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The 9 main learning models, and their application

The 9 main learning models, and their application

March 29, 2024

Learning is one of the main processes that allow most organisms to be capable of adapt to the changes that may occur in the environment , as well as respond favorably to the different types of stimuli that we can find. We learn how to react, what we like and what we do not, what everything is, what it means to us or even how the world works. In the case of the human being, we even use a large part of our life to form and learn, coming to create institutions like the school for this purpose.

Throughout history, professionals who have studied how we learn have been developing different learning models with the purpose of understanding the mechanisms and processes that we follow, using these models to try to improve the educational system. In this article we will observe some of the main learning models that exist or have existed.

  • Maybe you're interested: "Educational psychology: definition, concepts and theories"

Learn: what is it?

Before focusing on the different models that may exist, it is convenient to try to make a brief review about what it means, in a generic way, to learn.

We understand how to learn the action through which a being (whether human or not) acquires some type of information or data from the medium (be it said external or internal means to the self), through different ways. The fact that there is an apprenticeship does not only imply that the information arrives but also that the subject is capable of performing some type of operation with it, restructuring your behavior or your understanding of the environment , of himself or of reality.

Keep in mind that there are many types of learning, some of them based on the association between two stimuli and others based on the mere repetition of exposure to a stimulus.

It is also necessary to keep in mind that although we generally identify learning with the educational system, learning and educating are not completely overlapping concepts: although in education it is intended that someone or something learns, the fact of learning can occur without existence of said intention. It can be learned, for example, through exposure to parental models , vicariously through observation or even based on biological or innate aspects as occurs with the imprint.

Main learning models

Below are some of the main models of learning that have existed throughout history and that have had great influence at some point in history. Most of them have been applied to the world of formal education or derive directly from the observation of how one learns in such an environment.

1. Behavioral or behavioral models

On a scientific level, some of the first models of learning that existed are based on the theoretical paradigm of behaviorism (which in turn derives to a large extent from logical positivism). This type of models proposes that learning is achieved through the association between stimuli, although it also contemplates non-associative learning processes such as habituation to a stimulus or sensitization to this .

Behaviorism as a paradigm does not initially contemplate the existence of the mind, or rather it does not consider that it can be known by not being able to observe it empirically. Even in some cases the mind is considered as a product of action and association , or directly as a concept referred to something that does not exist. Within the behavioral models we can find three particularly remarkable models. In fact, one's being is no more than a passive receiver of information.

  • Related article: "Behaviorism: history, concepts and main authors"

1.1. Classical conditioning

The first of these is the classical conditioning, which proposes that we learn through the association between stimuli that generate a reaction or response and neutral stimuli. Pavlov and Watson are two of the main authors of this theory, in which learning is equivalent to associating the presence of an appetitive or aversive stimulus with a neutral element that ends up generating the same response, conditioning is based on the exposure to the stimulus which does generate a reaction per se.

1.2. Instrumental conditioning

A second model is the instrumental conditioning of Thorndike , which proposes that we learn based on the association of different stimuli and responses, weakening or reinforcing the association based on practice and whether the consequences are positive or not. We learn that a certain stimulus requires a certain response and that it has its consequences.

1.3. Operant conditioning

The third great model is that of Skinner, the so-called operant conditioning.In your case, our actions and learnings are derived from the association between the actions we carry out and their consequences , appearing the concept of reinforcers (consequences that favor the repetition of the action) and punishments (that make it difficult) and these consequences being what determines if and what we are going to learn. This model is among all behaviorists that has had the most application at the school level.

2. Cognitive models

Behavioral models suffered from a great difficulty when trying to explain learning: they did not take into account mental activity beyond associative capacity, not explaining much of the elements that allow learning. This difficulty would be solved based on the cognitivist model, which explores human cognition as an obvious fact through different methods and assess the different capacities and mental processes. The human being is an active entity in learning.

Within cognitivism we can also find different great models, among which those of Bandura, the models of information processing and those of Gagné's cumulative learning stand out.

2.1. Bandura's social cognitive model

Albert Bandura considered that the mental processes and the environment interact in such a way that a learning takes place from this connection. Learning is for this author, at least in the human being, eminently social: thanks to the interaction with others we observe and acquire the different behaviors and information that we end up integrating in our schemes . It introduces the concept of observational learning, as well as the idea of ​​modeling or even vicarious learning as a way of learning.

