Understanding how people learn: lessons in libraries and information centers (2023)

Learning theories describe the conditions and processes under which learning takes place and provide teachers with models for designing lessons that lead to better learning. These theories explain the processes in which people are involved in understanding information and how they integrate this information into their mental models so that it becomes new knowledge. Learning theories also examine what motivates people to learn and what circumstances facilitate or hinder learning.

Sometimes people are skeptical about the need to learn theory because they believe that these theories are not relevant in the real world, but learning theories are common. The models and processes they describe generally apply to different populations and settings, and provide us with guidelines for developing assignments, assignments, and lesson plans that align with how our students learn best. Learning theories can also be exciting. People who enjoy teaching often find theory interesting and will be excited when they begin to see the connections between theory and learning that they see in their own classrooms.

With a basic understanding of learning theories, we can create lessons that enhance the learning process. This understanding helps us explain our teaching decisions or the "why" behind what and how we teach. When certain learning theories resonate with us and we consciously design lessons around those theories, we begin to develop a personal teaching philosophy that will guide our future lesson design. This chapter links theory to practice by providing concrete examples of how theories can be applied in library education. These theories provide a foundation for the instructional design and reflective practices presented in the rest of this book.

As you read, consider keeping in mind the key points of each theory and thinking about how these theories can be applied to your practice. Figure 3.1 provides an example of a graphic organizer, one of the reading materials discussed in Chapter 11, that you can use to take notes as you read this chapter. In addition to the practical examples provided in this chapter, feel free to add a few of your own.

Figure 3.1: Graphic organizer for important learning theories

Understanding how people learn: lessons in libraries and information centers (1)


Behaviorism draws heavily on the work of John B. Watson and B.F. Skinner. Behaviorists were concerned with establishing psychology as a science and focusing their studies on behaviors that could be observed empirically, such as B. Actions that could be measured and tested, rather than on internal states, such as emotions (McLeod, 2015). According to behaviorists, learning depends on a person's interactions with his or her external environment. When people experience the consequences of their interactions with the environment, they change their behavior in response to those consequences. For example, if someone hurts their hand touching a hot stove, they will learn not to touch the stove again, and if they are praised for studying for a test, they are likely to learn in the future.

According to behavior theorists, we can change people's behavior by manipulating the environment to encourage certain behaviors and discourage others, a process called conditioning (Popp, 1996). Perhaps the most famous example of conditioning is Pavlov's dog. In his classic experiment, Pavlov showed that a dog can be conditioned to associate the sound of a bell with food, such that the dog ultimately salivates on hearing the bell, regardless of whether it is given food. Watson adapted stimulus conditioning for humans (Jensen, 2018). He gave an 11-month-old baby a mouse and the baby seemed to enjoy playing with it. Over time, Watson would make a loud, uncomfortable noise every time he pulled out the mouse. Finally, the baby associated the mouse with the sound and cried when he saw the mouse. Although Watson's experiment is now considered ethically questionable, he discovered that people's behavior can be changed by controlling environmental stimuli.

Skinner (1938) explored how conditioning can shape behavior in the long term and in more complex ways, introducing the concept of reinforcement. According to Skinner, when people receive positive reinforcement, such as praise and rewards, for certain behaviors, those behaviors are reinforced, while negative reinforcement prevents the behaviors. According to Skinner, by carefully controlling the environment and establishing a reinforcement system, teachers, parents, and others can encourage and develop desired behaviors (Jensen, 2018). A simple example of behaviorism in the classroom is a point system, where students earn points for good behavior and deduct points for bad behavior. Accumulated points can finally be redeemed for rewards like small gifts or homework passes. This approach assumes that motivation is external, as students engage in specific behaviors in order to receive rewards.

Because behaviorism emphasizes the external environment, it largely ignores or neglects the role of internal influences, such as prior knowledge and emotions (Popp, 1996). To some degree, behaviorists treat students as blank slates and emphasize the role of the teacher in the classroom. In this teacher-centered approach, trainers own the knowledge, decide what is learned, and set the rewards for learning. Since their previous experience and knowledge are not considered relevant, students are passive participants who are only expected to absorb the knowledge transmitted by the teacher. Although the notion of students as blank slates has fallen out of favor, many conditioning aspects of behaviorism remain popular. As almost any student can attest, behavior-based reinforcement methods, like the point system described above, are still common, especially in the younger grades. Recent trends in classroom play, where certain behaviors are rewarded with points and level advancements, are based on a behavioral approach to learning. See Activity 3.1 for a short activity on behaviorism.

Activity 3.1: Reflection on behaviorism

Think about some of your own learning experiences, whether in a traditional classroom, through professional development training, or in the context of personal interests, such as dance or photography classes. Try to identify some examples of behaviorism from these experiences and reflect on the following questions:

  • How have your teachers used behavioral exercises in their classrooms?
  • Did you find these practices motivating? Why or why not?
  • If you can think of examples of behaviorism from different learning experiences, were they more appropriate in some situations than others? In that way?
  • Have you ever used or are you considering using behaviorism in your teaching practice? In that way?


