Learning Theories
Skinner to Vygotsky
Behaviorism (Skinner, Thorndike)
Based on the concept that all learning can
be studied through observed behaviors.
Stimulus-Response is key to learning.
– Stimulus: Events encountered in learning.
– Response: What happens in reaction to
stimulus.
– Reinforcement: Appropriate S-R interaction is
rewarded, inappropriate S-R interaction is
punished.
Behaviorism (Skinner, Thorndike)
Readiness: A series of S-R can be
connected if geared towards a larger goal.
Practice: S-R events should take small,
repeated steps to allow for reinforcement.
Gestalt Theory (Wertheimer)
The “Ah-ha” theory. Higher order thinking
skills.
– “Groupings” based on characteristics are key.
– Learning takes place through the discovery of
the relationship between elements.
– Gaps in groupings leads to exploring
possibilities.
Progressivism (Dewey)
Education is a lifetime event. It should not
be viewed as a preparation for life.
– Schooling should be related to the life of the
student.
– Students should explore problem resolution
situations (projects). Subject matter should be
presented to help resolve problem.
– The relationships in the classroom should be
of working together to complete projects.
Genetic Epistemology (Piaget)
Cognitive structure (mind and intelligence)
pass through biological developmental
stages.
– Sensorimotor (0-2 years): Motor actions
– Preoperation (3-7): Intuitive, reactional
– Concrete operational (8-11): logical with
concrete referents.
– Formal operations (12-15): Movement to
abstractions
Genetic Epistemology (Piaget)
Cognitive structures change through
adaptation:
– Assimilation: interpretations of events through
present cognitive structures
– Accommodation: change to cognitive structure
to explain environment.
Constructivism (Bruner)
Learning is an active process through
which the learner connects new
information to previously learned
information.
– Discovery based
– Connect to students’ interests
– Spiral based structure to teaching (provides
students the opportunity to add to schema)
Social Development (Vygotsky)
 Learning take place through social interaction.
 Learning progresses through stages that expose
students to knowledge just beyond present state.
(ZPD)
– Requires assistance from someone more advanced in
this area.
 Students use socially constructed tools (language,
gestures, etc.) to negotiate meaning.
LANGUAGE www.ucalgary.ca/~mueller/P365/language.ppt
 Language is fundamental to thinking and
cognition, even isomorphic with cognitive
processes in North American psychology
Explanations of language learning
 Psycho-linguists, e.g., Chomsky
– “Language Acquisition Device” innate
– “preparedness”?
 Psychologists, e.g., Skinner
– Reinforcement
• Sudden? Full strength? Creative?
– Pavlov’s “second signal system”
 Cognitive science
Linguistic relativism?
 Sapir - Whorf hypothesis:
Language habits predispose
interpretation;
“cold” means differently in Calgary compared to
Cancun?
 Post-modernism …. Can anyone
understand anyone else?
Linguistic universality?
 For example, color words actually do not
proliferate without number, just about a
dozen common ones across cultures
“Eskimos” do not have hundreds of words
for “snow”
Gender differences?
Men: language is for
– Negotiation
– Preserving independence
– Avoiding failure
Women: language is for
– Establishing connections
– Establishing support & confirmation
– reaching consensus
Linguistic “Determinism” -- not
Linguistic “relativism” does not imply
“determinism” -- can differences in
thinking overcome any absent words
(thoughts and language not one and same)
 Even relativism overstated, e.g., note the
“cooperative principle” (Grice) -presumed to be seeking mutual
understanding (but also Verbal Self Defense!
http://www.worldvsdleague.com/)
How is language acquired?
 Innate processes?
 Experience, learning?
 Something else?
 Several things?
Theories of Second Language
Acquisition (SLA)
Adapted from Ellis, R. (1986) “Understanding
Second Language Acquisition
Acculturation Model (J. Schumann)
SLA is one aspect of acculturation
The degree of acculturation will control the
degree of SLA
– Social distance
• Factors which interact between the native and
target groups.
– Psychological distance
• Affective factors which impact on the individual
learner.
Social Distance
Good Learning
 L1 & L2 groups are of equal
status
 Both groups hope for learner to
assimilate in target group
 Both groups believe that L2
group shares social sphere
 Small, non-cohesive L2 group
 L2’s culture is compatible with
target group
 Both groups have positive
attitudes for other group
 L2 group will be in target
language for extended time
period
Bad Learning
 One group has higher status
than other
 Target group attempt to
limit assimilation
 L2 group maintains own
social sphere
 Larger, cohesive L2 group
 Cultures come into conflict
 One or both groups have
negative feelings for other
group
 L2 use of target language is
temporary
Psychological Distance
Language shock
– fear, doubt, and confusion when using target
language
Culture shock
– fear, stress, disorientation due to negotiating new
culture
Motivation
Ego boundaries
– How much risk they are willing to take
 Pidginization Hypothesis
– Interlanguage development (the individual languages
developed by those in the early stages of SLA)
becomes fossilized when social & psychological
distances are great.
