should be to have students genuinely engaged in learning so that rewards become less important.

Use computerized instruction. Most students enjoy working with computers, which can stimulate their interest in schoolwork. A wide assortment of available programs from reading instruction to voice recognition software makes computerized instruction very relevant in helping students with special needs. Activities and games that incorporate material from content themes can reinforce concepts for visual and tactile learners.

 Group students effectively. Group projects provide great opportunities for you to put together the talents of students in complementary ways. A child who struggles in one aspect of a subject may excel in another. Group students so that they can both showcase strengths and learn from peers. Also give careful consideration to the social dynamics of groups. Children who have mental health and learning disorders benefit from working with students who are especially kind, patient, and empathetic.

 Consider outside placement options. Some children may have needs you simply cannot meet in the regular classroom. At these times, work with your school’s specialists to ensure skills are developed in other settings. A child with a communication disorder might require intensive work with a speech language pathologist. An extremely disruptive student may need to spend part of the day in a program set up for children with serious emotional disorders.

1.3 Importance of principles of psychology for the educators of children with disabilities.

Principles of Psychology emphasizes that psychology is a science through discussion of relevant big-picture and proven concepts and cutting-edge research-based investigations that examine behavioral, psychological, and neuroscience experiments. By presenting data and facts from other scientific disciplines, as well as real-world vignettes and stories, Marc Breedlove teaches the reader how to think critically and scientifically about the underlying mechanisms of behavior.

Each Student Is Unique and Responds to Different Teaching Methods

Educational psychology is rooted in the fact that all learners are unique and that students have different abilities and educational needs. To maximize each student’s academic potential, schools must present classroom material in a number of different ways to create each student’s optimal learning environment. This is especially true in special education classrooms, where students may struggle with physical or cognitive disabilities. Teachers who understand psychology can present students with a variety of learning tools to minimize gaps created by disabilities.

Special Needs Children Respond Differently to Learning Environments

When special education teachers understand educational psychology, they know how to create a learning environment that feels safe to each student. Because noise, light or other children can easily overstimulate special needs children, the learning environment becomes an important part of their learning experience. When teachers understand the cognitive and physical characteristics of their students’ abilities and disabilities, they are better able to reduce distractions and triggers in the classroom.

Connecting Special Needs Students to Resources That Support a Whole Healthy Child

Teaching special education is an opportunity to support a child’s health and success in school and beyond. It is important for special needs students to learn how to function socially, emotionally and behaviorally. Special education teachers with foundations in educational psychology become strong advocates for their students, and they commonly refer students to and connect students with resources that support their growth. For example, some special needs students may benefit from specific interventions, such as occupational therapy, speech therapy, counseling, art therapy or physical therapy.

Development of Technologies That Support Special Needs Students

The study of educational psychology has been critical in the development of assistive technologies for special needs students. These technologies support a diverse population of learners at home and in school. Through the use of computers, various tools can compensate for specific cognitive or physical disabilities. For example, children with dyslexia benefit from programs that read text out loud or that record audio for them to listen to repeatedly. The emergence of such technology has had measurable benefits for the special needs community and those working in schools to support them.

1.4 Theories of Learning: Behaviorist (Classical & Operant), Social Learning (Bandura), Cognitive Learning (Information Processing).


Is a theory of learning based upon the idea that all behaviors are acquired through conditioning. Conditioning occurs through interaction with the environment. - also known as Behavioral Psychology. Learning: acquiring new, or modifying and reinforcing, existing knowledge, behavior, skills, values or preferences and may involve synthesizing different types of information.

Learning is a process of progressive behaviour adaptation. –B.F Skinner

·        Learning by association or Classical Conditioning

·        Learning by consequences or Operant Conditioning.

·        Learning through Observation or Modeling

Pavlov: Classical Conditioning

·        Classical conditioning is a reflexive or automatic type of learning in which a stimulus acquires the capacity to evoke a response that was originally evoked by another stimulus.