  • Related article: "Albert Bandura's Theory of Social Learning"

2.2. Processing of information

This set of models suggests that our mind captures, operates and produces information from the medium, working with her through different levels of processing or even depending on different memory processes.

  • Related article: "Types of memory: how memory stores the human brain?"

2.3. Gagné's cumulative learning

Considered the general theory of instruction, this theory proposes that we learn through a sequencing of associations typical of classical conditioning.

Robert Gagné proposes that we carry out different types of learning, which are ordered hierarchically in such a way that to be able to realize one must have realized the previous ones. First we learn signs, then we do it with stimuli and answers, chains of the previous ones, verbal associations, ways of differentiating between the different chains and, based on all this, we achieve associations and acquire concepts and principles that we finally learn to use for solve problems.

3. Constructivist models

Even when cognitive models value the presence of different abilities and mental processes within learning, in that type of model other types of processes are often left aside such as the ability to link the new with the previously learned, the role of motivation and the willingness of the subject to learn . That is why constructivism emerged, focused on what is the attitude of the learner and the ability to make what is to be learned meaningful for this fundamental elements.

In constructivism it is the apprentice himself who constructs the knowledge he learns, based on external information, his own abilities and the help provided by the environment.

It is the type of learning model that has prevailed most in recent times , being still today the preponderant. Within the constructivist models we can highlight these models, again, we also find the contributions of various authors such as Piaget, Vygotsky or Ausubel.

3.1. Piaget's theory of learning

Piaget is a name that is highly known in the world of education. Specifically, they highlight their studies on human development in which he theorized about different stages of mental maturation, and research on the acquisition of different cognitive skills. He also generated a theory about how we learn.

Within his theory, to learn something supposes that the human being carries out some type of operation in which the set of cognitive schemes that the subject had previously is altered in some way. Our mental schemes form a basic structure of thought that we have been acquiring throughout life and learning involves the arrival of new information in our system. Before the arrival of news, our schemes will have to adapt , either by expanding to incorporate the new information (process known as assimilation) into the previous scheme or to modify it in the event that said information contradicts the previous schemes (allowing the accommodation of the new data).

3.2. Sociocultural Theory of Vygotsky

Another of the most cited and renowned theories about learning and education is that of Vygostky. In this case, sociocultural theory is characterized by assess the importance of granting adjusted support adapted to the child in order that they can learn.

In this theory we can see how there is a series of learning that a subject can reach on its own, another that will not be able to reach in any way, and a third that while it can not achieve at the moment it is possible that Do it if you have enough help. It would be in the difference between what the subject can do and what he could do with enough help, the so-called Next Development Zone , the point at which formal education should be focused.

This model considers fundamental the idea of ​​scaffolding, in which the temporary support of teachers, family members or colleagues will allow us to build our knowledge in a way that we would not achieve by ourselves despite having the potential to achieve them.

3.3. The assimilation of Ausubel's significant learning

Another of the main theories and models of learning and the last one that we are going to deal with in this article is the theory of the assimilation of the significant learning of Ausubel. This theory assess the existence of learning by reception, in which the learner acquires information because it is given, and learning by discovery, in which the subject himself investigates and learns according to his interests . In relation to this he also distinguishes between mechanical and repetitive learning and meaningful learning.

It is the latter that is most interesting in order to obtain quality learning, in which the new is linked to what already exists and a sense is given both to what is learned and to the fact of learning. Thanks to this we can learn and give meaning to representational, conceptual and propositional elements, existing a certain hierarchy as it is necessary to learn the first to advance in the learning of the following.

Many other models

In addition to the above, there are many other models related to learning that exist. For example, the models of Bruner, Carroll and Bloom, or the Instrumental Enrichment Program of Feuerstein, are other of the multiple examples of authors and proposals on the operation of one or several different types of learning that must be taken into account, even if they are not as recognized as those mentioned.

Bibliographic references:

  • Sanz, L.J. (2012). Evolutionary and educational psychology. CEDE Preparation Manual PIR, 10. CEDE: Madrid

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