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Prof Dr John Arul Phillips

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Project Directors: Prof Dato Dr Mansor Fadzil
Assoc Prof Dr Chung Han Tek
Open University Malaysia

Module Writer: Prof Dr John Arul Phillips

Asia e University

Moderator: Assoc Prof Dr Chung Han Tek

Open University Malaysia

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First Edition, September 2008

Second Edition, December 2011
Third Edition, December 2012 (rs)
Copyright Open University Malaysia (OUM), December 2012, HMEF5043
All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced in any form or by any means without
the written permission of the President, Open University Malaysia (OUM).

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Table of Contents
Course Guide ixxvi
Course Assignment Guide xixixxi

Topic 1: What is Psychology? 1

1.1 What is Psychology? 3
1.2 History of Psychology 5
1.3 Branches of Psychology 14
1.4 Research Methodologies in Psychology 16
1.5 Psychology of Learning and Education 21
1.6 What is Learning? 24
Summary 27
Key Terms 28
Readings 28

Topic 2: Behavioural Learning Theories 30

2.1 Classical Conditioning by Ivan Pavlov 31
2.2 Classical Conditioning in Daily Life 33
2.3 Behaviourism 34
2.4 Watsons Experiments with Little Albert 35
2.5 Classical Conditioning in the Classroom 37
2.6 Connectionism Edward L. Thorndike 38
2.7 Implications of Thorndikes Theories 39
2.8 Operant Conditioning by B. F. Skinner 40
2.9 Schedules of Reinforcement 45
2.10 Shaping Behaviour 46
2.11 Applying Operant Conditioning in the Classroom 47
Summary 51
Key Terms 52
Readings 52

Topic 3: Cognitive Learning Theories 53

3.1 What is Cognition? 54
3.2 Gestalt Theories of Learning 54
3.3 Problem Solving by Insight 57
3.4 Piagets Theory of Learning 60
3.5 Piagets Theory: Applications in the Classroom 64
3.6 Social Learning Theory: Albert Bandura 65
3.7 Modelling, Imitation and Reinforcement 70
3.8 Applications of Social Learning Theory 70
3.9 Theory of Meaningful Learning: David Ausubel 71

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3.10 Applications of Ausubels Learning Theory 72

Summary 74
Key Terms 75
Readings 75

Topic 4: The Information Processing Model 76

4.1 Emergence of the Cognitive Approach 77
4.2 The Information Processing Model 79
4.3 Sensory Memory 80
4.4 Working Memory 83
4.5 Long-Term Memory 85
4.6 Storage 86
4.7 Organisation of Semantic Memory 88
4.8 What Enhances Retrieval or Recall 90
4.9 Are Forgotten Memories Truly Lost? 92
4.10 Encoding Specificity Principle 96
4.11 Recall from Long-Term Memory is Constructive 97
4.12 Schema Theory 100
4.13 Putting Theory into Practice: The Cognitive Approach 101
Summary 104
Key Terms 105
Readings 105

Topic 5: Constructivism and Metacognition 106

5.1 What is Constructivism? 107
5.2 Constructivism Applied to Teaching 109
5.3 Vygotsky and Constructivism 110
5.4 Scaffolding Instruction 113
5.5 A Constructivist View of Learning 115
5.6 Constructivism in the Classroom 116
5.7 Case Study: Teaching Science from a Constructivist
Perspective 119
5.8 Metacognition 121
5.9 Case Study: Metacognitive Strategies for Successful
Learning 125
5.10 Metacognition in the Classroom 127
Summary 132
Key Terms 133
Readings 133

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Topic 6: Critical and Creative Thinking 134

6.1 Some Perspectives about Teaching Thinking 135
6.2 Definitions of Thinking 137
6.3 Attributes of Good Thinkers 140
6.4 A Programme for Teaching Thinking 141
6.5 Critical Thinking 143
6.6 Components of Critical Thinking 144
6.7 Socratic Questioning to Enhance Critical Thinking 147
6.8 Creative Thinking 150
6.9 Definitions of Creative Thinking 153
6.10 The Creative Process 155
6.11 The Creative Person 157
6.12 Helping Children to be More Creative 160
Summary 162
Key Terms 164
Readings 164

Topic 7: Individual Differences in Learning 166

7.1 What are Individual Differences? 167
7.2 Differences in Learning Traits 168
7.2.1 Learning Style 169
7.2.2 Personality and Learning 178
7.2.3 Prior Knowledge 190
7.3 Differences in Learning Tasks 191
7.4 Differences According to Age 194
Summary 200
Key Terms 201
Readings 202

Topic 8: Learning From Text 203

8.1 Learning to Read 204
8.2 Metacognition in Reading 206
8.3 Reading to Learn 208
8.4 The SQ3R Reading System 215
8.5 Guided Reading 216
Summary 220
Key Terms 221
Readings 221

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Topic 9: Motivation and Learning 223

9.1 Some Thoughts on Emotion and Learning 224
9.2 What is Motivation? 225
9.3 Expectancy-Value Theory 227
9.4 Valuing a Task 228
9.5 Expecting Success 231
9.6 Motivating Students to Learn 238
Summary 244
Key Terms 245
Readings 245

Topic 10: Teaching For Better Learning 246

10.1 The Expository-Inquiry Continuum 248
10.2 The Expository Approach 249
10.3 The Inquiry Approach 252
10.4 Methods In-Between the Two Extremes 256
Summary 263
Key Terms 263
Readings 249

References 265

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Welcome to HMEF5043 Educational Psychology which is one of the required

courses for the Master of Education (MEd) and PhD programmes. The course
assumes no previous knowledge of learning theories and research but you are
encouraged to tap into your experiences as a teacher, instructor, lecturer or
trainer and relate them to the principles of learning discussed. This is a three-
credit hour course conducted over a semester of 14 weeks.


Description of the Course
The course begins with discussion on what is psychology and the origin of
psychology as a discipline. This is followed by an examination of different
explanations of human learning, focusing on three main schools of thought;
namely, behaviourism, cognitivism and constructivism. Although the three
approaches explain learning differently, together they provide a more
comprehensive view of how humans learn. Besides the approaches, the role of
motivation in learning and individual learning differences are also discussed.
Since much of the information obtained is from reading printed material,
understanding how people learn from text is also examined.

All the concepts, principles and theories of learning are examined in relation to
their application in the classroom. Students are encouraged to discuss the
implications of the various theories on teaching and learning at all levels of
education. The final part of the course deals with finding ways of translating the
theories discussed into teaching methods that will enhance learning.

Aim of the Course

The main aim of the course is to provide you with a foundation on the principles
and theories of learning and their application in the classroom.

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Objectives of the Course

Upon successful completion of this course, you should be able to:

1. Identify the different theories explaining human learning

2. Compare the different principles and theories explaining student learning

3. Critically evaluate the effectiveness of the theories in explaining individual

differences in learning

4. Apply the different principles and theories of learning in the classroom


Learning Package
In this Learning Package you are provided with THREE kinds of course

1. The Course Guide you are currently reading

2. The Course Content (consisting of 10 topics ) and

3. The Course Assessment Guide (which describes the assignments to be

submitted and the examinations you have to sit for).

Please ensure that you have all of these materials.

Course Topics
To enable you to achieve the FOUR objectives of the course, HMEF5043 is
divided into 10 topics. Specific learning outcomes are stated at the start of each
topic indicating what you should be able to achieve after completing the topic.

Topic 1: What is Psychology?

The topic traces the origin of psychology as a discipline, the
various branches of psychology and the role of the teacher as a
theorist and a practitioner.

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Topic 2: Behavioural Learning Theories

The topic discusses the behavioural theories as proposed by Ivan
Pavlov, B.F. Skinner and E.L. Thorndike. Behavioural theories
ignore mental events and focus on overt expression of behaviours.

Topic 3: Cognitive Learning Theories

The topic introduces the cognitive revolution and discussion of
some of its early proponents such as the Gestalt psychologists,
Jean Piaget, David Ausubel and Albert Bandura.

Topic 4: The Information Processing Model

The information processing model discussed in this topic,
emphasises the need to study the mental events involved in the
processing of information.

Topic 5: Constructivism and Metacognition

This topic reintroduces an old concept, in the form of constructivism
which emphasises that reality is constructed by the learner.

Topic 6: Critical and Creative Thinking

This topic discusses the attributes of critical and creative thinking
and how it may be enhanced in the classroom, when teaching
existing subject areas.

Topic 7: Individual Learning Differences

This topic focuses on understanding how and why individuals
differ in the way they learn and how this information might be
used by teachers to design instruction.

Topic 8: Learning from Text

This topic examines how humans learn from text. Knowledge
about learning from text may be used to help learners read their
textbooks and other printed materials, which remain the main
source of information.

Topic 9: Motivation and Learning

This topic discusses the role of motivation in learning. Especially
significant is how intrinsic motivation may be enhanced among
learners who are reluctant to learn.

Topic 10: Teaching for Better Learning

This topic is a synthesis of all the learning theories discussed and
how they might be used to guide and enhance teaching.

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Organisation of Course Content

In distance learning, the module replaces the university lecturer. This is one of
the main advantages of distance learning where specially designed materials
allow you to study at your own pace, anywhere and at anytime. Think of it as
reading the lecture instead of listening to a lecturer. In the same way that a
lecturer might assign something for you to read or do, the module tells you what
to read, when to read and when to do the activities. Just as a lecturer might ask
you questions in class, your module provides exercises for you to do at
appropriate points.

To help you read and understand the individual topics, numerous realistic
examples support all definitions, concepts and theories. Diagrams and text are
combined into a visually appealing, easy-to-read module. Throughout the course
content, diagrams, illustrations, tables and charts are used to reinforce important
points and simplify the more complex concepts. The module has adopted the
following features in each topic:

Lists the headings and subheadings of each topic to provide an overview of the
contents of the topic and prepare you for the major concepts to be studied and

This is a listing of what you should be able to do after successful
completion of a topic. In other words, whether you are be able to explain,
compare, evaluate, distinguish, list, describe, relate and so forth. You
should use these indicators to guide your study. When you have finished
a topic, you must go back and check whether you have achieved the
learning outcomes or be able to do what is required of you. If you make a
habit of doing this, you will improve your chances of understanding the
contents of the course.

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Questions are interspersed at strategic points in the topic to encourage

review of what you have just read and retention of recently learned
material. The answers to these questions are found in the paragraphs
before the questions. This is to test immediately whether you
understand the few paragraphs of text you have read. Working through
these tests will help you determine whether you understand the topic
and prepare you for the assignments and the examination.


These are situations drawn from research projects to show how

knowledge of the principles of research methodology may be applied to
real-world situations. The activities illustrate key points and concepts
dealt with in each topic.

The main ideas of each topic are listed in brief sentences to provide a review of
the content. You should ensure that you understand every statement listed. If
you do not, go back to the topic and find out what you do not know.

Key Terms discussed in the topic are placed at end of each topic to make you
aware of the main ideas. If you are unable to explain these terms, you should go
back to the topic to clarify.

At the end of each topic a list of questions is presented that are best solved
through group interaction and discussion. You can answer the questions
yourself. But, you are encouraged to work with your course-mates and discuss
online and during the seminar sessions.

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At the end of each topic a list of articles and topics of books is provided that is
directly related to the contents of the topic. As far as possible the articles and
books suggested for further reading will be available in OUMs Digital Library
which you can access and OUMs Library. Also, relevant internet resources are
made available to enhance your understanding of selected curriculum concepts
and principles as applied in real-world situations.


There are 15 hours of seminars or face-to-face interaction supporting the course.
These consist of FIVE tutorial sessions of three hours each. You will be notified of
the dates, times and location of these tutorials, together with the name and phone
number of your tutor, as soon as you are allocated a tutorial group.

MyVLE Online Discussion

Besides the face-to-face tutorial sessions, you have the support of online
discussions. You should interact with other students and your tutor using
myVLE. Your contributions to the online discussion will greatly enhance your
understanding of course content, how to go about doing the assignments and
preparation for the examination.

Your facilitator will mark your assignments and provide assistance to you during
the course. Do not hesitate to discuss during the tutorial session or online if:
You do not understand any part of the course content or the assigned
You have difficulty with the self-tests and activities
You have a question or problem with the assignments.

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1. Time Commitment for Studying
You should plan to spend about six to eight hours per topic, reading the
notes, doing the self-tests and activities and referring to the suggested
readings. You must schedule your time to discuss online. It is often more
convenient for you to distribute the hours over a number of days rather than
spend one whole day per week on study. Some topics may require more
work than others, although on average, it is suggested that you spend
approximately three days per topic.

2. Proposed Study Strategy

The following is a proposed strategy for working through the course. If you
run into any trouble, discuss it with your tutor either online or during the
tutorial sessions. Remember, the tutor is there to help you.

(a) The most important step is to read the contents of this Course Guide

(b) Organise a study schedule. Note the time you are expected to spend on
each topic the date for submission of assignments as well as seminar
and examination dates. These are stated in your Course Assessment
Guide. Put all this information in one place, such as your diary or a wall
calendar. Whatever method you choose to use, you should decide on
and jot down your own dates for working on each topic. You have some
flexibility as there are 10 topics spread over a period of 14 weeks.

(c) Once you have created your own study schedule, make every effort to
stick to it. The main reason students are unable to cope is that they
get behind in their coursework.

(d) To begin reading a topic:

Remember in distance learning much of your time will be spent,
READING the course content. Study the list of topics given at the
beginning of each topic and examine the relationship of the topic to
the other nine topics.
Read the topic overview showing the headings and subheadings to
get a broad picture of the topic.
Read the topic learning outcomes (what is expected of you). Do you
already know some of the things to be discussed? What are the
things you do not know?

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Read the introduction (see how it is related to the previous topic).

Work through the topic. (The contents of the topic has been
arranged to provide a sequence for you to follow)
As you work through the topic, you will be asked to do the self-test
at appropriate points in the topic. This is to find out if you
understand what you have just read.
Do the activities (to see if you can apply the concepts learned to
real-life situations)

3. When you have completed the topic, review the learning outcomes to
confirm that you have achieved them and are able to do what is required.

4. If you are confident, you can proceed to the next topic. Proceed topic by
topic through the course and try to pace your study so that you keep
yourself on schedule.

5. After completing all topics, review the course and prepare yourself for
the final examination. Check that you have achieved all topic learning
outcomes and the course objectives (listed in this Course Guide).

Once again, welcome to the course. To maximise your gain from this course, you
should try at all times to relate what you are studying to the real life. Look at the
environment in your institution and ask yourself whether the ideas discussed,
apply. Most of the ideas, concepts and principles you learn in this course have
practical applications. It is important to realise that much of what we do in
education and training has to be based on sound theoretical foundations. The
contents of this course provide the principles and theories explaining human
learning whether it be in a school, college, university or training organisation.

We wish you success with the course and hope that you will find it interesting,
useful and relevant in your development as a professional. We hope you will
enjoy your experience with OUM and we would like to end with a saying by
Confucius Education without thinking is labour lost .

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This guide explains the basis on which you will be assessed in this course during
the semester. It contains details of the facilitator-marked assignments, final
examination and participation required for the course.

One element in the assessment strategy of the course is that, all students should
have the same information as facilitators about the answers to be assessed.
Therefore, this guide also contains the marking criteria that facilitators will use in
assessing your work.

Please read through the whole guide at the beginning of the course.

(a) Plagiarism

(i) What is Plagiarism?

Any written assignment (essays, project, take-home examinations, etc)
submitted by a student must not be deceptive regarding the abilities,
knowledge or amount of work contributed by the student. There are
many ways that this rule can be violated. Among them are:

Paraphrases: A closely reasoned argument of an author is paraphrased but

the student does not acknowledge doing so. (Clearly, all our
knowledge is derived from somewhere, but detailed arguments
from clearly identifiable sources must be acknowledged.)
Outright Large sections of the paper are simply copied from other sources
plagiarism: and the copied parts are not acknowledged as quotations.
Other These often include essays written by other students or sold
sources: by unscrupulous organisations. Quoting from such papers is
perfectly legitimate if quotation marks are used and the source
is cited.
Works by Taking credit deliberately or not deliberately for works
others: produced by others without giving proper acknowledgement.
These works include photographs, charts, graphs, drawings,
statistics, video clips, audio clips, verbal exchanges, such as
interviews or lectures, performances on television and texts
printed on the Web.
Duplication The student submits the same essay for two or more courses.

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(ii) How Can I Avoid Plagiarism?

Insert quotation marks around copy and paste clause, phrase,

sentence, paragraph and cite the original source.

Paraphrase clause, phrase, sentence or paragraph in your own

words and cite your source

Adhere to the APA (American Psychological Association) stylistic

format, whichever applicable, when citing a source and when
writing out the bibliography or reference page

Attempt to write independently without being overly dependent

on information from anothers original works

Educate yourself on what may be considered as common

knowledge (no copyright necessary), public domain (copyright
has expired or not protected under copyright law), or copyright
(legally protected).

(b) Documenting Sources

Whenever you quote, paraphrase, summarize or otherwise refer to the
work of others, you are required to cite its original source documentation.
Offered here are some of the most commonly cited forms of material.