 These distances limit input
 The use of language remains at the
communicative stage
– Communicative function: transmission of referential
(basic) information
– Integrative function: language that marks a person as
member of group
– Expressive function: language that displays “linguistic
virtuosity”
Accommodation Theory (H. Giles)
Similar to Acculturation Theory in that
both attempt to explain how group
relations impact SLA
– Acculturation: Actual distance between groups
– Accommodation: Perceived distance between
groups
Social distances are in constant negotiation
 Motivation is primary factor in SLA
– It is a reflex of how learners define themselves in
ethnic terms
 Factors that impact identity
– Identification with specific “ingroup” (native)
– Inter-ethnic comparisons: One group is better than
other
– Perception of ethno-linguistic vitality
– Perception of ingroup boundaries: hard boundaries
(separation from other group), soft boundaries
(blending of language and culture)
– Identification and status with ingroup social
categories: occupation, religion, etc.
Ethnic speech markers are used to show
relationships in particular settings
– Upward Convergence: User is positively
motivated towards outgroup. Attempts to limit
speech markers
– Downward divergence: User is negatively
motivated towards outgroup, accentuates speech
markers.
Variable Competence Model (R.
Ellis)
The way a language is learned is a
reflection of how it is used.
– Product: continuum of discourse types ranging
from entirely planned to entirely unplanned
– Process: Distinction between linguistic
knowledge (rules) and the ability to use this
knowledge (appropriate use of language as
well as correct use)
Language develops as user applies the
knowledge of language to contextual
situations
– Variable competence: user possesses a
heterogeneous rule system
– Variable application of procedures: user applies a
variety or procedures to confirm language
knowledge
Language acquisition is the result of making
sense of language events
– There is a single knowledge store containing the
variable rules for language use (automatic &
analyzed)
– The learner has a capacity for language use with
both primary (unplanned & unanalyzed) and
secondary (planned & analyzed) discourse
processes
– L2 performance is variable based on use of the
processes mentioned above
– Language development occurs:
• acquisition of new L2 rules through participation
discourse events
• activation of L2 rules so they become part of
unplanned discourse
Variable Competence
Model of SLA (R. Ellis)
Acquisition
Unplanned
discourse
automatic
Acquisition
L2 Knowledge
Planned
discourse
Use
Use
analytic
primary
secondary
processes
processes
Motivation
Motivation affects level of language
acquisition
– Integrative Motivation: occurs when person
learning a second language does so in order to
be identified with or become part of target
group.
– Instrumental Motivation: occurs when person
learning second language see it as a tool for
personal or professional progress.
Those with Integrative Motivation tend to
acquire second language better.
Theories of Steve Krashen
Learning vs. Acquisition
(1)
 Second language is
developed through
formal study of
structure
 Language learned
through formal
instruction
 Language learning
occurs at conscious
level
 Second language
follows a pattern similar
to first language
 Language is naturally
acquired.
 Language acquisition
occurs at subconscious
level
Learning vs. Acquisition
(2)
 Language learning
develops explicit
knowledge of language
 Formal instruction of
language structure
needed to provide key
information
 Language acquisition
develops implicit
understanding of
language structure
 Formal teaching of
language structure does
not improve acquisition
Second language develops in a
natural order
Efforts to teach forms and structures for
which students are not ready will not
improve acquisition
– Grammar-based approaches do not work
– Allow time to development to take place
Input Hypothesis
 Language acquisition
occurs through
interaction just beyond
present ability
 Comprehensible input
(I+1) occurs when
contextual clues provide
for language clues
Affective Filter
 Input is effected by a
variety of affective
events.
 Lowering stress
increase probability of
acquisition
Monitor Hypothesis
 Grammar learning will
appear through the use
of a monitor
 Monitor examines
output
 It takes time to develop
Language provides information.
 Common Underlying
Proficiency (CUP)
– Contrary to popular
belief, information
learned in one
language is available in
the second.
What this means:
Information provided in one language
becomes available in the other, once
second language development reaches that
point.
Different types of language.
 Basic Interpersonal
Communication Skills
(BICS)
– Common, everyday
language needed to
function socially.
 Cognitive Academic
Language Proficiency
(CALP)
– Language needed in
academic environment.
Different types of language.
Problems arise when BICS is considered
academically proficient.
– Students are moved out of programs without
needed support.
– Students are judged as being intellectually
inferior, which can be internalized by the
student.
Threshold Hypothesis
There is a dynamic relationship between
languages and cognitive development in
bilingual students.
– The better developed both languages are the
better the probability of positive cognitive
development
– Students with limited native language
development are more likely to suffer negative
cognitive development
Threshold Hypothesis
Top Floor: Balanced Bilinguals
Children have age-appropriate ability in both languages
and positive cognitive advantage.
Second Threshold
Middle Floor: Less Balanced Bilinguals
Children have age-appropriate ability in one language,
not both. No cognitive advantage or disadvantage.
First Threshold
Lower Floor: Limited Bilinguals
Children have low levels of ability in both languages
and probable cognitive disadvantage.
Provide Instruction in a
Demanding, yet Contextualized
Format.
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Learning Theories - Central Washington University