Things to Ponder

3 – Learning theory, teaching styles and the influence of ICT

Learning theory

There are two major theories of learning. These are the behaviourist view and the constructivist view. Both of these views have heavily influenced the development of educational software.

The work of the American Psychologist B. F. Skinner has had the most influence. Skinner believed that people can learn more effectively if their environment is carefully controlled. He developed the principles of operant (behaviour) conditioning which basically stated that:

If the occurrence of an operant is followed by the presentation of a reinforcing stimulus, the strength is increased. (Skinner, 1938)

This provides the simple tactic of reinforcing the correct behaviour through reward and no action being taken for a wrong behaviour. This led to the use of computers as teaching machines (Skinner, 1958). Today many educational computer programs depend on supplying a set of stimuli, which are more often than not multimedia in nature, followed by the measurement of a response. However these programs often move away from being purely Skinnerian in nature by not only rewarding correct responses but also attempting to correct the wrong responses. There are many examples where operant conditioning is still used, especially in the use of ICT with disruptive or low attaining pupils.

The work of Seymour Papert (1980) concerns the constructivist approach. His vision of computers being used in education has proved very influential. Papert’s view of the importance of the motivational engagement of the learner contrasts sharply with Skinner who, although recognising this influence, considered it unnecessary for instruction. In the constructivist view the learner as an active participant is involved in structuring their own learning experiences. Papert worked with Piaget who emphasized the way in which knowledge is structured and organized as well as how the learner’s own perceptions of their prior experiences preform the knowledge structure. The importance of how the learner relates new experiences to existing knowledge becomes paramount. Papert used the Logo programming language with its screen turtle as a way of enabling learners to make the transition from concrete experiences such as body positioning and movement, to more formal abstract ways of thinking i.e. writing Logo geometry programs.

Within these two views of learning, operant conditioning emphasises teaching whilst constructivism emphasises learning. The constructivist would in fact argue that operant conditioning is harmful as it is learning without understanding. However neither approach takes fully into consideration the teacher and the relationship between teacher and learner. Both emphasize the role of the educator for setting up the learning experiences but the both see learning as able to take place without teacher intervention once the learning resource has been constructed. Another criticism of both learning theories is that they concentrate on the individual. Collaboration and group work using computers has been studied extensively in recent years particularly by Eraut and Holes (1998). They stressed the importance of the teacher – pupil relationship and the importance of research needing to be a collaborative exercise with practising teachers. Johnson et al (1986), provided evidence to suggest that cooperative learning rather than competitive or individualistic learning produced greater learning gains. They concluded that cooperative organisation of groups to carry out tasks has a central role to play in computer-based learning.

Teaching styles

Research shows that the teacher influence is very important. Teachers are used to being the dispenser of information at the centre of the classroom. This teaching style has remained unchallenged for a long time but over the last 50 years it has been questioned and deemed by many as unsuitable. In primary schools, as long ago as 1976, research was carried out to assess the effects of teaching styles on pupil progress (Bennett 1976). This followed on from experiments in more progressive teaching styles after the Plowden Committee reports (Central Advisory Council for Education, 1967). The 1976 study suggested that the progressive model was less common than first thought. Since then the pendulum has swung towards the progressive style and back as the debate has progressed.

Laurillard (1993) states that in higher education the traditional style is not successful, as it places too much emphasis on the lecturer yet failure is blamed on the response of the student. This is a fair description of how results are interpreted by staff in secondary schools, though the league tables are often interpreted as a measure of the school not the pupils. Laurillard, in trying to discern the best progressive strategy for higher education rejected the instructional design as put forward by Gagné (1977) and also intelligent tutoring systems (ITS), as being too restrictive. Furthermore she rejected instructional psychology as unable to come up with a suitable teaching strategy. She concluded phenomenography to be more appropriate. The aim of which is ‘to make student learning possible’ (Ramsden, 1992). This leads to a teaching style that requires the teacher to be a mediator:

‘Thus teaching is a rhetorical activity: it is mediated learning, allowing students to acquire knowledge of someone else’s way of experiencing the world.’ Laurillard (1993)

In primary schools Neville Bennett (1976) compared the success of formal (traditional) and informal (progressive) styles of teaching. He reported that formal methods had more success. This study assessed progress in reading, maths, English and creative writing. In all areas the pupils taught by traditional methods matched or out performed the progressively taught. Though the date of this study is 20 years ago it is only recently that the Government has shown greater concern over a drop in basic reading, writing and arithmetic standards apparently caused by the failure of progressive methods. Earlier this decade there were many newspaper reports quoting political statements suggesting that traditional teaching should be re-established in our primary schools, the ‘Back to basics’ campaign of 1993-94 being typical. The literacy and numeracy campaigns and the National Curriculum have all moved schools back to a more formal taught approach.