Humanism recognizes the fundamental dignity and worth of each individual and believes that humans should be able to exercise some control over their environment. Although humanism as an educational philosophy has its roots in Renaissance Italy, more modern theorists associated with this approach include John Dewey, Carl Rogers, Maria Montessori, Paolo Freire, and Abraham Maslow. Humanistic learning theory is a holistic educational approach that focuses on the individual learner and their needs and takes into account the affective and cognitive aspects of learning. Essentially, “humanism in education traditionally refers to a broad and diffuse vision that emphasizes freedom, dignity, autonomy, and human individualism” (Lucas, 1996). In this broader context, humanism is also characterized by the following principles (Madsen & Wilson, 2012; Sharp, 2012):

  1. Students are whole people and learning must take into account their emotional and cognitive states.
  2. Teachers must be empathetic.
  3. Students are self-directed and internally motivated.
  4. The result of learning is self-actualization.

Humanism places the individual at the center and recognizes students as whole beings with emotional and affective states that accompany their cognitive development. Recognizing the role of students' emotions means understanding how these emotions affect learning. Student anxiety, perhaps surrounding a test or research paper, can interfere with the cognitive processes necessary for success. Empathetic teachers recognize and seek to understand students' emotional states, taking steps to alleviate negative emotions that can distract students from learning, creating a supportive learning environment.

In the library context, Mellon (1986) identified the phenomenon of library anxiety, or the negative emotions that some people experience when researching or interacting with library tools and services. This fear can distract students and make it difficult for them to engage in the processes necessary to find, evaluate, and summarize the information they need to complete their assignment. In the same way, in his information search process, Kuhlthau (1990) describes both the affective states and the cognitive processes in which students are involved when conducting research and recognizes that their emotions oscillate between fear, optimism and finally , satisfaction or disappointment.

A humanistic approach to education recognizes these affective states and seeks to limit their negative effects. For example, we can acknowledge that feelings of anxiety are common to help students realize that they are not alone. We can also explain how the skills students learn are relevant to their lives in and out of the classroom.

Since humanists view people as autonomous beings, they believe that learning should be self-directed, which means that students should have some choice about what and how to learn. Humanities education is often associated with student-centered pedagogical approaches such as differentiated curricula, self-directed learning, and discovery learning (Lucas, 1996). Self-directed learning can take many forms, but generally it means that the instructor acts as a guide and students are free to take responsibility for their own learning. Teachers provide the learning materials and opportunities, but students engage in learning on their own terms. In a library classroom, we can allow students to choose which topics to research or provide them with different types of activities to practice skills and demonstrate what they have learned.

Humanists also believe that learning is part of a process of self-actualization. They assert that learning should be internally motivated and driven by students' interests and goals, rather than externally motivated and oriented toward a material end goal, such as test performance or employment (Sharp, 2012). The expectation is that when students can follow their interests and be creative, and when learning takes place in a supportive environment, they will engage in learning. This emphasis on self-actualization is largely based on Maslow's (1943) hierarchy of needs. Maslow identified five levels of needs: basic physiological needs such as food, water, and shelter; security needs; Needs for belonging and love, including friends and close relationships. Assess needs, including sense of accomplishment; and self-actualization when people reach their full potential. Importantly, these needs are hierarchical, meaning that a person cannot achieve higher needs, such as esteem and self-actualization, until more basic needs, such as food and safety, are met. The role of the humanistic teacher is to facilitate student self-actualization by helping to ensure that needs such as security and appreciation are met through empathic teaching and a supportive classroom.

in your bookpedagogy of the oppressed, Freire (2000) brings together many of the student-centered elements of humanistic education, with a strong emphasis on the social justice aspects of learning and teaching. In contrast to behavioral approaches, Freire emphasizes the importance of students' life experiences for their learning. He criticizes what he calls the "bank model" of education, in which students are seen as passive, empty vessels into which teachers simply deposit bits of knowledge for students to choke down without meaningful interaction on tests or chores. Freire insists that for learning to be meaningful, the learning must be relevant to the student's life and the student must be an active participant. Freire also emphasized the emancipatory role of education, arguing that the purpose of education is for students to gain agency to challenge oppressive systems and improve their lives, as well as the practice in which students transfer abstract and theoretical knowledge to life. real, putting the world into practice.

While a student-centered focus and choice can be introduced into any classroom, observers note that in an era of standardized testing and curriculum structures, when teachers are often constrained by material, the ability to provide choice, and student exploration is limited (Sharp, 2012). ; Zucca-Scott, 2010). Librarians often face similar limitations. School librarians must also adhere to state and local curriculum standards. Academic librarians often rely on invitations from professors to teach classes and must tailor their sessions to the content, schedule, and learning goals of the faculty member. However, we can always find ways to incorporate some self-regulation. For example, instead of using examples designed to demonstrate the investigation, we can have students suggest topics for investigation. By planning hands-on activities, we can allow students to explore their own interests while participating in the activity, rather than restricting it to pre-selected topics.


