Theories of Learning and Ed. Tech. – Not Forever or Always

Theories of Learning and Ed. Tech. – Not Forever or Always

Blog post prompt #2 – Considering the readings and our discussion in class, write a post addressing the following: Which theories of knowledge and/or learning underpin your own teaching philosophy and classroom practice? How have your beliefs shifted or changed over the course of your teaching career thus far?

I have to say, I thoroughly enjoy being a student. I genuinely love sitting back and listening to a lecture on a topic, and I think this is because as teachers, we are the ones facilitating the learning, and it’s a nice change of pace to be on the receiving end. I’m not even currently a practicing teacher and I still feel this way. It’s almost…relaxing. If I went back in time and told my undergrad self this I would think I was a little nuts. But here we are, feeling like my 2 classes this semester are my peaceful reprieve from real life as a parent of two small humans.

Schitts Creek Crying GIF By CBC

This week, Katia introduced and explained some of the prominent theories of learning and their origins. While I’ve heard of these before, I’ll be honest – I’ve never thought too much about them in regards to my teaching philosophy or practice, but I can see now how valuable this can be as an educator. As I reflect on my personal beliefs about teaching and learning, these are some of my values in simplest terms:

  • Each student comes to class with a unique set of values, beliefs and experiences
  • One size (of teaching) does not fit all
  • My role is to facilitate the learning and environment so students can do the learning, as opposed to “pouring” knowledge into them as if they are empty vessels
  • There’s a lot more to teaching and learning than what’s in the curriculum

How do these fit in to different theories of knowledge and learning? During Katia’s lecture, she mentioned that likely the best approach is to employ some combination of many learning theories in order to reach the most students. And considering what we believe knowledge to be is helpful because it ultimately shapes how we teach.

Below, I’ll outline each of the 3 main learning theories and consider the classroom practices I’ve used that “fit” into each.


This theory argues that humans learn through reinforcement and punishment. Desired behaviours are acquired through conditioning. A relation to ed. tech. is B.F. Skinner’s teaching machine, which was the first of its kind to provide immediate feedback to learners. This was a form of adaptive teaching. In this Medium article briefly outlining Skinner’s invention, Abhishek Solanki writes that “[a]daptive learning or also known as adaptive teaching uses algorithms to give constant feedback, make observations and deliver customised resources which address the needs of individual learners. In behaviourism, knowledge is absolute and doesn’t leave much room for doubt, making it quite a “comfortable” type of learning. It employs a “one size fits all” model in which learning in largely passive.

In my own teaching, things like tests with multiple choice questions or clear-cut behaviour management systems such as Class Dojo are so tempting; they take the guesswork out of teaching and learning and provide tangible assessment data. But how meaningful or “accurate” is this data? In a profession which our role as educators is in part to report on if students reach outcomes or objectives, it is hard not to fall into a trap of largely behaviourist idealogy. Either students get it, or they don’t. This is very “black and white” thinking, however, in a world that is, at least somewhat, inarguably grey.

I do believe things like multiple choice questions or programs that provide immediate feedback (such as Knowledgehook, Mathletics, IXL, Kahoot, etc.) can help students learn, but of course, not everything can be learned through these mediums. If the goal is to have students arrive at the correct answer to say, “8×3”, sure – these modern types of “teaching machines” could help. But do they take into account a deeper understanding of the correct answer or why it is 24? Are there better ways to build that kind of foundational knowledge?

Since Skinner’s invention, with the rise of technological advancements and creation of the internet, educational technology has shifted from individual growth to group growth, thereby shifting the learning theories that technology “fits” into. Fortunately, tech is now being used in the classroom with different goals in mind than Skinner’s learning machine was created for – connection and collaboration.


In contrast to behaviourism, where little attention is paid to the mind, cognitivism focuses largely on how the mind participates in learning and how learned information is stored. Rather than being a passive vessel, the learner is an active participant. The mind is like a computer, where knowledge is stored in a very systematic way. Jean Piaget proposed the 4 stages of cognitive development and argued that learning means constantly altering and adding to one’s schema. In this theory, knowledge is also absolute and mechanical and does not account for individuality. We see this in the classroom with things like graphic organizers and Venn diagrams. It also includes things like problem solving where the learner is prompted to activate prior knowledge and apply it to the task at hand.