·        Classical conditioning is a form of learning whereby a conditioned stimulus becomes associated with an unrelated unconditioned stimulus, in order to produce a behavioral response known as a conditioned response.


·        Ivan Pavlov (1849 – 1936)

·        John B. Watson (1878 – 1958)

Key Concepts

Several types of learning exist. The most basic form is associative learning, i.e., making a new association between events in the environment. There are two forms of associative learning: classical conditioning (made famous by Ivan Pavlov’s experiments with dogs) and operant conditioning.
Pavlov’s Dogs

In the early twentieth century, Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov did Nobel prize-winning work on digestion. While studying the role of saliva in dogs’ digestive processes, he stumbled upon a phenomenon he labeled “psychic reflexes.” While an accidental discovery, he had the foresight to see the importance of it. Pavlov’s dogs, restrained in an experimental chamber, were presented with meat powder and they had their saliva collected via a surgically implanted tube in their saliva glands. Over time, he noticed that his dogs who begin salivation before the meat powder was even presented, whether it was by the presence of the handler or merely by a clicking noise produced by the device that distributed the meat powder.

Fascinated by this finding, Pavlov paired the meat powder with various stimuli such as the ringing of a bell. After the meat powder and bell (auditory stimulus) were presented together several times, the bell was used alone. Pavlov’s dogs, as predicted, responded by salivating to the sound of the bell (without the food). The bell began as a neutral stimulus (i.e. the bell itself did not produce the dogs’ salivation). However, by pairing the bell with the stimulus that did produce the salivation response, the bell was able to acquire the ability to trigger the salivation response. Pavlov therefore demonstrated how stimulus-response bonds (which some consider as the basic building blocks of learning) are formed. He dedicated much of the rest of his career further exploring this finding.

In technical terms, the meat powder is considered an unconditioned stimulus (UCS) and the dog’s salivation is the unconditioned response (UCR). The bell is a neutral stimulus until the dog learns to associate the bell with food. Then the bell becomes a conditioned stimulus (CS) which produces the conditioned response (CR) of salivation after repeated pairings between the bell and food.

John B. Watson: Early Classical Conditioning with Humans

John B. Watson further extended Pavlov’s work and applied it to human beings. In 1921, Watson studied Albert, an 11 month old infant child. The goal of the study was to condition Albert to become afraid of a white rat by pairing the white rat with a very loud, jarring noise (UCS). At first, Albert showed no sign of fear when he was presented with rats, but once the rat was repeatedly paired with the loud noise (UCS), Albert developed a fear of rats. It could be said that the loud noise (UCS) induced fear (UCR). The implications of Watson’s experiment suggested that classical conditioning could cause some phobias in humans.

Image result for pavlov behaviour theory with the help of pictures

Five key principles of classical conditioning:

1. Acquisition

Acquisition is the initial stage of learning when a response is first established and gradually strengthened. During the acquisition phase of classical conditioning, a neutral stimulus is repeatedly paired with an unconditioned stimulus. As you may recall, an unconditioned stimulus is something that naturally and automatically triggers a response without any learning. After an association is made, the subject will begin to emit a behavior in response to the previously neutral stimulus, which is now known as a conditioned stimulus. It is at this point that we can say that the response has been acquired.

For example, imagine that you are conditioning a dog to salivate in response to the sound of a bell. You repeatedly pair the presentation of food with the sound of the bell. You can say the response has been acquired as soon as the dog begins to salivate in response to the bell tone.

Once the response has been established, you can gradually reinforce the salivation response to make sure the behavior is well learned.

2. Extinction

Extinction is when the occurrences of a conditioned response decrease or disappear. In classical conditioning, this happens when a conditioned stimulus is no longer paired with an unconditioned stimulus.