Direct Citation Simply having a thinking skill is no assurance

that children will use it. In order for such skills to
become part of day-to-day behaviour, they must
be cultivated in an environment that values and
sustains them. Just as childrens musical skills
will likely lay fallow in an environment that
doesnt encourage music, learners thinking
skills tend to languish in a culture that doesnt
encourage thinking (Tishman, Perkins and Jay,
1995, p. 5)

Indirect Citation According to Wurman (1988), the new disease of

the 21st century will be information anxiety,
which has been defined as the ever-widening gap
between what one understands and what one
thinks one should understand.

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(c) Referencing
All sources that you cite in your paper should be listed in the Reference
section at the end of your paper. Heres how you should do your Reference.

Journal Article DuFour, R. (2002). The learning-centred principal.

Educational Leadership, 59(8). 1215.
Online Journal Evnine, S. J. (2001). The universality of logic: On the
connection between rationality and logical ability
[Electronic version]. Mind, 110, 335367.
Webpage National Park Service. (2003, February 11). Abraham
Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site. Retrieved
February 13, 2003, from http://www.nps.gov/abli/
Book Naisbitt, J., & Aburdence, M. (1989). Megatrends 2000.
London: Pan Books.
Article in a Nickerson, R. (1987). Why teach thinking? In J. B. Baron,
Book & R. J. Sternberg (Eds). Teaching thinking skills:
Theory and practice. New York: W. H. Freeman and
Company. 2737.
Printed Holden, S. (1998, May 16). Frank Sinatra dies at 82:
Newspaper Matchless stylist of pop. The New York Times,
pp. A1, A22A23.

Please refer to myVLE.


The TSDAS Digital Library has a wide range of print and online resources for
the use of its learners. This comprehensive digital library, which is accessible
through the OUM portal, provides access to more than 30 online databases
comprising e-journals, e-theses, e-books and more. Examples of databases
available are EBSCOhost, ProQuest, SpringerLink, Books24x7, InfoSci Books,
Emerald Management Plus and Ebrary Electronic Books. As an OUM learner,
you are encouraged to make full use of the resources available through this

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T op i c What is
1 Psychology?
By the end of this topic, you should be able to:
1. Define psychology;
2. Trace the origin of psychology;
3. Compare philosophy and psychology in explaining human learning;
4. List the branches of psychology;
5. Compare the various research methods in psychology;
6. Identify the differences between the teacher as a theorist and the
teacher as a practitioner-researcher; and
7. Compare the various definitions of learning.

This topic traces the origin of psychology as a discipline. You will learn how
psychology, which has its roots in philosophy, plays an important role in
explaining how humans learn, think and behave. Even though psychology is
among the youngest disciplines in the social sciences, it has contributed much
towards understanding human behaviour. However, there is so much we do
not know about ourselves and perhaps never will. There is so much variability in
our behaviour, depending on our culture, social position, political orientation,
upbringing and more recently, our genetic makeup.

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The human being (Homo sapiens) is an unattractive, smelly and aggressive

creature that walks upright, grumbling and bellowing. It is one of many
species that lives on this planet and emerges among the worst adapted. Its
young is helpless compared to other species. It has lost most of its bodily hair
and what is left is little protection against the cold. Its eyesight is weaker than
that of many other species and its sense of smell responds only to the
strongest odours. If pursued, it can only run a very short distance, that also
very slowly. It is remarkably unskilled at climbing trees or digging holes. It
cannot live under water and it swims with less grace than almost any other
animal. It is heavy and awkward and cannot fly. It cant even jump very high.
It is unequipped by nature with weapons either for defence or killing for
food. It is absolutely remarkable and utterly fascinating that the species has
survived at all.
Source: Lefrancois, G. R. (1982). Psychology for Teaching. CA: Wadsworth
Publishing Company

Yes, it is truly remarkable that we have survived all these years. The humorous
description by Lefrancois is something to think about. How has the physically
inferior human being survived? He has survived because of his God-given
capacity to think. This capacity to think has enabled the human being to
overcome his many deficiencies. For example, the human who is not naturally
endowed with weapons invented spears, bows and arrows to hunt animals for
food. As the human eyesight is inferior compared to other species, he invented
the telescope. Humans are less strong than many other species and invented the
pulley and lever to lift heavy things. The capacity to think has enhanced our
ability to survive, which simply means learning to cope with the world.

Bruner (1964, 1966) sees human survival as a process of amplifying capacities and
reducing inadequacies. Humans began with amplification of motor capabilities
with the invention of simple machines (wheel, pulley) followed by amplification
of sensory capacities with the invention of telescopes, radio and television and
culminating in the amplification of intellectual capacities with the invention of
theories. Humans used their intellectual capacities to propose concepts,
principles, theories and laws to explain and understand various phenomena in

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their environment. Among the many phenomena humans are attempting to

unravel and understand is their own behaviour (and the behaviour of other
species). This gave birth to the discipline called psychology.


We will discuss the definition of psychology in this section and the points of
view of the psychologist and the scientist.

(a) Definition of Psychology

Psychology is an ancient Greek word made up of psyche, which is the
mind or the soul and logy which means study. Simply put, psychology is
the study of the mind or the soul. Many psychologists prefer to focus on the
mind and leave the issue of the soul to theology and the great religions of
the world. Though it is largely concerned with the study of humans, the
behaviour of animals is also studied. In fact, many of the earlier theories of
psychology originated from studies conducted with rats, pigeons, cats,
monkeys and dogs. These theories have been used to describe human
behaviour and have influenced educational practice.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines psychology as the scientific study of

the human mind and its functions, especially those affecting behaviour, in a
given context. The American Heritage Dictionary defines psychology as the
science that deals with mental processes and behaviour. It also includes the
study of the emotional and behavioural characteristics of an individual or
group. In short, psychology may be defined as the scientific study of
behaviour and mental processes. There are three key words and phrases in
these definitions, namely, scientific, behaviour and mental processes.

(i) The first is the term scientific which means the study uses a scientific
method. The scientific method proposed by Dewey (1920) comprises
the following steps:
A statement of the problem and identification of the hypothesis, to
be tested;
The design of the study and employment of data collection
techniques, to answer the research question or hypothesis;
The collection and analysis of data; and
Report of the findings and decision whether to accept or reject the

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(ii) The second term is behaviour which relates to whatever activity (by a
human or animal) that can be observed, measured and recorded.
Behaviour is also observed to occur when individuals speak or write
something. For example, the act of recording ones fear or attitude is a
manifestation of behaviour.

(iii) The third term is mental processes which includes all processes
involved in thinking, memorising, learning, attitudes, emotions
and so forth. This has become the focus of many psychologists but
the problem is these processes cannot be observed and are difficult
to record and measure accurately. [This is an issue which will be
discussed later in the topic].

(b) The Psychologist and the Scientist

Both the psychologist studying human behaviour and the scientist studying
the physical world use the scientific method. However, for the psychologist,
humans possess neither the simplicity nor the predictability of the physical
world. Even the behaviour of a cat or dog is unpredictable! The physicist,
the chemist and even the biologist, employing the scientific method, have
been able to discover great theories and laws explaining the behaviours of
physical matter, molecules, cells and so forth. These explanations are stable,
precise and replicable. The psychologist however, is still struggling with
having to discover a single, precise and magnificent law explaining the
behaviour of a human or even a rat.

Even though the scientific method is widely used in psychology,

researchers have to make various kinds of inferences and interpretations.
Why? This is because the subjects studied are humans. Compared to cells or
chemicals studied by scientists, humans are comparatively less stable (see
Figure 1.1). Studying the behaviours of humans is more complicated
because of the influence of extraneous variables that are difficult to control.
Often, it requires researchers to make inferences or interpretations because
the data is comparatively less clear cut.

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Figure 1.1: The scientific method used by the scientist and the psychologist


1. Trace the origin of the word psychology.

2. Explain the three key attributes of the definition of psychology.
3. Discuss the main issues concerning the scientist studying physical
phenomena and the psychologist studying human behaviour.


The history of psychology is as follows:

(a) The Roots of Psychology

Psychology is interested in the nature of human beings and how they
function. However, psychology is by no means the only field of inquiry that
seeks answers to the puzzles of human nature. The earliest roots of modern
psychology can be traced to two different approaches to human behaviour:
philosophy and physiology (see Figure 1.2). Philosophy explores and
attempts to explain human nature through introspection or self-examination
of ones experiences. Through a process of self-questioning and asking
others questions, philosophers have attempted to unravel how we think,
how we learn, how we gain knowledge and how we use our experiences.
On the other hand, physiology is the study of the human body. Through
observation, early Greek scholars attempted to understand the workings of
the human body.

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Figure 1.2: Roots of psychology

The First Psychological Experiment

An experiment by the King of Egypt, as far back as the

seventh century B.C., could be considered as the first
psychology experiment. The king wanted to test whether
Egypt was the oldest civilisation on earth. His idea was
that, if children were raised in isolation from infancy
and were given no instruction in language of any kind,
then the language they spontaneously spoke would be
that of the original civilisation of man hopefully,

The experiment was flawed but the king deserved credit for his idea that
thoughts and language forms the mind and his ambition to test such an
idea. While the experiment failed to support the kings hypothesis,
Morton Hunt (1993) suggested that it did illustrate perhaps the first
evidence in written history that as long as 2,700 years ago there was at
least one individual who had the highly original notion that mental
processes could be systematically investigated and studied.

Source: Morton Hunt. (1993). The history of psychology, p. 1

Early philosophers were most concerned with the nature of knowledge

or epistemology. In epistemology, you ask questions such as: What is
knowledge? What are the origins of knowledge? What does it mean to

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(i) Hippocrates (460377 B.C.), known as the father

of modern medicine, argued that there was
a close connection between the mind and the
body. He proposed that mental illness was not
caused by demons but by physical malfunctions. By
dissecting human cadavers and operating on living
organisms, he concluded that the mind controlled
the human body. He was the first to suggest that the
mind resided in the brain. Hippocrates
460377 B.C
(ii) Plato (427347 B.C.), who lived at about the same time, also
subscribed to Hippocrates view that the mind and body were
separate and that the mind was located in the brain.

He believed that reality did not lie in concrete objects but was
represented in abstract form in our minds. In other words, when
we see a chair, the real chair exists in our minds. Plato reasoned
that the head is the seat of the mind.

Plato was a rationalist who believed that knowledge was gained

through thinking and analysing, in an effort to understand the
world and peoples relationship to it.

He said the mind and body interacted with one another but were
essentially different. The mind was superior to the body. Truth
was found in our thoughts (via introspection) and not through our
senses (via observation).

Platos views formed the foundation for theorising about

psychological processes, which might lead to subsequent
empirical investigation.

(iii) Aristotle (384322 B.C.), who was Platos student, disagreed with him
on many points. He argued that the mind and body were not separate
and instead were one and the same.

He believed that we could understand the mind by studying the

body and that we relied on observation of concrete objects and
actions rather than on our own thoughts (introspection) to
discover truth.

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He argued that reality lay only in the concrete world of objects

which we apprehended through our senses.

Aristotle was an empiricist who believed that knowledge was

gained through experience, observation and experimentation. His
views formed the foundation for the methods of empirical
psychological research.

(iv) Ibn Sina (9801037), a Muslim philosopher famous

for his works on medicine, viewed the human
being as consisting of both hidden (sirr) and open
(alin) elements. The hidden part consisted of the
powers of the mind while the open part was the
human body and its organs (Abd al-Rahman al
Naqib, 1993). The powers of the mind or mental
faculties were classified into three groups:

First, the group of vegetative faculties, which Ibn Sina

humans and plants both share. These are
concerned with the survival of the human being, growth through
nutrition and preservation of the species through reproduction.
The group comprises three faculties feeding, growth and

Second, the group of faculties shared by humans and animals.

They comprise two faculties. One is the perceptive faculty of the
exterior world though the five senses sight, hearing, smell, taste
and touch. The other faculty is directed from within, by way of
common sense, imagination, memory and reflection.

Third, the group of faculties which distinguish human beings

from animals. It comprises two faculties an active faculty
directing the humans practical conduct and a cognitive faculty
directing his or her intellectual conduct. The first is practical and
the second is contemplative.

There seems to be consensus among these early philosophers that the mind
and body relationship in important in determining human behaviour. Most
psychologists today agree that the concept of mind and body have merit.
But, what was more important was to provide empirical evidence to
confirm the relationship between mind and body.

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(b) The Beginnings of Modern Psychology

(i) Rene Descartes (15961650), a French mathematician and philosopher,

took up the viewpoint that introspection and reflection were
investigatory methods superior to observation. Descartes revived the
Platonic ideas of mind-body dualism and innate (versus acquired)

He said what separated humans from animals was that humans

had a non-material, spiritual mind and a material body. The
human mind and its powers were supreme.

He was known for coining the famous phrase Cogito ergo sum
(I think therefore I am).

Though he gave supremacy to the mind, he agreed that the body

could influence the mind. He viewed the mind as superior to the
body and said there was two-way interaction between mind and

(ii) John Locke (16321704), an Englishman, believed that the interaction

between mind and body was an equal relationship between two
aspects of the same unified phenomenon.

He argued that the mind depended on the body through the

senses for its information, while the body depended on the mind
to process and store sensory experiences for later use.

He was also an empiricist and believed that humans were born

without knowledge, which was subsequently acquired through
experience and empirical observation. He proposed the term
tabula rasa (blank slate) to describe this condition. Life and
experience, according to Locke, give us knowledge.

(iii) Immanuel Kant (17241804), a German

philosopher, began the process of trying to
reconcile or synthesise the competing viewpoints
of mind and body. He redefined the mind-body
question by asking how the mind and body were
related rather than whether the mind was in

Immanuel Kant
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Kant proposed that humans had a set of faculties or mental

powers senses, understanding and reasoning. These faculties,
working together, controlled and provided a link between mind
and body, thus integrating the two.

Kant believed that to understand mental faculties, we must use

both rationalistic and empirical approaches.

He believed that there were two types of knowledge experiential

which he called a posteriori knowledge, meaning from afterward
(after the fact) and a priori (from beforehand) or general
knowledge that existed regardless of ones experience.

An example of the latter type of knowledge would be our

knowledge of time. He argued that understanding required both
types of knowledge; a priori knowledge permitted us to make use
of a posteriori knowledge.

For example, with respect to time, we link together our fleeting

sensations into a seemingly continuous stream of existence in
which one event precedes and causes another event (cause and
effect relationships). Understanding involves both nature (innate
concepts and abilities) and nurture (knowledge gained through

The issues confronted by philosophers, physicians and psychologists were

so intertwined that when psychology was starting out as a field of study in
the late 1800s, it was viewed by some as a branch of philosophy and by
others as a branch of medicine. Gradually, the psychological branches of
philosophy and medicine broke away from their parent disciplines and
psychology increasingly became a distinct, unified scientific discipline
focused on the study of mind and behaviour.

Contemporary psychology continues to wrestle with the same issues that

philosophers and physiologists had wrestled with. As you explore the field,
you will hear this continuing debate. Most philosophers agree that human
behaviour and mental processes synchronised to adapt to the environment.
Charles Darwin, in his theory of natural selection, suggested that only those
organisms that adapted well to their environment thrived. Humans, thus
far, both as a species and as individuals, have adapted and thrived.

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1. What were the main issues philosophers were concerned about?

2. What were the similarities and differences in their arguments?

(c) The Birth of Psychology

1879 is generally regarded as the year in which
psychology as a formal science was officially born. A
German scholar named Wilhelm Wundt (18321920),
who was trained in both philosophy and medicine,
wrote in his first book on sense perception in 1862,
that psychology could become a science only if it
employed the experimental method in studying the
workings of the mind. In a subsequent publication in
1873, he announced that he intended to make
Wilhelm Wundt
psychology a science and he established the first
psychology laboratory in Leipzig, Germany, in 1879.
Others, in both North America and Europe, were also doing psychological
research at this time but Wundts laboratory was the first to be formally
established and to have its research results published in a scholarly journal.
These were among the reasons that he was credited as the primary founder
of the modern discipline of psychology.

Many of Americas early psychologists received their training in Wundts

laboratory. The focus of research in the Leipzig laboratory was on
sensation, perception, imagery and attention. Wundt doubted that more
complex processes could be studied experimentally. One of Wundts
favourite research methods was trained introspection. Wundt, his
associates and students trained research subjects to carefully observe and
analyse their own mental experiences including sensations, mental images
and emotional reactions under controlled conditions. The training of
subjects in introspection was rigorous and exhaustive. Wundt hoped that
by providing such training, he could produce reliable, verifiable and
objective results. In the long run, however, it proved to be impossible to use
introspection to produce reliable results and the approach was abandoned
as a research technique by other psychologists.

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(i) Structuralism and Functionalism

In the early days of psychology, there were two dominant theoretical
perspectives. Structuralism was the name given to the approach
pioneered by Wundt. The term originated from Edward Titchener, an
American psychologist trained by Wundt. Structuralism relied on
trained introspection, a research method whereby subjects related
what was going on in their minds while performing a certain task.
However, it proved to be an unreliable method because there was too
much individual variation in the experiences and reports of research
subjects (Wade & Tavris, 2002).

An American psychologist named William

James (18421910) developed a competing
approach, which came to be known as
functionalism. He argued that the mind was
constantly changing and it was pointless to
look for the building blocks of experience.
Instead, focus should be on how and why an
organism did something. It was suggested
Introspection: Looking that psychologists should look for the
into ourselves and underlying cause of behaviour and the
describing how we mental processes involved. This emphasis on
think the causes and consequences of behaviour
influenced contemporary psychology.

