adult learning theories behaviorism vs cognitivism n.
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Adult Learning Theories Behaviorism vs. Cognitivism
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  1. Adult Learning TheoriesBehaviorism vs. Cognitivism By Adan Cortez III

  2. Behaviorism • Can be traced back to Aristotle’s essay “Memory” which associated events like Lightning and Thunder • Based on studies of overt behaviors that can be observed and measured • The Mind is a “Black Box”: responses to stimuli can be observed quantitatively; ignoring the possibility that thought processes occur in the mind • Can be divided into two categories: classical conditioning and operant conditioning. • Experts in Behaviorism are Pavlov, Watson, Thorndike, and Skinner

  3. Cognitivism • Can be traced to ancient Greeks, Plato and Aristotle • In 1920 Piaget aided in the development of this theory • By the 1950’s Miller and Bruner had brought it to the U.S. in the form of the Harvard Center for Cognitive studies • Key concepts are the Schema: New information is compared to existing structures, 3 Stage Information Processing model (Sensory register, Short- term memory, &Long-term memory), Mnemonic effects, etc. • Cognitive Theorists view learning as acquisition or reorganization of the cognitive structures by which humans process and store information.

  4. The Behaviorist: B.F. Skinner • 1904- 1990: believed that stimulus- response patterns conditioned behavior. • His work differs from the theory of classic conditioning by focusing on changes of observable behavior; ignoring the possibility of processes occurring in the mind. • Establishes chains of behavior by the use of reinforcements • His method is known as Operant Conditioning • Benjamin Bloom used his principles to develop his Mastery Learning

  5. The Cognitivist: Jerome S. Bruner • 1915- Present: viewed learning as a process resulting from how one thinks and incorporates new information. • Placed emphasis on the development of cognitive schema in specific stages. • Believed that instruction should be developed in a spiral manner so that the student can continue to build on what has already been learned. • Called position “Instructional Theory” because it focuses on how a subject should be taught not how to learn.

  6. Behavioral Analysis • The objectives can be broken down into specific and quantifiable, terminal behaviors. • The ABCD model is an example that shows what the student will be able to do after completing the lesson. Ex. The student will be able to answer 90% of the questions on the posttest after the unit is complete. • This impacts the teaching process because it allow the educator to examine the student’s understanding throughout the learning process as each objective is met. • Also it allows the teacher to go back and reteach if necessary until the student has achieved each objective of the unit with the 90% of accuracy that was stated at the beginning of the unit.

  7. Cognitive Analysis • Instead of breaking information into objectives the Cognitivist uses chunks of information or mnemonics to convey new information that can be integrated to old knowledge. • This process allows the students find meaning to the information and make it worth learning and retaining as opposed to forceful learning. • Adults learning in this method can use the information they’ve already acquired throughout their lifetime to make the lessons relevant and memorable. • This method also allows them to learn a task in a particular way using these techniques for consistency in the learning aspect.

  8. Evaluating Behaviorism • A weakness is that the learner may be in a situation where the stimulus for the correct response isn’t used make it difficult for the student respond. • Although the learner is able to focus on the set objective which allows him to respond to cues that can lead to a response. • This method also leads to the mastery of an object and its content.

  9. Evaluating Cognitivism • Weakness of this method is that the student learns a way to accomplish a task but not necessarily the best way or best suited to the learner or his situation. • Useful in teaching problem-solving tactics where defined facts and rules are applied in unfamiliar situations • Also useful in tasks that require higher order thinking and is associated with strategies that require a stronger cognitive emphasis.

  10. References • Brown, A., & Brown, T. (2006). The essentials of instructional design: connecting fundamental principles and practice. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc. • Woolfolk, A. (1998). Educational Psychology. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon. • Rawson, M. (2000). Learning to Learn: more than a skill set. Studies in Higher Education,Vol. 25 (Issue 2), p225-238, 14p. • Mergel, B. (1998). Instructional Design & Learning Theory. Retrieved June 25, 2009, from Educational Communications and Technology University of Saskatchewan, from Website: • Mattingly, K. (2005). Katie Mattingly’s online instructional technology portfolio: Learning theories and theorists. Retrieved June 25, 2009, from website: • 1.5 Focus on Cognitivists. (2008) Pearson Education Inc. Retrieved: June 25,2009, from website:,9593,1568333-,00.html