Cognitivism, or cognitive psychology, was developed in the mid-20th century by scientists such as George Miller, Ulric Neisser, and Noam Chomsky. While behaviorists focus on the external environment and observable behavior, cognitive psychologists are interested in mental processes (Codington-Lacerte, 2018). They affirm that behavior and learning involve more than a simple response to environmental stimuli and require rational thinking and active participation in the learning process (Clark, 2018). For cognitivists, learning can be described as “acquiring knowledge and skills and having them readily available in memory in order to understand future problems and opportunities” (Brown et al., 2014, p. 2).

Cognitivists view the brain as an information processor, much like a computer, working with algorithms it develops to process information and make decisions. According to cognitive psychology, people acquire and store knowledge, called schemata, in their long-term memory. In addition to storing knowledge, people organize their knowledge into categories and create connections between categories or schemas that help them retrieve relevant information when they need it (Clark, 2018). When people find new information, they process it against their existing knowledge or schema to make new connections. Cognitivists are interested in the specific functions that allow the brain to store, retrieve, and use information, as well as mental processes such as pattern recognition and categorization, and the circumstances that affect people's attention (Codington-Lacerte , 2018).

Since cognitivists view memory and recall as keys to learning, they are interested in the processes and conditions that enhance memory and recall. According to research in cognitive psychology, traditional learning methods, which include rereading texts and exercises in drilling or repeating terms and concepts, are not effective in retaining information in memory (Brown et al., 2014). Instead, cognitivists claim that activities that require students to retrieve information from memory, sometimes called "retrieval practice," lead to better memory and ultimately better learning. For example, they suggest that language learners use flashcards to practice vocabulary rather than writing words over and over again or reading and rereading a list of words, since flashcards force the student to recall information from memory.

Although the test has fallen out of favor with many educators and educational theorists, cognitivists feel that the test can be useful as a retrieval practice as well as a diagnostic tool. They see quizzes not only as a way to measure what they are learning, but also as a way to practice recall of key concepts and a way to identify knowledge gaps or weaknesses so students know what to focus on (Brown et al. , 2014). Cognitivists encourage "spaced practice," or recalling previously learned information at regular intervals, and "weaving," or learning related concepts together, to make connections between them. Their research found that retrieval is most effective when the brain is forced to remember information over time, and when retrieval involves two or more related themes or concepts. Finally, cognitivists also promote problem-based learning, stating that “trying to solve a problem before teaching yourself how to solve it leads to better learning, even if the attempt involves mistakes” (Brown et al., 2014, p. 4).

These processes that enhance memory and recall, and therefore learning, have some implications for teachers in creating an optimal learning environment. Gagné (1985) proposed nine learning conditions, called external learning conditions or the nine classroom events:

  1. gain attentionEngage students by connecting learning to relevant events in their lives and by asking thought-provoking questions.
  2. Inform the student about the objective.Start by sharing learning objectives with students, use them to set expectations and provide a learning roadmap.
  3. Stimulate the memory of previous learning.Encourage students to memorize previously learned relevant knowledge and skills before introducing new information.
  4. Introduce the stimulus.Share new information. This step depends on the content of the lesson. For example, a lesson on Boolean operators might start with a Venn diagram and usage examples.mi,o, miNo.
  5. Offer a study aid.Facilitate learning through demonstration and explanation.
  6. awaken performance.Give students time to practice skills and demonstrate their abilities. Ideally, students would have low-impact hands-on opportunities that they would be comfortable with if they were not immediately successful.
  7. Give opinion.Provide students with what they are doing well and where they can improve.
  8. evaluate performance.Use measures such as assignments, activities, and projects to measure whether learning has occurred.
  9. Improve retention and transfer.Give students the opportunity to practice skills in new contexts, which improves retention and helps students see how skills apply in different areas.

Cognitivism remains a popular approach to learning. However, a criticism of cognitive psychology is that, unlike humanism, it does not take into account the role of emotions in learning (Codington-Lacerte, 2018). Additionally, some critics believe that cognitivism places too much emphasis on memorizing and recalling facts, to the detriment of higher-order skills such as creativity and problem solving. However, cognitivists argue that the ability to remember facts and concepts is essential for higher-order reasoning, and therefore the two are not mutually exclusive, but are, in fact, interdependent (Brown et al., 2014). ). Finally, cognitivism is considered teacher-centered rather than student-centered, as it emphasizes the role of the coach in organizing learning activities and establishing learning conditions (Clark, 2018). Exercise 3.2 is a short exercise on cognitivism.

Activity 3.2: Reflection on Cognitivism

Cognitive scientists recommend retrieval practice, including spaced practice and interleaving, rather than drilling.

Questions for reflection and discussion:

  1. What kind of learning practices do you usually use? Do your practices differ depending on the content or material you study? In that way?
  2. Can you think of ways to incorporate retrieval practices into your work for this class?
  3. Spaced practice involves returning to previously learned concepts at a later date, but individual sessions are often taught by information workers. Can you think of ways to incorporate spatial practice into one session?