(ii) Psychoanalysis
Another early theory in psychology was developed by Austrian
physician Sigmund Freud (18561939). Originally trained as a
neurologist, Freud became interested in how psychological factors
might have contributed to some of his patients problems. He
became convinced that many of his patients symptoms had mental
rather than physical explanations. In particular, he believed early
experiences such as conflicts and traumas had caused great distress
for his patients as children and that the memory of them was
extremely threatening and therefore the patients were unable to
consciously recall these events.

He believed that even more important than our conscious thoughts in

determining how we react and respond to events were forces that
operated unconsciously. Unconscious material such as repressed
wishes, conflicts, guilty secrets, yearnings and desires exerted a
powerful influence on our behaviour and emotional reactions.

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Freud gradually developed his ideas into a broad theory of human

psychological functioning and a method for treating patients with
psychologically based disorders. Both the theory and the treatment
method became known as psychoanalysis.

(iii) Behaviourism
A very different approach to psychology emerged in the early 1900s.
Several scholars contributed to the development and growth of this
approach but one of them, the American John B. Watson (18781958)
was typically credited as the father of behaviourism. Behaviourism
is a theoretical perspective based on the premise that scientific
psychology should study only observable behaviour. In 1913, he
published an article which became known as The Behaviourist
Manifesto. In it, he argued that psychology should altogether abandon
the study of consciousness (mental processes) and attend only to
directly observable and therefore, verifiable, behaviour [We will
discuss this further in Topic 2: Behavioural Learning Theories].

A strict empiricist, Watson proposed a revolutionary re-definition of

psychology. He argued that mental processes were not a proper
subject of study for a scientific discipline because there were private
events which could not be examined by an impartial observer. He
proposed that psychology should instead be the science of behaviour.
Watsons ideas and the works of Thorndike and B. F. Skinner became
the dominant theoretical perspectives in much of psychology from the
1920s to the 1960s.

(iv) Cognitivism
The 1960s saw the rejection of behaviourism and the emergence
of the cognitive revolution. The movement was composed of
psychologists who challenged the prevailing behaviourist model of
human functioning and insisted that focus should shift towards
studying interior mental processes. Using the computer as an analogy,
researchers provided important clues and directions in understanding
the human brain how it perceived, stored and organised information
and how information was used to make decisions and solve problems.

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Among the prominent scholars who developed various theories

explaining human cognition were Miller (1956), Atkinson and Shiffrin
(1968), Bartlett (1932), Festinger (1957) and many others [We will
discuss further in Topic 3: Cognitive Learning Theories and Topic 4:
Information Processing Model]. A broad array of disciplines such as
cognitive psychology, linguistics, artificial intelligence, semiotics,
neuroscience, anthropology and philosophy have contributed to the
emergence of what we now call cognitive science.


1. What is the main difference between structuralism and

2. State one difference between psychoanalysis, behaviourism and


As mentioned earlier, psychology is the scientific study of behaviour and
mental processes. Psychology as a discipline aims to describe, explain and
predict behaviour as well as control or modify some behaviour. Psychology does
not have a single unifying theoretical perspective. Rather, it is a discipline
comprising various theoretical viewpoints. Sometimes, these perspectives seem
to compete with each other but many psychologists tend to agree that the various
perspectives complement each other.

A more complete and accurate picture of human behaviour and mental processes
is better understood by integrating these various perspectives. That being said, it
remains true that individual psychologists tend to specialise in and emphasise
a particular theoretical perspective. As it considers the mental, attitudinal,
motivational and behavioural characteristics of individuals, psychology has
many subdivisions and areas of specialisation and is a more complex field than
many realise. The major branches within psychology are shown in Table 1.1.

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Table 1.1: The Different Branches of Psychology and Research Focus

Branches Research Focus

Developmental The study of changes that accompany age throughout the
Psychology lifespan of humans. These persons are called developmental
psychologists, child psychologists, gerontologists and lifespan
Physiological The study of the biological basis of behaviour focusing on
Psychology neuropsychology, psychobiology, genetics and heredity.
Experimental The study of basic psychological processes involving learning,
Psychology memory, perception and emotion.
Personality Psychology The study of differences among individuals, development of
personality types and measurement of personality traits.
Social Psychology The study of how people influence one another and group
behaviour focusing on communication, political behaviour
and the formation of attitudes.
Industrial and The study of selection and training of personnel, improvement
Organisational of productivity, working conditions, stress and other worker
Psychology problems.
Clinical and Clinical psychology: Diagnosis, cause and treatment of
Counselling psychological disorders as well as development of
Psychology (Applied programmes for the prevention of emotional illness.
Psychology) Counselling psychology: Normal problems of adjustments in
life and coping with the problems of daily life.
Evolutionary The study of the evolutionary origin of behaviours and
Psychology characteristics, their adaptive value and how they change
over time to meet the demands of the environment.
Cognitive Psychology The study of human intelligence and how people think.
Educational The study of efforts to improve teaching methods and
Psychology materials, solve learning problems and measurement of
learning ability and educational progress.
Abnormal Psychology The study of behaviour disorders and disturbed individuals
such as the causes of violent or self-destructive behaviour
or the effectiveness of procedures in treating emotional

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At times, psychologists blend particular combinations of these theoretical

perspectives together. For example, some psychologists are interested in studying
how abnormal behaviour is related to various brain structures. These psychologists
might combine perspectives from physiological psychology and abnormal
psychology. Other psychologists might combine cognitive psychology and social
psychology to study thinking and racial attitudes and call the perspective, social
cognition. Still other psychologists might describe themselves as eclectic in their
orientation which means that they draw upon several theoretical perspectives in
their work.

You will notice that learning is seldom considered a separate branch of

psychology but is studied specifically within cognitive psychology, educational
psychology, experimental psychology, developmental psychology and counselling
psychology. Learning is also studied indirectly within personality psychology,
abnormal psychology and social psychology. Besides the branches of psychology
listed, there are also newer branches of psychology, each giving a somewhat
different emphasis. Some of these newer branches are environmental psychology,
health psychology, forensic psychology, race psychology and neuropsychology.
As society becomes more modern and complex, one can expect the emergence of
newer branches of psychology attempting to understand and explain human
behaviour in these environments.


Psychology is the study of the mind and behaviour but not all questions about
the mind or behaviour can be answered by psychology. Psychology, for the most
part, has adopted the scientific method which means that it only studies
questions that can be tested in a precise, objective and publicly verifiable manner.
The first step in doing psychology scientifically is learning to ask a testable
question. Which of the following questions can be tested scientifically? Do these
questions have to be rewritten to make them more precise?

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Example 1: Do university students remember information longer after

preparing for essay exams than for multiple-choice exams?
Answer: The question is testable but needs to be more precise. What types of
memory? What age group? Are memory tests biased towards one age group
over another?

Example 2: Are some people born evil?

Answer: This question is not testable because there is no way to measure
evilness in newborns and later as adults. Perhaps, in the future, neuroscientists
may identify biological markers (such as chemicals or structures in the brain)
for evilness that could be measured in newborns.

The key in doing research in psychology is science. Science is a way of asking

and answering questions through careful observation and rigorous analysis.
Psychological science attempts to describe and explain human nature. To achieve
its goals, psychology uses a number of methods such as experiments, observation,
surveys, correlational methods and case histories.

(a) Experiments
The experimental method is used by psychologists inside the laboratory
as well as outside. Experiments take place in laboratories because the
researcher is able to carefully control conditions and take measurements
accurately, using various kinds of instruments such as computers.
However, it is not essential for all psychological problems to be brought
into the laboratory for study. To show the effects of certain treatments and
procedures in real-life settings, experiments are conducted outside the

An experiment is a research method used to determine the effectiveness of

a particular action or treatment on a single or group of organisms. To show
that a particular treatment has an effect or brings about a particular change,
the researcher has to control all other factors that might influence the
occurrence of that particular change. The experimental method is the best
method to show effectiveness of a particular treatment (e.g. teaching
method, curriculum innovation). Experiments are ideally suited for the task
of causal analysis (claim to show cause and effect). No other method of
scientific inquiry permits the researcher to say with confidence that X
(praising young learners) caused Y (to repeat the task) to happen. Hence, it
is important that you use the word effectiveness carefully, as it only
applies if you are using the experimental method.

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See Figure 1.3 which shows a simple experiment to determine whether

teaching young learners using analogies (e.g. blood circulation is like a river
and its tributaries) causes them to perform better academically in science
(effect). The experiment involves administering a treatment (independent
variable) such as teaching science using analogies. A pretest (dependent
variable) is given before the experiment and the same test or equivalent test
is given after the experiment. The differences between pre-test scores and
post-test scores will determine whether teaching using analogies improves
performance in science.

Figure 1.3: A simple experiment in psychology

A key problem in conducting experiments is establishing suitable control,

so that any change in behaviour can be attributed only to the treatment
introduced by the researcher. Control means ruling out other possible
causes for the changes in the behaviour of subjects. There are many
extraneous variables (irrelevant, unrelated or unconnected factors) which
need to be controlled so that they do not contaminate or interfere with
the findings of the study. Once an extraneous variable creeps into an
experiment, the researcher can no longer draw any conclusion regarding
the causal relationship that exists between the independent and the
dependent variable (Christensen, 1988).

In experiments conducted outside the laboratory in natural settings, many

factors not related to the treatment may influence performance in the post-
test. Some students may have discussed the science topic with their friends
while others may have viewed a television programme on it. So, improved
performance on the post-test may not be attributed to the treatment but to
the influence of other factors. Therefore, it is necessary to control the
influence of these outside factors or variables in order to attain internal

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Some experiments have both an experimental group and a control group.

An experimental group consists of subjects who are exposed to the
treatment. For example, a particular counselling technique is used for a
group of juvenile delinquents. The control group consists of subjects who
do not receive the treatment (i.e. they are not treated with the counselling
technique). Comparison between the experimental group and the control
group determines the effectiveness of the counselling technique. In some
experiments, there may be more than one experimental group; subjects
treated with two or three different methods or techniques or procedures are
compared with the control group, who do not receive any of the treatments.
You can also compare the effectiveness of different treatments on the
dependent variable.

(b) Observational Methods

The observational method of research concerns the
planned watching, recording and analysis of
observed behaviour as it occurs in a natural setting.
To achieve this aim, precautions must be taken
to avoid interfering with the behaviour. Such
precautions usually include concealment of the
observation team and their equipment. For example,
in studying how young children interact socially in As I was saying..we
a preschool situation, investigators may videotape should make a serious
their behaviour through a one-way mirror so effort to improve..
that the children are unaware that they are being But, on the other
hand, it is also
observed. You can well imagine that the childrens
behaviour might change if the investigators were to
intrude openly into the situation.

(c) Survey
Some problems that are difficult to study by direct observation may be
studied through the use of survey questionnaires or interviews. What is a
survey? Survey research involves selecting a small or large population and
studying samples chosen from that population to discover the relative
incidence, distribution and interrelations of sociological and psychological
variables. It is a method of obtaining information about a population from a
sample of individuals. Surveys can provide a quick, inexpensive and
accurate means of obtaining information from a large group of people. If
you want to know about the opinions, attitudes and perceptions of
respondents, survey is an appropriate method of collecting data. Besides,
surveys can also be used to explain the relationship and differences
between variables. The term sample survey is often used because a sample
which is representative of the target population is used. The survey method

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is widely used in psychology. Basically, information is obtained by asking

people questions either orally or in written form e.g. on paper or computer
screen concerning:

(i) What they know (E.g. Who was the first Prime Minister of Malaysia?)

(ii) What they believe (E.g. Should students be given the freedom to
express themselves?)

(iii) What they expect (E.g. Do you expect to become a famous person?)

(iv) What they feel (E.g. Do you feel your father was fair?)

(v) What they have done (E.g. How often do you use the computer in a

(vi) What they plan (E.g. Do you intend to continue studying or start

An adequate survey requires a carefully pre-tested questionnaire,

interviewers trained in its use, a sample of people carefully selected to
ensure they are representative of the population to be studied and
appropriate methods of data analysis, so that the results can be properly

(d) Correlational Method

The correlational method is a technique whereby two or more variables are
systematically measured and the relationship between them (i.e. how much
one can be predicted from the other) is assessed. A positive correlation
means when one variable (e.g. stress) increases, the other variable (e.g.
illness) increases. However, because two variables correlate, it does not
mean that one thing causes the other. For example, stress and illness
correlate but that does not mean stress causes illness. A negative correlation
means when one variable increases, the other associate variable decreases.
For example, the correlation between the number of cigarettes a person
smokes and the number of years a person can expect to live.

(e) Case Histories

Scientific biographies, known as case histories, are important sources of
data for psychologists studying individuals. There can, of course, be case
histories of institutions or groups of people as well. Most case histories are
prepared by reconstructing the biography of a person on the basis of

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remembered events and records. Reconstruction is necessary because the

individuals earlier history often does not become a matter of interest until
the person develops some sort of problem; at such time, knowledge of the
past is important for comprehension of present behaviour. However, the
retrospective method may result in distortions of events or oversights but is
often the only method available.

Case histories may also be based on a longitudinal study. This type of study
follows an individual or group of individuals over an extended period with
observations made at intervals. The advantage of a longitudinal study is
that it does not depend on the memories of those interviewed at a later


1. List the main difference between the different branches of

contemporary psychology.
2. Describe the research methods used in the study of psychology.


The Teaching Profession and Psychology
What is the difference between a shaman and a medical practitioner? In treating a
person with high fever, both will note the symptoms and prescribe remedies. The
shaman might suggest that the patient chew the bark of the cinchona tree which
contains quinine while the medical practitioner might prescribe a capsule
containing quinine. The method of prescription is not the issue. The essential
difference is the reasons for the given treatment. The medical practitioner will
rely on his network of knowledge and procedures based on science. The shaman
might give a logical explanation stating that it had worked in the past and based
on the inductive principle that if such and such had worked for the ailment,
it was likely to work again. The cure rate of a shaman might not differ from
that of a general practitioner. Yet, society regards the medical practitioner
as a professional but not the shaman. What then is the difference between a
profession and a craft or trade? According to Telfer and Rees (1975), a profession
requires a licence to practise. It requires intensive education in the theoretical
knowledge that gives validity to the skills and expertise required to practise.

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Is teaching a profession? In Malaysia, to be able to teach in government primary

and secondary schools, all teachers need to provide evidence of credentials in
education such as a certificate, diploma or bachelors degree in education. In
obtaining these credentials, they will learn about psychology as the scientific
study of learning as well as various teaching methods.

Does that make teaching a science? As mentioned by William James in 1899,

Psychology is a science, and teaching is an art. The question that arises is
whether teaching as an art can use psychology as its underlying theory.
Although teaching may well be an art, there is theory behind the practice of that
art and that theory is drawn from psychology. Teachers, of course, have to know
their subject matter and together with theoretical knowledge about the nature of
learning can claim their art to be a profession.

An educator who does not have in-depth understanding of psychology will not
appear convincing in explaining the underlying principles for his or her actions
in the classroom. At the end of the day, most of what we do in education is to
ensure that the learner has learned. Learning is the core business of education
and obviously, the educator has to know how humans learn. Regardless of
whether you are an administrator, curriculum developer, counsellor or discipline
teacher, your main task is to ensure that all your actions lead to the enhancement
of student learning.

Teacher as a Theorist
You may be a teacher in a primary or secondary school. You may be an instructor
or lecturer in a tertiary organisation. You may be a trainer in a business or
industrial organisation. Essentially, you are an educator and a professional. A
professionals work is based on a set of principles, theories and laws. Hence,
educators need to be enhanced with theories related to the psychology of
learning (see Figure 1.4).

Figure 1.4: Teacher as theorist and practitioner-researcher

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In this course, you will be introduced to a pool of concepts, principles and

theories about human learning. As you read this material, think of yourself as a
theorist. Some teachers, lecturers, instructors and trainers may think theories are
a waste of time. It should be reiterated that most of what is done in the classroom
or lecture hall is based on some theory or principle of human learning. For
example, the idea of giving immediate feedback is based on the theory that
informing students how they are performing motivates them to learn.

You may have a set of assumptions, beliefs or theories on what constitutes

effective teaching and what steps you have to take to become an effective teacher.
These beliefs and theories serve as your current theoretical base for your actions
in the classroom. It would be beneficial if you were to compare your beliefs with
the concepts and theories on learning discussed in this course. Test the accuracy
of your assumptions about student learning as you examine the theories
proposed by scholars in the field in the last 100 years.

Perhaps, you will realise that some of your beliefs about student learning are
confirmed while others may be myths. For example, you may assume that low
achievers are not intelligent when in fact they just lack skills in learning from text
materials. Some of our common sense beliefs about student learning may not be
accurate in light of what we know about theory and research, governing human
learning. For example, we may think that it is all right to stream students
according to ability, when in fact it can prove destructive when low achievers are
grouped together for the rest of their schooling years.

As you proceed through this course, many of your personal beliefs and theories
about the teaching-learning process may find support while others may be
proven less accurate. This awareness will help you to develop a more accurate
guide for your professional development (Tan, Parson, Hinson & Sardo-Brown,

Teacher as a Practitioner-Researcher
You would be concerned if you were being treated by a doctor who is not aware
of the latest research in medicine. Imagine the consequences if the doctor
prescribes a pharmaceutical product which has recently been banned in the
United States. Similarly, as a teacher, you are expected by your students and
society to be well-informed about developments in human learning and their
application in the classroom.