For example, if the smell of food (the unconditioned stimulus) had been paired with the sound of a whistle (the conditioned stimulus), it would eventually come to evoke the conditioned response of hunger. However, if the unconditioned stimulus (the smell of food) were no longer paired with the conditioned stimulus (the whistle), eventually the conditioned response (hunger) would disappear.

3. Spontaneous Recovery

Sometimes a learned response can suddenly reemerge even after a period of extinction. Spontaneous Recovery is the reappearance of the conditioned response after a rest period or period of lessened response. For example, imagine that after training a dog to salivate to the sound of a bell, you stop reinforcing the behavior and the response eventually becomes extinct. After a rest period during which the conditioned stimulus is not presented, you suddenly ring the bell and the animal spontaneously recovers the previously learned response.

If the conditioned stimulus and unconditioned stimulus are no longer associated, extinction will occur very rapidly after a spontaneous recovery.

4. Stimulus Generalization

Stimulus Generalization is the tendency for the conditioned stimulus to evoke similar responses after the response has been conditioned. For example, if a dog has been conditioned to salivate at the sound of a bell, the animal may also exhibit the same response to stimuli that are similar to the conditioned stimulus. In John B. Watson's famous Little Albert Experiment, for example, a small child was conditioned to fear a white rat. The child demonstrated stimulus generalization by also exhibiting fear in response to other fuzzy white objects including stuffed toys and Watson own hair.

5.  Stimulus Discrimination

Discrimination is the ability to differentiate between a conditioned stimulus and other stimuli that have not been paired with an unconditioned stimulus. For example, if a bell tone were the conditioned stimulus, discrimination would involve being able to tell the difference between the bell tone and other similar sounds. Because the subject is able to distinguish between these stimuli, he or she will only respond when the conditioned stimulus is presented.

B.F Skinner: Classical and Operant Conditioning


A behaviorist theory based on the fundamental idea that behaviors that are reinforced will tend to continue, while behaviors that are punished will eventually end. Skinner is regarded as the father of Operant Conditioning, but his work was based on Thorndike’s (1905) law of effect. Skinner introduced a new term into the Law of Effect - Reinforcement.


·         Burrhus Frederic (B.F.) Skinner (1904 – 1990)

·         Ivan Pavlov (1849 – 1936)

Key Concepts

What is the difference between operant conditioning and classical conditioning? In operant conditioning, a voluntary response is then followed by a reinforcing stimulus. In this way, the voluntary response (e.g. studying for an exam) is more likely to be done by the individual. In contrast, classical conditioning is when a stimulus automatically triggers an involuntary response. Skinner (1948) studied operant conditioning by conducting experiments using animals which he placed in a 'Skinner Box' which was similar to Thorndike’s puzzle box.

Skinner Box illustration operant conditioning

In his first work with rats, Skinner would place the rats in a Skinner box with a lever attached to a feeding tube. Whenever a rat pressed the lever, food would be released. After the experience of multiple trials, the rats learned the association between the lever and food and began to spend more of their time in the box procuring food than performing any other action. It was through this early work that Skinner started to understand the effects of behavioral contingencies on actions. He discovered that the rate of response—as well as changes in response features—depended on what occurred after the behavior was performed, not before. Skinner named these actions operant behaviors because they operated on the environment to produce an outcome. The process by which one could arrange the contingencies of reinforcement responsible for producing a certain behavior then came to be called operant conditioning.

To prove his idea that behaviorism was responsible for all actions, he later created a "superstitious pigeon." He fed the pigeon on continuous intervals (every 15 seconds) and observed the pigeon's behavior. He found that the pigeon's actions would change depending on what it had been doing in the moments before the food was dispensed, regardless of the fact that those actions had nothing to do with the dispensing of food. In this way, he discerned that the pigeon had fabricated a causal relationship between its actions and the presentation of reward. It was this development of "superstition" that led Skinner to believe all behavior could be explained as a learned reaction to specific consequences.

B.F. Skinner (1938) coined the term operant conditioning; it means roughly changing of behavior by the use of reinforcement which is given after the desired response.

