Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism: Which One?

Pedagogy, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary (2017) involves the act of teaching of an “academic subject or theoretical concept” (Oxford Dictionary, 2017). To be effective in the act of teaching, one must understand the learner and how the transfer of knowledge is acquired. Different theories have come to fruition to help explain this transfer and how the learner learns.

Three foundational theories or pedagogy and instructional design include behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism. These theories have evolved and have become central tools to aid teachers in the design and delivery of instruction to the learner. Ertmer and Newby (2013) outline that each of these theories can “be treated as separate approaches to understanding and describing learning” (p. 46). However, can instructional designers be effective in the creation of pedagogical curriculum using only one of these learning theories?

Behaviourism, as summarized by Ertmer and Newby (2013), asserts that the learner acquires the transfer of knowledge through the exposure to external environmental stimuli. Success is measured when a determined level of behavior is elicited by the learner. Cognitivism, like behaviorism, also relies on “environmental conditions” that “play in facilitating learning” (Ertmer & Newby, 2013, p. 48). The difference between behaviorism and cognitivism is that cognitivists are more interest in how the learner “attends to, code, transform, rehearse, store and retrieve information” (Ertmer & Newby, 2013, p. 52). The most recent of these learning theories, constructivism, revolves around the existing experiences of the learner and how they create meaning from their surrounding environmental factors (Ertmer & Newby, 2013).

As a teacher and instructional designer, I have come to acquire a comfortable understanding of behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism. I also find myself, at times, torn between designing instruction and curriculum through the lens of a constructivist, behaviorist or cognitivist.

The majority of my pedagogy is based on experiential-based learning. Experiential learning can easily be explained through the lens of behaviorism, cognitivism. However, theories that deal with the understanding of human-centred design are also interwoven with the curriculum I deliver to the learner. Constructivism then becomes the central lens used to develop instruction for the delivery of these theories.

The more I move forward through the MALAT program, the more I am finding that instructional design is a fluid endeavour, and no one set lens can be used for all pedagogical environments or curriculum. Ertmer and Newby (2013) pronounced that “learning is a complex process that has generated numerous interpretations and theories of how it is effectively accomplished” (p. 44). As an instructional designer and teacher, I truly believe that we cannot afford to put all our efforts into a single learning theory. We must continue to learn and adapt to the pedagogical world around us.

Ertmer, P. A., & Newby, T. J. (2013). Behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 26(2), 43–71. https://doi.org/10.1002/piq.21143

Meinel, C., Leifer, L., & Plattner, H. (Eds.). (2011). Design Thinking. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-13757-0

Pedagogy. (2017). In Oxford Dictionary online. Retrieved from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/pedagogy

5 thoughts on “Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism: Which One?

  1. Hello Darin,

    I like how you state you how you are familiar with behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism, and how you are discovering the fluidity of the pedagogies. After reading your post, another line from Ertmer and Newby (2013) caught my eye, “after reading this article, instructional designers, and educational practitioners should be better informed “consumers” of the strategies suggested by each view point” (p. 45). I felt this quote aligned well with your last sentence.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Reference

    Ertmer, P., & Newby, T. (2013 Online). Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 26(2), 43-71.

  2. Hi Darin, a thoughtful reflection on a topic, that as a teacher, is always in the back of my mind as well. Do you not find that modern curricula in Canada seems to be shifting toward a more constructivist appoach? The focus on skill developmnet rather than content aquisition. What are your thoughts about this? DO yu think this is the right way forward, or do you join the ranks of naysayers who say there is not enough content in 21st century curricula?

    1. Thanks Katie,
      Life is far too organic, fluid and unpredictable. I I learn observe and think about the teachers I’ve had in my past. Some teachers take a single stance when it comes to certain topic. Some teachers are all over the board when they tried to describe the subject material. I think we have got to take everything in the context and try to do our best when using design instruction for curriculum. But now that we have all of these theories embedded within us, we can make a choice. The theories are not written in stone, we have the freedom of picking And choosing and customizing to fit the needs of the learner.
      Darin

  3. Hi Darin,

    After reading this article for our previous course and initially having to side with a pedagogical stance for that assignment, do you feel as though you would change that stance after progressing through the course?

    You mentioned that you are starting to feel like design is a fluid endeavor and that it doesn’t necessarily fit in to one view of pedagogy. As I move through this program and re-read this article, I noticed the same thing. I initially took the stance of relating most to constructivism, however I’m starting to realize that you would be providing a disservice to your audience/user if you focus on simply one learning theory.

    Through this course specifically, and learning more about empathetic design, I have shifted my view to consider the needs of the learner first and foremost before considering what learning theory to apply.

    I’d be curious to hear how your takeaways differed from reading this article later on in our in program.

    1. Thanks Katie,
      Life is far too organic, fluid and unpredictable. I I learn observe and think about the teachers I’ve had in my past. Some teachers take a single stance when it comes to certain topic. Some teachers are all over the board when they tried to describe the subject material. I think we have got to take everything in the context and try to do our best when using design instruction for curriculum. But now that we have all of these theories embedded within us, we can make a choice. The theories are not written in stone, and we have the freedom of picking and choosing and customizing to fit the needs of the learner.
      Darin

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