The materials in this course provide practical ideas which may be used to
enhance teaching or training. The scientific information you acquire about
human learning can be applied in specific ways to improve teaching. You may
have been a teacher for many years and it is likely that you may approach your

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profession differently after having been exposed to the concepts, principles and
theories of human learning. Some of this scientific information you may already
be familiar with, while others may be new to you. With this store of information,
you may feel encouraged to analyse your present practice, particularly its
strengths and weaknesses.

The principles, suggestions and examples are intended to help you think about
how you can apply psychology to teaching. The rich source of ideas may
encourage you to re-examine your teaching methods and find ways and means of
improving what you do in the classroom. Hopefully, the information provided
will encourage you to see the classroom and education in general differently. It is
possible that you may have been preoccupied with some aspects of teaching and
have ignored other facets of instruction.

Effective teachers are reflective teachers. Reflective teachers know what they are
doing and why they choose to do it. They also review the effectiveness of what
they have done. Some teachers may be motivated to try out some of the
strategies. To systematically try out the strategies in the classroom, the method of
action research is suggested. This is a systematic method of data collection by the
teacher. For example, you can use action research to investigate the effectiveness
of a particular method of teaching mathematics.


What is the difference between the teacher as a theorist and as a



If you were to ask someone, What is learning?, you will get different replies.
Saljo (1979) asked a number of students what they understood by learning. Their
responses were classified into the following five categories:

(a) Learning is a quantitative increase in knowledge.

(b) Learning is memorising, storing information that can be reproduced.

(c) Learning is acquiring facts, skills and methods that are retained and used
when necessary.

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(d) Learning is making sense or extracting meaning; it involves relating parts of

a subject matter to each other and to the real world.

(e) Learning is interpreting, understanding and re-interpreting knowledge.

You will notice that the first three statements imply that learning is the
acquisition of a body of knowledge or content. It is like going to the supermarket,
buying knowledge and making it your property. This has been referred to as the
product of learning. The remaining statements define learning as something the
learner does with the information. This is referred to as the process of learning.

(a) Learning as a Product

Learning is seen as an outcome or the end product of some process which
can be recognised. Learning is defined as a change in behaviour. Prior to
learning, an organism is not able to perform a particular task but after
learning, the organism is able to perform the task. In other words, learning
has taken place and there is a change in behaviour. For example, before the
lesson, students did not know how a tsunami is formed but after the lesson,
they know. Overt change in behaviour is observed when students express
their understanding of the formation of a tsunami either orally or in an

Figure 1.5: Learning as a Product and Process

(b) Learning as a Process

When learning is seen as a process, the focus is on what happens when
learning takes place. Are people conscious of what goes on when they are
learning something? Are they aware of being engaged in learning? Can
they identify the processes involved when learning something? For
example, to understand the facts related to the policies of Tunku Abdul
Rahman and Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, learners could use the process skill
of comparison to deepen their understanding of the subject matter. Most
disciplines or subject areas have their own process skills and when
appropriately applied by learners, these enhance their acquisition of the
facts, concepts and principles of the content.

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(c) Definitions of Learning by Scholars

The following are some definitions of learning by scholars in the field:

(i) Jerome Bruner: Learning is an active process in which learners

construct new ideas or concepts based on current and past

(ii) B. F. Skinner: Learning is a function of change in overt behaviour. The

probability of learning occurring is enhanced when there is

(iii) Albert Bandura: Learning occurs when individuals observe and

imitate others behaviour.

(iv) Lev Vygotsky: Learning is determined by interaction with the

surrounding culture and people such as parents, peers and significant

(v) Howard Gardner: People learn and understand the world through at
least seven ways verbal-linguistic, visual-spatial, logical-
mathematical, body-kinaesthetic, musical-rhythmic, interpersonal and

(vi) Jean Piaget: Learning occurs through the process of assimilation and
accommodation with ones schemas and constantly seeking
equilibrium between these processes.

(vii) David Ausubel: Learning occurs when new material is related or

subsumed with ones existing cognitive structure.

(viii) F. Craik and R. Lockhart: Information is processed at multiple levels.

The deeper the processing, the more that information will be
remembered because of its many associations with existing

(ix) W. Kohler: Problem solving is facilitated when an individual receives

insight into the overall structure of the problem.

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1. What is the difference between the product and process of learning?

2. To what extent do the definitions of learning reflect what you do as
a teacher, instructor or trainer?

The capacity to think has enabled human beings to overcome many


Psychology is an ancient Greek word made up of psyche, which is the mind

or the soul, and logy, which means study. It is the study of the mind or the

Studying the behaviours of humans is complicated because of the influence of

extraneous variables which are difficult to control.

Philosophy explores and attempts to explain human nature through

introspection or self-examination of ones experiences.

Most philosophers agree that human behaviour and mental processes

synchronise to adapt to the environment.

Psychology as a formal science was officially born in 1879 when German

scholar Wilhelm Wundt proposed that psychology could become a science
only if it employed the experimental method in studying the workings of the

Structuralism relied on trained introspection; a research method whereby

subjects related what was going on in their minds while performing a certain

The mind is constantly changing and it is pointless to look for the building
blocks of experience. Functionalism suggests that focus should be on how
and why an organism does something.

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Psychology as a discipline aims to, explain, predict, control and modify


Psychology does not have a single unifying theoretical perspective. Rather, it

is a discipline comprising various theoretical viewpoints.

Psychological science attempts to describe and explain human nature using a

number of research methods such as experiments, observation, surveys,
correlational methods and case histories.

The teacher, instructor, lecturer or trainer is both a theorist and a practitioner-


Learning is both a product and a process.

Behaviourism Philosophy
Cognitive revolution Practitioner-researcher
Correlational method Psychoanalysis
Experimental method Psychology
Functionalism Structuralism
Learning Survey
Mind and Body Teacher as theorist
Observation method

History of the Psychology: A time line of psychological ideas. Marcos Emanoel

Pereira Universidade Federal da Bahia, Brazil. Retrieved from

Ibn Sina. Prospects: The Quarterly Review of Comparative Education. XXIII, 1 &
2. vol. 93. 5369. Retrieved from

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Major Field of Psychology. Retrieved from


Structuralism. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopaedia. Retrieved from


Functionalism. Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from


Teacher Research. Sharon Parsons, San Jose State University. Retrieved from

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Topic Behavioural
2 Learning
By the end of this topic, you should be able to:
1. Define behaviourism;
2. Explain classical conditioning;
3. Explain operant conditioning;
4. List examples of classical conditioning in daily life;
5. Identify the characteristics of Thorndikes theory of learning;
6. Describe the principles of operant conditioning; and
7. Discuss the application of operant conditioning in teaching and

Topic 2 examines behavioural theories of learning, their origins and proponents.
It was proposed by J. B. Watson who was inspired by the works of Ivan Pavlov.
Behaviourism dominated psychology until the 1950s. It emphasised the need for
scientific study of learning, focusing on behaviours which were observable. The
main proponents of behaviourism were Watson, Thorndike and Skinner, who
essentially worked with animals and applied their theories in explaining human
behaviour. Behaviourism has had a significant impact on teaching and learning
in schools as well as training organisations and continues to do so.

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Ivan Pavlov was born in Russia and spent most of his time
studying physiology (study of the functions of organisms and their
parts such as the physiology of the liver). He was awarded the
Nobel Prize for his work on the physiology of digestion. He only
became interested in psychology in 1900 at the age of 50. In his
classic experiment with dogs, he measured the saliva secreted by
the animals when food was given (see Figure 2.1).
Ivan Pavlov

Figure 2.1: Dog with tube inserted in its cheek. When the dog salivates, the saliva is
collected in the test tube and its quantity is recorded on the rotating drum
Source: Garrett H. H. (1951). Great Experiments in Psychology. New York: Appleton-

(a) Step 1: Before Conditioning

He gave a hungry dog a bowl of food. The dog saw the food and salivated.

This is a natural sequence of events, an unconscious, uncontrolled and

unlearned relationship. Stimulus means something that is given to initiate
a response. So unconditioned stimulus and unconditioned response
simply mean that the stimulus and the response are naturally connected.

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They just came that way, hardwired into the brain of the organism.
Unconditioned means that this connection was already present in the
dog before Pavlov began his experiments. For example, when you see
someone eating something sour such as pickled fruit, you tend to swallow
your saliva. Thus, an unconditioned stimulus (pickled fruit) elicited an
unconditioned response (swallowing your saliva).

(b) Step 2: During Conditioning

Next, Pavlov presented the hungry dog with food and simultaneously rang
a bell, and the dog salivated.

This action (food and bell ringing) was done at several meals. Every time
the dog saw the food, it also heard the bell. Unconditioned means
unlearned, untaught and pre-existing. Conditioning means just the
opposite. Pavlov was trying to associate, connect, bond or link something
new with the old relationship. He wanted this new thing (the bell) to elicit
the same response.

(c) Step 3: After Conditioning

This time, Pavlov rang only the bell at mealtime and did not show any
food. Guess what the dog did?

The bell elicited the same response as the sight of the food. Over repeated
trials, the dog learned to associate the bell with the food. The bell had the
power to produce the same response as the food. In other words, the dog
was conditioned to salivate when it heard the bell.

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This is the essence of classical conditioning. You start with two things which are
already connected with each other (food and salivation). Then, you pair a third
thing (bell) with the conditioned stimulus (food) over several trials. Eventually,
this third thing may become so strongly associated that it acquires the power to
produce the old behaviour. The organism is therefore conditioned to respond to
the third thing or stimulus.

Pavlov extended his experiment by using bells of different tones. Surprisingly,

the dog still salivated when it heard the different tones. The dog responded
regardless of whether the tones were different or nearly the same. In other
words, the dog was capable of generalisation across different tones. For example,
if you were driving and you heard the sound of a siren behind your car, you
would immediately move to the side to give way. You would not consider
whether it was the sound of a fire truck, an ambulance or the police but would
instead react in the same way. In other words, you have generalised that for any
sound of the siren, you will respond similarly.

Pavlov also found that when the tone of the bell was closer to the sound of the
original bell, the dog salivated. When the tone of the bell was very different from
the sound of the original bell, the dog salivated less frequently. In other words,
the dog was capable of discrimination and able to differentiate among the
different tones. The dog responded to one stimulus but not to another stimulus.
However, when Pavlov continued ringing the bell and after many trials, it
was not followed by food, the dog gradually did not salivate. In other words,
extinction took place and the dog did not salivate after sometime when it realised
that food was not forthcoming.


The following are examples of classical conditioning in daily life:

(a) The smell of fresh bread baking makes my mouth water. This is probably
the result of classical conditioning. In the past, the smell of fresh bread
immediately preceded putting a piece in my mouth, which causes salivation.
Through the mechanism of classical conditioning, the smell itself comes to
elicit salivation.

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(b) After a bad car accident last year, Jeffri would cringe and break into a
sweat at the sound of squealing brakes. This is classical conditioning. The
cringing, which is an unconditioned response to pain or fear, was produced
by the accident and its accompanying pain. That accident was probably
preceded by the sound of squealing brakes, which became a conditioned
stimulus for the conditioned response of cringing.

(c) To treat alcoholics, we sometimes put a chemical in their drinks which

makes them sick. Eventually, they become aversive to the taste of alcohol.
This is classical conditioning. The chemical which makes the drinker sick is
paired with the taste of alcohol so that the alcohol itself becomes the
conditioned stimulus for being sick.

(d) Classical conditioning works with advertising. For example, many product
advertisements prominently feature attractive young women. The young
women (unconditioned stimulus) naturally elicit a favourable, mildly
aroused feeling (unconditioned response) in most men.


Classical conditioning is a pervasive form of influence in our

world. Give examples of classical conditioning in daily life, in the
workplace, in child-rearing practices and in the classroom.

Behaviourism originated from the works of John B. Watson (18781958), an
American psychologist. He strongly believed that psychology should not be
concerned with the mind or mental processes. Instead, psychology should be
concerned only with behaviour. Watson was inspired by Pavlovs work on
classical conditioning. He rejected introspection, stating it as unreliable and
unscientific. To be scientific, psychology needed to be a subject matter that was
stable enough to be reliably measured and that subject matter was behaviour.
According to him, behaviour is what we see and therefore behaviour is what we
study. Studying something we cannot see using the method of introspection
(self-examination) should be discarded. According to Watson,

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Psychology as the behaviourist views it, is a purely objective experimental

branch of natural science. Its theoretical goals are the prediction and control of
behaviour. Introspection forms no essential part of its methods, nor is the
scientific value of its data dependent upon the readiness with which they lend
themselves to interpretation in terms of consciousness.
(1913, p. 158)

The behaviourists main point was that behaviour should be studied because it
could be dealt with directly. Mental events should be ignored because they could
not be dealt with directly. The central tenet of behaviourism is that thoughts,
feelings and intentions, all mental processes, do not determine what we do. Our
behaviour is the product of our conditioning. Behaviourism had a profound
effect on learning theory and continued to dominate educational practice until
the 1950s.


Watson believed that human emotion was a product of both heredity and
experience. We inherit three emotions: fear, rage and love. Through the
conditioning process, these three basic emotions become attached to different
things for different people. He strongly believed that any human being can be
conditioned to do anything regardless of their attitudes, abilities or experiences.
His extreme belief is reflected in this famous (or infamous) statement he made in

Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed and my own specified world to

bring them up in, and Ill guarantee to take any one at random and train him to
become any type of specialist I might select doctor, lawyer, merchant, chief, and
yes, even beggarman and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies,
abilities, vocations and race of his ancestors.
(1926, 10)

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To demonstrate how inborn emotional reflexes

become conditioned to neutral stimuli, Watson and
Rosalie Rayner (1920) performed an experiment on an
11-month-old infant named Albert. In the beginning of
the experiment, the infant was shown a white rat (see
Figure 2.2). He reached out and tried to touch the
animal. Later, whenever Albert reached out and tried
to touch the rat, Watson took a hammer and struck a
steel bar behind the infant, making a loud noise. Figure 2.2:
Obviously, Albert got a fright and jumped and fell Albert and the white rat
forward. Again, he tried to touch the rat and the bar
was struck, making a loud noise. Albert jumped violently and cried. A week later
when Albert came into contact with the rat he was more cautious and withdrew
his hand. He had developed a strong fear of the rat and began to cry. He tried to
raise himself and crawl away rapidly. Albert had learned to fear the white rat
because of its association with the loud noise.

Before Conditioning

White Rat
No Fear
Unconditioned Stimulus (US)
Unconditioned Response (UR)

During Conditioning

White Rat
Unconditioned Stimulus (US)
Albert cries and avoids touching
Loud Noise Unconditioned Response (UR)
Conditioning Stimulus (CS)

After Conditioning

White Rat Fear

Conditioned Stimulus (CS) Conditioned Response (CR)

It was also shown that Alberts fear spread to a variety of other objects such as a
rabbit, fur coat and even a Santa Claus mask. In other words, any object that was
furry brought fear to the infant. The experiment by Watson showed that our
emotional reactions can be rearranged through classical conditioning.

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Watson demonstrated that an emotion such as fear could be transferred to an

organism that originally did not have such a fear. The finding is significant
because it implies that if fears are learned, it should be possible to unlearn or
extinguish them (Hergenhahn and Olson, 1997). Unfortunately, Watson and
Rayner never removed Alberts fears because his mother removed him from the
hospital where the experiment was being conducted shortly after that fear was


1. Explain how behaviour can be conditioned.

2. What is meant by generalisation, discrimination and extinction in
classical conditioning?
3. What is behaviourism?


It is the first day of school and suddenly
Suzy hears her teacher Ms Lim yell
Keep quiet! at the top of her voice.
Suzy is startled and starts to cry. In the
next few days, whenever Ms Lim enters
the class, Suzy cries. She has associated
the presence of Ms Lim with fear. In
other words, she has been conditioned to respond by crying whenever
encountering Ms Lim, even though she does not yell, Keep quiet!

(a) Stimulus Generalisation

Suzy has learned to associate fear with Ms Lim. Could that fear be
generalised to other teachers? Stimulus generalisation occurs when the
organism responds to stimuli that are similar or related. If Suzy cried each
time any teacher (other than Ms Lim) entered the class, then Suzy has made
a generalisation. For example, in Watsons experiments, little Albert
avoided any thing that was furry, indicating that the child had generalised
fear to stimuli which were similar or related to the white rat.

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(b) Stimulus Discrimination

When other teachers enter the class, Suzy does not cry but when she
encounters Ms Lim, she cries. Her classically conditioned response seems to
be limited to one stimulus Ms Lim. This means Suzy shows signs of
stimulus discrimination.

(c) Extinction
Suzy associated Ms Lim with the yelling of Keep quiet! which had
startled her. However, if the stimulus (the yelling of Keep quiet!) is not
applied and the response (crying) is not generated for some time, the
probability of the conditioned behaviour may decline. The response could
then gradually become extinct.


