Learning Theories and Educational Environments for Special Educators LECTURE Five
What is knowledge? How does an individual know? What does it mean to "know that?" People often take the answers to all three questions for granted, never questioning their knowledge or practicing metacognition. Learning begins as individuals interact and explore their environment, yet seldom do individuals reflect upon how they gained their knowledge, the extent of their knowledge, or how prior knowledge is fundamental in their ability to explore, solve tasks, and expand their knowledge base. This is especially true for educators. It is imperative that educators become familiar with their individual skills and strategies they have developed because of their early learning. With this knowledge, educators can become encouraging and motivating teachers that will help their students succeed.
The manner and environment in which people learn is as important as what they learn; how individuals learn and where they learn actually make learning possible. Learning theories explain various ways in which students learn. When educators are familiar with an array of learning theories, they are more equipped to choose the most appropriate learning theories to meet the unique learning needs of their students. Additionally, factors in an environment can enhance or inhibit student learning. In special education, federal law defines the process for deciding how and where a student with disabilities is taught. During this decision process, it is imperative that the multidisciplinary team (MDT) collaborate and determine the location, duration, and length of services to most appropriately and effectively meet students' learning needs. Strategies and the learning environment (the least restrictive environment) are chosen based on the academic and behavioral needs of the student. These stipulations are specified in the student's Individualized Educational Program (IEP). Considerations of various learning theories and diverse types of learning environments drive these stipulations.
Effective special educators continually identify theories of how students learn and devise corresponding strategies that improve learning. How does the theory or strategy make a difference in a student's learning? The theory into practice (TIP) database (2008) describes theories of learning. For example, experiential learning, defined by XXXXX XXXXX, is self-directed; the teacher facilitates relevant learning in a positive environment, which guides and motivates students. Skinner's operant conditioning and Hull's drive reduction theory follow the principles of behaviorism, including conditioning by positive reinforcement. In Bruner's constructivist theory, the learner builds new knowledge based on current and past knowledge. The teacher designs the instruction and a sequenced curriculum in accordance with the student's current level of performance. Observational learning and modeling behavior are essential components of Bandura's social learning theory. Vygotsky's social development theory stresses the role of social interaction in cognitive learning (Vygotsky, 2008). The special educator needs a basic understanding of many theories of learning in order to employ the most appropriate theory to best meet the learning and behavioral needs of students with disabilities.
Philosophers also contribute to the understanding of what and how people learn (Gutek, 1997). The meaning of education results from the understanding of reality and establishing criteria for truth and values. For example, Aristotle recognized the progression from concrete to abstract learning, Rousseau the importance of the child's readiness for learning. Further, Kirkegaard promoted the individual's personal responsibility for choices, and Dewey contended that the learner must be actively involved in problem solving (Gutek, 1997). According to Adler's Paideia Proposal, children must acquire three different types of knowledge: organized knowledge, intellectual skills, and understanding of ideas and values. For each of these types of knowledge, there is a different teaching style (Adler & Van Doren, 1988).With a clear educational philosophy, special educators can better define a purpose to meet the daily learning and behavioral needs of their students.
How does the classroom environment make a difference in a student's learning? First, there are traditional and nontraditional learning environments. Traditional means the established or customary institutional structures for educating students. An example of a traditional learning environment is one in which the teacher lectures to provide information and then utilizes an objective evaluation to measure learning. An extreme example of a traditional learning environment has all seats facing the front of the class where the teacher sits behind a desk and lectures about the classics. Some scholars argue that traditional academic structures may not promote learning consistent with self-directed learning. Conversely, nontraditional learning environments are often referred to as self-directed collaborative learning environments. These classrooms shift the image of the instructor who knows everything to the students who have some input and share their own knowledge, in addition to learning the instructor's findings.
The best learning venue likely varies among students, since learning preferences differ among learners. For example, the typical traditional classroom may be more appropriate for the learner who needs more direction than an independent learner (who may be successful working alone in a video-based, distance-learning program). On the other hand, a student with disabilities may need accommodations and modifications in a regular classroom, intensive instruction in a small group setting for a single period, or a parallel curriculum in a self-contained classroom. Learners must determine the best environment to achieve their educational goals; metacognition and self-determination are necessary skills for students to possess in order to make this determination.
In the online program for a Master of Education in Special Education, consider the characteristics of online learning, theories of learning, and the content and activities of the lessons, all of which must come together to provide an opportunity for mastery of program objectives. Program objectives are based on the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards: Early Childhood Through Young Adulthood/Exceptional Needs Specialist Standards (n.d.). Online learning provides limitless resources for gathering and assessing information along with endless opportunities for communicating and collaborating among colleagues in a structured format. The student is learning content in the lesson, demonstrating mastery of content in lesson assignments, and applying and practicing skills in lesson activities. Consequently, the student masters the National Board for Professional Teacher Standards: Early Childhood Through Young Adulthood/ Exceptional Needs Specialist Standards (n.d.) â€" the ultimate goal of the program itself. Such resources and opportunities are essential tools for the special educator, who is continually learning and professionally collaborating. Theories of learning guide the special educator in creating a learning environment responsive to the individual needs of students with disabilities. The intent of professional standards is to identify skills to guide special educators in creating a learning environment governed by learning theories to promote student achievement.
Which learning theories and environments contribute most to learning achievement? Special educators assess students' development by collecting and evaluating information about student academic and behavioral strengths and deficits. This assessment is strengthened when characteristics of the environment that enhance or inhibit student learning are explored and when resources and strategies that make learning possible are utilized. This information makes educational decisions possible. Those in this program must make educational decisions. Students have collected and evaluated information, defined traditional and nontraditional learning environments, identified theories and strategies that will help improve quality learning, and demonstrated how to utilize theories and strategies to create a beneficial educational environment.
Adler, M. J., & Van Doren, G. (1988). Reforming education: The opening of the American mind. New York: Macmillan.
Bandura, A. (2008). Social learning theory: Theory into practice database. Retrieved October 1, 2008 from http://tip.psychology.org/
Bruner, J. (2008). Constructivist theory: Theory into practice database. Retrieved October 1, 2008, from http://tip.psychology.org/
Gutek, G. L. (1997). Philosophical and ideological perspectives on education (2nd Ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (n.d.). Early childhood through young adulthood/Exceptional needs specialist standards. Retrieved August 24, 2008, from www.nbpts.org/index.cfm?t=downloader.cfm&id=605
Rogers, C. (2008). Experiential learning: Theory into practice database. Retrieved October 1, 2008 from http://tip.psychology.org/
Skinner, B. F. (2008). Operant Conditioning: Theory into practice database. Retrieved October 1, 2008 from http://tip.psychology.org/
Vygotsky, L. (2008). Social development theory: Theory into practice database. Retrieved October 1, 2008 from http://tip.psychology.org/