Each year in our division, our students complete a writing assessment. The style of essay depends on the grade level. Students are allowed to choose their topic, though some teachers will provide some guidance or boundaries for this. In administering this assessment, we are encouraged to use graphic organizers to help students organize their thoughts. For other essay-style writing throughout the year, I also have students map their writing on an organizer beforehand. What’s interesting is that some of the best essays I have read tend to push the boundaries of these rigid templates because they show creativity beyond what the organizer would allow.

Reflecting on past experiences and recalling prior knowledge from students’ memory is a valuable skill, especially since grade school is largely set up this way. We see this in subjects like math, where knowledge is purposefully scaffolded and concepts become more complex, building and developing as students move up to the next grade.


This theory involves learning as constructed or created by the learner. It involves schemas that are changed and altered through social interactions and experiences. Constructivism encourages teachers to provide stimulus and ask questions, such as through inquiry-based learning. Lev Vygotsky and Albert Bandura were two supporters of this type of this theory, crediting learning to social interaction, play, and observing others.

This learning theory emphasizes the learner as a unique individual, which behaviourism and cognitivism generally fail to do. Of course, this is helpful, since each student that enters the classroom has a unique set of beliefs, values, learning styles, and life experiences.

In my own teaching, I’ve facilitated a number of inquiry-based projects, as I’m sure most teachers also have and continue to do. As touched on before, however, true inquiry, or constructivist teaching, is difficult when the obligation of a teacher is to help students master a scripted set of outcomes (the curriculum). In this case, knowledge is absolute, or rather, the knowledge that is focused on in a classroom setting is absolute. I’ve seen students get so excited about inquiry as their discoveries take them on tangents that they (or I) didn’t expect. And while it is incredible and inspiring to witness students have passion for learning, it can also cause educators to feel disorganized and frazzled because the demands of “covering the curriculum” and “meeting outcomes” don’t really allow for tangents on a schedule.

That being said, I would argue that the most meaningful and memorable learning probably occurs under a constructivist umbrella, where students are the ones actually constructing their own learning. But I’m not sure how this can be married with curriculum in an educational setting.

Free vector stem education model. learning program, basic fields of study, school subjects

Learning Theories and Educational Technology

In chapter 2 of his book, Tony Bates states that “…there is no one best way to teach that will fit all circumstances, which is why arguments over ‘modern’ or ‘traditional’ approaches to teaching reading or math, for example, are often so sterile.” He also explains that “the choice of or preference for one particular theoretical approach will have major implications for the way that technology is used to support teaching.” In this ACRLog blog, guest bloggers Candice Benjes-Small and Alyssa Archer note that “providing an optimal learning experience does not boil down to the instruction method. There are many different variables that impact learning”.

This all being said, just as teachers probably shouldn’t subscribe to just one learning theory, they also shouldn’t be limited to one type or way of using technology in the classroom. This is much easier said than done, of course, as it’s so easy to get comfortable with a certain way of teaching. Providing meaningful education using technology, though, doesn’t really allow for one to get too comfortable, as it is always evolving and changing.

Looking back over my eleven year career so far, I feel as though constructivism has guided my teaching practice the most, but I have certainly employed various strategies and methods that would be considered behaviourist or cognitivist as well. Reflecting on this, and looking to the future, I hope to be more mindful of the theories that underpin how I choose to teach and to think critically about if they lead to the desired outcome or result. Based on this week’s lesson as well as the readings, a combination of learning theories, in practice, is the best approach to teaching and learning. The same can be said for the use of technology in the classroom; it should be used in a variety of ways to best support learning.

One thought on “Theories of Learning and Ed. Tech. – Not Forever or Always

  1. Great post, Christina. One thing that I think about when you mention your students being excited for inquiry based projects is how mixed of a reaction I get when I do the same. I’m assuming it has to do with the my student’s previous learning (and in this case I’m also assuming it was more behaviorist based) because I often get students who simply say, “Just tell me what to do. I hate having to come up with something”. Of course we usually put in parameters around our projects that give a starting point or things to consider, but the students I have recently been working with have been used to right/wrong answers for the majority of their schooling and need serious pushing to get the ball on the roll.

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