Learning Philosophies in Action

It is my belief that learning is very personal and can be a messy amalgamation of inputs and experiences. Each learner absorbs knowledge in a different way based on their experiences, natural abilities and opportunities. Learning styles and motivation for learning can change over time as learners grow from childhood to adulthood.  I also believe that the level of learning can depend on the end goal. Is the end goal to pass a test or make a grade or to advance to the next level of learning? Is the goal to learn something that you need to function well in life and society? Is the goal to learn something more about a topic that you are passionately interested in? Learning has deeper meaning when it affects functioning in society. Driving, for example, is a skill that takes practice and experience to master. When learners are exploring passions, they are more likely to be engaged and excel.

My learning philosophy is a combination of several theories: behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism, and connectivism because various methods of learning are effective depending on the situation. (Bates, 2020). While developing my philosophy, I took a journey into my past experiences through the phases of my educational and professional career. While I was not always a successful or very motivated student, I was afforded many opportunities to learn by my parents, teachers and leaders. If I were to graph my learning journey, it would take the shape of an inverted bell curve, starting out strong in elementary school, with severe dips during the eras of middle, high school and undergrad work. Then in adulthood as a parent, teacher, digital learning professional and graduate student, the learning took on a higher level and had deeper connections.

The level of learning can sometimes be dependent upon the relationship between the teacher and the student. For students to excel, they must have a sense that the teacher cares about them, their learning, and their success (Neufeld, G., & Maté, G., 2019). I also believe that the teaching style has an influence over whether students will excel. Teachers that take a cognitive approach to methodically build upon previous knowledge, chunk information for easier understanding, and include collaborative activities, make learning easier for students.

The difference between a learning philosophy and a teaching philosophy is the point of view. My learning philosophy comes directly from my experiences as a learner. When we have experienced situations as learners, such as an effective teaching style, or negative classroom environment, that can have an effect on how we teach. For example, to build a routine for students, I would like to emulate the organized teaching style of my eighth grade English teacher. I also want to remember to provide individualized assistance to my struggling students, unlike an aloof algebra teacher I had. A teaching philosophy may also be molded by the expectations of the school system at the campus, district or state level.


As a learner in elementary school, I was greatly influenced by behaviorist teaching practices that include positive reinforcement. Behaviorists like Ivan Pavlov believed that positive reinforcement will cause a behavior to occur again (learning-theories.com, 2021).  I vividly remember in fourth grade, my teacher Mrs. Milam, had a ceramic chicken treat bowl on her desk. At the end of the week, if students had followed expectations, such as good behavior and completing work, we would get to pick a treat from the bowl. Theorists and researchers such as BF Skinner, Ivan Pavlov, and E.L. Thorndike were proponents of behaviorism and believed that a change in behavior by a student demonstrated learning.  The strengthening of behavior which results from reinforcement is appropriately called “conditioning”. In operant conditioning we “strengthen” an operant in the sense of making a response more probable or, in actual fact, more frequent.” (Skinner, 1953).


Cognitivism is centered around thinking and what occurs in the learner’s mind during the learning process. Benjamin Bloom developed a taxonomy of levels of thought processing and learning (Flippen, 2012). Connecting new learning to previous knowledge activates learning and strengthens the likelihood that the new information will be remembered (Willingham, 2008). Another element of cognitivism includes metacognition, or thinking about thinking, that encourages students to use self-questioning strategies, graphic organizers and mnemonic devices to learn material (Spencer, J., 2020). 

As an adult learner, I absolutely have a cognitivist approach to learning, as I frequently have the need to organize my ideas into lists, organize my notes into outlines and chunk like ideas together. I can identify with Richard Mayer’s theory of multimedia learning which is based on the premise that more learning is achieved when the learner is presented with images and words rather than just words (Mayer, 2020). I have been struck by my need for multimedia input throughout my graduate courses this year. For the required readings, I crave audiobooks so that I am able to learn while running. If the book is available in the Kindle version, then I can also read the words while listening. To take this a step further, I am likely to search for podcasts and videos about the topic or with the author to elaborate on the ideas in the reading. Additionally, I prefer finding resources that break the ideas down further with diagrams and images in blog posts or articles. Mayer suggests that educators and designers of instructional media take a learner-centered approach to design rather than a technology centered approach, focusing on “how to adapt multimedia to aid human cognition,” (Mayer, 2020).


