Published on 2012/05/03

Even when comparing leading theories of education, instructors and professors must remember that they must stay agile in the classroom. Photo by Haven’t The Slightest.

Theories are just that, theories; they guide learning and instructional design but never define learning or instructional design. They can only become operationalized in context since it is only in context that the merits and demerits of the theory can be tested for suitability to elucidate a particular subject matter, with a certain group of learners or in a particular cultural context. Theories provide a guide from which to design learning and instruct persons in rudimentary knowledge, skill and abilities as wells as more advanced (KSA).

However, how learners assimilate the subject matter presented to them will depend to their developmental placement, psychosocial support needs, predispositions, overall life content and their specifics learning needs.

Still, facilitators must not assume that age is the definer of how persons should learn or the content they should be exposed to. In fact, there are many factors that will influenced how a person learn that may defy all conventional wisdom, therefore, it is important for instructors to take a closer look at learners in front of them with the aim of understanding their specific learning needs as there may be times when given the advanced natural KSAs and experiences of a child, it may be necessary to instructor that child using a traditional adult paradigm. The same is also true with adults in that when adults are less proficient in the rudimentary content area or lack a particular subject matter prerequisite, then some conventional children teaching strategies may be pertinent for effective teaching and learning to take place.

Also, sometimes learners’ incapacities can be found in both adults and children and sometimes shortcomings are misdiagnosed and are treated with the wrong interventions, thus leading to all sorts of adult dysfunctions. In some such cases learning may require interventions that are very different than what tradition dictates and instructors must be willing to use those modalities if they are to be effective in the teaching and learning process. Also, policymakers must be intentional in providing the financial backing to support those activities that will enhance students’ learning and be intentional in remediating some of these shortcomings in the teaching and learning space and in the broader society.

Peters (1972) said that “the aim of education is to develop the potentialities of each individual or to enable the individual to realize himself” (p. 55). For this to happen it is important for educators to recognize that one size has never fit all, does not fit all and will never fit all people.

Everyone has their own peculiarities for any of many reasons and these should be honored because they influence how they interpret and respond to their world. Another important point is that individuals learn differently and may require different stimulus for learning to take place. The idea that individuals have multiple intelligences and divergence learning styles suggests that they will and do learn differently and the environment can be a catalyst in shaping their learning. Therefore, how learners learn should be an important consideration in all activities leading up to the delivery of the instruction, during the actual delivery or instruction, the evaluation of learning and planning for future teaching and learning.

Barrow and Woods (2007) promoted the idea that “students’ need to manage their own ‘learning’, and that the object of schooling is not to ‘transmit a body of knowledge’ but to encourage pupils to love learning for its own sake” (p. 8). Hence, the need for congruency between instructional strategies and a learners’ positioning on the learning readiness continuum and their needs is a crucial ingredient in the teaching and learning paradigm.

Rightly speaking, behavior is learned, therefore behavior can be unlearned, especially if the wrong thing was learned in the first place. Thus, persons can adapt to their respective environment to achieve their learning goals despite their preferred learning style and the predominant intelligences used. That is why it is safe to say that it does not matter the theory in use, what makes the teaching and learning experiences meaningful is the fact that the instructor knows the students in front of him/her and will adjust their instructional approach to accommodate the learning needs of the respective student despite the theory in use.

Russell (1960) said that “the sum of human knowledge and the complexity of human problems are perpetually increasing; therefore every generation must overhaul its educational methods if time is to be found for what is new” (p. 20). Therefore, below are some bulleted strategies by Piaget, Bruner and Vygotsky for teaching children but these can be examined for congruency with teaching adults, as well. Some of Piaget, Bruner and Vygotsky strategies are fitting for teaching adults with disabilities, instructing adults learning another language, providing remedial instructions for adults deficient in some fundamentals KSAs, and teaching adults in crisis, teaching a difficult concept among other areas where incorporating such type of instruction would benefit learners. There is also flexibility in these theories to teach in different spaces, cultures and with more traditional learners in varied context.

Piaget Accommodation (constructivism)

  • Learner-centric
  • Making sense of the new event occurring in the environment.
  • Assimilating or interpreting the environmental events within the context of already existing cognitive structures.
  • Learner-centric
  • Learners are likely to learn something if they are involved in discovering it.
  • Learners are presumed to be mature enough, motivated enough to actively take part in forming and structuring of the learning content..
  • Learners can apply their own knowledge-base, context and structure to fit their own backgrounds and life experiences.

Bruner Discovery Learning Theory

  • Learner-centric.
  • Learners are likely to learn something if they are involved in discovering it.
  • Learners are presumed to be mature enough and motivated enough to actively take part in forming and structuring their learning content.
  • Learners can apply their own knowledge-base, context and structure to fit their own backgrounds and life experiences.

Vygotsky Activity Theory (Constructivism)

  • Grounded in social development theory. Elements are: the actors, the objects, the community.
  • Consciousness exists in the individual as a result of the actor working with the object and moving toward and outcome within the culture.
  • The core of the activity theory is that thinking, reasoning, and learning is culturally and socially mediated phenomenon.
  • Individuals act on objects (through social and cultural artifacts that include language, norms and mode of behaviors).



Barrow, R. and Woods, R. (2007). An introduction to philosophy of education. New York: Routledge.

Leonard, D. C. (2002). Learning theories: A to Z. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Peters, R. S. (1972). Ethics and education. London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd., 231.

Russell, B. (1960). On education: Especially in early childhood. London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd., p. 20.

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Readers Comments

Tyrese Banner 2012/05/03 at 12:00 pm

Educators need to stay agile in the classroom, otherwise they’ll lose the learners’ focus.

Maybe we should start partitioning classes along learning style grids?

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