Skinner identified three types of responses or operant that can follow behavior.

·        Neutral operants: responses from the environment that neither increase nor decrease the probability of a behavior being repeated.

·        Reinforcers: Responses from the environment that increase the probability of a behavior being repeated. Reinforcers can be either positive or negative.

·        Punishers: Responses from the environment that decrease the likelihood of a behavior being repeated. Punishment weakens behavior.


Operant Conditioning

Operant conditioning can be described as a process that attempts to modify behavior through the use of positive and negative reinforcement. Through operant conditioning, an individual makes an association between a particular behavior and a consequence.

·        Example 1: Parents rewarding a child’s excellent grades with candy or some other prize.

·        Example 2: A schoolteacher awards points to those students who are the most calm and well-behaved. Students eventually realize that when they voluntarily become quieter and better behaved, that they earn more points.

·        Example 3: A form of reinforcement (such as food) is given to an animal every time the animal (for example, a hungry lion) presses a lever.

The term “operant conditioning” originated by the behaviorist B. F. Skinner, who believed that one should focus on the external, observable causes of behavior (rather than try to unpack the internal thoughts and motivations)

Reinforcement comes in two forms: positive and negative.

Positive and negative reinforcers

·        Positive reinforcers are favorable events or outcomes that are given to the individual after the desired behavior. This may come in the form of praise, rewards, etc.

·        Negative reinforcers typically are characterized by the removal of an undesired or unpleasant outcome after the desired behavior. A response is strengthened as something considered negative is removed.

The goal in both of these cases of reinforcement is for the behavior to increase.

Positive and negative punishment

Punishment, in contrast, is when the increase of something undesirable attempts to cause a decrease in the behavior that follows.

·        Positive punishment is when unfavorable events or outcomes are given in order to weaken the response that follows.

·        Negative punishment is characterized by when an favorable event or outcome is removed after a undesired behavior occurs.

The goal in both of these cases of punishment is for a behavior to decrease.

Four Important Principles in Operant Conditioning

·        Principle of Immediacy: Verbal immediacy refers to calling on by the students or asks students how they feel about things. Non-verbal immediacy includes behaviors such as smiling, gesturing, moves around the class while teaching and having relaxed body language.

·        Principle of Deprivation/Satiation:

Deprivation: Not having access to something that is Deprivation: Not having access to something that is highly desirable.

Satiation - is the opposite of deprivation -refers to having too much

·        Principle of Contingency: a future event or circumstance that is possible but cannot be predicted with certainty.

·        Principle of Size: The cost-benefit" determinant of whether a consequence will be effective. If the size, or amount, of the consequence is large enough to be worth the effort, the consequence will be more effective upon the behavior.


Much of the recent psychological thinking and experimentation in education includes some facets of the cognitive theory. This is true in basic as well as more advanced training programs. Unlike behaviorism, the cognitive theory focuses on what is going on inside the student's mind. Learning is not just a change in behavior; it is a change in the way a student thinks, understands, or feels.

The term cognition is derived from the Latin word “cognoscere” which means “to know” or “to recognize” or “to conceptualize”.  It refers to the mental processes an organism learns, remembers, understands, perceives, solves problems and thinks about a body of information.

Piaget's Theory

Piaget's (1936) theory of cognitive development is about how a child constructs a mental model of the world. The goal of the theory is to explain the mechanisms and processes by which the infant, and then the child, develops into an individual who can reason and think using hypotheses.

There Are Three Basic Components To Piaget's Cognitive Theory:

Schemas (building blocks of knowledge): 'a cohesive, repeatable action sequence possessing component actions that are tightly interconnected and governed by a core meaning'.

