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There are many learning theories. These three are considered Meta-theories. These theories are: behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism.
In behaviorism, one essentially learns through conditioning. An example would be Pavlov ringing the bell and the dogs salivating in anticipation of food. A system of rewards is set up to motivate or condition the student to learn the material. The environment is the most important factor in Behaviorism as it is what changes for the reward. A merit of the behaviorism theory is that one can study and look at an isolated event to determine plausibility.
In Cognitivism, more than one event is essential to the learning process. In this type of learning, the material builds to create greater depths of meaning at different cognitive levels. In Cognitivism short term and long term memory are used in the learning process. Because of the depth of which the material is studied, and the varied ways the material is presented, the theory assumes that the student retains more of the information or “learning”.
“A cognitive theory of multimedia learning based on three main assumptions: there are two separate channels (auditory and visual) for processing information; there is limited channel capacity; and that learning is an active process of filtering, selecting, organizing, and integrating information.” http://www.learning-theories.com/category/learning-theories-and-models
In Constructivism, there is a more spiraling approach of the learner, which builds upon the information already learned. One can comprehend complex problems by learning the simpler parts of the problem in earlier ways. Montessori is an example of constructivism. In preschool, children begin working with bead chains which they will continue to see in more complex variations throughout their schooling. The complex algebraic formulas are put into a building cube, giving the student an important, higher order thinking concept, simply. Students are the directors of their learning.
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