Psychological Foundations of Learning

in Learning

What is teaching?

Teaching encompasses imparting knowledge. It is an integral process of learning that can only be understood in realm of learning. Learning is a relative term that may prove difficult to define. Many people define learning in terms of gaining academic knowledge but in actual sense, learning means more than acquiring academic knowledge (Dictionary.com). Learning is a life long process that starts at infancy and continues to the end of life. Every day in life we learn new things that changes our way of doing things and the way we perceive things. According to Hostetler (2005) learning is a process that is geared towards common good. Learning should not be perceived in term of academic excellence but in terms of how it prepares a person to become useful in the society. Hostetler (2003) acknowledges that the goal of public education is to make sure the society is made up of uprights individuals who can co-exist with other members of the society.  He creates a connection between public education, social capital and governance of the society.

Therefore teaching is a complex process that mainly involves changing individual behaviors.  Teaching entails imparting knowledge in order to change individual behavior and perception about their surroundings. Learning mainly involves processing of different types of information.  Learning is a function that is mainly performed through different processes.  These processes mainly takes place through mental process which means it depends on the mental capacities of the individual. Since mental capacities are dynamic in nature, learning is therefore dependant on mental capacities and the learning subject or agent, the type of knowledge that is to be acquitted with, social-cognitive environment, and many other factors. Learning is therefore a dynamic process that is dependant on different factors. Progress over time in learning tends to follow a given learning curves. Learning curve can be described as a graphical representation that explains the change in learning for an average person.  According to learning curve, there is increased retention of information at the initial attempts but this  gradually evens out which means there is less and less information that is retained after repetition.  Learning curve therefore helps in explaining the technical aspect of learning as it gives an estimation of how much an individual can learn throughout the learning cycle.

Atherton (2005) presents that ambiguity in defining and understanding learning and teaching.  He acknowledged that in psychological definition, learning can be defined as permanent change in behavior which results from continuous practices. This implies that learning results in change in behavior. Atherton (2005) sets out basic characteristics of learning and teaching in his discussion. He defines education as a force in behavior change, a product of interaction between environment and the person which leads to behavior, and that learning takes place within the lifespan which implies that learning continues throughout lifespan.

However, Atherton (2005) shows that the current approach to teaching may have changed and what is not same as what student learn.  He gives three perspectives of learning and teaching. There is what is taught but not learned, what is learned but not taught, and what is taught and learned that same time. This means that teaching may not necessary lead to learning but there is a lot that is learned from the environment.

From the above definition, it is evident that teaching can be defined as process of heaping individuals to change behavior that occurs due to interaction with the environment. It is a continuous process that takes place throughout individual lifespan.

What is knowledge?

Knowledge can be defined as the expertise and the skills acquired by individuals, which can be gained either through education or through experiences. Knowledge defines the particular skills that assist a person to perform a given task. Knowledge can be theoretical or practical understanding of a given subject. It is the awareness a person gains from experience.  Acquisition of knowledge takes place through a complex process that takes place cognitively.  Therefore acquisition of knowledge mainly takes place through cognitive process like perception, learning, communication, association, reasoning, and others.  These process assist individuals go have confident understanding of a particular subject and this gives them the ability to use it for specific purpose.

Knowledge is gained through learning. This means that gaining knowledge is a lifelong process that helps individuals to become mastery of their own environment. The main purpose of gaining knowledge is to assist  individual to exploit resources from their environment.  This implies that knowledge gained is influenced by the process of learning although the ultimate goal of learning and teaching is to assist individuals gain knowledge.

Because teaching and learning is an integral process in gaining knowledge, our perception of knowledge is likely to influence teaching and learning. In his article on A brief history of informal education thinking Smith (2004) illustrates how community understanding of knowledge has led to change in methods of teaching and learning. He expresses the differences in perception of knowledge between native societies living in the bush, Greece, and others civilization to illustrate how understanding of knowledge influence teaching and learning. For Kung, knowledge is understood as the skills that assist them to get resources from their environment. This is the reason why their teaching and learning takes place in the bush. Both girls and boys set up small 'grown-up' villages far away from their parent village and they practice to live like grown ups deriving their resources from the environment.  Through these villages, they gain knowledge on living in their environment and this can be taken as process of teaching and learning. In contrast, Britain and Ireland have developed formal education which takes place through classrooms. This is because they perceive knowledge to be skills gained through formal education that are applied in formal economy.

The difference in perception of knowledge between the Kung, and Britain and Ireland communities clearly shows how perception of knowledge influences the method of teaching and learning. For Kung, learning and teaching can take place outside formal classrooms in the natural set up they live. Their teaching and learning are meant to assist them gain skills to survive in their environment. On the other hand, British and Irish community education takes place in line with formal economy to impart skills necessary for that kind of environment.

A review of the development of informal education shows that it is aimed at assisting individuals live in their environment (Smith, 2004). Both formal and information education are aimed helping individual gain skills that lead to behavior change and therefore adapt to their environment (Carr, 2000). This means that whether teaching and learning is based on formal or informal education depends on the individual perception of knowledge, which is constructed around the environment that individual lives.

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This article was published on 2011/05/11