Adaptation processes that enable the transition from one stage to another (equilibrium, assimilation and accommodation)

·        Assimilation: The process by which people translate incoming information into a form they can understand. Which is using an existing schema to deal with a new object or situation. A 2 year old child sees a man who is bald on top of his head and has long frizzy hair on the sides. To his father’s horror, the toddler shouts “Clown, clown”

·        Accommodation: The process by which people adapt current knowledge structures in response to new experiences. This happens when the existing schema (knowledge) does not work, and needs to be changed to deal with a new object or situation. In the “clown” incident, the boy’s father explained to his son that the man was not a clown and that even though his hair was like a clown’s, he wasn’t wearing a funny costume and wasn’t doing silly things to make people laugh.

·        Equilibration: The process by which people balance assimilation and accommodation to create stable understanding. Equilibrium occurs when a child's schemas can deal with most new information through assimilation. However, an unpleasant state of disequilibrium occurs when new information cannot be fitted into existing schemas (assimilation).

Stages of  Development:

1.    Sensorimotor stage (Infancy), from birth to age 2

Understands  world  through  senses and actions

The main achievement during this stage is object permanence - knowing that an object still exists, even if it is hidden.

It requires the ability to form a mental representation (i.e. a schema) of the object.

2.    Pre-operational stage (Toddler and early childhood), from age 2 to about age 7

Understands world  through language and mental images

During this stage, young children are able to think about things symbolically. This is the ability to make one thing - a word or an object - stand for something other than itself.

Thinking is still egocentric, and the infant has difficulty taking the viewpoint of others.

3.    Concrete operational stage(Elementary and early adolescence), from 7-11

Understands world  through  logical thinking and categories

Piaget considered the concrete stage a major turning point in the child's cognitive development, because it marks the beginning of logical or operational thought.

This means the child can work things out internally in their head (rather than physically try things out in the real world).

Children can conserve number (age 6), mass (age 7), and weight (age 9). Conservation is the understanding that something stays the same in quantity even though its appearance changes

4.    Formal operational stage (Adolescence and adulthood).

Understands world through hypothetical thinking and  scientific reasoning

The formal operational stage begins at approximately age eleven and lasts into adulthood. During this time, people develop the ability to think about abstract concepts, and logically test hypotheses.

Because Piaget's theory is based upon biological maturation and stages, the notion of 'readiness' is important. Readiness concerns when certain information or concepts should be taught. According to Piaget's theory children should not be taught certain concepts until they have reached the appropriate stage of cognitive development.

According to Piaget (1958), assimilation and accommodation require an active learner, not a passive one, because problem-solving skills cannot be taught, they must be discovered.

Therefore, teachers should encourage the following within the classroom:

·         Focus on the process of learning, rather than the end product of it.

·         Using active methods that require rediscovering or reconstructing "truths".

·         Using collaborative, as well as individual activities (so children can learn from each other).

·         Devising situations that present useful problems, and create disequilibrium in the child.

·         Evaluate the level of the child's development, so suitable tasks can be set.

Although Piaget's theory remains highly influential, some weaknesses are now apparent.

·        The stage model depicts children's thinking as being more consistent than it is.

·        Infants and young children are more cognitively competent than Piaget recognized.

·        Piaget's theory understates the contribution of the social world to cognitive development.

·        Piaget's theory is vague about the cognitive processes that give rise to children's thinking and about the mechanisms that produce cognitive growth.


Bruner's Theory of Cognitive Development

Bruner (1966) was concerned with how knowledge is represented and organized through different modes of thinking (or representation).

Three Stages of Representation

Jerome Bruner identified three stages of cognitive representation.

1.     Enactive, which is the representation of knowledge through actions.

2.     Iconic, which is the visual summarization of images.

3.     Symbolic representation, which is the use of words and other symbols to describe experiences.

The enactive stage appears first. This stage involves the encoding and storage of information. There is a direct manipulation of objects without any internal representation of the objects.

For example, a baby shakes a rattle and hears a noise. The baby has directly manipulated the rattle and the outcome was a pleasurable sound. In the future, the baby may shake his hand, even if there is no rattle, expecting his hand to produce the rattling sounds. The baby does not have an internal representation of the rattle and, therefore, does not understand that it needs the rattle in order to produce the sound.

