My Theoretical and Pedagogical Stance

To truly teach a learner, the teacher must understand how the learner learns. There are learning theories that attempt to explain how learners learn. Some learning theories, such as behaviorism, seem to take a broad approach in explaining how learner learn. Others learning theories may attempt a more narrow or more detailed approach at describing the learning process. While we are unable to internally experience how the learner learns, we cannot assume that there is only one true learning theory that attempts to explain how all learners learn (Spector, Merrill, Elen, & Bishop, 2014). Pedagogy in post-secondary environments allows for the implementation and experimentation of many learning theories. Behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism are three dominant learning theories in the field of pedagogy.  These three theories have evolved from the foundational frameworks of empiricism and rationalism (Ertmer & Newby, 2013) and have been used in the development and delivery of academic material, and learning environments.

My day-to-day work involves pedagogy. I am a teacher at a post-secondary college. I am experienced is the design, development and delivery of educational material, lessons and environments to the adult learner. Over my teaching career, I have been exposed to a many different learning theories, what Merrill (2003) refers to “instructional design theories” (p. 43), and teaching models. Some of the theories I have experienced are listed in Merrill’s (2003) article First Principles of Design, which include Constructivist Learning Environments by Jonassen, Nelson’s Collaborative Problem Solving theory, and Multiple Approaches to Understanding by Gardner. I have dismissed all three, and other theories, as they were too complex or could not fit within the learners academic environment. Since the mid 2000s, when it comes to development and delivery of educational material, lessons and learning environments, I have relied upon the basic principles found in behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism.

I have come to understand and envelope the earlier learning theories of behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism. If I had to align myself with a single theory, albeit difficult to choose, I would have to select behaviorism. This goes against my better judgement as I believe that learning requires, as corroborated by Ertmer & Newby (2013), “numerous interpretations and theories of how it is effectively accomplished” (p. 44). Behaviorism is a learning theory from the field of psychology. The learner learns by responding in a specific way to a pedagogical stimulus (Ertmer & Newby, 2013). As an example, a demonstration of a procedure is presented to the learners, and the learners in turn replicate that procedure . Consequences or rewards are used in the learning process to reinforce or correct the behaviour (Ertmer & Newby, 2013). This is one of the most basic theories of learning that can be applied in the most broadest of my pedagogical methods of teaching. Reproduce the process and be rewarded with a grade.

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.

Merrill, M. D. (2002). First principles of instruction. Educational Technology Research and Development, 50(3), 43–59.

Spector, J. M., Merrill, M. D., Elen, J., & Bishop, M. J. (Eds.). (2014). Handbook of Research on Educational Communications and Technology. New York, NY: Springer New York.

12 thoughts on “My Theoretical and Pedagogical Stance

  1. Hi Darin,
    I agree that behaviourism is a traditional theory that perhaps we both grew up with, but does that necessarily mean it’s the right way to reward the student? How many times could a question be posed and there be multiple ways for a student to get themselves to the correct answer? It doesn’t necessarily mean the teacher’s way is the only way so by dangling a carrot (grade) at a student for only learning and aping one method to achieve the answer may cause them to miss out on the various, creative ways to get to the same answer. Food for thought. Cheers man.

  2. You are correct. I do not believe in the sole concept of the carrot dangling principle. However, the basis for our industry is to have students learn about software and apply creative theories to the process. Somehow we have to assess to the learner. Believe it or not, ten years ago, ours was the last program at our college that phased out the pass/fail system. There were no grades, only feedback. There was a huge backlash by the students in that they wanted to be graded.

    However, with that said, the system that we now use does incorporate much more of the creative process. I still do have to assess the progress of the learner. As this activity in LRNT523 required us to align with only one learning theory, I chose behaviorism, as it is more general and covers a good portion of the pedagogy within our program. I cannot rely solely on one learning theory.

    1. Great question. The program I teach in, and coordinate, is titled Interactive Media Management (IMM). The curriculum includes web development, graphic design, layout, photography, videography motion graphics, database/server-side, and project management. We have determined that this program is where design meets development. The students in the IMM program are taught and assessed on technical and creative. The students do showcase a wide variety of talent and creativity through their submitted assignments and projects. However, the evaluation of creativity is based on how well the student demonstrates the design and layout theories learned within the program.

      1. Hi Darin!
        A really interesting perspective! I agree with you that it is hard (if not impossible) to actually choose one theory and in reality we end up blending theories to something that will work best in a given situation.
        On a somewhat unrelated note, as you teach graphic design and web layout, did you take the photos on your blog? I really love the look of it and I never thought I would think that a photo of a laptop looked cool, but the picture of the laptop outside on a picnic table is great!
        Thanks for the interesting post!