Constructivism postulates that individuals create knowledge and meaning through their interactions with the world. Like cognitivism and in contrast to behaviorism, constructivism recognizes the role of prior knowledge in learning and believes that individuals interpret what they experience in the context of what they already know (Kretchmar, 2019a). Social constructions, such as shared beliefs and shared expectations about behavior and values, provide a framework for knowledge, but people “do not receive this knowledge simply as empty vessels waiting to be filled. Individuals and groups interact with each other, contribute to the common pool of information and beliefs, and come to a consensus with others about what they believe to be the true nature of identity, knowledge, and reality” (Mercadal, 2018). Cognitivism and constructivism overlap in many ways. Both approaches are based on the theories of Jean Piaget, sometimes called the cognitive constructivist. However, while cognitivism is considered teacher-centered, constructivism is student-centered by acknowledging the student's role in engaging with content and making meaning. Constructivist teachers act as guides or coaches, facilitating learning by developing supportive activities and environments and building on what students already know (Kretchmar, 2019b).

Piaget explores the concepts of assimilation, adaptation, and disequilibrium to describe how humans create knowledge. In his early work as a biologist, Piaget observed how organisms adapt to their environment in order to survive. By adapting in this way, the organism has reached equilibrium. He extended these observations to cognitive science and postulated that humans also seek balance (Kretchmar, 2019a).

When encountering new situations or new information, people need to find a way to deal with the new information. Similar to the processes described in the cognitivism section, people will examine their existing knowledge or schema to see if the new information fits what they already know. If that's the case, they can absorb the information relatively easily. However, when new information does not match what people already know, they experience cognitive imbalance or conflict and have to adapt by adapting to the new information. For example, when children learn what a dog is, they can name each four-legged creature they see as a dog. This is assimilation when children adapt new information to their existing knowledge. However, as children learn the differences between, for example, a dog and a cat, they may adjust their schema to accommodate this new knowledge (Heick, 2019).

Imbalance and accommodation can be uncomfortable. People may feel confused or anxious when they encounter information that does not fit their existing schema and may have difficulty assimilating this new information, but imbalance is critical to learning (Kretchmar, 2019a). During assimilation, people may add new information to their knowledge base, but it does not change their understanding of the world. During adaptation, as people change their schemas, build new knowledge, and make new connections between existing knowledge areas, real learning takes place, and adaptation requires imbalance.

Recognizing the role of imbalance is important for both teachers and students. People naturally want to avoid discomfort, but that can also mean avoiding actual learning. As educators, we can facilitate adaptation by recognizing that the process can be challenging and by creating conditions that allow students to feel safe while exploring new information. We can reassure students that feelings of discomfort or fear are normal and provide low-impact opportunities to interact with new information.

social constructivism

Social constructivism draws on the traditions of constructivism and cognitivism; While these theories focus on how individuals process information and construct meaning, social constructivists also consider how people's interactions with others affect their understanding of the world. Social constructivists recognize that different people may have different reactions to, and develop different understandings of, the same events and circumstances, and are interested in how factors such as identity, family, community, and culture shape this understanding (Mercadal, 2018). While cognitivists and constructivists see other people as secondary to an individual's learning, social constructivists see the community as central. Social constructivism can be defined as “the belief that the meanings associated with experience are socially compounded, depending on the culture in which the child grows up and the child's caregivers” (Schaffer, 2006). Like constructivism, social constructivism focuses on learner experiences and participation and sees the role of the trainer as a facilitator or guide. Two of the most important theorists of social constructivism are Pierre Bourdieu and Lev Vygotsky.

Building on Piaget's work, Vygotsky believed that knowledge is constructed, but felt that earlier theories overemphasized the role of the individual in this construction of knowledge. Instead, "he was more interested in the role of others in children's development and learning processes," including how children learn in collaboration with older or more experienced adults and peers who can guide them through more complex concepts (Kretchmar, 2019b). 🇧🇷 Vygotsky was also interested in how language and learning are related. He postulated that the way people share their thoughts and perceptions, even when talking to themselves about a concept or problem, is a crucial element of learning (Kretchmar, 2019b). For Vygotsky, interaction and dialogue between students, teachers, and peers are essential for students to develop an understanding of the world and the socially constructed meanings of their communities.

Bourdieu studied how social structures affect people's values, knowledge, and beliefs, and how these structures often become so entrenched that they become invisible. People within a society become so cultured in that society's systems and beliefs that they often accept them as "normal" and do not view them as imposed structures (Roth, 2018). As a result, these structures cannot be challenged or challenged, even if they are unfair or oppressive. In addition to examining how community and culture shape knowledge, Bourdieu was interested in how classroom problems affect learning. He noted that schools evolved over time to reflect the cultures of wealthier families, allowing their children to succeed because they inherently understood the culture of the classroom and the educational system. We continue to see these issues today, and as discussed in more detail in Chapters 5 and 6, part of our critical practice is ensuring that our classrooms and teaching strategies are inclusive and responsive to all students.

