Review Merriam and Cafarella’s organization of learning theories, located in Appendix D in the course text. Select two of the five theories/orientations to learning: behaviorism, cognitivism, humani

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Review Merriam and Cafarella’s organization of learning theories, located in Appendix D in the course text. Select two of the five theories/orientations to learning: behaviorism, cognitivism, humanism, social learning, or constructivism. In a three- to four-page essay (double-spaced, not including title and reference pages), compare the two selected theories or orientations to learning. In your comparison:

  • Evaluate the role of the instructor/facilitator.
  • Analyze the process by which students learn and create meaning.
  • Critique the benefits and challenges of each as they relate to adult development.

Utilize a minimum of two scholarly sources, in addition to the course text, to support your points

Here is the course text below for Appendix D if that will help with this assignment to answer the above three questions:


learly, not all approaches to teaching and learning lead to change and the potential for personal development. Rote learning, for example, offers little toward challenging adult learners’ values, beliefs, and assumptions (

Ausubel, 1968

). Merriam and Cafferella’s (1999) organization of a wide array of learning theories into five

orientations to learning

—behaviorist, cognitivist, humanist, social learning, and constructivist—also vary in their support of developmental outcomes. Merriam and Caffarella’s exploration of these approaches (1999, pp. 248-266) underscores the complexity of the teaching and learning enterprise, which is not easily captured by any one perspective. They also note that these orientations to learning are primarily concerned with change in the individual, which may or may not be directed toward social change. Thus, they do not explicitly capture other perspectives that also may inform adult learning, including Marxism, critical theory, critical pedagogy, multiculturalism, postmodernism, and feminist pedagogy. These perspectives are seen in a “power relations” framework (Merriam and Caffarella, p. 340), focusing on sociocultural contexts where learning takes place. Issues such as power, oppression, interactions of gender, race and class, access to knowledge, and privileged knowledge occupy center stage for teachers and students to critique and challenge contextual influences on learning (

Foley, 1995


As adult educators, when we see a list of named orientations, we tend to start by identifying with one or the other, based on what we know of our own philosophical and attitudinal bent. Although it is valuable to have such a “home base” for thinking about one’s practice, we find that this can lead to an unnecessarily narrowed focus. We have therefore restructured Merriam and Caffarella’s chart to show how one’s existing beliefs and practices may actually fit several theoretical stances (

Exhibit D.1


Exhibit D.1. Relationships of Dimensions of Teaching and Orientation to Learning.


Adapted from

Merriam and Caffarella (1999)

. Used by permission.

For example, when we see our role as

facilitating development of the whole person

, we are leaning toward a humanist perspective. If the view of the learning process focuses specifically on

changes in learners

’ behaviors, we are emphasizing behaviorist intentions. When teaching adults centers on

learning how to learn

, the orientation is predominantly cognitivist. When the emphasis is on




, social learning is the core approach. If the overriding concern is making meaning to encourage

perspective transformation

, we are taking a constructivist stance. With this overview in mind, we will reexamine these orientations toward learning, paying particular attention to their potential to support adult development.

The concept

locus of learning

might be restated as

where does learning happen,


what is learning centered around?

From the behaviorist point of view, learning happens in response to stimuli. Behaviorists focus on stimuli and the effectiveness of the reinforcements needed to achieve measurable behavioral change. Learning environments based on rewards for increments of desired change, currently used most often with learners who have limited cognitive skills, draw on behavioral theory. However, since behaviorists define learning solely in terms of changed behavior, they intentionally


what goes on inside the learner. A typical example would be programmed instruction, or a training session on how to use software.

Cognitivists (

Ausubel, 1968

), by comparison, focus almost exclusively on what is happening inside the learner and on preexisting mental models as they affect the possibility of new learning. By changing these models, or cognitive structures, the cognitivist seeks to enable increasingly effective symbolic processing and problem-solving abilities—cognitivist goals for meaningful learning. For example, an instructor following good cognitivist practice would begin with a carefully structured overview, intending in this way to provide learners with adequate “anchors” for the new knowledge to follow.

Constructivists (

Piaget, 1972

) focus on learners’ self-construction of meaning and define knowledge as “temporary, developmental, socially and culturally mediated, and thus nonobjective” (

Brooks & Brooks, 1993

, p vii), whereas cognitivists think of knowledge as absolute and transmissible (

Marton & Booth, 1997

). A constructivist educator is likely to create situations for “discovery” learning, as in certain kinds of laboratory or field work.

Social learning theory (

Bandura, 1986

) situates learning in the interaction of the individual with a “real” setting or context, leading toward modeling new roles and behavior. Social learning theory incorporates some aspects of behaviorist and

cognitive frameworks. It differs from strict behaviorism in its presumption of a reciprocal relationship, where each affects the other, rather than a stimulus applied to the learner with the intention of producing a desired response. Working in groups is one expression of social learning theory.