Edward Thorndike (18741949), produced a doctoral thesis entitled Animal
Intelligence: An Experimental Study of the Associative Process in Animals in
1898, which formed the basis for his learning theories. To Thorndike, the most
basic form of learning was trial-and-error learning, based on his experiments
which involved putting a hungry animal in a puzzle box (see Figure 2.3). The
animal (he used cats) would attempt to escape to get at the food outside the box.
Pressing on the pedal would enable it to escape. Before escaping, it would have
to engage in a series of complex responses. The cat would squeeze through an
opening and claw at anything it reaches. It had to perform in a certain way before
it was allowed to leave the box.

Figure 2.3: Thorndikes puzzle box

The cat would claw all over the box, in an impulsive struggle to get out of the
confinement. In the process, it would press the pedal and the door would open.
The cat would get out and eat the food. The same cat was put in the box over and
over again. Thorndike noted the time it took the cat to solve the problem as a
function of the number of trials or opportunities. The time it took to solve the
problem systematically decreased as the number of trials increased. In other

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words, the more opportunities the cat had, the faster it solved the problem. The
cat had made a connection between the proper response and the food it received
(Stimulus-Response or S-R connection). Based on his experiments, Thorndike
concluded that learning is incremental. In other words, learning occurs in very
small systematic steps rather than in huge jumps.

Based on his experiments, Thorndike proposed the following theories of learning:

(a) The Law of Readiness

When an organism is ready to act, it will do so. When it is not ready to act,
forcing it to act will be annoying. In other words, when someone is ready to
perform an act, to do it is satisfying and not doing it is annoying.

(b) The Law of Exercise

The strength of a connection between a stimulus and a response is
determined by how often the connection is established. Maintaining
connection between a stimulus and a response strengthens the connection
(Law of Use). The connection between the stimulus and response is
weakened when practice is discontinued (Law of Disuse).

(c) The Law of Effect

The strength of a connection between a stimulus and a response is
influenced by the consequence of a response. For example, if a response is
followed by a satisfying state of affairs, the strength of the connection is
increased. If a response is followed by an annoying state of affairs, the
strength of the connection is decreased.


The implications of Thorndikes theories are as follows:

(a) Thorndike developed the idea of connectionism. He believed that

connections formed between a stimulus and a response (S-R) is the essence
of intellectual development. People of higher intellect formed more bonds
between stimuli and response and formed them more easily than people of
lower intellect.

(b) Complex ideas should be broken down into pre-requisite concepts. Positive
reinforcement should be applied as these concepts are learned so that they
can be applied to more complex, higher-level learning activities.

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(c) Transfer of learning:

(i) The degree of transfer between initial and subsequent learning

depends on the match between elements across the two events.

(ii) Transfer depends on the presence of identical elements in the original

and new learning situations.

(iii) Transfer is always specific and never general.

(iv) Transfer from one school task to a highly similar task (near transfer),
and from one school subject to a non-school setting (far transfer),
could be facilitated by teaching knowledge and skills in school
subjects that have elements identical to activities encountered in the
initial context.


1. How did Thorndike explain learning?

2. What are the implications of Thorndikes theories on teaching and
learning? Give specific examples.


Burrhus Frederic Skinner was born in the small Pennsylvania
town of Susquehanna. He obtained his masters and doctorate
in psychology from Harvard University. He taught at the
University of Minnesota and in 1945, moved to become the
chairman of the psychology department at Indiana University.
In 1948, he was invited to teach and do research at Harvard
University where he remained for the rest of his life. He
was an active researcher who guided hundreds of doctoral
candidates and wrote many books. His most famous book was
Walden II, which was a fictional account of a community run
B. F. Skinner
by his behaviourist principles. 19041990

Skinner made his reputation by testing Watsons and Pavlovs theories in the
laboratory. He rejected the notion that organisms were passive and had no
control over their actions. He developed the theory of operant conditioning,

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which states that we choose to behave in a certain way because a particular

behaviour brings about a particular consequence. For example, if a man receives
a kiss from his girlfriend when he gives her flowers, he is likely to give her
flowers again when he wants a kiss. He is acting in expectation of a certain
reward. However, Skinner did not agree that emotions or feelings play any part
in determining behaviour. Instead, he stated, behaviour was determined by the
consequence to the behaviour, whether pleasant or unpleasant.

Skinners Experiments
To demonstrate operant conditioning in the laboratory, a hungry rat was placed
in a box like the one shown in Figure 2.4, which was called Skinners Box.
Inside the box was a bar connected to a pellet (food) dispenser. Left alone in the
box, the rat moved about exploring. At some point in the exploration, it pressed
the bar and a small food pellet was released. The rat ate the pellet and soon
pressed the bar again. The food reinforced bar-pressing and the rate of pressing
increased dramatically.

Figure 2.4: Skinners box

A behaviour reinforced by a pleasant consequence increases the probability of

that behaviour recurring in the future.

What happens if the rat is not given any more food pellets? To find out, Skinner
disconnected the food dispenser. When the rat pressed the bar, no food was
released. The rate of bar-pressing was less frequent and finally, it diminished.
This means the operant response underwent extinction with non-reinforcement,
just as in classical conditioning.

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A behaviour no longer followed by a pleasant consequence results in a

decreased probability of that behaviour recurring in the future.

Next, Skinner connected back the pellet dispenser. Pressing the bar again
provided the rat with food pellets. The behaviour of bar-pushing popped right
back. In fact, the rat took lesser time to press the bar compared to the first time it
was put in the box. So, the rat has learned that if it pressed the bar, food would
be released.

Skinner varied the experiment by linking the release of food pellets with light.
For example, the food would only be presented when the bar was pressed while
the light was switched on but not when it was switched off. Guess what
happened. The rat only pressed the bar when the light was on. The light served
as a discriminative stimulus that controlled response. The rat was able to
discriminate between pressing the bar with the light and pressing the bar
without light.

Based on this experiment, Skinner introduced the word operant. It meant that
the behaviour operates on the environment the rats pressing of the bar
produces or enables access to the food pellets. In classical conditioning, the
animal is passive; it merely waits for stimuli. In operant conditioning, the animal
is active; its own behaviour brings on important consequences or results. Thus,
operant conditioning increases the likelihood of a response by following its
occurrence with a reinforcer.

Principles of Operant Conditioning

Thus, reinforcement can be defined as any event that increases the probability of
a response. Skinner distinguished between positive reinforcement and negative
reinforcement, as well as punishment.

Positive Reinforcement: A stimulus which increases the probability of a

particular behaviour occurring in the future. For example, water is a positive
reinforcer for getting a thirsty organism to behave in a particular way. The term
reward is sometimes used as a synonym for positive reinforcement.

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(a) Amy completes her homework so that she can watch her favourite
television programme. There is high probability that she will always
complete her homework (behaviour) so that she can watch television

(b) Factory workers who are efficient are given bonuses. There is a high
probability that factory workers will strive to be more efficient (behaviour)
so that they will be given bonuses (reinforcer).

Negative Reinforcement: A negative reinforcer is a stimulus which when

removed, increases the probability of a particular behaviour occurring in the
future. Refer to Skinners Box: Figure 2.4. Electric shock was introduced and the
rat jumped around. However, when the rat pressed the bar, the electric shock
was switched off. Guess what happened. The rat pressed the bar (behaviour)
more frequently to avoid the pain or discomfort from the electric shock.


(a) A mother lifts (behaviour) her crying baby because she cannot bear to hear
her child cry (reinforcer).

(b) When you enter a car, you put on the safety belt (behaviour) because you
want the sound of the buzzer (reinforcer) to stop.

Punishment: This is not the same as negative reinforcement. The objective of

negative reinforcement is to increase the probability of a particular behaviour
occurring. Punishment has the opposite effect it decreases the probability of a
behaviour occurring. For example, if the rat is given an electric shock every time
it presses the bar (behaviour), the frequency of the behaviour occurring will be
reduced and it will finally diminish.


(a) Farid refuses to help his mother wash the dishes and he is not allowed to
play football.

(b) Any student who makes noise in class will have recess time reduced.

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1. What is the difference between positive reinforcement and negative

2. How is negative reinforcement different from punishment?

Reinforcement Theory in the Classroom

Saleha interrupts her class. Mrs Ragu stops the class,
tells Saleha she is a naughty girl and sends her to the
principals office. Ouch! That really hurt. Saleha
returns and she no longer interrupts the class. Mrs
Ragu then goes to the teachers lounge and sings
praises of this really great theory. Do not forget that
the other pupils in the class are watching this event
with great interest.

Then Bala interrupts the class. Mrs Ragu stops the class, tells Bala he is a
naughty boy who broke Rule 15 and sends him to the principals office. Ouch!
That hurt. Mrs Ragu is convinced that when Bala comes back to class, he will
not interrupt the class. He surely will want to avoid the punishment. Well,
guess what happens. Bala comes back to class and continues interrupting the
lesson. Mrs Ragu whacks him and Bala keeps on interrupting the class. Mrs
Ragu is confused and when she returns to the teachers lounge, she complains
about the reinforcement theory.

The above is a common problem in many classrooms. The functional nature of

the reinforcement theory has to be understood. It explains why the theory
sometimes appears to be incorrect. To understand whether you have used
positive reinforcement (reward), you must observe its effect. If the consequence
increases the behaviour you want to increase, you have introduced positive
reinforcement. If the consequence decreases the behaviour you want to decrease,
then you have a punishment. Most teachers have had the unfortunate experience
that Mrs Ragu had. They persisted in giving a consequence of punishment and
the child keeps doing the forbidden thing. If the behaviour does not increase or
decrease the way you want it to, then you need to rethink your rewards and
punishments. The main point of the reinforcement theory is that consequences
influence behaviour. Rewarding consequences increases behaviour. Punishing
consequences decreases behaviour. No consequences extinguish behaviour.
Finally, a consequence is known by its function (how it operates).

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A five-year-old child throws a temper tantrum in front of his parents.

He embarrasses them and they give him rewards such as attention,
toys, candy and others. When this child goes to school and throws a
temper tantrum, he is disappointed when the teacher scolds and
punishes him.
(a) Explain the underlying principles of the above event.
(b) What do you think the child may learn in the long run?


The reinforcement theory was taken a step further by introducing variation in the
typical operant conditioning situation. What will happen when the schedule of
reinforcement is varied according to time or frequency? For example, instead of
rewarding a particular behaviour every time it occurs, the behaviour is rewarded
every two minutes i.e. reinforcement is scheduled or predetermined. Many
different reinforcement schedules have been studied but the most common are as

(a) Fixed Ratio (FR): According to this schedule, reinforcement occurs after a
fixed number of responses (behaviour). The ratio 5:1 means that after every
five times the response (behaviour) is exhibited, it is reinforced (rewarded)
once. For example, say the rat presses the bar three times, it gets a goodie;
or five times or 20 times. It is like the piece rate method in the clothing
industry. You get paid according to the number of shirts you produce.

(b) Variable Ratio (VR): This schedule is similar to fixed ratio. The difference is
that the ratio is not fixed but is variable. In other words, the ratio is changed
according to the responses. For example, you may start by reinforcing every
three times the response (behaviour) is exhibited, then every five times the
response (behaviour) is exhibited and so on.

(c) Fixed Interval (FI): According to this schedule, reinforcement (reward) is

given at a specified time. For example, if the time is fixed at two minutes,
the behaviour or response is reinforced (rewarded) after every two minutes.
No further reinforcement will occur until the two minutes has passed. Once
it has elapsed, the first response (behaviour) made will be reinforced.

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(d) Variable Interval (VI): This schedule is similar to the fixed interval. The
difference is that the interval is not fixed but is variable. In other words, the
interval may be changed according to the responses. For example, you may
start with reinforcing every 20 seconds the response (behaviour) is exhibited,
then every 30 seconds the response (behaviour) is exhibited and so on.


Using a schedule of reinforcement, complex behaviours of various organisms can
be shaped. Shaping is a method of successive approximation which involves
reinforcing behaviour that is vaguely similar to the behaviour desired. The
procedure of shaping involves administering rewards for responses that are not
the required terminal response but that approximate what the experimenter
desires. An organism is reinforced every time it makes a move in the desired
direction until it has learned the desired response and then, it is not reinforced
again. By reinforcing only successively closer approximations to the desired
behaviour, it is possible to train an organism to engage in behaviour so complex
that would never ordinarily appear in the organisms repertoire.

Shaping a Simple Behaviour:

A three-year-old child was afraid to go down a slide. The
father picked him up and put him at the end of the slide and
asked him if he was okay. He was asked to jump and he did
and was praised by the father. Next, the father picked the
child and put him a foot or so up the slide and asked him if he
was okay, and asked him to slide down. He did. So far so
good! The father did this again and again, each time moving
him a little up the slide. Eventually, he put the child at the top
of the slide and he could slide all the way down and jump off.

A great deal of human behaviour is modified directionally in small steps through

reinforcement. It has often been observed, for example, that as previously
reinforcing activities become habitual and less rewarding, they tend to be
modified. For example, a motorcyclist derives some considerable reinforcement
from the sensation of turning a sharp corner at high speed but eventually the
sensation diminishes and the excitement becomes less. And perhaps, too,
as the reinforcement begins to decrease, his speed increases, imperceptibly but
progressively. This is a clear illustration of shaping, effected through the
outcomes of behaviour (Lefrancois, 1982). In the classroom, peer approval or
disapproval, sometimes communicated in a very subtle, non-verbal way, can
drastically alter a students behaviour. The classroom clown would probably
not continue to be a clown if no one paid any attention to him. Indeed, he might
never have become a clown had his audience not reinforced him in the first place.
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1. Identify the schedule of reinforcement represented by the following

(a) Joe gets his salary weekly.
(b) Susie gives Zack a kiss when he rubs her back for an average
of 10 minutes.
(c) Bill continues to play at a gambling machine.
(d) Rosli gets a bonus after every 10 items produced.

2. Give other examples from daily life where schedules of reinforcement

have been used to shape or modify behaviour


Biehler and Snowman (1986) in their book Psychology Applied to Teaching
suggested the following classroom practices based on the principles of operant

(a) When students are dealing with factual material, do your best to give
feedback frequently, specifically and quickly.

(i) After giving a problem, go over the correct answer immediately


(ii) Have students team up and give each other feedback.

(iii) Meet with students in small groups so that you can give each student
more individual feedback.

(iv) When you assign reading or give a lecture or demonstration, have a

short self-correcting quiz or an informal question and answer session
immediately afterward.

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(b) When older students are dealing with complex and meaningful material,
delayed feedback may be more appropriate.

(i) Hand back and discuss all examination papers even though the
students might have sat for the examination two weeks ago.

(ii) Give comments on papers written by students in addition to the marks.

(iii) After receiving assignments, you could tell your students the
following: If you realise after you complete your work that you have
made a mistake, make note of it and mention how you would correct
it if you were to do the assignment again. Then, we can see if your
evaluation is similar to mine.

(c) Use several kinds of reinforcers so that each retains its effectiveness.

(i) When a student gives a correct answer, makes a good point in class
discussion or does something helpful, say things like: Good, Thats
right, Terrific, Great. Very interesting point, I hadnt thought
of that or That was big help.

(ii) Walk over to stand near and smile encouragingly at a student who
seems to be working industriously.

(d) Use awareness of extinction to reduce the frequency of undesirable forms of


(i) If a student exhibits undesirable behaviour to arouse attention, pay no

attention and continue with the lesson.

(ii) If a student says something undesirable in class discussion, do not

comment and immediately call on someone else.

(e) Using different schedules of reinforcement, encourage persistent and

permanent learning.

(i) When students first try a new skill or type of learning, praise almost
any genuine attempt, even though it may be inaccurate. Then, as they
become more skilful, reserve your praise only for correct and accurate

(ii) Avoid a set pattern or predictable way of commenting on student work.

(iii) Make favourable remarks at unpredictable intervals.

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(f) Use reinforcement to motivate students to learn material that is not

intrinsically interesting.

(i) Announce to students that if they complete the task, they will be
rewarded with something they like to do. e.g. read a book of their
choice, work on an art or craft project or work on homework for
another class.

(ii) Make a contract with students on the amount of work to be completed

before they are entitled to the reward.

(iii) Withhold reinforcement and call attention to the rewards which will
follow the completion of a task. If this does not work, consider the
possibility of taking away a privilege or resorting to punishment.

(g) Use the principles of programmed instruction. Skinner argued that in a

typical classroom situation, a teacher cannot supply reinforcement quickly
enough or often enough. He recommended the use of teaching machines or
programmed instruction.

(i) State clearly what is to be learned i.e. the terminal behaviour (e.g. to
be able to compare X and Y).

(ii) Break down the facts, concepts and principles and arrange them in a
sequence designed to lead the student to the desired end result.

(iii) These series of small linear steps or frames are written to maximise
the likelihood that students will supply the correct answer for each
frame. When students do supply the correct answer for one step or
frame, they are reinforced by discovering they are right and
motivated to move on to the next.

(h) Use programmed approaches to teaching, describing terminal behaviour,

organising what is to be learned and providing feedback.

(i) Describe the terminal behaviour using instructional objectives or

learning outcomes (e.g. using Blooms Taxonomy of Objectives as a

(ii) If appropriate, arrange the material to be learned in a series of steps

into an outline of points (e.g. when giving a lecture or demonstration,
give the students an organised list of points to be covered).

(iii) Provide feedback (e.g. quizzes with feedback on correct answers).