        1. Lorri,
          Many theories have come to light over the years. More than likely I have incorporated principles from learning theories I have not even studied. I even entered into the MALAT program with the idea of finding or creating that single golden online learning model or theory that would envelop the development of all digital learning environments. Now three months in, I have found that this will not be the case.

          Thank you for your compliment on the photos. Yes, I did take all of the photographs located on my blog (other than what is specified as researched photos for assignments). Photography has always been a passion of mine.

  3. My initial reaction to reading about Behaviorism was to interpret rewards as grades. When I stopped to think about this a little more I realized grades are not always rewards. The lack of a reward is not nearly as disheartening as receiving punishment.

    I have mainly read grey literature on the subject of the effects of grading on motivation. You may be familiar with “Mindset,” by Carol Dweck. Your post prompted me to do a quick look around for some theory or study on the matter.

    After a few searches, I came across Self-determination Theory (Deci and Ryan, 2000). I was surprised to see read that Deci (1971) found evidence of a positive correlation between positive feedback and intrinsic motivation to learn. However, this positive feedback was specifically unexpected, and negative feedback had the opposite effect.

    Peter Gray asserts in Free to Learn, that the anxiety associated with grading and testing is not conducive to learning. This is an area of interest to me. I’m neither ready nor able to do away with the practice of grading, and I acknowledge that they serve purposes beyond improving learning outcomes. However, I do suspect that they have drawbacks and I am intrigued by the successful schools that do not use them precisely because of the potentially negative effects on learning.

    One thought that comes back to me from time to time is that instructional design should aim to produce grades that are rewarding. I’ll just throw that one out there for now.


    Ryan, R. M.; Deci, E. L. (2000). “Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being”. American Psychologist. 55: 68–78

    Deci, E. L. (1971). Effects of externally mediated rewards on intrinsic motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 18: 105–115.

    1. Mary,
      Yes, once I wrote about grades being rewards for behaviour, it would trigger a couple of comments. From my experience, grades are one of the more powerful methods to trigger intrinsic motivation. I have many exercises incorporated throughout my courses. The exercises are small in size and length. Some are graded and some are not. I can accurately state that the exercises that are not graded, have about a 70% return in student accomplishment.

      I did state that I do use multiple learning theories within the program and courses I teach. I was only restricted selecting one learning theory for this activity for LRNT523. Thus, I chose behaviorism. One of the courses I mentor in is Client Projects. Client Projects incorporates all three learning theories of behaviourism, cognitivism and constructivism. In samller groups, the students are given a real client to work with in order to create a real-world product. They are assessed by the client, their peers and partially by me. However, the itrinsic motivation shows through by the experience and the real-world scenario in creating a very real-world product. However, returning to behaviourism, it is emphasized to the students at the start of Client Projects, that possible outcomes of this part of the program may be contacts for networking, a product for their portfolio, and experinece for their résumé. Is this not reward for behavior?

      1. I hadn’t considered natural rewards as included in the process for behaviorism. That certainly opens up a lot of possibility. Regarding grading, I certaibly appreciate that attaching grades to assignments motivates work. I think it is challenging to see, in our own classrooms, the longer term impacts. getting the students to do the work is clearly an important step and, as I said, I’m neither ready nor able to do away with grades; I have no other tool at my disposal, that I am aware of, that is as effective at motivating students to do the work. Having said that, doing the work is the first step and my concern is that there are negative consequences to motivating students with a system that rewards and punishes.

        In some of my courses I have encorporated activities that receive participation grades. The students will receive full marks for basically trying. I use these activities as priming; the students will attempt a task and recal and apply their previous knowledge before I teach a lesson. After the lesson they are given a more complex task that is graded qualitatively.

        I agrre with you and the authors that an instructional designer should limit themselves to one. I also appreciate that you chose Behaviorism. It seems a bold move. Personally, Ertmer a Newby did help me appreciate the importance of considering all elements of the stages and context of learning tasks and the need for behaviorisms basic approach in many contexts. Both of us teach subject matter that calls for a combination of approaches.

        1. I should have proofread more carefully! That was meant to say that I agree with you and the authors that an instructional designer should NOT choose just one theory.

  4. Thank you, Mary Ellis for your follow-up. It was an interesting activity and overall intriguing subject material. I was almost on the verge of bringing up the human psychological and biological need for rewards, otherwise known as resources. However, I will save that for another time.

    1. You’ve made me pause and think of my rewards in this programme. It’s true–getting higher grades is motivating, and when I get a low grade, I’m instantly annoyed. I’m trying to consider why this is, and it must be that getting a good grade means I understood the material and said something relevant. I’m not sure how I’d feel without that grade. It’d be weird.

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