The iconic stage appears from one to six years old. This stage involves an internal representation of external objects visually in the form of a mental image or icon. For example, a child drawing an image of a tree or thinking of an image of a tree would be representative of this stage.

The symbolic stage, from seven years and up, is when information is stored in the form of a code or symbol such as language. Each symbol has a fixed relation to something it represents. For example, the word 'dog' is a symbolic representation for a single class of animal. Symbols, unlike mental images or memorized actions, can be classified and organized. In this stage, most information is stored as words, mathematical symbols, or in other symbol systems.

Bruner believed that all learning occurs through the stages we just discussed. Bruner also believed that learning should begin with direct manipulation of objects. For example, in math education, Bruner promoted the use of algebra tiles, coins, and other items that could be manipulated.


Social constructivism is a variety of cognitive constructivism that emphasizes the collaborative nature of much learning. Social constructivism was developed by post-revolutionary Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky. Vygotsky was a cognitivist, but rejected the assumption made by cognitivists such as Piaget and Perry that it was possible to separate learning from its social context. He argued that all cognitive functions originate in (and must therefore be explained as products of) social interactions and that learning did not simply comprise the assimilation and accommodation of new knowledge by learners; it was the process by which learners were integrated into a knowledge community. 

Social Development Theory argues that social interaction precedes development; consciousness and cognition are the end product of socialization and social behavior.

Albert Bandura’s Theory

People learn through observing others’ behavior, attitudes, and outcomes of those behaviors. “Most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others, one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action.” (Bandura). Social learning theory explains human behavior in terms of continuous reciprocal interaction between cognitive, behavioral, and environmental influences.

Necessary conditions for effective modeling

Attention — various factors increase or decrease the amount of attention paid. Includes distinctiveness, affective valence, prevalence, complexity, functional value. One’s characteristics (e.g. sensory capacities, arousal level, perceptual set, past reinforcement) affect attention.

Retention — remembering what you paid attention to. Includes symbolic coding, mental images, cognitive organization, symbolic rehearsal, motor rehearsal

Reproduction — reproducing the image. Including physical capabilities, and self-observation of reproduction.

Motivation — having a good reason to imitate. Includes motives such as past (i.e. traditional behaviorism), promised (imagined incentives) and vicarious (seeing and recalling the reinforced model)

Reciprocal Determinism

Bandura believed in “reciprocal determinism”, that is, the world and a person’s behavior cause each other, while behaviorism essentially states that one’s environment causes one’s behavior[2], Bandura, who was studying adolescent aggression, found this too simplistic, and so in addition he suggested that behavior causes environment as well[3]. Later, Bandura soon considered personality as an interaction between three components: the environment, behavior, and one’s psychological processes (one’s ability to entertain images in minds and language).

Social learning theory has sometimes been called a bridge between behaviorist and cognitive learning theories because it encompasses attention, memory, and motivation.

Vygotsky as well as Bandura suggested that learning is a socially interactive process. Vygotsky believed that children construct their knowledge from their immediate social environments and use adults as a tool to solve their knowledge problems; in comparison, Bandura believed that good role models will produce better behaviour than negative role models. Thus, behaviour is shaped by the environment but it also shapes and changes the environment ina back and forth way. Similarly, the two psychologists also viewed language as an actively-learned behaviour. They considered that language plays a central role in mental development, and verbal instruction will achieve the desired result. Additionally, Bandura observed that necessary conditions are required for effective modelling and encompasses attention, retention, reproduction and motivation. Correspondingly, Vygotsky suggested that development cannot be separated from its social context, as social contact is essential to learning and a child’s early development.

For example:

·        Online activities and projects can encourage the cooperation of student seven when not in the classroom.

·        Teachers can use videos and interactive worksheets to engage their students and assist them through scaffolding.

