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Effective Learning Theories (and How to Benefit from Them)

Effective Learning Theories (and How to Benefit from Them)

Not all humans absorb information in the same way and at the same rate. Different methods work for different people. These varying methods and how they work are exactly what learning theories are. With a great deal of research, educationists have proven how each learning theory is unique and effective.

Once you grasp the concept of how your brain works, you can effectively begin learning in an improved manner. This isn’t just true for academic learning as it works the same for learning skills and general information as well.

In order to understand which learning theory affects your learning style, keep reading!

Effective Learning Theories

Educationists and psychologists have developed various theories based on the varying perceptions of individuals. However, there are four in particular that can be closely related to everyday learning.

Behaviorism

The behaviorist learning theory was introduced by John Watson [1]. His school of thought believes that people learn from interactions. Every event or piece of information leads to a certain reaction.

This behavior helps the brain retain details. Eventually, how the individual behaves is affected by what was learned. It is a continuous cycle.

So:

If you were to read about something, it won’t stick in your mind unless the information you read stimulated a reaction. Similarly, even if you were a part of a real-life scenario, unless the brain gave out reactionary signals, nothing is learned from that situation.

The environment plays a huge role in this learning theory. When a person is born, their brain is completely blank. Gradually, the environmental factors fill up the brain with knowledge. Learning is coherent with the environment, and so, the same knowledge may not be learned in the same way in a different environment.

In simpler words, different environments lead to different learning outcomes and abilities.

All behaviors are justified as a result of what the brain already knows. Whether the interaction is subconscious or not, it is directly connected to what the individual has learned. Hence, all that is learned has a direct effect on behavior.

All in all, the behavior of any person alters according to the knowledge they have. So, if you were learning to control your anger, this theory can be used to help control your outrage by altering your thought processes.

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Cognitivist Theory

The education psychologists Piaget and Tolman originally derived the cognitivist learning theory. Their theory is based on the concept of memory. You can understand this theory by comparing the human brain to a computer. A computer’s memory will retain and utilize as much information as you enter into it. Similarly, the human brain learns based on what is remembered by the brain.

Basically:

The cognitivist theory states that the brain first receives the information, comprehends it, and then reacts to it. Therefore, the learning process is done before the reaction takes place. Just like a computer, the final output is based on memory.

Moreover, even if there is no reaction involved, the person still learns and gains something from the information.

Let’s say you were learning a new language. You will have to memorize certain words and their meaning. Your memory will play the main role in this process.

This theory also puts the individual learner in charge. Without dependence on a learning source, the learner is an active participant who understands and receives knowledge. If you want, then, you can start learning a new language any day without a teacher if you have the source material.

Constructivism

The learning theory of constructivism was created by Vygotsky. It focuses on perceptual learning.

Here’s what this means:

Each individual has a unique perception based on the learning that was done prior to a certain event. Everything that you’ve seen, felt, or heard in your life contributes to your point of view.

This perception is then used to learn from theundon that the brain receives. Basically, Vygotsky believed that every experience contributes to some sort of learning twice: once when the event actually takes place and then on an individual level.

The concept of constructivism is for the learner to build information based on previous knowledge. Altogether, this creates a meaningful context in the mind of the learner. These connections between the old knowledge and the new information lead to a fool-proof method of learning.

As per this school of thought, learning means understanding an experience. If there is no understanding of the event, there is no learning. If you don’t figure out the meaning of the chords, you can never learn to play the guitar.

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This theory uses this phenomenon to improve the learning abilities of individuals. It suggests that the learner should be more engaged in order to make the learning process more successful.

Constructivism encourages collaborative work. This learning theory emphasizes problem-solving, as well. All of this leads to improved thinking skills, which in turn boosts the learning process.

If you are learning to paint, for instance, everything you draw will be your unique reflection. This is why no two artists can ever produce the same work, even if they use the same equipment.

Experiential Learning

As the name suggests, this learning theory elaborates on learning from experiences. This is a concept quite similar to behaviorism. However, David Kolb, the person who developed the experiential learning theory, suggested a different take on it [2].

This theory actually includes part of all the aforementioned theories. It is a mix of behavior, cognition, perception, and experience. This theory explains that the learning process begins with an experience. This could be anything like an occurring event, a drawing, something that the person wrote, etc.