Activity 3.3 looks at how we can use theory to guide our practice.

Activity 3.3: Lesson planning using learning theory

While learning theories can be interesting on their own, our goal as educators is to apply them to practice in the classroom. Imagine you are a high school librarian working with a class that has just been assigned a research paper. Your goal for this session is for students to collect keywords and synonyms for their topics and learn how to put these words together using Boolean operators.mi,o, miNo🇧🇷 You want to make sure that students understand how Boolean operators work and remember how to use them in future investigations.

Choose one of the learning theories described in this chapter and create a short lesson to teach Boolean operators from the perspective of that theory. Focus less on what you would teach and more on how you would teach it according to your chosen theory:

  • How would you introduce the topic?
  • What kind of learning activities would you use?
  • What would you do during class? What would you expect from the students?
  • How would your answers to these questions change if you were guided by a different theory?

The learning theories described above discuss various cognitive processes involved in learning and some of the motivators and conditions that facilitate learning. While these theories attempt to describe how humans learn, it is important to note that individuals are not born ready to engage in all of these processes at once, and not all necessarily engage in the same processes at the same time. Rather, more complex processes unfold over time as people experience the world and their brains mature. In addition to studying how humans learn, some theorists have also proposed theories or frameworks to describe developmental stages or different points in human development when different cognitive processes are activated and different types of learning can occur.

Piaget described four hierarchical stages of cognitive development: sensorimotor, preoperative, concrete operational, and formal operational (Clouse, 2019), which are presented in Table 3.1. In the sensorimotor phase, from birth to two years of age, babies react to the environment with innate reflexes, such as sucking, swallowing, and crying. Around the age of two, they begin to solve problems by trial and error. The preoperational phase, sometimes called the intuitive intelligence phase, lasts from two to seven years of age. During this period, children develop language and imagination. They can use their imagination, but they only see the world from their own perspective and have a hard time understanding other perspectives. Your understanding of the world at this stage is linked to your perceptions. Children are in the operational phase between the ages of seven and twelve. During this period, they begin to think more logically about the world, are able to understand that objects are not always what they seem, and begin to understand other people's perspectives. The final stage, formal operationalism, begins around age 12. At this point, individuals can think abstractly and engage with ideas that go beyond the concrete world around them, and can use deductive arguments and reason through consequences (Clark, 2018; Clouse, 2019).

Table 3.1: Piaget's four stages of cognitive development

stageage groupbehavior and skills
sensory motor skillsBirth to 18-24 months
  • Respond to the environment with innate reflexes such as sucking, swallowing, and crying
preoperative18-24 months to 7 years
  • Begins to develop language
  • Start with basic troubleshooting through trial and error
  • Engages in imaginative play, but is often unable to understand perspectives other than his own.
working concrete7 to 12 years
  • develop logical thinking
  • Understand that appearances are not always reality.
  • Develop the ability to understand the perspectives of others.
formally operational12 years or older
  • Engage in abstract thinking
  • use deductive reasoning
  • think about the consequences

Perry's (1970) Scheme of Intellectual and Moral Development provides another useful framework for understanding the developmental stages of learning. Perry proposed four levels of learning. In the first stage, dualism, children generally believe that all problems have solutions and that each question has correct and incorrect answers. At this stage, children often go to teachers who give them the correct answers. The second stage is diversity, in which students recognize that there are conflicting points of view and controversies on the issues. Students in the multiplicity stage often have difficulty assessing the authority and credibility of arguments. They tend to believe that all perspectives are equally valid and rely on their own experiences to form an opinion and decide what information to trust. In the next step, called relativism, students begin to understand that there are different lenses for understanding and evaluating information. They learn that different disciplines have their own methods of investigation and analysis and can begin to apply these perspectives when evaluating sources and evidence. At this point, students can understand that not all answers or perspectives are equal, but that some answers or arguments may be more valid than others. In the last step, engagement, students integrate selected information into their knowledge base. You can see the connections between Perry and the cognitivists and constructivists described above in the way they describe, respectively, people who make sense of information by comparing new information with existing knowledge. However, Perry organizes processes into stages of development that describe the progress of learning.

By understanding Piaget's and Perry's stages, we can develop appropriate lessons for students at each stage. For example, in a climate change class for pre-surgical students, an instructor might use the Piaget whiteboard to collect images of different animal habitats or take children on a nature walk to observe the environment. Teachers can ask these children to describe what they see and reflect on their personal experiences with the weather, while older children can be asked to imagine how the changes are affecting other people and organisms, the consequences of the weather effects anticipate the changes of climate change and potentially use the solution to suggest steps to improve your environment. Given Perry's schema, teachers could move students from multiplicity to relativism by explaining scientific methods for measuring climate and challenging students to evaluate and compare different sources of information to determine which constitutes the strongest evidence.