Within secondary schools there are differences between subject areas. Typically in the past PE, Art, Technology and more recently Science, have had less of a teacher centred emphasis than say RE, History, Maths and Geography. This is probably because of their practical nature. In the latter areas, moves within the curriculum to encourage discovery learning and project research have steered teaching styles away from the traditional. However, in this researcher’s experience within secondary education the traditional style is used by the majority of teachers the majority of the time. Dick and Carey (1978) are of the view that teacher dependent, group-paced instruction is no longer the most profitable main style for the teacher but that they should be designers of instruction. In secondary schools the instructional design style is not easily manageable, except for certain discrete chunks, because of the demand on preparation time and classroom management. More progressive styles involving individualised negotiated learning are not feasible, except for a few targetted individuals, because of contact time and class sizes. Much of this may be a function of the design of school buildings with walled off separate rooms into which a pupil enters to meet with and be subservient to the teacher. Also the secondary timetable model, with bells and 1 hour lessons, encourages teacher-centred education. There are integrated days and open plan classrooms, modelled on primary schools but most secondary schools are still traditional in their approach.

There seems to be a conflict then as to which style of teaching is best, depending on how one wants to measure success. This apparent conflict can be reconciled. There is a need for a continuum from a traditional approach in primary schools to a progressive approach in tertiary education. In his Internet essay Bennett [URL 22] states that there is a crisis in education (his context is the USA) because too many students fail (drop-out) or of those that remain too many do not graduate. He advocates a very progressive new style of teaching in high school with a new computerised school curriculum, much like Laurillard advocates for tertiary education. In the UK however, especially as we have reverted to primary/secondary phases by moving away from middle/high school phases there must be a dynamic transition within this secondary stage. The secondary school has the difficult job of reconciling the two, providing opportunity for evolving learning styles and developing flexible teaching roles. Cole and griffin (1987) put forward arguments for teachers, particularly in the secondary school, being orchestrators of computer-based activities. They quote research by Shavelson et al (1984) which evaluated as most successful those staff who integrated their use of computers into the curriculum in a variety of ways, being prepared to change direction dependent on the response of the pupils.

The influence of ICT

For many ICT is the solution to the practical problems facing the progressive teacher. But is ICT and particularly the Internet a tool for the traditionalist approach or more progressive approach ? The majority of literature suggests that the latter is true. For example O’Shea and Self (1983) describe the revolutionaries in education as encouraging students to use IT which allows them to:

Œ become liberated from the tyranny of a mass educational system with its national syllabuses and examinations, and its non-adaptive teachers demanding that groups of thirty or forty children together in a classroom exhibit the outward forms of learning. O’Shea and Self (1983)

Papert (1980) also provides a similar philosophy where he describes the need for children to ‘absorb the computer culture’, to become familiar with these tools. This echoes the learning theorists like Piaget:

The chief outcome of this theory of intellectual development is a plea that children be allowed to do their own learning Πgood pedagogy must involve presenting the child with situations in which he himself experiments, in the broadest sense of the term. Piaget (1970)

However O’Shea and Self (1983) take the view that a computer in itself is not a tool that demands a particular teaching style but is unconstrained. In fact the didactic, expository style of the traditionalist can be mimicked by computer.:

Πthis demonstrates beyond all possible doubt the mechanical character of the schoolmasters function as it is conceived by traditional teaching methods. Piaget (1970)

Of course a computer is an excellent tool for repetitive, didactic teaching and individualised learning pathways can be quickly constructed and monitored e.g. the Integrated Learning Systems (ILS) approach. This consists of a management system built around curriculum software. They include one UK based system the Global Learning System which is an Open Information Learning System (OILS) and three US based systems. Of the latter, SuccessMaker is in use in several parts of the UK. The open standard for the Global system means that any vendor adhering to that standard can write modules that work with that system. Research into the usefulness of these (NCET, 1994 and 1996) has shown that numeracy gains can be made and in particular SEN pupils made accelerated progress in both numeracy and literacy. However, the only gain for very able achievers was enjoyment as they found the constraints of the system frustrating. The open Global system promises much, more in line with the Internet’s open way of working but no significant gains in numeracy or literacy were observed overall. It is worth noting that system failure was a major concern and gains with either system demanded adequate time on task. It was also concluded that supervision and teacher intervention was a major factor in those schools that showed positive gains in numeracy. Before the Internet the CDROM and multimedia were deemed to be the great breakthrough for ICT in education.