The humanist (

Rogers, 1960

) sees the individual person’s needs and desires, both cognitive and affective, as primary, leading toward self-actualization. This is also among the goals of many psychological models of development (

Maslow, 1968


Erikson, 1959

). Humanist educators offer highly individualized attention and are likely to consider the learner’s process as content.

Clearly, the role of the adult educator changes as these assumptions and intentions change. For example, the behaviorist instructor—usually a “trainer”—first sets up behavioral objectives described in terms of competencies. Then she or he provides appropriate stimuli and reinforcements toward eliciting the specified responses. A concept of meaningful learning is meaningless from the behaviorist standpoint. In fact, “if the learner [is] active in constructing meaning and interpreting experience, knowledge and truth [are] compromised” (

Pratt, 1993

, p. 16). In this orientation, the instructor-trainer designs the goals and the methods of their implementation.

By contrast, the humanist who seeks development of the self-actualized individual posits the learner’s


-direction as the ultimate goal. The instructor, therefore, acts as facilitator within an adult learner-centered framework. The learner’s desires and potential will determine the outcomes of the learning process. Research suggests that the capacities required for self-directed learning overlap those necessary for meaningful learning (

Taylor, 1987


Kegan, 1994


In terms of the educator’s assumed control over the learning environment, humanists are probably at the opposite end of the spectrum from behaviorists. Social learning theorists might be somewhere nearer the middle, with their focus on the


of instructor (or mentor) and the learner (and others in the social context) and toward socialization and changed social roles.

Situated somewhere between instructor-focused and learner-focused orientations, cognitivists pay greater attention than social learning theorists to the internal mental processes of learners. They also structure the content of learning activities to improve learners’ information-processing abilities to affect future learning. Though cognitivists emphasize the importance of meaningful, as opposed to rote, learning (

Ausubel, 1968

, p. 38), early cognitive theory stressed the educational value of verbally presented material and content coverage over problem solving and “discovery” (experience-based) learning techniques. In recent years, however, cognitivists have embraced the constructive emphasis on the learner’s process (

Garrison, 1991

), paying special attention to facilitating the construction of


. This includes the constructivist focus on the social and cultural mediation of learning (

Brooks & Brooks, 1993

) and on making meaning through discourse and critical reflection on experience (

Mezirow, 1996

). Constructivists do not stress learners’ information-processing capacities as much as cognitivists do, but pay more attention to enabling learners to develop increasingly effective representations of their experiential world (

von Glasersfeld, 1996

). Cognitivists stress the significance of developing metacognitive processes to enhance future learning (

Garrison, 1991

). According to Peter

Cooper (1993)

, “The move from behaviorism through cognitivism to constructivism represents shifts in emphasis away from an external view to an internal view. To the behaviorist, the internal processing is of no interest; to the cognitivist, the internal process is only of importance to the extent to which it explains how external reality is understood. In contrast, the constructivist views the mind as a builder of symbols—the tools used to represent the knower’s reality” (p. 16).

Though it may not be so much an orientation to learning as a “philosophical stance with regard to the purposes of adult education and the relationship of the individual to society” (

Pratt, 1993

, p 22), no discussion of approaches to teaching adults would be complete without mention of


—that is, education for the man (or adult) in place of


, meaning education for the child. This approach, developed by Knowles (1975, 1973) following the insights of

Lindeman (1961)

, combines aspects of humanist, constructivist, and cognitivist orientations toward learning. Knowles described ways in which adult learners were different from younger students and identified “(1) self-concept, (2) prior experience, (3) readiness to learn, (4) learning orientation, and (5) motivation to learn.” Knowles’s emphasis on self-direction, his concern for development of the individual toward autonomy and full potential, and his description of the caring, authentic, facilitative role of the instructor align him with humanist philosophy and practice. He also shows some constructivist tendencies in his acknowledgement that “learning is not … the discovery of an independent, preexisting world outside as much as it is the construction of meaning through experience” (

Pratt, 1993

, p. 16). Cognitive theorists may also recognize themselves in Knowles’s concern for the role of prior experience in how learners approach new learning tasks.

Most educators will find aspects of their practice described across several of these orientations. In our own practice, we three find that whatever our philosophical starting point, we actually move frequently and fluidly among them, as circumstances warrant. One of our own adult programs, for example, stresses self-directed learning within a competency-based outcomes framework. At the same time, it focuses on constructing meaning from experience and developing metacognitive skills toward becoming life-long learners.

Taylor, K., Marienau, C., & Fiddler, M. (2000).

Developing adult learners

. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Chapter 3 is the chapter i am reading on this week

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