Piaget and Perry offer models of development that delineate stages that broadly correspond to a person's age. Both models assume a relatively linear development in time, with children and young people going through different stages at approximately the same time. Vygotsky, for his part, describes a model that focuses more on the content to be mastered than on the age of the student. According to Vygotsky's theory, known as the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), as students acquire new knowledge or develop new skills, they go through three stages, often represented as concentric circles, as shown in Figure 3.2. . The central circle or first zone represents tasks that the student can do alone. The second zone, or zone of proximal development, represents an area of ​​knowledge or a set of tasks that the student can carry out with support. The tasks and knowledge in this area require students to push their skills a bit beyond their current skill level, but are not challenging enough to be outright frustrating. The outer circle or third area represents the tasks that the student cannot yet complete. Vygotsky assumes that by working in the ZPD, students can further develop their skills and abilities and expand their knowledge (Flair, 2019).

Figure 3.2: The zone of proximal development

Understanding how people learn: lessons in libraries and information centers (2)

While Piaget's and Perry's theories suggest that students go through the same stages at roughly the same time, Vygotsky argues that the ZPD, or learning zone, that adequately challenges the student is different for each student, depending on their prior knowledge. , experience and ability (Flor, 2019). The same person may experience different ZPDs in different subject areas; They may be advanced in math and be able to interact with material beyond their grade level, but may find languages ​​more difficult. Like social constructivism, ZPD focuses on interaction with others. According to Vygotsky, learning occurs when students interact with others who are more knowledgeable, including peers and coaches who can provide guidance in the ZPD (Schaffer, 2006).

Mathematics can be a good example to work on in the ZPD. Once students are comfortable with addition, they will probably learn subtraction with the help of a teacher or other peers, but they probably won't be ready to learn long division. Our challenge as educators is to determine each student's ZPD so that we don't bore them with material that is too easy or overwhelm them with material that is too difficult. Chapter 7 discusses methods for assessing students' prior knowledge to determine the appropriate level of learning.

Most of the pedagogical theories and frameworks described in this chapter were developed with a focus on children and young adults. While many of the principles are applicable to an adult audience, they do not necessarily take into account the specific problems, challenges, and motivations of adult learners. However, many information professionals work primarily or even exclusively with adults. Academic librarians and archivists work primarily with students who are at least 17 years of age, and as the number of non-traditional students increases, they will increasingly work with older students. Likewise, information professionals in companies and medical and legal organizations work almost exclusively with adults. Public librarians serve a variety of clients, and many public libraries are expanding their educational program for their adult clients. This section introduces the pedagogical concept of andragogy, which is concerned with adult teaching and learning.

Knowles proposed andragogy as "the art and science of helping adults learn" (1988, p. 43). Andragogy is based on a set of assumptions about how the experiences, motivations, and needs of adult learners differ from those of younger learners, and suggests that traditional instructional approaches designed for younger learners will not necessarily be successful with younger learners. Adults. According to Knowles (1988), perhaps one of the biggest differences between children and adults is that adults are interested in the immediate applicability of what they learn and are often motivated by their social roles as co-workers, parents etc against. As Knowles points out, in traditional classrooms, children are often taught individual subjects like math, reading, and history, with their learning focused on building knowledge for the future. Geometry may not be used by young students in their everyday lives, but it provides a foundation for more complex mathematics and for future work or life tasks, such as measuring materials for home repairs.

Adults, on the other hand, are already immersed in the social roles that younger students are preparing for and want to see how their learning relates to those roles. Therefore, Knowles suggests that adults will be more interested in a competency-based learning approach than in subject-based learning. Furthermore, as autonomous individuals, adults tend to be more self-determined in their learning. In other words, they want and should be encouraged to participate actively in the conception and planning of the classes and to contribute to the contents and objectives. Finally, Knowles also argues that the experience and broader knowledge base of adults should be a resource for learning.

Knowles (1988, p. 45) organized his approach around four assumptions made by adult learners:

  1. Your self-image changes from a dependent personality to a self-directed person.
  2. They accumulate a growing store of experience that becomes an ever richer learning resource.
  3. Their willingness to learn is increasingly based on the development tasks of their social roles.
  4. Their time perspective shifts from deferred to immediate application of knowledge, and their learning orientation shifts correspondingly from subject-focused to achievement-focused.

He later elaborated two additional assumptions made by Merriam et al. have been summarized. (2007):

  1. The strongest motivations are internal rather than external.
  2. Adults need to know why they need to learn something.

Certain understandings follow from Knowles' assumptions that we can use to guide our practice with adult learners. First, we must recognize and respect the tendency of adults to learn in a self-motivated and self-directed way. Finally, in most states, schooling is compulsory up to a certain age, and each state sets relatively rigid curricular standards, leaving children little choice about whether to attend any type of school or what content to learn. In theory, at least, adults can choose between attending college and participating in other learning opportunities, such as workshops and courses for professional development and continuing education. Adults are likely motivated to pursue these opportunities for a reason, whether it's out of personal curiosity, to advance their careers, or to learn a new skill. These adult learners are likely to have opinions and ideas about what they want to learn and perhaps even how they want to interact with the content. Knowles therefore suggests that we provide adult learners with options and opportunities for input to help shape the curriculum.