The next step is for the brain to reflect on this. This reflection may or may not result in an external reaction. Eventually, it becomes part of the memory. This is where perception and cognition come in.

Now:

The way that experiential learning is different from behaviorism is very simple. Behaviorism talks about the effect of external behavior on learning and vice versa. Experiential learning, on the other hand, focuses on what goes on in the mind that results in external behavior.

As per this theory, if you’re a computing guy who wants to learn new codes, you can do that in the best way if you use a visual. Write down the coding pattern or, perhaps, see a video to have a picture in your mind that you can learn from.

The Relationship between Learning Styles and Learning Theories

This is what each learning theory states. But, how does this relate to your everyday learning?

Every human has a specific learning style. This learning style is directly coherent with all or some of the aforementioned theories. These theories have actually been derived from the various learning styles.

There are 7 basic learning styles:

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  1. Visual: These learners can understand better with the help of images.
  2. Aural: Such individuals learn from auditory sources.
  3. Verbal: The use of words in speech and writing is the preferred method of learning.
  4. Physical: These people need to use their sense of touch to grasp information.
  5. Logical: Such learners use reasoning and have a systematic learning method.
  6. Social: Learning is most effective in groups for these people.
  7. Solitary: These individuals like to work alone.

Each one of these learning styles is directly related to one of the four learning theories. For example, a logical learner is a live example of the cognitivist learning theories. If you are brilliant at budgeting, there is a high chance that you have good thinking skills that help you to organize information in your mind.

A social learner uses the constructivism theory. Collaborative work and their own personal perception help them learn better. The social butterfly who is the perfect PR representative uses this theory and style.

Physical learners react to the information they learn. This is the implementation of the behaviorist theory. Without moving their hands or using their sense of touch in one way or the other, it is difficult for these people to retain information in their brains. A karate trainee will have to physically perform to learn the skill. It cannot be memorized.

As for experiential learning, it is a prominent style in the visual and aural learning styles. There isn’t always a reaction, but the visual or audio information that is received is enough to get the brain cells running.

Using Learning Methods That Work For You

If you are not using learning methods that go in line with your learning style, you’ll find it hard to digest information. Instead, you will experience unwanted stress, which ends up affecting your productivity and intellect.

You may be wondering:

With so many learning theories and styles, is there a right or wrong one? Well, that’s not how it works. The brain is a very complex organ that works differently for everyone. This is why the absorption of information is also different for everyone.

There are numerous parts of the brain that are performing completely different tasks. The right lobe, for example, is responsible for music and audio. The frontal lobe deals with words. Similarly, the temporal lobe deals with social activities.

Not all of these parts of the brain work at the same pace in every human. For some people, the frontal lobe is far faster than the rest. In other cases, another part is more dominant.

Everyone’s brain is better at different things. If one human can understand music very well, another is more competent in terms of logic. Therefore, this affects the learning process, which is why everyone ends up with a different learning style.

For this reason, educational psychologists have put forth so many different learning styles and theories as the learning ability of individuals tends to vary. This is also why all the theories are different, despite having a few similarities.

As for your exact case, only you can figure out which learning theory applies. Similarly, you have to figure out your learning style on your own, too. You can do so with a quick style evaluation test. Once you are aware of which method your brain prefers, you can use that knowledge to improve your day-to-day learning capability.

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Learning Styles Can Change

Here’s the thing:

You might have been acing tasks throughout your life with the help of visual learning. Or, you may have had an excellent memory. That does not, however, guarantee that your learning style is the same when you’ve entered your professional life.

Learning styles can change, and that comes with the requirement of a necessary change in your methods. If you were once a social learner, teamwork would have boosted your motivation to a whole new level. Instead of singing solo, your performance would be better in a band.

However, if over the years your style changed to solitary, and you didn’t change your methods, you would only slow yourself down. Band performances will no longer be good enough because your brain will be unable to allow you to practice well during group sessions.

Basically, the brain adapts with time.

It may become weaker, but it may also get stronger. The parts of the brain that were once dominant may be taken over by another lobe. That’s how learning styles change. It isn’t a quality that will stay fixed forever.

With the right learning method and a few other tips, you can boost your learning power immensely. The monumental difference in your day to day productivity will be clearly noticeable.