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Skinner believed that operant conditioning can even be used to teach

thinking (by conditioning the student to develop techniques of self-
management for example, paying attention and studying efficiently),
to foster creativity (by including greater amounts of behaviour and
reinforcing what is original) and to encourage perseverance (by
systematically widening the ratios of reinforcement).



Read the following situations and state whether they are examples of
classical or operant conditioning.

Give reasons for your answers.

1. In order to punish my cat for sleeping on the sofa, I paired the
sound of a clicker with getting squirted with water. Now, the sound
of the clicker causes the cat to get off the sofa.

2. When my son spends a week without arguing with his sister, he gets to
choose which favourite activity he wants to engage in on Friday night.

3. In a weight management class, participants earn points for every

healthy meal they eat and every period of exercise they complete.
Later, these points result in refunds of their class fees.

4. When I first start teaching about a concept, I praise any answer that
is close to the right answer.

5. Each morning when I switch on the radio, my dogs bark and I give
them a slice of bread each. After a while, every time I switch on the
radio in the morning, my dogs bark

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Unconditioned means unlearned, untaught and pre-existing while

conditioning means the opposite.

An organism is capable of generalising across stimuli that are different or

nearly the same.

An organism is capable of discriminating between stimuli.

According to behaviourism, psychology should not be concerned with the

mind or mental processes but only with behaviour.

Watson demonstrated that an emotion such as the fear of something could be

transferred to an organism that originally did not have the fear.

Stimulus generalisation occurs when an organism responds to stimuli which

are similar or related.

Extinction refers to the gradual disappearance of a response when a stimulus

is not applied over some time.

The law of readiness states that when an organism is ready to act, it will do
so. When it is not ready to act, forcing it to act will be annoying.

The law of exercise states that the strength of a connection between a

stimulus and a response is determined by how often the connection is

The law of effect states that the strength of a connection between a stimulus
and a response is influenced by the consequence of a response.

A behaviour reinforced by a pleasant consequence increases the probability

of that behaviour recurring in the future.

A positive reinforcer is a stimulus that increases the probability of a

particular behaviour recurring in the future.

A negative reinforcer is a stimulus which when removed, increases the

probability of a particular behaviour recurring in the future.

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Punishment decreases the probability of a behaviour recurring.

Schedule of reinforcement refers to the rewarding of a behaviour according to

a predetermined schedule.

Shaping is a method of successive approximation which involves reinforcing

behaviour that is vaguely similar to the behaviour desired.

Classical conditioning Positive reinforcement

Connectionism Programmed instruction
Discrimination Punishment
Extinction Schedule of reinforcement
Feedback Shaping
Generalisation Stimulus generalisation
Negative reinforcement Terminal behaviour
Operant conditioning

Boeree, C. G. (2006). B. F. Skinner (19041990). Retrieved from


Kearsley, G. (2011). Connectionism: E. L. Thorndike. The theory into Practice

Database. Retrieved from

Huitt, W., & Hummel, J. (1997). An introduction to operant (instrumental)

conditioning. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta
State University. Retrieved from

Huitt, W., & Hummel, J. (1998). An overview of the behavioural perspective.

Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University.
Retrieved from

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Topic Cognitive
3 Learning
By the end of this topic, you should be able to:
1. Explain the rise of cognitivism;
2. Differentiate between behaviourist and cognitive theories;
3. Discuss how Gestalt psychology explains learning;
4. Evaluate Piagets theory of human learning;
5. Discuss Banduras social learning theory; and
6. Explain the characteristics of Ausubels theory of meaningful learning.

In Topic 2, we discussed behaviourist explanations of human learning focusing
on classical conditioning and operant conditioning. In this chapter, we will focus
on the cognitive theories explaining human learning as proposed by Gestalt
psychologists, Piaget, Bandura and Ausubel. Each of these theories may be
similar but they also explain an important aspect of thinking and learning among
humans. These theories have important applications in classroom practices for all
levels of education.

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Cognition is defined as the act of knowing or acquiring knowledge. The mental
processes involved in the act of knowing are called cognitive processes and
these include perceiving, attention, reasoning, judging, problem solving, self-
monitoring, remembering, understanding and so forth. For example, to know
that a triangle has three sides, you need to understand and remember the
attributes of a triangle. Cognitivists or cognitive psychologists are researchers
who scientifically study cognitive processes to explain how organisms come to
know or learn something. Wilhelm Wundt, who established the first psychology
laboratory in Leipzig, Germany, in 1879, may be described as the first cognitivist
or cognitive psychologist. The research method he used was introspection. In this
method, highly trained observers reported what they were thinking under
carefully controlled conditions. Wundt believed that the contents of the mind
could be studied if a person talked about what he or she was thinking at a
particular moment. In this chapter, we will discuss the contributions of well-
known Gestalt psychologists, Jean Piaget and Albert Bandura, who were the
earliest to describe the mental processes involved in knowing or learning
something, based on the behaviours exhibited.


While behaviourism was the rage among American psychologists in the 1900s,
there was a small group of psychologists in Germany who were interested in the
mental processes. They were called Gestalt psychologists. Gestalt means
configuration or organisation. The entire Gestalt movement started with a
discovery by Max Wertheimer (18801943) while riding a train. It occurred to
him that if two lights blinked on and off at a certain rate, they could give the
observer the impression that the lights were moving. Later, using a stroboscope
(a device that presents visual stimuli at different rates), he performed numerous
experiments and concluded that the eye saw stimuli in a certain way to give the
illusion of motion. He called this the phi phenomenon. You may have seen this
phenomenon on neon-lit signboards and advertisements. What is so important
about this simple phenomenon?

The importance of the phi phenomenon is the explanation given as to why it

occurs. The sensation of motion cannot be explained by analysing each of the two
lights flashing on and off. So, the logical explanation is that we add something to
the experience that is not contained in the sensory data and that something

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is called organisation. We do not see the stimuli as isolated or separated

(such as the on and off lights) but as combined together in a meaningful
configuration or gestalt. We see people, chairs, cars, trees and flowers not as lines
or patches of colours. From this belief came the following famous statement by
Gestalt psychologists:


This statement may be difficult to understand at first.

Mathematically, it is not possible because the sum of the
parts is equal to the whole. How is it possible for the sum
of its parts to be different or not equal to the whole? It is
possible because we add something to the experience that is
not contained in what we see or perceive. When we organise
what we see, we are adding information. Perhaps an
example will help you appreciate this powerful statement.
Imagine looking at the Mona Lisa.
You will not be able to appreciate
the full impact of this famous
painting if you look at, first one arm and then another,
then the nose, then the mouth and then try to put
all these experiences together. In other words, TO
DISSECT IS TO DISTORT. Similarly, a tree is made up
of its parts trunk, branches, leaves, perhaps blossoms
or fruit. But when you look at an entire tree, you are
not conscious of the parts, but aware of the overall
object the tree. The tree is different from the sum of
its parts such as the trunk, branches, leaves and flowers
because your mind has given organisation.

Based on their findings that people tend to organise what they perceive, they
proposed The Law of Pragnanz which states that, when an organism sees or
experiences something that is disorganised in the physical environment, the
organism will impose order on what it sees or experiences. Based on this basic
premise, many principles were proposed to explain how we perceive the physical
environment and these became known as the Gestalt principles of perceptual
organisation. We will discuss only three of these principles.

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Figure 3.1: Gestalt Principles of Perceptual Organisation

You may have seen the figures shown above. How do you think people would
respond when presented with these figures? The majority of people who see
Figure 3.1a would say that it is an E even though the figure is incomplete. The
Principle of Closure states that we have a tendency to complete incomplete
experiences. Humans have the habit of filling in the gaps perceptually and
responding to the figure as if it was the complete letter E. For Figure 3.1b, most
people tended to perceive three pairs of lines rather than six separate lines. Items
that are close together are grouped together. This is called the Principle of Proximity
which states that, we tend to organise elements close together as units or groups.

When you look at something you never see, just the thing you look at; rather, you
see it in relation to its surroundings. When you read this page, you distinguish
the words from the white background. In this case, you have distinguished
between the figure or shape of words (foreground) and the white space
surrounding it (called the background). Danish psychologist Edgar Rubin (1921)
was the first to systematically investigate this phenomenon. He found that it was
possible to see any well-marked area of the visual field as the figure, leaving the
rest as the background. In Figure 3.1c, if you consider the faces (dark part) as
the foreground and the vase (light part) as the background, you see the two
faces. If vice versa, you see the vase as the foreground and the two faces as
the background. In some instances, the figure and the background may fluctuate.


1. Define cognition.
2. What is the phi phenomenon?
3. What did Gestalt psychologists mean when they said, The whole is
different from the sum of its parts?

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Identify which Gestalt Laws explain how we perceive these logos. Give


Gestalt psychologists looked upon the brain as an active and not a passive
receiver and storer of information from the environment. The brain acts on the
information coming from the environment by making it more meaningful and
organised. An enormous amount of information comes into our brain through
our senses. The major problem facing the perceptual system is that it must, with
only limited resources, process this great load of information in such a way that
the environment makes sense; which is the Law of Pragananz [we discussed it
earlier]. Based on this guiding principle, Wolfgang Kohler (18901940) studied
problem-solving ability among chimpanzees. He summarised his findings in his
classic book, The Mentality of Apes (1913). He argued that behaviour could not
be explained by the principles of association alone. There was an inner process
that enabled the apes to grasp the structure of a situation and recognise the
interconnection based on the properties of things themselves.

According to Kohler, problem solving is a cognitive phenomenon (involves

mental processes). The organism comes to see the solution after pondering on
the problem. When an organism is confronted with a problem, a state of
cognitive disequilibrium is set up and continues until the problem is solved. The
organism thinks about aspects necessary to solve the problem and tries different
ways until the problem is solved. When the solution comes, it comes suddenly. In
other words, the organism gains insight into the solution of the problem. So, a
problem can exist in only two states:

The Gestalt psychologists believed that either a solution is reached or it is not. To

test his notions about learning, Kohler worked with different chimpanzees and
observed them creating and using tools in captivity. Kohlers basic experiment
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was to place a chimpanzee in an enclosed play area. Somewhere out of reach,

he placed a prize, such as a bunch of bananas. To get to the bananas, the
chimpanzee would have to use an object as a tool. The objects in the play area
included sticks of different lengths and wooden boxes.

Experiment 1:
In this experiment, a chimpanzee named Grande was placed in an enclosure
surrounded by wooden boxes. Initially, the animal jumped to reach the banana
but was unsuccessful. Later, Grande dragged the boxes under the bananas and
stacked the boxes on top of one another (see Figure 3.2). Using the boxes as a
step- ladder, the animal got to the bananas.

Figure 3.2: Grande using the boxes to reach the banana from The Mentality of
Apes, 1925. W. Kohler. London: Routledge & Kegan. p. 152

Experiment 2:
Kohlers chimpanzees were able to not only use tools but also build tools. For
example, he observed chimps breaking off branches from a tree to make a rake.
One of the smartest chimpanzees, Sultan, was given a very difficult problem.
Kohler placed a bunch of bananas outside Sultans cage and two bamboo sticks
inside the cage. However, neither of the sticks was long enough to reach the
bananas. Sultan pushed the thinner stick into the hollow of the thicker one, and
created a stick long enough to pull in the bananas (see Figure 3.3). Kohler
believed that these chimps showed insight acting as if they saw the solution
before carrying out the actions. The essence of a successful problem-solving
behaviour is being able to see the overall structure of the problem. Two
directions are involved: getting a wholly consistent picture and seeing what the
structure of the whole requires for the parts. Insightful learning usually has four

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(a) The transition from pre-solution to solution is sudden and complete,

(b) Performance based on a solution gained by insight is usually smooth and

free of errors,

(c) A solution to a problem gained by insight, is retained for a considerable

length of time, and

(d) A principle gained by insight is easily applied to other problems.

Figure 3.3: Sultan putting two sticks together

Source: Kohler, W. (1925). The Mentality of Apes. London: Routledge & Kegan. p. 128

The most systematic attempt to base teaching techniques on Gestalt principles

was made by Bigge (1982). Bigge argued that instructions should be so arranged
so that students participated actively in developing insight by attacking a
problem posed by the teacher, just as the apes achieved insight in the situation
arranged by Kohler. Instead of presenting students with information discovered
by others, arrange learning situations so that students will make their own
discoveries as they engage in class discussions, Bigge urged teachers. He
suggested three general techniques for producing effective discussions:

(a) Switch the subject matter

(b) Introduce disturbing data

(c) Permit students to make mistakes

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Jean Piaget, a Swiss, began as a biologist and obtained his
PhD at the age of 21. His theories of learning were based on
observing and description of his three young children.
However, his approach was not well received by other
psychologists, who argued that it was not scientific. Piaget
was most interested in the way molluscs adapted themselves
with the surrounding environment. Using ideas from biology,
Piaget introduced two main processes, namely, organisation
and adaptation. Organisation is the internal characteristic of
an organism, enabling it to take action to arrange the
environment, while adaptation is the ability to fit in with the Jean Piaget
physical environment. In other words, organisation is an 18961980
internal process and adaptation is an external process. From
the biological point of view, organisation is inseparable from adaptation as these
are two complementary processes of a single mechanism. Piaget (1985) suggested
that the learning process is iterative, in which new information is shaped to fit in
with the learners existing knowledge and existing knowledge is modified to
accommodate the new information. His learning theory is based on four basic
concepts schema, assimilation, accommodation and equilibrium.

(a) Schema
Piaget believed that the mind was made up of a schema, just like the body
that has a stomach that was responsible for digestion or a kidney that was
responsible for removing waste from the blood. Schemas are mental or
cognitive structures, which enable a person to adapt and organise the
environment. They are like a cabinet with many files and each file
represents a schema. When a child is born, it has a few general schemas and
as the child grows, he or she gains more schemas and these schemas
become more refined.

For example, at birth, the schema of a baby is reflexive in nature such as

sucking and grasping. The sucking reflex is a schema and the infant will
suck whatever is put into its mouth, such as a nipple or a finger. The infant
is unable to differentiate because it has only a single sucking schema.
Slowly, the infant learns to differentiate between milk-producing objects,
which are accepted while non-milk objects are rejected. At this point, the
infant has two sucking schemas, one for milk-producing objects and one for
non-milk producing objects.

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Figure 3.4 illustrates a childs encounter with an experience for which the
child does not have a schema. The child looks at the cow and says Hello
Doggy. Why do you think this happened? The child seeing the object
(cow), sifted through his collection of schemas, until he found one that
seemed appropriate. To the child, the object (cow) has all the characteristics
of a dog it fits in his dog schema so the child concludes that the object is
a dog. The child has integrated the object (cow) into his dog schema. You
would have seen this often happening among young children and parents
make a desperate attempt to correct the child.

Figure 3.4: A young childs first encounter with a cow

It would be misleading to think that schemas do not change, or that the

child is destined to call cows as dogs for the rest of his life. Obviously, this
does not happen. As the child becomes better able to differentiate between
objects, schemas become more numerous (differentiated) and as he becomes
better able to generalise across objects, schemas become more refined.

(b) Assimilation
Assimilation is the cognitive process by which a person integrates new
information or experience into existing or readily available schema. This is
the process of fitting new information into existing cognitive structures.
Assimilation occurs all the time because humans are always processing
various kinds of information and experiences. The existing or readily
available schema is like a balloon that gets bigger and bigger with the

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addition or assimilation of new information and experiences. There is a

quantitative change but no qualitative change. No new schemas are
produced as old schemas are being used.

See Figure 3.5 which shows a child confronting three different round
shapes. Because the person has an existing schema of round shapes, the
three round shapes, even though different, are assimilated or fitted into the
round shape schema, which already exists. There is a quantitative change
as the single schema gets bigger and bigger to absorb or assimilate the new

Figure 3.5: Assimilation into the round shape schema

(c) Accommodation
When confronted with new information or experience, the individual tries to
assimilate it into an existing schema as mentioned earlier. Sometimes it is not
possible because there is no ready-made schema. In such a situation, the
person has two options. The person could create a new schema into which
new information or experience can be placed. Alternatively, the person could
modify an existing schema so that the new information or experience can fit
into it. Both of these are forms of accommodation. Thus, accommodation is
the creation of new schema or the modification of old schema. Both of these
actions result in a change in or development or creation of schema.

See Figure 3.6 which shows a child confronting three different round
shapes. Because the child does not have an existing schema of round
shapes, three new schemas are created. There is a qualitative change as
more schemas are created.

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Figure 3.6: Accommodation by the creation of new schema

(d) Equilibrium
Imagine what would happen if a person only assimilates and never
accommodates or only accommodates and never assimilates? The result
would be disastrous. Hence, there needs to be a balance between the two
processes. Equilibrium is a balance between assimilation and accommodation.
Disequilibrium is an imbalance between assimilation and accommodation.
When disequilibrium occurs, the learner seeks equilibrium, that is, to further
assimilate or accommodate. For example, a learner who encounters new
information tries to assimilate the information into an existing schema. If he or
she is successful, equilibrium is achieved. However if the learner cannot
assimilate the new information, he or she attempts to accommodate by
modifying a schema or creating a new one. If the new information can be
accommodated, equilibrium is reached. According to Piaget, learning
proceeds in this way from birth through adulthood.


1. What is a schema?
2. State the difference between assimilation and accommodation.
3. What is equilibrium?

1. What do you think will happen if a person only assimilates or only
2. Explain why a child who sees a baby, calls it a doll.

