"Man is a singular creature. He has a set of gifts which make him unique among the animals: so that, unlike them, he is not a figure in the landscape - he is a shaper of the landscape."
 - J. Bronowski, The Ascent of Man

Preparing for a course includes determining what will be taught and the methods to be used. We make decisions on the sequence of materials, presentations and activities. We decide on how much lecture, classroom discussion, and project work there will be in the course. We consider using videos, textbooks, handouts, library research, and resources on the Internet. We plan how to approach our students and create a classroom personae to facilitate interactions. We do all these to improve the likelihood of student success in our course.

As we think about the methods we will use, we make assumptions about our students. We make assumptions about their motivation to learn and about their emotional, intellectual, and academic preparation for our course. We also make assumptions about how people learn in general. We often make these assumptions based on our own learning experiences. If many of our students are similar to ourselves in terms of learning skills and background, we might have many successful students. If many of our students are not similar to ourselves, the outcome may not be so bright.

In the 1900's the effects of the industrial revolution placed more people in school and success in learning became increasingly important. Social scientists began to look deeply into how people learn. Their research has led to a wide array of learning theories. An understanding of current learning theory can affect the assumptions we make about our students and, in turn, affect how we present our course materials and therefore the success of our students in learning them.

In this lesson you will encounter three major themes in learning theory: constructivism, behaviorism, and andragogy. Understanding the ideas behind these theories and seeing how they might be applied in your classroom can help you make course implementation decisions.


This module contains the following main readings:

  1. Constructivism
  2. Behaviorism
  3. Andragogy

By the end of this module you should be able to:

1. Use the theories of constructivism to help your students learn.

2. Evaluate the use of behaviorist methods in your teaching.

3. Apply the theories of adult learning in your classroom.


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Knowledge Check

Constructing knowledge refers to:

A. testing ideas for cognitive fit.

B. creating knowledge from all new information.

C. reorganizing existing knowledge for new understandings.

D. building knowledge by adding new information to existing knowledge.