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Theories, Principles & Models of Learning

People learn in a variety of ways depending largely on the school, institute or instructor they learn with. The overall effectiveness of this learning could be measured on knowledge retention or performance of a new skill, either immediately or over a period of time - i.e. a term for instance. Anderson (1981) defines this in more detail by dividing knowledge into two, the 1st being declarative knowledge and the 2nd procedural knowledge. Declarative knowledge can be seen as the idea of a learner being able to state general facts like times, dates, descriptions and theories, it's mainly considered passive learning and relates closely to Freire’s (2005) ‘ banking concept of education’ whereby he refers to learners as depositories used to store useless information in by the traditional teacher. What's significant about Anderson’s (1981) work is that is highlights the importance of variety in the classroom, and that mix of cognitive skills and motor skills should always be used to enhance individual learning. 


Furthermore, Anderson (1981) defines procedural knowledge as the mastery of declarative knowledge through application, a process learners may struggle with if not afforded the time to practice new skills freely. In comparison to Freire’s (2005) theory of the oppressed, the student is taught by the ‘all knowledgeable teacher’ without learning the skills of ‘how’ or ‘why’. Ultimately what Freire is talking about is rote learning, learning that is highly teacher-led. Over-reliance on rote methods or highly teacher-led methods deprive learners the academic skills needed to progress to higher education. On the other hand, it can also leave learners without the tacit knowledge they need to start work.


Building on this, there are many benefits to procedural knowledge like the ability to problem-solve, increased long-term retention and increased learner engagement. Declarative knowledge techniques of learning, however, can be very demotivating at older ages. Methods like memorization, repeating, chanting although can be effective at younger ages don't give older students the metacognitive skills they need to become independent learners. I personally have found learners lacking the skills needed to ‘learn’ and produce their own authentic work, predominately in higher-level writing skills in both analysis and evaluation.


However, this is partly due to students having never been taught how to apply their knowledge freely, accustomed to gap fills and copying exercises so when asked to write freely on a particular topic they struggle. This can be countered by effective dialogue and conversations around the topic, brainstorming and board work. Freire (2005) supports this by concluding that good dialogue becomes the counteract to rote learning, he also states that learning should be a joint discovery act learners and teachers do together. The traditional view of a teacher, however, is often ‘teacher knows all’ and that students are worthless. In personal experience, I have found it challenging to teach students this i.e. to teach them they may already have the answers. Learners, in my opinion, offer valuable feedback in the learning process, if only more procedural learning methods where used.


Vygotsky (Atherton, 2013) supports the theories of both Anderson & Freire, he concludes the teacher should be the supporter of learning and not the director. Support can emulate from the teacher by using effective scaffolding strategies whereby the teacher provides an outline of the work to be done but the learners complete the work in their own vision. This theory is often likened to that of a house construction project, whereby the teacher provides a scaffold, but the work to build the house is of the learners alone. This supports procedural learning in that learners are encouraged to transform their declarative knowledge they possess into the application of theories and concepts. As learners become more exposed to procedural learning methods the question then lies in the student's ability to apply this instruction to a tangible production of knowledge.


Student ability to translate instruction or scaffolding ties in closely with the constructivist school of thought. The constructivist school of thought believe that learning is the connecting of new learning with old knowledge stored within the brain. This could also be likened to building blocks, each new thing they learn is placed upon the old block, this theory has now become widely accepted in education (Petty, 2004). Petty (2004) comments that learners do this by reasoning between the old meanings and new. It's not proven however that all learners can do this when learners find it hard to produce knowledge in higher-order skills, it could essentially be 1 of  2 problems;


  1. a breakdown in these connections mentioned or,

  2. the learner's inability to devise their own meaning from the instructor's guidance.


When analysing learner performance through different learning methods, the behaviourist school must be mentioned. This school promotes effective learning through frequency, repetition and reinforcement. This is not to be confused with Freire’s comments on banking education but rather whereby the teacher reinforces the key skills, objectives or aims at both the start and end of class as well as frequently across the course (Petty, 2004). This method of instruction allows the learner more time to cement the key blocks he is building through frequent exposure to the key points. With more time to build the learner has more opportunity to reason through the knowledge thus allowing him to produce it more efficiently.


In conclusion, there a number of ways in which people learn, the main thing is to increase the variety in one's teaching methods to support the individual learner at every stage. One method of learning may support certain skills but another way of learning may support another set of skills. Although constructivism explains the way in which we store information, behaviourism supports the fact that learners do retain information through repetition and reinforcement.




  1. Anderson, J. (1981) Cognitive Skills and Their Acquisition, New Jersey, L.E. Associates Inc.

  2. Petty, G. (2004) Teaching Today, 3rd edition, Cheltenham, Nelson Thornes Ltd.

  3. Freire, P. (2005) Pedagogy of the oppressed, New York, The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc.

  4. Atherton, J S. (2013) Learning and Teaching; Constructivism in learning [On-line: UK] retrieved 26 May 2015 from


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