Adult learners also have a greater wealth of knowledge and experience than their younger peers. From a cognitivist or constructivist perspective, adults have a larger scheme for comparing new information and making new connections. As teachers, we need to recognize this body of knowledge and find ways to incorporate it into the classroom, providing ample opportunities for reflection and using leading questions to encourage students to take advantage of this knowledge. We can approach adult learners as learning partners and act as coaches or facilitators in the learning process, rather than the more direct teachers associated with a traditional classroom. This focus on student-centered approaches and a democratic environment intersects with humanist and constructivist approaches to teaching.

Items three, four, and six on Knowles' list of assumptions underscore the importance of relevance and transparency for adult learners. Knowles points out that adults have different learning priorities, perhaps in part because they learn voluntarily and are in a better position to direct their own learning. Adult learners also tend to require more time than younger learners; They may have families and jobs that affect the time they have to study. As such, adult learners want to see the applicability of what they are learning and may resist tasks or information that seems incidental. We must be transparent with our adult learners about what they will learn and how important and relevant that learning is. Sharing learning objectives is an important step toward transparency, as it can help set expectations for students to understand the purpose of lessons and activities. To clarify relevance, we can provide concrete examples of how what has been learned can be applied in practice. It could be argued that all students, not just adults, deserve transparency and must see the relevance of instructional and learning objectives. Knowles argues that adults are more likely to expect, and perhaps appreciate, such transparency.

While there is some controversy as to whether andragogy is really a theory per se or if it is more of a set of guiding principles or best practices, the assumptions offer useful guidance for teachers, not only in organizing content, but also in how to planning lessons and classes. their purposes 🇧🇷 Based on these assumptions, we can take specific steps to create an appropriate environment for adult learning (Bartle, 2019):

  1. Create a collaborative learning environment.
  2. Create input mechanisms.
  3. Provide a diagnosis of the needs and interests of students.
  4. Allow the formulation of learning objectives based on diagnosed needs and interests.
  5. Design sequential activities to achieve the objectives.
  6. Execute the project choosing methods, materials and resources.
  7. Evaluate the quality of the learning experience while re-diagnosing the need for additional learning.

As noted above, andragogy overlaps with other theories, such as humanism and constructivism, and some of the tenets of andragogy, such as transparency, would benefit all students. However, this framework is useful in reminding teachers that adult learners are likely to have different priorities and motivations, and therefore some differences in teaching approach may be justified.

In addition tohowPeople learn, we should know something about that too.whypeople learn What motivates a student to invest time and effort in learning a skill or subject, and what can we do to foster that motivation? Svinicki (2004) offers an intriguing model that brings together some of the prevailing theories of learning motivation. She suggests that motivation is a factor in the perceived value of learning, along with students' belief in their own self-efficacy or belief in their ability to achieve the goal. As Svinicki explains, “motivation implies a constant balance of these two factors of value and expectation of success” (2004, p. 146). Most of the learning theories described above deal with motivation, either implicitly or explicitly. For example, behaviorists talk about reinforcement, or external motivators, when students strive to avoid negative consequences and reap the rewards of good work. Humanists, on the other hand, focus on the intrinsic motivation for self-actualization. As educators, we can create environments to increase our students' motivation or their perception of goal value and self-efficacy:

  • Emphasize the relevance of the material.As described in the andragogy section, students are motivated when they see the benefits of learning and understand why the material is important. Teachers should explain how the effort people put into learning can help them achieve personal goals, such as B. getting a good grade on a term paper or finding a job.
  • Make the material suitably challenging.Based on the zone of proximal development, material that is too easy becomes boring for students, while material that is too challenging becomes overwhelming and frustrating.
  • Give students a sense of choice and control.The choice allows students to participate in the lesson, while the control helps them determine the level of risk they are taking, which increases their confidence. We can encourage choice and control by allowing students to choose the types of activities and tasks they engage in or the topics they investigate.
  • Prepare students for success.Clear expectations for the lesson or assignment help students understand what a successful performance or project looks like. By providing meaningful feedback, we can lead students to success.
  • Self-assessment Guide.When students accurately assess their current level of knowledge and skills, they can make reasonable predictions about their likelihood of success with the current material.

Activity 3.4 provides an opportunity to reflect on the motivation to learn.

Activity 3.4: What motivates you?

Think about learning experiences, such as courses or workshops, in which you felt more or less motivated as a student. These experiences may be related to studies, hobbies, sports, or other interests.

Questions for reflection and discussion:

  1. What steps did the coach take in the experiences that made you feel motivated, that helped you feel motivated?
  2. What could the coach have done differently in the experiences where you felt less motivated?
  3. What role did self-efficacy or confidence in one's abilities play in each case?