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Intelligence was viewed by Piaget as having three components content,
function and structure. Content refers to observable behaviours that reflect
intellectual activity (e.g. solving physics problems, writing an essay). The content
of intelligence, because of its nature, varies considerably from age to age and
from child to child. Function refers to characteristics of intellectual activity,
namely, assimilation and accommodation. Structure refers to the organisational
properties of the brain or schema. In other words, intelligence can be defined in
terms of assimilation and accommodation.

Piaget did not direct his research towards education and teaching, but his theory
of how children acquired knowledge and developed intellectually, clearly
provided much that was relevant to teaching and learning. The learning
environment (especially in kindergarten and primary school) should help
children acquire knowledge by performing actions. In other words, the learning
environment should be action-based. For example, children should have physical
contact with concepts such as trees, grass, cats, chickens and so forth. Just
showing children pictures of trees and reading about trees is inadequate.

(a) The learning environment should be discovery-oriented, where children are

encouraged to initiate and complete their own activities.

(b) Use teaching strategies that make children aware of conflicts and
inconsistencies in their thinking: i.e. children must experience
disequilibrium or an imbalance between their current schemas and new
information to be assimilated, in order for them to move towards
equilibrium and new levels of intellectual growth.

(i) Use problems to confront or challenge students prior knowledge or

schemas. Sometimes children do not realise that they have the
relevant schema and are quick to reply that they do not know.

(ii) Use appropriate questioning techniques to help learners to bring out

their misconceptions and faulty reasoning.

(iii) Diagnose what children already know and how they think. Content is
not introduced until the child is cognitively ready to understand it, or
has the relevant schema to assimilate or accommodate the new

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(c) Childrens interactions with their peers are an important source of

intellectual development: peer interactions are essential in helping children
develop intellectually.

(d) The learning environment should encourage active self-discovery: play

effectively represents all of the requisite characteristics of Piagetian-
inspired instruction.


1. How would you apply Piagets theory of learning in the classroom?

2. Give examples of how you have used Piagets ideas in the classroom


Albert Bandura was born in Mundare, Canada, in 1925. He
received his B.A. from the University of British Columbia in
1949 and his PhD from the University of Iowa in 1952. The
following year, he accepted a position as a psychology professor
at the University of Stanford until today. Bandura has achieved
many honours and awards from fellow psychologists. In 1972,
he received a distinguished achievement award from the
American Psychological Association and a Scientist Award
from the California State Psychological Association. In 1974, Albert Bandura
Bandura was elected president of the American Psychological 1925 present

He was most interested in the theories proposed by Dollard and Miller in their
book Social Learning and Imitation, published in 1941. They suggested that
children could learn when they were reinforced at a time when their behaviour
matched that of another person. For example, a boy might be praised by his
mother when imitating some form of desirable behaviour he had seen displayed
by his older sister. Bandura and Richard Walters agreed with Miller and Dollard
that learning was much more than trial and error and on the significance of
imitation. In their book Social Learning Theory and Personality Development
(1963), Bandura and Walters argued that merely observing another person might
be sufficient to lead to a learned response. They pointed out that reinforcement
was not always necessary.

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In his book, Social Learning Theory (1977), Bandura laid out the essential
principles of social learning which originated from a series of classic experiments
carried out in the 1960s. Bandura argued that children learned to act aggressively
when they modelled their behaviour after violent acts of adults. He believed that
aggression must be explained from three aspects: first, how aggressive patterns
of behaviour are developed; second, what provokes people to behave aggressively;
and third, what determines whether they are going to continue to resort to an
aggressive behaviour pattern on future occasions.

In a classic experiment, he had four groups of children watch a video showing a

model who reacted with a plastic clown called the Bobo doll. Two groups of
children watched the model aggressively hit the doll with a mallet and punch it
(see Figure 3.7a). One group watched the model being rewarded while the other
group watched the aggressive model being punished. A third group of children
watched the model not doing anything to the Bobo doll while a fourth group
watched the doll without a model. Then, the four groups of children were led to
another room with various attractive toys, including the Bobo doll. The results of
the experiments are shown in Figure 3.8.

(a) The child observes an adult beating a Bobo doll with a mallet.

(b) When presented with an identical Bobo doll, the child picks up the mallet and
proceeds to beat the doll.

Figure 3.7: The Bobo doll experiment

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Figure 3.8: Results of Bobo doll experiment

Children who observed the aggressive model engaged in considerably more

aggressive behaviour towards the Bobo doll (see Figure 3.7b). Children who saw
the model rewarded were more aggressive than children who observed the
model punished (see Figure 3.8). Children who observed the non-aggressive
model and those who did not observe a model displayed little imitative
aggression. Eight months later, 40% of the children who observed the aggressive
model reproduced the violent behaviour as observed in the Bobo doll experiment.
Bandura conducted similar experiments and the results showed that, children
exposed to the aggressive model exhibited aggressive behaviour. Based on these
studies, Bandura proposed several principles of social learning (or observational
learning as it also came to be called). He suggested that the degree to which
individuals observed and imitated a models behaviour could be explained
in terms of four component processes: attention, retention, reproduction and
reinforcement (Bandura, 1977).

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Processes of Social Learning

(a) Attention
Attention is the first component of observational learning. Individuals
cannot learn much by observation unless they perceive and attend to the
significant features of the modelled behaviour. For example, children must
attend to what the aggressor model is doing and saying in order to
reproduce the models behaviour. In the Bobo doll experiment, the children
witnessed the Bobo doll being verbally and/or physically abused by live
and filmed models.

(b) Retention
Retention is the next component. In order to reproduce the modelled
behaviour, individuals must encode the information into long-term memory.
Therefore, the information will be retrieved. For example, the actions and
words of the model performed would have to be retained and later retrieved.
In the Bobo doll experiment, the children imitated the aggression they
witnessed. They aggressively hit the Bobo doll because it was encoded and
stored in their memory. The process of retention had occurred.

(c) Reproduction
Motor reproduction is another process in observational learning. The
observer must be able to reproduce the models behaviour. The observer
must learn and possess the physical capabilities of the modelled behaviour.
For example, a person who observes a monkey swinging from tree to tree
may wish to do the same but does not have the motor capabilities to do so.
Once a behaviour is learned through attention and retention, the observer
must possess the physical capabilities to produce the act. The children had
the physical capability to hit and smack the doll.

(d) Motivation or Reinforcement

The final process in observational learning is motivation or reinforcement.
In this process, the observer expects to receive positive reinforcements
for the modelled behaviour. In the Bobo doll experiment, the children
witnessed the adults being rewarded for their aggression. Therefore,
they performed the same act expecting the same rewards. What would be
the consequences if young children witnessing violence on television are

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Violence on TV
There have been many debates over whether or not violence on
television causes aggressive behaviour in children. Some studies have
indicated that television leads to aggressive behaviour while others
suggest that it does not. For instance, psychologists have found that
some cartoons are very violent and cause children to imitate aggressive
behaviour. However, the general public believes that children view
cartoons as funny and humorous. It is the parents responsibility to
inform their children that the cartoons are not real.

What do you think?

Prevalence of Imitation in Early Cultures

In early cultures such as that of the Cantalense, a young girl is given miniature
working replicas of all the tools her mother uses: broom, corn-grinding stone,
cooking utensils and so on. From the moment she can walk, she follows her
mother and imitates her actions. There is little or no direct teaching. Most of the
significant social learning accomplished by girls in that culture results from
direct imitation.

In Ojibwa tribes, young boys follow their fathers hunting as soon as they are
physically able. For the first few years; they simply observe again there is no
direct teaching. When a boy is old enough, he would fashion his own weapons
and set traps as he had seen his father do. If he has a sister, she would learn how
to prepare hides and meat, how to make clothing and how to do the many other
things she had seen her mother do.


1. How did Bandura prove that children learn by imitating?

2. Explain the four cognitive processes involved in social learning.
3. Give examples of children imitating their parents in modern society.

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The term model may refer to an actual person whose behaviour serves as a
stimulus for an observers response. It may also, as is more often the case in our
society, refer to a symbolic model. Symbolic models include such things as books,
verbal or written instructions, pictures, mental images, cartoon or movie
characters, religious figures and, not the least important, television. These are
probably more prevalent than real-life models for children in modern society.
This is not to deny that peers, siblings and parents serve as models, or that
teachers and other well-behaved people are held as exemplary models. For
example, Why dont you behave like your brother? See how quietly he sits at the
dining table.

Why do people imitate? People imitate because it is reinforcing and to do so, is

pleasurable. What are the sources of reinforcement in imitation? It may be
reinforced in two ways:

(a) Direct Reinforcement

It involves the direct reinforcement of the learner by the model. The person
imitates or models the behaviour he observes and is directly reinforced. For
example, a child is praised for imitating the behaviour of his sister.

(b) Vicarious Reinforcement

It involves deriving a second-hand type of satisfaction from imitation. It is
as though the individual observing a model assumes that if the model does
something, she must do it because she derives some reinforcement or
pleasure from her behaviour. For example, in the Bobo doll experiment, the
child who saw the adult being rewarded by being aggressive, imitated the
behaviour, even though she did not experience reinforcement directly.
Therefore, in the observers logic, anyone else who engages in the same
behaviour, would receive the same reinforcement.


The Bobo doll experiment helped Bandura theorise on the effects of violence on
TV. He believed that television was a source of behaviour modelling. Films and
television show violence graphically. Violence is often expressed as an acceptable
behaviour, especially when violent heroes are never punished. Since aggression
is a prominent feature of many shows, children, who have a high degree of

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exposure to the media, may exhibit a relatively high incidence of hostility

themselves in imitating the aggression they have witnessed (Berkowitz, 1962).
There have been a number of deaths linked to violence on television. For
example, John Hinckley attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan after
he watched the movie Taxi Driver 15 times. Ronald Zamora brutally killed an
elderly woman and pleaded insanity. His attorney argued that Zamora was
addicted to violence on television. As a result, he could not differentiate between
reality and fantasy. However, Zamora was found guilty because the jury did not
believe his defence (Siegel, 1992: p. 172).

When a student is punished for breaking a school rule, other children are
watching the event and because of the principle of modelling, every child is
influenced. Each of them has learned about breaking school rules, simply
through observation. They have learned that if they break school rules, they will
get into trouble.

Modelling theory is designed primarily to explain behavioural influence. It is less

useful in creating or understanding changes in thinking or feeling. Therefore,
whenever you want to influence behaviours, consider modelling. For other types
of changes, use other persuasion tools.


You can approach a task in two different ways. For example, if you attempt to
memorise a series of numbers without relating the numbers to anything more
than a random series, that is rote learning. On the other hand, if you attempt to
create some connection to something that you already know, that is meaningful
learning. Material learned that is related to experiences or memories that are
firmly stored in the persons memory, is more likely to be retained. Rote-learned
materials are discrete and isolated entities which have not been related to
established concepts and may soon be forgotten (Ausubel, 1962).

These structured experiences or memories that are firmly stored are termed as
cognitive structure consists of more or less, organised and stable concepts (or
ideas) in a learners brain or cortex. The nature of the organisation is assumed to
be hierarchical, with the most inclusive (general) concept at the apex and the
increasingly specific concepts towards the base.

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David Ausubel, a medical practitioner, introduced the notion of subsumption in

1962. Subsumption is the process by which new information enters the
consciousness and is directed or organised to fit within an existing cognitive
structure. In other words, for information to become meaningful knowledge to
a learner, it is usually subsumed under a broader, more inclusive piece of
meaningful knowledge closely related to it. For example, understanding of
the concept pantun is enhanced when we learn that it is a kind of poem
(assuming we understand what a poem is). The more distinct or different the
new knowledge is from the relevant subsumer, the harder it is to understand.
The key to understanding, it appears, is relating it to appropriate prior
knowledge. Subsumption may take one of two forms:

(a) Derivative Subsumption

This is a situation in which a new concept (new information) that is learned,
is an instance or example of a concept that has already been learned. For
example, a student has acquired the broad or general concept of fish it
has scales, fins, gills and lives in the water. Next, she learns about the
barracuda, a big fish she has never seen before. However, she is able to
attach her knowledge about the barracuda within the broad concept of
fish without substantially altering the concept. So, the learner has learned
about barracuda through the process of derivative subsumption.

(b) Correlative Subsumption

Now, what if the learner encounters a new kind of fish that does not have
fins, like an eel? In order to attach this new information, the learner has to
alter or extend her broad concept of fish to include the possibility of fish
having no fins. The learner has learned about the new kind of fish through
the process of correlative subsumption.


Applications of Ausubels learning theory are as follows:

(a) The ability to remember is a function of whether new material can be

associated with an existing structure. After learning (subsumption), the
newly subsumed material becomes increasingly like the structure to which
it was incorporated.

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(b) Instruction should proceed from the most general and inclusive towards
details of specific instances. The most general ideas of a subject should be
presented first and then, progressively differentiated in terms of detail and

(c) Instructional materials should attempt to integrate new material with

previously presented information through comparisons and cross-
referencing of new and old ideas.

(d) Teachers should not fall into the trap of asking students to learn material
that is inherently meaningless for them because they do not have the
required background information.

(e) Advance organisers are concepts and ideas that are given to the learner
prior to material actually to be learned.

(i) They should be introduced in advance of learning and presented at a

higher level of abstraction, generality and inclusiveness.

(ii) They should be selected on the basis of their suitability for explaining,
integrating and interrelating the new material.

(iii) They aim to enhance the cognitive structure of the learner.

(f) Advance organisers can take various forms:

(i) Chapter titles and section headings in a text to indicate to the reader
what the succeeding content is.

(ii) Introductory paragraphs to remind the learner of certain ideas that are
important in terms of their relationship to the new material.

(iii) Cognitive maps and graphic organisers.

(iv) Diagrams, pictures and cartoons.


1. What did Ausubel mean by meaningful learning?

2. Identify how you have used the notion of subsumption in your

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Cognition is defined as the act of knowing or acquiring knowledge.

The mental processes involved in the act of knowing are called cognitive
processes and these include perceiving, attention, reasoning, judging, problem
solving, self-monitoring, remembering, understanding and so forth.

Gestalt means configuration or organisation. THE WHOLE IS DIFFERENT


Problem solving is a cognitive phenomenon and when the solution comes, it

comes suddenly. The organism gains insight into the solution of the problem.

Schemas are mental or cognitive structures, which enable a person to adapt

and organise the environment.

Assimilation is the cognitive process by which a person integrates new

information or experience into existing or readily available schema.

Accommodation is when a person creates a new schema or modifies an

existing schema into which new information or experience can be placed.

Equilibrium is a balance between assimilation and accommodation.

The degree to which individuals observe and imitate a models behaviour can
be explained in terms of four component processes: attention, retention
reproduction and reinforcement.

Subsumption is the process by which new information enters the

consciousness and is directed or organised to fit within an existing cognitive

Derivative subsumption: This is a situation in which a new concept (new

information) that is learned is an instance or example of a concept that has
already been learned.

Correlative subsumption: In order to attach new information, the learner has

to alter or extend an existing broad concept to include the new concept.

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Accommodation Meaningful learning

Assimilation Reproduction
Attention Retention
Correlative subsumption Rote learning
Derivative subsumption Schema
Equilibrium Social learning
Gestalt Subsumption

Advance Organisers. Retrieved from


Boeree, C. G. (1999). Jean Piaget. Retrieved from


Funderstanding. (2008) Observational learning. Retrieved from


Funderstanding. (2008) Piaget. Retrieved from


Kohler, W. (1959). Gestalt psychology today. Retrieved from


Wertheimer, M. (1924). Gestalt theory. Society for Gestalt theory and its
application. Retrieved from http://gestalttheory.net/archive/wert1.html

Thompson, T. (2004). The theories of David P. Ausubel.

Torrans, C. (1999). Gestalt theory and instructional design. Retrieved from


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T op i c The Information
4 Model
By the end of this topic, you should be able to:
1. Explain the emergence of the cognitive revolution;
2. Identify the characteristics of working memory;
3. Differentiate between attention, encoding, storage and retrieval;
4. Explain how information is stored in long-term memory;
5. Describe how retrieval of information can be enhanced;
6. Justify why recall from long-term memory is constructive; and
7. List the classroom implications of the information processing model.

In Topic 3, we discussed the cognitive theories of Gestalt psychologists, Piaget,
Bandura and Ausubel. In this topic, we continue with our discussion on cognitive
theories, focusing on the Information Processing Model. Using the computer
as an analogy, psychologists have proposed a multi-store approach to human
memory consisting of sensory memory, working memory and long-term memory.
The model provides a convenient approach to studying how humans encode,
process, store and retrieve information. The implications of the I-P model in
teaching and learning is explored.

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Behaviourists led by J. B. Watson and B. F. Skinner argued that the study of
learning should be scientific and confined to the investigation of observable
events. They concluded that since mental events such as thinking and images
cannot be observed directly, they had no place in the science of psychology.
The arguments of the behaviourists had a tremendous impact on the field of
psychology, especially in American society. The study of mental events was
abandoned as there was little scientific evidence about the mysteries of memory,
language and their influence on human learning. However, in the late 1950s, a
revolution occurred. Psychologists turned their attention to the investigation of
the mind and what is now called the cognitive approach to psychology evolved.
The essence of the cognitive approach can be summarised by considering three
major characteristics that distinguish it from behaviourism.

