Influence of Two Key Learning and Development Theories

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This essay will discuss the applications and influence of two key learning and development theories to educational practice and policy. The aim is of this essay is to discuss two key development theories to educational practices. The two key theories are 1. Piaget and his constructivism theory which recognizes nature but emphasize on nurture on development and learning. Skinner and his behaviorism theory which emphasize the influence of nurture on development and learning. The learning theorists Piaget and Skinner can be categorized into two groups of psychology, Cognitivism and Behaviorism. Cognitivism looks at the development of intelligence in biological and mental classification, while Behaviorism explains human behavior through observation and measured responses to stimuli within the environment.

Piaget is one of the most influential cognitive theorists in the 21st century. Piaget’s theory there are four stages of development which are: Sensorimotor stage (Birth – 2years), Preoperational stage (2-7years), Concrete Operations stage (7-11years) and Formal Operations stage (11years through to adulthood). Although mental skills present around certain age, the order in which it is developed does not vary. The order of which mental skills are acquired does not vary because the process of gaining knowledge is an extension of previous occurrence. 

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The sensorimotor stage begins at birth and is characterized by the absence of language, it is where learning takes place through touch and feel. Piaget believed that babies are born with innate schemas which enable them to interact with others; however, as their experiences increased they begin to form a plan or representation in their brains which aids them in developing new schemas. Piaget never intended his research to be directly aimed at education, however many elements of Piaget theory can be seen in classrooms and the EYFS curriculum.

Aubrey & Riley tates the most significant influence that Piaget’s work had on the curriculum is through the acknowledgement that children have different intellectual capabilities at different stages of their development; such as the post-Plowden curriculum saw a focus on what should be taught to different age groups, with a specific focus on four key stages which largely reflected Piaget’s four stages of development. 

Piaget was not the first theorist to encourage a child centered approach to the Early Years however his influence most recently in the EYFS curriculum states that “every child is a unique child, who is constantly learning and can be resilient, capable, confident and self-assured”. This reflects on the notion that the child is the main driver of their own learning and allows the practitioners to be flexible with planning to the needs of the individual child. One of the key feature of child-centred approach is the importance of learning through play.

B.F. Skinner is often referred to the father of operant conditioning as he took the theory of Thorndyke’s Stimulus-Response and developed it further. Skinner’s theory distinguishes between operant behaviour and respondent behaviour. Operant behaviour could be controlled by the environment to generate specific response whereas respondent behaviour was prompted by a known stimulant and depends on it. To prove his theory, he subjected animals and human to rigorous experiments, which he termed “radical behaviourism”, he invented devices to use for him experiments, ‘one of the most famous one is the skinner boxes’ . 

Skinner coined the term ‘operant conditioning’ after extensive research with rats and pigeons in the Skinner box. Skinner believed that operant behavior ought to involve a response that can easily be repeated, such as pressing a lever, for rats, or pecking an illuminated disk (key) for pigeons. According to skinner behavior that was reinforced was likely to be repeated and the behavior that was not reinforced would die out.

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