Hoogeveen (1995) discusses the effectiveness of the multimedia paradigm in teaching and learning. The use of multimedia is believed to lead to the following psychological responses:

  • a high level of stimulation of the senses, particularly auditory and visual perception systems
  • a high level of involvement, attention and concentration
  • emotional arousal making the activity fun
  • strong recognition effects, using mental reference models

The point being that learners experience information rather than simply acquire it. It has been argued by perception psychologists (Marmolin, 1991) that our senses are constructed to handle very complex flows of information as from natural environments, and that they cannot handle simple stimuli so well. Hoogeveen states that there are five variables involved in the psychological impact. As these are increased the level of learning is thought to increase but only if applied carefully. These are;

  • level of multimediality (sense stimulation, arousal, involvement and recognition)
  • Man-machine interactivity – the degree of user control in their explorations of the material
  • level of congruence – where different information types reinforce similar ideas
  • degree of reference modelling – where the content is based within a recognisable context
  • quality of information representation – the degree of realism

How these issues relate to learning and the use of the Internet in science in particular will be discussed in the next chapter.


In the news today – The Malay Mail Online

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 11 — An education NGO today urged Putrajaya to keep school Internet access advertisement-free, over fears that children would be exposed to data privacy threats.

The Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia (PAGE) said Malaysian parents believe online services such as email and document collaboration offer a wide range of benefits for students, but worry that their children’s privacy could be at risk if third-parties are allowed to operate within schools’ online ecosystem.

Citing a survey they jointly conducted with international non-profit, the group said that parents have high hopes that their children can gain skills that will help them in future through the Internet.

“However, the survey also found that many Malaysian parents see a potential dark side to the use of certain Internet services in schools, especially those that allow online advertising or engage in ‘data mining’ of children’s information,” PAGE said in a statement.

PAGE said over 90 per cent of the 400 parents surveyed were worried that their children’s online activities in school could be tracked for profit by Internet service providers (ISP) who rely on advertising revenue.

Nearly three quarters of the respondents had no issue with schools accepting free services offered by Internet companies, but an overwhelming majority, at 92 per cent want schools to at the same time ban all advertising-related practices from such services in schools.

“Eighty-two per cent of parents want the government to pass laws enforcing the ban on online advertising in schools and give parents full control over what kinds of information about their children the Internet companies are allowed to collect,” the statement added.

PAGE noted that despite the concerns, parents viewed school Internet access positively, with the majority believing that the Internet would help improve their children’s creativity, problem solving and critical thinking.

Similarly, over three quarters of the respondents believe that the Internet would help their children acquire essential skills to compete in the 21st century global economy, while also pad up their abilities in traditional academic subjects such as the sciences and foreign languages.

“Interestingly, the survey shows that parents with pre-tertiary education have even higher hopes than others for the educational benefits of Internet services in school, thus suggesting that social equality may be served by the spread of technology in the right conditions,” said PAGE.

Jeff Gould, the spokesman for — which promotes safe and secure use of cloud computing in schools, governments and public sector institutions globally — said the results showed clearly that Malaysian parents were against any violation of their children’s privacy in school.

“These results offer powerful confirmation that Malaysian parents, like their peers in every other country we have surveyed, hold the highest hopes for Internet use in schools, but firmly reject any intrusion into the classroom of online advertising or profiling of students for commercial purposes.”

PAGE chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim said it is their priority to make sure that any internet services and online learning introduced in the classroom is done in “the safest and most non-intrusive way” to protect children’s privacy.

“Technology in schools will have a significant impact on the learning experiences of our children and their future beyond school and education, and it’s important that we have all parties on-board ready to embrace these changes,” she said.


From time to time people have wondered why reading is important. There seems so many other things to do with one’s time. Reading is important for a variety of reasons. We will look at some of those fundamental reasons below, but it is important to realize that struggling with vital reading skills in not a sign a low intelligence. For example, John Corcoran, who wrote The Teacher Who Couldn’t Read, is a very intelligent man. He graduated from High School and College, became a popular High School teacher and later a successful business man all without being able to read. Many highly intelligent people have struggled with reading although, when properly taught, most people can learn to read easily and quickly.

Now, if a man like John Corcoran can succeed without reading, why is reading important? A person should really read Mr. Corcoran’s story to get the feeling of shame, loneliness and fear that he experienced before he learned to read. He was able to succeed in spite of this major handicap because he was a man of intelligence, ability and determination. But, make no mistake, it was a handicap that made life harder and less enjoyable. [Those that are interested in helping children learn to read may consider a degree from Concordia University online.]

Why Is Reading Important?