As a learner, I am constantly reaching back on past experiences with which to connect new knowledge. I believe that my early elementary years in school were successful and that reading came easy simply because of the experiences my parents provided to me through daily reading, frequent conversation and other experiences through travel. Constructivism is built upon the work of Jean Piaget who proposed that humans create knowledge through the “interaction between their experiences and ideas,” and children go through stages of development in which they construct ideas differently than adults do. Also, Jerome Bruner believed that learners construct new knowledge by constructing ideas based on previous knowledge and experiences, and that instruction should be spiraled to building upon that previous knowledge (Culatta, Kearsley, 2018) Further, he suggested the social aspect of learning to include that interaction with teachers and peers throughout the learning process strengthened learning. (McCleod, 2005) Lev Vygotsky’s work also emphasized the importance of the social element of learning and suggested that students have a “Zone of Proximal Development,” in which they are able to master new concepts with the with help and guidance of an instructor or peers (Brau, 2020). Another constructivist theorist and thought leader, John Dewey, believed that knowledge is based on real-life experiences, and that “The teacher’s role is to organize this content and to facilitate the actual experiences” (Grady, 2003). The practice of taking students on field trips supports the constructivist approach, as it is a way to provide rich learning experiences to students that would not have access to do in their daily lives. As a middle school student living in Germany, I had the opportunity to participate in many field trips that deepened my learning of history. One such trip was to tour Dachau, the former site of a Nazi concentration camp. This trip took learning beyond historical facts. It gave us a glimpse into how fortunate we were in comparison to Jewish children in Nazi Germany forty years previously. Another was a tour of castles such as Neuschwanstein after which the Disney castle was modeled. To students, field trips are simply a chance to have fun, but they can provide valuable context on which they are able to scaffold new information in the future. 


Connectivism is a more recent learning theory proposed by George Siemens which is based on the principle that because of rapidly changing technology, and information being stored in many areas outside of ourselves, such as in databases, that new information is constantly being acquired. “The ability to draw distinctions between important and unimportant information is vital.” (Siemens, 2017). As a learner in my graduate course and in my job, I feel the truth of this theory daily, as there is so much information available. Much of the information is truthful and based in research, while much of it is conjecture or opinion. In recent years, there has been a proliferation of purely false information, designed specifically to sway readers to one political view or another, or to purchase a product. When learning and constructing knowledge, students must sift through a plethora of resources and determine which information is reliable and connected to the learning at hand. So rather than learning a specific set of facts, effective learning can take place when students are skilled in maintaining connections with various sources of information and other learners, sorting valuable content and seeing connections between concepts (Siemens, 2017).

“The ability to draw distinctions between important and unimportant information is vital.”

George Siemens

As I reflect on my learning and research about the various learning theorists and how they relate to the STREAM Camp in my innovation plan, I can definitively predict that students will experience the constructivist approach. Because the STREAM camp takes place informally in the library, not in the classroom students will have opportunities to explore their interests. They will have time to work with materials and methods outlined in the higher levels of Blooms traditional taxonomy and Digital Taxonomy. For example, they will have opportunities to experiment with ideas behind force and motion with balloon races. Students will be able to film themselves using green screen technology. Additionally, in the use of multiple methods of coding they will be able to implement the ideas set forth by learning theorist Seymour Papert, who proposed “children understand concepts when they’re able to operationalize them through writing computer programs.” (Culatta, Kearsey, 2020).

Annotated References

Bates, T. (2019). Teaching in a digital age: guidelines for designing teaching and learning (2nd ed.). BCCampus.

This free ebook by Tony Bates Discusses fundamental changes in education and their implications. He provides information on various modes of delivery of information and strategies for ensuring quality of teaching. He elaborates on various learning theories, comparing them and describing  how they apply to the learner of today, in the digital age.

Behaviorism. Learning Theories. (2020, March 5). https://www.learning-theories.com/behaviorism.html.