Dweck's (2016) theory of mindset has received a lot of attention in education in recent decades and has some implications for student motivation. Although this theory differs somewhat in its conceptualizations from those described in the rest of this chapter, it is included here because of its popularity and because it offers interesting insights into how educators can empower students to understand and develop their potential. Dweck's theory is less about how people learn and more about how their attitude toward learning and self-concept can influence their ability and willingness to learn. According to Dweck, people tend to approach learning with either a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. Those with a more rigid mindset tend to believe that the ability is innate; Either people are born with a certain talent and ability, or they are not. If people were not born with a natural ability in a certain field, they would waste time working in that field because they would never truly succeed. On the other hand, people with a more growth mindset tend to believe that skills are the result of work and effort. These people see value in working in areas where they are not immediately successful because they believe they can improve. Even if they are good at something, they are willing to keep working because they believe there is still room for improvement (Dweck, 2016).

These mindsets can have a profound impact on the way a person approaches learning (Dweck, 2016). People with a rigid mindset see low grades or poor performance on tests as signs of their lack of natural ability and are likely to become discouraged. They may try to avoid this topic altogether, or they may resign themselves to failure because they don't believe that practice or study will help them improve. Instead, they tend to stick to subjects in which they already do well. People with a growth mindset see it differently. They tend to view poor grades or poor performance as a diagnostic tool that will help them identify where to focus their efforts to improve. They are willing to go the extra mile because they believe their hard work will lead to better performance. They are also willing to take risks because they understand that failure is only part of the learning process. We can see connections between Dweck's theory and Piaget's argument that the discomfort of imbalance is necessary for learning.

Understandably, people with a growth mindset tend to be more successful at learning because they believe in their own ability to learn and grow. Fortunately, Dweck argues that these mindsets themselves aren't necessarily set in stone. That is, a person with a Fixed Mindset can be trained to adopt a Growth Mindset. Students can start by recognizing when they are in a fixed mindset, for example, when they are afraid of making mistakes or telling themselves they are 'no good' at something. Once students understand that this thinking is self-defeating, they can change their thinking to a more encouraging voice.

Importantly, Dweck points out that promoting a growth mindset in the classroom does not mean lowering learning standards. She says that coaches must have high standards, but also create a supportive and caring atmosphere. First, educators themselves must believe that learning and growth are possible and not give up on struggling students. Teachers can model this belief for students by replacing fixed mindset feedback with growth mindset feedback. For example, Dweck suggests that coaches can respond when students are struggling by telling them that they aren't succeeding yet. The word "yet" implies that they will achieve the required learning; they just have to keep working at it. In this way, coaches can reframe mistakes and difficulties as learning opportunities, not failures. Instructors should encourage and value both effort and learning. In other words, instead of focusing solely on a student's achievement, instructors can praise the effort and hard work that led to that achievement. At the same time, Dweck (2015) states that a growth mindset is not just effort. In addition to doing the work, students must be willing to try different strategies and be open to feedback on their performance. The goal is to help students see challenges as part of the learning process and work with them, rather than fear or avoid them.

Learning theories aim to help teachers understand the processes and circumstances that make learning possible and, more generally, provide guidance on how to design activities and environments that best support learning. But what about the fact that there are so many different theories and some contradict each other? The truth is that the human brain and its cognitive processes are incredibly complex and still not fully understood. Learning theorists do their best to describe how people learn based on careful observation and experimentation, but no learning theory is perfect. In fact, every theory has its detractors, and the various theories continue to fall out of favor over time. However, theories provide us with an empirically based understanding of how learning takes place.

Furthermore, these theories are not mutually exclusive. We don't have to strictly adhere to one theory, but we can combine elements between theories in a way that suits our teaching style and reflects our best understanding of our students. For example, a teacher can use elements of cognitivism to improve student retention and memory, but can also develop group activities that foster social constructivism through peer-to-peer communication. Especially with younger children, teachers can turn to behaviorism, using positive rewards and reinforcement to engage students in content, but also incorporate humanism, using student empathy and constructive feedback to foster a growth mindset. . We can use our understanding of developmental stages to create lessons and activities that provide an appropriate level of challenge to help students grow in their understanding. Ultimately, we must view learning theories as guidelines, not rules, and base them in ways that reflect our own values ​​and beliefs.

Taking this idea of ​​transversal learning into account, we can summarize the main conclusions of this chapter:

  • Learning is the change in knowledge, behavior, or understanding that occurs when people make connections between new information and their existing knowledge. Different theories try to describe the factors that make the learning process possible.
  • Learning does not occur in the same way or at the same time for all students. Understanding developmental stages can help teachers align lessons with student readiness. Adult learners may have different needs and limitations than younger learners.
  • The learning process is influenced by internal factors such as the learner's motivation and sense of self-efficacy, as well as external factors such as the classroom environment and the adults and peers with whom the learner interacts.
  • Educators can take steps to encourage better learning, including:
    • Create a democratic, empathetic and supportive learning environment.
    • Support students to become self-directed learners and increase their motivation by giving them a sense of control and choice in learning.
    • Recognize that learning can be challenging and help students develop the mindset and self-efficacy that underpin their perseverance.
    • Provide regular and meaningful feedback

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