1. Reading is fundamental to function in today’s society. There are many adults who cannot read well enough to understand the instructions on a medicine bottle. That is a scary thought – especially for their children. Filling out applications becomes impossible without help. Reading road or warning signs is difficult. Even following a map becomes a chore. Day-to-day activities that many people take for granted become a source of frustration, anger and fear.

2. Reading is a vital skill in finding a good job. Many well-paying jobs require reading as a part of job performance. There are reports and memos which must be read and responded to. Poor reading skills increases the amount of time it takes to absorb and react in the workplace. A person is limited in what they can accomplish without good reading and comprehension skills.

3. Reading is important because it develops the mind. The mind is a muscle. It needs exercise. Understanding the written word is one way the mind grows in its ability. Teaching young children to read helps them develop their language skills. It also helps them learn to listen. Everybody wants to talk, but few can really listen. Lack of listening skills can result in major misunderstandings which can lead to job loss, marriage breakup, and other disasters – small and great. Reading helps children [and adults] focus on what someone else is communicating.

4. Why is reading important? It is how we discover new things. Books, magazines and even the Internet are great learning tools which require the ability to read and understand what is read. A person who knows how to read can educate themselves in any area of life they are interested in. We live in an age where we overflow with information, but reading is the main way to take advantage of it.

5. Reading develops the imagination. TV and computer games have their place, but they are more like amusement. Amusement comes from two words “a” [non] and “muse” [think]. Amusement is non-thinking activities. With reading, a person can go anywhere in the world…or even out of it! They can be a king, or an adventurer, or a princess, or… The possibilities are endless. Non-readers never experience these joys to the same extent.

6. In line with the above, reading develops the creative side of people. When reading to children, stop every once in awhile and ask them what they think is going to happen next. Get them thinking about the story. When it is finished, ask if they could think of a better ending or anything that would have improved it. If they really liked the story, encourage them to illustrate it with their own drawings or to make up a different story with the same characters. Get the creative juices flowing!

7. Reading is fundamental in developing a good self image. Nonreaders or poor readers often have low opinions of themselves and their abilities. Many times they feel as if the world is against them. They feel isolated [everybody else can read – which isn’t true] and behavior problems can surface. They can perform poorly in other subjects because they cannot read and understand the material and so tend to “give up.”

8. Why is reading important? Let’s keep going… Good reading skills, especially in a phonics reading program, improve spelling. As students learn to sound out letters and words, spelling comes easier. Also, reading helps to expand the vocabulary. Reading new words puts them in their mind for later use. Seeing how words are used in different contexts can give a better understanding of the word usage and definitions than the cold facts of a dictionary.

9. There is an old saying, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” Ideas written down have changed the destiny of men and nations for better or worse. The flow of ideas cannot be stopped. We need to read and research to build on the good ideas and expose the bad ideas before they bring destruction. Only by reading can we be armed in this never-ending, life-and-death struggle.

10. The fact of the power of written ideas communicated through reading is a foundational reason why some governments oppose free and honest communication. Illiterate people are easier to control and manipulate. They cannot do their own research and thinking. They must rely on what they are told and how their emotions are swayed. There is a good possibility that this is one of the main reasons phonics was removed from the schools about 100 years ago.

11. Finally, why is reading important? Reading is important because words – spoken and written – are the building blocks of life. You are, right now, the result of words that you have heard or read AND believed about yourself. What you become in the future will depend on the words you believe about yourself now. People, families, relationships, and even nations are built from words. Think about it.

According to Jonathan Kozol in “Illiterate America,” quoted in “The Teacher Who Couldn’t Read,'” the three main reasons people give for wanting to read are:

1. To read the Bible,
2. To read books and newspapers, and
3. To help their children.

I think everyone can conclude that reading is a vital skill! Reading Strategies


How to be a good speaker?

  1. 1

    Make eye contact. Eye contact is very important. You can look above the people’s head because it looks like your looking right at them, but you’re really not! Don’t overdo it or you’ll risk looking like you’re nodding your head or you can appear stiff.

  2. 2

    Have a point and stick to it. In some settings you must speak on a certain subject. Even in casual conversation, though, it is important to focus on a limited set of related ideas. If you drift from one tangentially related idea to the next your speech becomes a sort of bad poetry or misplaced filibuster that may quickly bore the listener.

  3. 3

    Speak clearly. It may be tempting to say, “El whooziwhatsit fonctionne bien in thinger teh other day.” It may also not be worth the listener’s time to try to figure out what you mean.

  4. 4

    Adjust your speech for your audience. A technical audience will appreciate your use of jargon and acronyms. If your audience has trouble grasping the concepts you are relating, it may be necessary to speak slowly and offer generally familiar examples.