The learning theory website provides clear, concise information about various learning theories including names of thought leaders associated with those theories and resources to refer to for additional information.

Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy Verbs. Wasabi Learning. https://wabisabilearning.com/blogs/literacy-numeracy/download-blooms-digital-taxonomy-verbs-poster.

This blog post on the Wasabi learning website includes colorful lists of verbs for an updated Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy. It begins at the remembering level up through the higher order thinking skill of creating. This tool can be a handy helper for teachers as they plan lessons utilizing digital tools and resources. 

Brau, B., Kimmons, R., & Caskurlu, S. Constructivism. The Students’ Guide to Learning Design and Research. https://edtechbooks.org/studentguide/constructivism.

This guide to learning design provides readers with a clear and concise analysis of constructivism. The constructivist portions of the site include the ideas of Piaget, Dewey, and Vygotsky. The guide also includes valuable references and citation suggestion. 

Brown, P. C., Roediger, H. L., & McDaniel, M. A. (2014). Make it Stick: the science of successful learning. Belknap Harvard.

Two cognitive scientists, Roediger and McDaniel, team up with Peter Brown, a storyteller, to explain how learning and memory work, interleaving various topics. They suggest that memory is important for learning, that learning is an acquired skill that should continue throughout an entire lifetime.

Common Sense Education. (2016). What is Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy? YouTube. https://youtu.be/fqgTBwElPzU.

Common Sense education designed this helpful five minute video for teachers to help them understand the meaning and purpose of Bloom’s digital taxonomy, which focuses on the hierarchical levels of thinking in the cognitive domains of learning. As technology and learning have evolved over the past Century, teachers need updated verbs with which to design their lessons to effectively utilize digital resources.

Commonwealth of Learning. (2020). 5. Theories of Learning. YouTube. https://youtu.be/yxWM6kEwrdM.

This video is number five in a series of twelve which complements Tony Bates’ book Teaching in a Digital Age. These videos are extraordinarily useful as Br. Bates describes the concepts in his book. This is an example of learning through multimedia as I read portions of the book and watched his videos to make connections about theories of learning.

Culatta, R., & Kearsley, G. (2018, November 30). Constructivist Theory (Jerome Bruner). InstructionalDesign.org. http://www.instructionaldesign.org/theories/constructivist/.

The website instructionaldesign.org designed by ISTE CEO Richard Culatta and his colleague Mr Kearsley was a very valuable resource for my research as it outlined multiple Frameworks and theories. It also highlights specific thought leaders, how their ideas can be applied with examples, and clearly outlined principles. The site also includes references and related websites.

Flippen, C. H. (2012, October). Cognitivism. Educational Technology & Learning Theories. https://edtechtheory.weebly.com/cognitivism.html.

Catherine Flippen provides concise information about behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism and other psychological approaches on her website Educational Technology and Learning Theories. She also includes multiple philosophical considerations and references. This tool was extremely helpful for my research because of its simplicity.

Lang, J. (2016). Small Teaching: everyday lessons from the science of learning. Jossey – Bass Inc, US.

Inspired by baseball, James Lang describes his strategies for transforming pedagogy incrementally. He proposes that small shifts in how courses are designed and communication with students can yield a dramatic transformation. His ideas are rooted in the learning sciences and cognitive theory. Each chapter of his book includes a theory, model, principles and strategies for small teaching.

Mayer, R. E. (2020). Multimedia learning (2nd ed.). Cambridge University Press.

Richard Mayer book outlines an updated approach to teaching in which he proposes that people learn not only by words but by images as well. He includes his research science of instruction and learning and details eleven principles about providing and designing instruction with multimedia. 

Neufeld, G., & Maté, G. (2019). Hold on to your kids: why parents need to matter more than peers. Vermilion, an imprint of Ebury Publishing.

In this book, Neufeld and Maté Describe Pierre orientation and its dynamic in our culture. They detail the negative impacts of peer orientation on child development. They go on to outline healthy child development and how to create lasting bonds with children. Finally they explain how to prevent the peer world from causing harm to children.

Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy. Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching. https://www.celt.iastate.edu/teaching/effective-teaching-practices/revised-blooms-taxonomy/.

This is an example of a revised Bloom taxonomy from Iowa State University. It is less detailed than the Wasabi Learning digital taxonomy, but it is very useful in that it breaks down each level of the taxonomy into manageable sections, and provides lesson idea examples for  each level.

Roberts, T. G. (2003, August 8). An Interpretation of Dewey’s Experiential Learning Theory. ERIC.

In this Master’s essay, T. Grady Roberts outlines his interpretation of Dewey’s experiential learning theory. He includes information about knowledge, content organization, and the social environment. Additionally he describes the teacher role, learner readiness and learning outcomes.

Siemens, G. (2017, January 1). Connectivism. Foundations of Learning and Instructional Design Technology. https://lidtfoundations.pressbooks.com/chapter/connectivism-a-learning-theory-for-the-digital-age/.

In this paper, George Siemens outlines his theory of connectivism. He proposes that because information is so readily available and constantly changing, the concepts around accessing information and learning should be updated. He also emphasizes the fact that data, information and knowledge lives in machines and databases rather than people. He explains how learners need to maintain connections to build knowledge. 

Skinner, B. F. (1953). Science and human behavior. Free Press.

This psychology classic details the science behind human behavior, and the analysis of behavior ro include conditioning. He describes behavior of individuals and in groups, and well as the control of behavior. I did not read this book but it was quoted in multiple resources, so I thought it was important to include. Smith, M. K. (2020, February 12). What is learning? A definition and discussion. https://infed.org/learning-theory-models-product-and-process/.

The What is learning? Article was comprehensive and thorough, providing  much to consider including Säljö’s research on the 5 categories of learning, as well as Bloom’s 3 domains of learning, debate about whether teachers are like carpenters or gardenters. The article goes on to describe Kolb’s four elements of experiential learning and ideas about Dewey’s work on Reflective thinking. What was especially useful in this article was the chart with Five Orientations to learning after Merriam and Bierema. The chart outlines who the learning theorists are, their view of the learning process, it’s role in education and more. An interesting element of that chart was how that theory manifests in adult learning.

Spencer, B. What is Behaviourism? Team Satchel | Satchel One – The Powerful Learning Platform. https://blog.teamsatchel.com/what-is-behaviourism-and-how-to-use-it-in-the-classroom.

This blog post features a helpful infographic which has a few ideas about practical applications of the teachings of Thorndike and Skinner. You have to provide your email address to download the poster. This post also features a video that explains the foundations of behaviorism.

Spencer, J. (2020, October 27). Five Ways to Boost Metacognition In the Classroom. John Spencer. https://spencerauthor.com/metacognition/.

This blog post by John Spencer gives some wonderful suggestions about boosting metacognition in the classroom. He describes the metacognitive cycle and links a podcast in the post. Additionally, He explains the critical role of metacognition and features a very thorough chart regarding feedback and reinforcement. He also links to a design think post of his, which has a phenomenal plan for launching classroom projects.

Willingham, D. T. (2008). Ask the Cognitive Scientist – What Will Improve a Student’s Memory? American Educator, 17–44. https://www.aft.org/periodical/american-educator/winter-2008-2009/ask-cognitive-scientist-what-will-improve

Is 2008 article in American Educator by Daniel Willingham provides valuable insight about memory. He delves into some myths about memory, as well as the three principles of memory. Further,  he provides demonstrations of the three principles. Also he provides a chart which includes eleven mnemonics examples and how they each apply to one of the three principles of memory.

Willingham, D. T. (2018, October 4). Are You a Visual or an Auditory Learner? It Doesn’t Matter. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/04/opinion/sunday/visual-learner-auditory-school-education.html.

This 2018 article by Daniel Willingham in the New York Times suggests that learning styles and preferred mental strategies should not be the guide for how people choose to learn or digest information. He points to multiple experiments where researchers debunk learning styles. Willingham believes that choosing one mental strategy and labeling themselves as visual or auditory learners can limit people from trying multiple methods of gaining new knowledge.

3 Comments on “Learning Philosophies in Action

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