Teaching/Learning Philosophies

Permission to adapt with acknowledgment to the author: Dr. Joan D. McMahon, Human Resource Development, Towson University, Towson, MD 21252.

Please contact the author if the document is used/adapted. mcmahon@towson.edu

Philosophies &


Major Concepts

Implications for Teaching/Learning

Ideas for Teaching/Learning On-line

Behaviorism (based on Behavioral Psychology)

• Skinner

• Watson

• Bandura

• Learning takes the form of facts, drills and practice.

• Learning is evidenced by a change in behavior. Behavior is observable.

• Responses are rewarded.

• Modeling is based on observational learning.

• Teacher presents facts and skills.

• Teacher-centered

Teacher has "The Answers." S/he is the "expert."

• Absolute answers exist in all areas of knowledge.

• Students use mastery patterns in their approaches to learning

• Lecture notes are put on-line.

• Text activities are on-line.

• Teacher directed.

• Text is significant to support content.

• Computer -assisted instruction (CAI) focuses on repetition, sequencing, and reinforcement.

Cognitivism (based on Gestalt psychology)

• Dewey

• Piaget

• Bruner

• Learning focuses on the unobservable behavior, the personal meaning making, generalizations, discovery learning, and coding. Choices we make determine who we are

• Truth and knowledge are conceived as personal and private. People "know" things subjectively.

• The nature of the whole determines the meaning of the parts.

• Teacher provides the structure for constructing individual knowledge.

• Teacher and student share responsibility for active learning.

• Audio and video tapes

graphic organizers, flow charts work better in this philosophy.

• Content is directed by the teacher from a variety of sources based in part on the needs of the learner. Web Quests are good examples.

• Email

• Computer-directed instruction (CDI) such as timed PowerPoint slides.


• Maslow

• Rogers

• Acquisition of knowledge is followed by individual personalization

• Metacognition (learning to learn) is taught

• Socialization is important.

• Values are in harmony with a spiritual whole.

• Teacher provides an abundance of resources from which the student can choose.

• Interpersonal skills are highly developed.

• Students become invested in their learning.

• They try to understand another person’ perspective as a way to learn the content.

• Teacher and students can both provide resources on-line.

• Learning is tailored to content needs of the learner.

• Audio and video conferencing are useful if technically supported.

• Computer-aided conferencing works for the interpersonal side.

• Discussions are central.

Constructivism- based on Gestalt psychology and cognitivism

• Vygotsky

• Knowledge is open to many interpretations and is in the context of a particular situation.

•Self discovery is a part of the learning.

• Students must make decisions based on their own values and sense of identity.

• Knowledge is the means to the end, not the end itself. It is based on a student’s mental construct of a concept- that which they interpret themselves.

• Truth is relative

• Students use prior and current experiences to derive knowledge. Education is life itself, not merely a preparation for it.

• Teachers have to take the learners where they are and move them forward in an experience they value at the time.

• Students require more time to construct a concept than to be told it. Fewer topics may be taught but they retain it over time better.

• Hands-on activities work well here. Learn by doing is the axiom.

Teachers design activities and assignments framed in problem-solving. Role of facilitator, They provide support to start and gradually reduce support as student competence and ability to assume responsibility increase (scaffholding)

• Problem-based learning works well on-line.

• Use activities where synthesis of ideas lead to practical solutions relevant to student lives.