·        Commercials on TV makes a big impact on young people. There are some advertisements which suggest drinking a certain beverage or using a particular make up or shampoo. So, depending how motivated or attentive that person is may model that behaviour and buy the product.

In conclusion, both theorists suggest that social contacts are essential for children. Thus, care givers are important to produce good behaviour in children and students and it’s their duty to encourage them in good language and thinking skill development.


1.5 Role of teacher and learner in different teaching-learning situations- Learning Styles and Learning in Constructivist Perspective

 In a constructivist classroom, students are given necessary structure, voice, time, and space to question, explore, and argue to make sense of phenomena and concepts.

Constructivism is not defined by a set of activities or strategies. Rather, constructivism is a set of beliefs: that students are capable of accepting the responsibility to take charge of their own learning; that students are willing to be responsible and responsive; and that students who are entrusted to learn will develop the essentials of intrinsic motivation and self-confidence to continue as independent learners.

Characteristics of a Constructivist Classroom

1. Interactions between teacher-student and student-student are equally important in the learning process.

2. The roles and responsibilities of student and teacher fluidly pass back and forth between the two parties. While the teacher is ultimately responsible for creating an environment conducive to learning, students also share in the responsibilities associated with creating and responding to a learning environment.

3. Knowledge worth teaching/learning is broadly encompassing of factual, conceptual, and procedural types of knowledge. Prior knowledge of students is acknowledged and actively incorporated into the enacted curriculum. Questions whose answers may or may not be known by the teacher are welcomed and explored, and also become integrated into the instructional dialogue of the classroom.

4. The classroom environment of a constructivist classroom is safe: intellectually, emotionally, and physically. Students look forward to spending time in the classroom because they are known, their idiosyncrasies are accepted, and their interests are important in the dynamics of the classroom.

5. Diverse instructional and assessment strategies are used which focus on conceptual understanding and reinforce the balance between teacher and student dynamics.

Key principles of Constructivist learning and teaching:

·        Learning is influenced by the emotional state and perspective of the student.

·        Cognition is impacted by society, the environment and even the weather.

·        It promotes a wider understanding of the world by engaging the spatial memory system of the brain.

·        It creates a challenging, but not intimidating classroom environment.

·        Relies on the multiple intelligences of learners and commits to presenting information in a variety of ways.

Traditional learning models once favoured a teacher-centred approach where information was simply given to the students and they were required to take this as finite and simply repeat it back when required. With the progression of school curriculum, technology and the will of society, this style of teaching became outdated in the Western world to cater for a more student-centred style.

Teachers or tutors of this method are not the ones in control. They are mere facilitators of information and are there to be used as a guide and sounding board by the student for their own self-guidance. A constructivist teacher must be able to adopt a support role and let the learner own their discoveries.

Key principles for a constructivist teacher:

·        Present tasks with real-world application so that students can contextualise their knowledge easily.

·        Give assistance so that students are able to consolidate their established understanding with their new learning.

·        Provide scaffolds to bridge the gap between what learners know and what they are being presented with.

·        Enable relevant experts to lead lessons when appropriate.

In a constructivist classroom the student becomes the centre of attention. Learning revolves around them and uses their personal skills and level to drive the lesson progression and content. In order to challenge themselves, students need to know how to influence their ideas and elicit change. This alteration is aided by learning the significance of societal thinking or community ideals that shape a culture’s understanding. Therefore, the use of tutors or peers in a constructivist classroom is a pivotal addition to their education. It can be a new challenge for them, as it involves having a lot more responsibility for their own progress.

A constructivist approach to education is widely accepted by most researchers, though not by all. Carl Bereiter argues that constructivism in schools is usually reduced to project based learning, and John Anderson, Lynn Reder, and Herbert Simon claim that constructivism advocates very inefficient learning and assessment procedures. In any event, the reality is that constructivism is rarely practiced in schools.