As an adult, you are the only person who can guide yourself to the right learning track. If you want to learn a new skill quickly, you should figure out your learning style and implement it accordingly. Then, look into the corresponding learning theory to resolve what the method of knowledge absorption for your brain is.

By using the concept of the theory to aid your learning style, you can become a fast learner in days.

More Tips on Learning

 

Featured photo credit: NordWood Themes via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Behaviorism
[2] Signature Experience: Experiential Learning Theory

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Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on February 11, 2021

7 Reasons You Won’t Start Studying Until It’s Too Late, And What To Do About It

7 Reasons You Won’t Start Studying Until It’s Too Late, And What To Do About It

For most of us, the experience of studying for an exam can be captured in one word: panic. You’ve got 18 hours, exhausted, and sitting there staring at an equations sheet full of gibberish. Why? Why didn’t I start earlier?

Believe it or not, there are forces acting against you, pulling you away from starting early enough so that you can comfortably learn new material. Here are 7 of the most insidious reasons why you don’t start early, and what you can do about it.

1. You’re anticipating hard work

Procrastination is generally viewed as this guilt-ridden character defect shared almost universally by all students. The problem is, this is exactly what we should expect to happen from an evolutionary perspective.

Humans are known to be cognitive misers:[1] we conserve mental resources whenever possible, especially when facing tasks not viewed as “essential to our survival.”

In other words, we put off studying until the last minute because (1) we know the work is hard and will require a lot of mental energy, and (2) until there’s the threat of actually failing the exam (and therefore potentially being humiliated publicly) we’re not in enough emotional pain to motivate us to start studying.

Additionally, when your brain anticipates multiple outcomes that are all viewed as “painful” (the pain of studying vs. the pain of failing out of college) you become immobilized, unable to choose the lesser of two evils, and push off the work even further.

Schedule in time for yourself first and then fill in the gaps with study time.

As Niel Fiore discusses in bestselling classic, The Now Habit, part of the reason you procrastinate is because you see no end in site.

Think of the difference between a 100 yard dash and a marathon. In the first case you’re able to give maximum effort because you can see the finish line and know it will be over soon. The marathon runner is not so lucky. They know there’s a long road ahead filled with pain and exhaustion, and subconsciously conserve their effort to ensure they can make it through all 26.2 miles.

This is all to say, if you know you get to go hang out in your buddy’s dorm room and goof off for an hour after you study, you’re much more likely to want to invest that energy.

As a side benefit, you end up taking advantage of Parkinson’s Law. Because your work expands to fill the time allotted, by scheduling less time for studying, you actually become more productive and focused.

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2. You’re sleep deprived

Who in college isn’t pounding the caffeine?

Students who force themselves through weeks upon weeks of 4-6 hour sleep nights, are significantly deteriorating two aspects of their mental performance critical to studying for exams: motivation and vigilance.

Studies show that poor sleep negatively impacts motivation.[2] But really, no one needs a study to tell them how much worse your outlook on life is when you’re low on sleep.

And vigilance,[3]the ability to maintain concentrated attention over prolonged periods of time, is also significantly reduced during a period of either acute (staying up all night studying), or chronic (cutting sleep short for multiple days) sleep deprivation.[4]

Set yourself an end-of-the-day alarm.

Yes, studying more consistently for shorter chunks will allow you to spread it over a longer period of time; therefore, preventing the need to deprive yourself of sleep just to get your coursework done. But really, it’s a psychological issue.

There are a million things we’d rather stay up and do, than go right to bed after a full day of classes, only to have to get up and do the same thing over again. This is a chicken/egg problem: if I don’t get sleep I procrastinate studying, but if I go to bed I’ll just have to get up and study. Again, lose-lose. We need to break the cycle.

Set yourself an alarm. But not in the morning. Set your alarm for 45 minutes before when you should get to sleep and allow yourself to sleep for a full 8 hours. If you adhere to that you’ll be surprised how many hours of free time seem to materialize.

Study time + free time + sleep = happy and successful students.

3. You have a false sense of security

You may think you’re being a diligent student, sitting there in the lecture, listening intently, copying down page after page of notes from the professor. You might even be following along and raise your hand here and there. But there’s a big difference between feeling like you understand something, and actually being able to reproduce it on a test.