  5. 5

    Don’t use one tone the entire speech. It makes you sound very dry, dull, and boring as a speaker and personality wise. It makes you a much better speaker when you raise your voice a bit here and there. Make it sort of like a debate almost, and it’s on something you really care for that’s really important! Study Martin Luther King. He is one of the most well-known speakers in history. His tone goes up and down.

  6. 6

    Don’t patronize. When people are treated like they’re idiots or little children, they may become hostile and ignore what you’re saying. You sound patronizing when you use sing-song tones in your speech or sigh loudly, or if you belittle the listeners in any way.

  7. 7

    Be interesting.

  8. 8

    Speak up. People have to hear what you are saying even if they are sitting in the back row or there is a lot of noise.

  9. 9

    Be honest. Remember the story of the boy who cried, “Wolf!”

  10. 10

    Organize what you’re saying. If there are several ideas or details related to your main point, speak about each one in a deliberate fashion. If you are trying to convey large amounts of information, you may need to outline what you will say at the outset and then summarize what you’ve said at the conclusion.

  11. 11

    Be polite, follow social conventions and be rational. Obviously there are many speakers that do not follow this step and yet have large and doting audiences. You probably aren’t one of those speakers.

  12. 12

    Use your hands! Nothing is worse than a speaker with his hands in his pocket or his hands just sitting by his side.


Brief Overview of the 10 Essay Writing Steps

Below are brief summaries of each of the ten steps to writing an essay. Select the links for more info on any particular step, or use the blue navigation bar on the left to proceed through the writing steps. How To Write an Essay can be viewed sequentially, as if going through ten sequential steps in an essay writing process, or can be explored by individual topic.

1. Research:Begin the essay writing process by researching your topic, making yourself an expert. Utilize the internet, the academic databases, and the library. Take notes and immerse yourself in the words of great thinkers.

2. Analysis: Now that you have a good knowledge base, start analyzing the arguments of the essays you’re reading. Clearly define the claims, write out the reasons, the evidence. Look for weaknesses of logic, and also strengths. Learning how to write an essay begins by learning how to analyze essays written by others.

3. Brainstorming: Your essay will require insight of your own, genuine essay-writing brilliance. Ask yourself a dozen questions and answer them. Meditate with a pen in your hand. Take walks and think and think until you come up with original insights to write about.

4. Thesis: Pick your best idea and pin it down in a clear assertion that you can write your entire essay around. Your thesis is your main point, summed up in a concise sentence that lets the reader know where you’re going, and why. It’s practically impossible to write a good essay without a clear thesis.

5. Outline: Sketch out your essay before straightway writing it out. Use one-line sentences to describe paragraphs, and bullet points to describe what each paragraph will contain. Play with the essay’s order. Map out the structure of your argument, and make sure each paragraph is unified.

6. Introduction: Now sit down and write the essay. The introduction should grab the reader’s attention, set up the issue, and lead in to your thesis. Your intro is merely a buildup of the issue, a stage of bringing your reader into the essay’s argument.

(Note: The title and first paragraph are probably the most important elements in your essay. This is an essay-writing point that doesn’t always sink in within the context of the classroom. In the first paragraph you either hook the reader’s interest or lose it. Of course your teacher, who’s getting paid to teach you how to write an essay, will read the essay you’ve written regardless, but in the real world, readers make up their minds about whether or not to read your essay by glancing at the title alone.)

7. Paragraphs: Each individual paragraph should be focused on a single idea that supports your thesis. Begin paragraphs with topic sentences, support assertions with evidence, and expound your ideas in the clearest, most sensible way you can. Speak to your reader as if he or she were sitting in front of you. In other words, instead of writing the essay, try talking the essay.

8. Conclusion: Gracefully exit your essay by making a quick wrap-up sentence, and then end on some memorable thought, perhaps a quotation, or an interesting twist of logic, or some call to action. Is there something you want the reader to walk away and do? Let him or her know exactly what.

9. MLA Style: Format your essay according to the correct guidelines for citation. All borrowed ideas and quotations should be correctly cited in the body of your text, followed up with a Works Cited (references) page listing the details of your sources.

10. Language: You’re not done writing your essay until you’ve polished your language by correcting the grammar, making sentences flow, incorporating rhythm, emphasis, adjusting the formality, giving it a level-headed tone, and making other intuitive edits. Proofread until it reads just how you want it to sound. Writing an essay can be tedious, but you don’t want to bungle the hours of conceptual work you’ve put into writing your essay by leaving a few slippy misspellings and poorly worded phrases..

Source: Tom Johnson. Aug 2004. About “How To Write An Essay.”