This is what we call passive learning, and it’s the best way to ensure that you’ll spend a lot of time and effort trying to learn new material, without actually being able to retain any of it.

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Quiz yourself.

Don’t be fooled by your professor’s overly logical explanations. This dude already knows the material, so it’s easy for him to explain it in a way that others find understandable. The real challenge is whether or not you can do the same.

If you’re wondering if you actually understand something, quiz yourself. Or better yet, explain it to someone (or yourself, but be warned: people tend to stare).

As Einstein liked to say, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

By routinely quizzing yourself, you’ll get a dose of reality of whether you actually know the material or not, instead of what most students do: assume they know it until the night before the test, when they proceed to freak out because they can’t do any of the practice problems.

4. Not all study time is created equal

Fact: seven hours of studying over 7 days is much more effective (more learning per time spent) for understanding new material than 7 hours of studying in one chunk. This is especially true for technical courses with new jargon you have to internalize.

Chunk your study time.

The brain uses a ton of energy (20% of our resting metabolic rate), and there’s only so much you can expend per day. To maximize your retention of new material, you want to take advantage of both active learning and recovery.

Because the brain consolidates new neural pathways during sleep, particularly during REM sleep, the more sleep cycles you intersperse between your study hours, the more likely it is that you will retain the material and be able to whip it out on test day.

This also allows you to take advantage of spaced repetition. Instead of having to constantly review your material to keep it in the forefront of your memory, you can follow a cycle of ever-increasing time intervals between review sessions (the “forgetting curve”), decreasing the overall amount of time needed to re-learn material you might have forgotten from the beginning of the semester when the final rolls around.

5. The planning fallacy

Humans systematically overestimate what can be accomplished in the short-term, and underestimate what can be accomplished in the long-term.

Ironically (and sadly), we only have this problem evaluating our own tasks – providing a pretty accurate picture of how long things will take when evaluating someone else’s situation objectively.

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Use the 50% rule.

Estimate as conservatively as you can, how much time it’s going to take to study for your exam, assuming you start early and work consistently.

Done?

Okay. Now add 50% to that estimate.

This will give you a more accurate picture of how much time you really need to allocate to starting studying.

6. You think you have more study time than you do

141025-study-definition

    Pull up your Sunday schedule. What do you see?

    Oh looks like I’ve got a big chunk of free time from 4pm to 10pm. Perfect, I’ll just squeeze in 5 or 6 hours of studying and then call it a night.

    Try again. It’s more like 2-3 hours.

    This is another type of planning mistake: overestimating how much productive time we can extract from any given period.

    Things we tend to forget: we need to eat; we need to sleep; there will be interruptions (yea right like you’re actually going to shut off your phone).

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    But another thing we fail to account for: the body goes through 90-120 minute activity cycles (called the Ultradian Rhythm). So even though you may be sitting there, highlighting your textbook for 3 hours straight, you really only have the ability to absorb material for 1.5 to 2 hours before you need a period of rest.

    Cut your estimated hours in half.

    If you think you have 8 hours on Sunday after the game to study, forget it. You actually have 4 or less when you take out time for eating, breaks, and normal daily activities.

    7. You can’t get motivated or focused

    A lot of us tend to sit around and wait…

    Waiting for the wave of motivation to strike us to finally get started on the homework assignment due in 24 hours, or studying for the midterm.

    Here’s the problem: motivation comes and goes, but the demands of school and learning and everyday life don’t. And if you’re relying on your motivation to keep you focused, everything you’re doing is going to be in a perpetual state of lateness and last-minute-ness, because there’s never enough motivation to go around.

    Focus on the process, with the end in mind.

    Why are you in school? Why do you want a degree? Get clear on exactly what your motivations are.

    But thinking about the future is not enough. That vision of the future that drives your emotional intensity needs to be linked to your daily activities. (e.g. “Each day I study for Calculus brings me one step closer to being a doctor and making a difference in people’s lives.”)

    What is the one set of activities each day that will virtually guarantee success in your coursework?

    And what can you do to organize your day, set up incentives, quit things that don’t matter, etc. to virtually guarantee you will do that one set of activities day in and day out, despite motivation?

    Featured photo credit: Melanie Deziel via unsplash.com

    Reference

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