(a) It emphasises knowing. It involves studying the mental processes involved

in the acquisition and application of knowledge. For example, how did you
come to know about water pollution and how are you able to apply what
you know in analysing a sample of water. The cognitive approach stresses
the mental events leading to humans knowing something. According to the
cognitive approach, the argument that because mental events cannot be
observed these should not be studied is a weak argument. No one has ever
observed gravity directly, yet physicists are not deemed unscientific for
including these concepts in their theories.

(b) It emphasises mental structure or organisation. It is argued that we are

born with the natural tendency to organise the knowledge we possess and
new information is interpreted in light of this organised knowledge.

(c) The individual is viewed as active and constructive rather than a passive
recipient of information. Humans are not blank slates upon which
information is written on, as assumed by behaviourists. We actively
participate in acquiring and using knowledge. We actively construct a view
of reality, select information that we want to attend to and commit to
memory. Hence, to understand human cognition, the psychologist has to
study how we think, remember, understand and produce language.

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Cognition is defined as the act or process of knowing in the broadest sense and
more specifically, as an intellectual process by which knowledge is gained
through the five senses (Websters Dictionary). Scholars who focus on cognition
are called cognitive psychologists. Cognitive psychologists strongly believe that
behaviourism is too limited in explaining human learning. It presents a
reductionist view of learning. In other words, it reduces learning to merely
providing a stimulus and focusing on an observable behaviour. This is too
simplistic a notion of human learning. Cognitive psychologists strongly advocate
that mental processes and how they are structured, should be investigated. They
are interested in unravelling what is going on in the black box (see Figure 4.1). It
is assumed that between the stimulus and response, there are various stages of
processing, each requiring a certain amount of time and many different
processes. To be able to understand the internal mechanism of human thoughts
and the processes of knowing, researchers make inferences by observing the
behaviours exhibited. In other words, what is going inside the mind of learners is
studied objectively from the outside of the mind.

Figure 4.1: The cognitive approach focuses on the mental processes in the black box


1. What is meant by the cognitive approach?

2. How is cognitivism different from behaviourism?

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Early cognitive psychologists used the computer as an analogy. In a simplistic
comparison, people, like computers, acquire information from the environment
(through the keyboard or microphone), store information (in the RAM memory
and hard disk), retrieve or recall it (from the hard disk to the monitor) when
required. Both the computer and people are limited in the amount of information
they can process at a given time, both to transform information to produce new
information and return information to the environment.

All learning has something

to do with memory........

If we cannot remember what we have experienced we will never be able to

learn anything. For example, one morning you are introduced to Shalin. That
afternoon you see her again and say something like, Youre Shalin. We met
this morning. You have remembered her name. In this simple incident, you
have used three important processes: encoding, storage and retrieval. First,
when you were introduced to Shalin, you deposited her name in memory and
this is called encoding. You have transformed sound waves (you heard the
pronunciation of her name) into a form that memory accepts and you placed
that form in memory. Second, you retained or stored the name during the time
between the two meetings with Shalin. This is the storage stage. Third, you
recovered the name from storage at the time of your second meeting. This is
the retrieval stage.

How humans pick up information from the environment, store it in their

memory, retrieve it and send it back to the environment have been the focus of
cognitive psychologists since the 1960s. In 1968, Atkinson and Shriffin (1968)
proposed the Multistore Theory, which argued that information is received,
processed and stored in three different stages. This theory later came to be
known as the Information Processing Model (see Figure 4.2).

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Figure 4.2: The information processing model

Source: Adapted from Atkinson & Shiffrin (1968); Broadbent (1958)


The sensory memory receives information from various sources (visual, auditory,
smell, touch and taste) and the brain will only focus on information that has been
attended to. We are bombarded with different kinds of information during each
waking hour. While you are reading this sentence, you may be exposed to certain
smells or certain sounds. They are all information. Normally, we are not aware of
the sensory properties of stimuli or what we are exposed to, unless we are asked
to specifically identify such information. People are more likely to pay attention
to information that is interesting or important to them. Information in sensory
memory lasts for only about second or 250 milliseconds for visual memory
and one to two seconds for auditory information. Information that you decide to
pay attention to is encoded into working memory. This means that much of what
we are exposed to, never even enters working memory.

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First encounter with the durian and the five senses goes into action.

1. The sight of the fruit may remind a person of its similarity

to the jackfruit.

2. The smell of the fruit may be unbearable.

3. Ask what it is called and hear the word durian.

4. Attempt to touch the fruit to feel the sharpness of the thorns

and hardness of the fruit

5. Pluck up courage to taste the fruit and like it.

The properties of the sensory memory may lead teachers to believe that students
in class are paying attention to what they are saying. Refer to the example below.
In a history class, Peng Soon is looking out of the window and appears to be

Teacher: and Dato Maharajalela saw J. W.W. Birch bathing in the river
and killed himPeng Soon! What did I just say?

Peng Soon: AhhMaharajalela-saw-J.W.W.Birch-bathing-in-the-river-and-


Teacher: Hmmm. At least looks like youre paying attention.

The teacher was sure that Peng Soon was daydreaming and she was right.
However, she had only probed his sensory memory (where attention is located)
and not his working memory. Peng Soon, upon hearing his name, simply
recalled the jumble of words that were still resonating in his sensory memory
and read them off. He could play it back but that does not mean he was paying

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Why Do We Pay Attention?

Whether we decide to pay attention to something depends on:

(a) Mental Set: This refers to a deliberate plan to focus on something, such as;
reading this page, listening to the radio or sending an SMS to your friend.
It is a conscious decision to make. Often we hear of people saying that
they can do two or three things at the same time. Actually, it is almost
impossible to attend satisfactorily to more than one such mental activity.
For example, while you are reading this chapter, you may be listening to
your radio. If you are fully attending to the meaning of the words on this
page, you are actually not attending to the music. You may, at different
points, switch between reading or attending to the page and listening or
attending to the music. Now you realise how important attention is to

(b) Physical Properties of the Information: Physical properties can be the voice
of the presenter or the images presented. For example, if the teacher or
speaker has a flat monotonous voice, it will be hard for students to pay
attention. Cartoons, diagrams and colourful pictures encourage students to
pay attention.

(c) Emotional State: When a person is anxious or distressed, any outside

information may be ignored because the person is too engrossed with his or
her feelings and discomfort.

These three conditions have important implications for teaching and learning.
They illustrate the decision made by learner as to what is important. Sometimes
it may be necessary for teachers to make known to students what is important
and what they should pay attention to. Only when learners attend to the
information, will it be processed in the short-term or working memory. The
teacher has to grab the attention of students. Good speakers are able to grab the
attention of the audience. Can you recall a speaker who was able to hold your
attention? What were the qualities of his or her presentation that was able to
capture your attention?

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Biggs and Moore (1993) suggested the following ways in which teachers
could grab the attention of their students:

(a) Vary your style of teaching:

(i) Change the pitch, volume and the pace of your voice to
emphasise certain points
(ii) Move about in the class (routine can be boring!)

(b) Vary media and materials:

(i) Use diagrams, pictures and charts
(ii) Use objects and artefacts
(iii) Conduct field trips and excursions

(c) Vary interaction with students:

(i) Involve students in groupwork and presentations
(ii) Use questions at various points in the lesson


1. Identify the characteristics of sensory memory.

2. What determines whether we attend to a particular information or


Information that is attended to, is encoded into Working Memory or Short-Term
Memory (STM). As mentioned earlier, encoding means information is deposited
in memory in a certain form. A striking feature of short-term memory is its
limited capacity. On the average, it is limited to seven chunks, give or take two
i.e. seven plus or minus two (Miller, 1956). A chunk is a unit that could be
number of words, digits, sentences or even paragraphs. For example, experts
differ from novices in the richness of the chunks they create. So, an experienced
computer programmer will chunk computer information into more meaningful
units compared to a new programmer. You are given a list of 20 letters to
remember (see Figure 4.3). Trying to recall this list of letters serially would be
much easier if you chunk them.

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Figure 4.3: Chunking

Because working memory is needed for various kinds of cognitive activity, we

have to find ways of optimising its use. In other words, working memory should
be occupied with the more important rather than the less important aspects of a
problem. If our mental wallet can hold only seven notes, make sure these are
RM50 notes and not RM1 notes. Learners should chunk their material as richly
as they can. When learning a particular topic, basic and more familiar information
should be automatic, thereby freeing space for higher-level thinking (Case, 1985).

What is meant by automatic? For the new driver, he or she has to remember to
change gears, remember road signs, remember to push the right pedal (brakes
and accelerator), apply the brakes in an emergency. But, for the experienced
driver all these activities are automatic and he or she does not have to decide
what to do in working memory. He or she can sing, listen to the radio or hold a
conversation, but is able to press the brakes in an emergency. Similarly, when
you read this page, you do not have to decode the letters, l-e-t-t-e-r-s because it
is automatic for you. To a young reader, it is not automatic and the child will
have to spend his or her working memory identifying each of the letters.

Besides having limited capacity, information in working memory if not attended
to, will be forgotten within 18 seconds. To keep information active in STM, you
must do something to it. We keep information active by rehearsing. We usually
perform two types of rehearsing:

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(a) Maintenance rehearsal is when we keep repeating information to keep it

alive in working memory. For instance, when you look up a phone
number, you repeat it over and over again in your mind in order to keep it
alive it until you have dialled the number or written it down. This is also
referred to as rote learning where the individual wants to make sure that
learning is verbatim or 100% accurate. For example, some actors rote-learn
their lines, not because they do not understand them but simply to ensure
accurate performance.

(b) Elaborative rehearsal is when meaning is given to the information by

relating it to something we already know to prevent it from fading from
working memory. This is also referred to as meaningful learning, that is,
when an individual relates new information with relevant background
knowledge from long-term memory. Rote learning is a useful tool but
meaningful learning is obviously the major goal for school learning.

1. What are some features of working memory?
2. Explain chunking.
3. How is information kept alive in working memory?


Information that is encoded and rehearsed is stored in long-term memory which
consists of information that has just happened a few minutes ago or as long as a
lifetime. Long-term memory has an unlimited capacity and it has been said that,
all you have learned and experienced in your lifetime is stored in long-term
memory. Nothing is lost! Do you remember your first day in school or the first
time you drove a car or rode a motorcycle? The fact that you can recall these
events shows that nothing is really lost from memory. When you are unable to
recall from long-term memory, it is the result of loss of access to the information
rather than from loss of the information itself. It is there but cannot be found.
Poor memory may reflect retrieval failure rather than storage failure. For
example, when you are unable to find your car keys, it does not necessarily mean
it is not there. You may be looking at the wrong place or it may simply be
misfiled in your mind and is therefore inaccessible. Lets examine long-term
memory in more detail. It has important implications for teaching and learning.

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The German scholar Herman Ebbinghaus, was the first to investigate the
characteristics of long-term memory in 1879. Using himself as a subject, he was
one of the first to demonstrate that learning and memory could be studied
experimentally, using nonsense syllables. He memorised a list of 800 nonsense
words and then tried to recall them. The results are shown in Figure 4.4. This is
often called the forgetting curve. The graph shows that, forgetting was rapid in
the first hour when recall fell by 40%. However, then it flattened out to about
25% and by about 30 days, only 10 to 15% of the nonsense words are recalled. In
other words, people forget 90% of what they learn in a class, within 30 days. This
is confirmed by those who followed him.

Figure 4.4: Ebbinghaus experiment on rate of forgetting (1879)


1. Get students in your class to chunk material they are reading.

Examine the different ways of chunking used.
2. Select about 50 words from this course and try to memorise them.
Using Ebbinghaus time frame, test how many words you can recall.

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Since the experiments by Ebbinghaus, numerous investigations have been

conducted in the last 100 years to unravel the mysteries of the human brain. In
1972, Endel Tulving proposed that, information stored in long-term memory
consists of episodic memory, semantic memory and procedural memory (see
Figure 4.5).

(a) Episodic Memory is memory for information that is associated with

particular time and/or place. These are memories of personal experiences,
such as where were you last weekend; you met your classmate at the

Figure 4.5: Types of Memory in Long-Term Memory

(b) Semantic Memory is knowledge of general concepts that are not specific to
a particular time or place. It is the meaning of words referring to rules,
formulas, concepts, principles, generalisations and so forth. For example,
respiration, treaty, delta, triangle are all examples of information
stored in semantic memory.

(c) Procedural Memory is memory of procedural knowledge; remembering

how to do things. For example, the knowledge needed to change a car tyre,
to fry an egg, to cross the road and so forth.

Since the 1960s, a number of theories have been proposed to explain the structure
of long-term memory. Though they may differ, they all attempt to specify how,
long-term memory is structured or organised and the processes which operate on
this structure to enable memory storage and retrieval or recall. How do we store
all the information we have accumulated in our lifetime? There is no physical
evidence in the brain with regards to where information is stored. However we
know it is there because we can recall what happened to us 10 years ago or what
we learned five years ago. This has puzzled psychologists for decades and many
theories have been proposed as to how we store and organise all our experiences.

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We will limit our discussion to the so-called network theories. These theories
assume the structure of long-term memory consists of large sets of nodes
interconnected by relations. So each node which represents a concept, is
connected by a network of relations attached to it. It should be kept in mind that
each mode is a concept and not a word.

Figure 4.6: A network of nodes and relations

For example, the sentence A CAT IS AN ANIMAL AND A CAT HAS FUR is
represented as a network in long-term memory as shown in Figure 4.6. The
concepts CAT and ANIMAL represented by two nodes, are connected by an IS
AN relation. The concepts CAT and FUR are connected by a HAS relation. The
directions of the arrows are important. Why? A CAT is an animal, but an
ANIMAL is not necessarily a CAT. Similarly, a CAT has FUR, but FUR does not
have a CAT. If you read in the opposite direction of the arrow, the meaning is


How is information retrieved or recalled? Network theories assume that
retrieving or recalling information from semantic memory involves a search
through the pathways (or relations) leading from one concept to another. In 1968,
R. Quillian proposed a network model for semantic memory which was named
the Teachable Language Comprehender (TLC). TLC assumes that semantic
memory is organised in a logical and hierarchical fashion as depicted in Figure 4.7.

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Figure 4.7: An illustration of memory structure assumed by TLC

The CANARY is a member of a higher level category, which is BIRD, which

points to a still higher level category, which is ANIMAL. Although a canary is an
animal, it is not stored with animal nor is it stored with bird. Instead, it is stored
by two relations down the line with CANARY.

Collins and Quillian (1969) pointed that out when a person searches for long-
term memory, it involves moving from one node to another, which takes time. To
prove this, they conducted a series of experiments. They argued that if people
search memory similar to the TLC, then people show different reaction time (RT)
when they are asked to verify sentences at different levels. In particular, RT
should increase as the number of nodes required to reach an intersection
increases. The following three sentences were presented in the light of the
structure in Figure 4.7. The reaction time (RT) for each of the three sentences is
shown in Figure 4.8.

Figure 4.8: The results of the sentence verification experiment

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The results showed that people verified sentence S1 faster than S2, since fewer
relations were traversed before an intersection was found in the case of S1.
Similarly, S2 took less time to verify than S3. Generally, reaction time increases
systematically as the number of levels increases.

So there is evidence to suggest that information is stored in long-term memory as

a network and the more we elaborate on it, the more you will remember. In other
words, the more connections that are established between the new information
and what is already stored, the greater the number of retrieval possibilities.


1. What are the different types of long-term memory?

2. How is information in long-term memory organised?


Research has identified that successful retrieval from long-term memory is
enhanced by:
Organisation: when the information is properly organised, and
Context: the context in which you retrieve the information is similar to the
context in which you encoded it.

(a) Organisation
For example, you meet various professionals doctors, teachers, journalists
and accountants at a meeting. When you later try to recall their names, you
would do better if you organised your recall by profession: Who were the
doctors I met? Who were the teachers? And so forth. A list of names or
words is far easier to recall when you sort the words into categories and
then recall the words on a category-by-category basis. Organisation
improves retrieval, presumably by making memory search more efficient.

The following is an experiment conducted by Bower (1969) which

illustrates the use of categories in organising recall or retrieval. The subjects
were asked to memorise a list of 18 words of various kinds of minerals.
One group of subjects were given the 18 words in random order while for
the other group, the words were arranged in the form of a hierarchical tree,
much like the example shown in Figure 4.9.

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Figure 4.9: Hierarchical organisation to improve recall

When the two groups of subjects were tested later, subjects who were
presented with the words in random order, recalled 19% of the words.
Subjects who were presented the hierarchical organisation, recalled 65% of
the words. This study leaves little doubt that retrieval is best when the
material or information is organised.

Why does hierarchical organisation improve recall or retrieval? Probably

because retrieval from long-term memory requires some kind of search
process and hierarchical organisation makes this search more efficient.
In the experiment by Bower, subjects who had the words hierarchically
organised might have searched long-term memory as follows:

They first found a high-level category like metals and from that category
they then searched a low-level category, like common metals and then
they searched that low-level category for specific words such as aluminium,
copper, lead and so on.

By operating in this way, at no point would subjects have to search a large

set of words but to search only through two levels of categories. Thus,
hierarchical organisation allows us to divide a big search into a sequence
of little ones. And with a little search, there is less chance we will be
bogged down by continuing to turn up the same specific words, again and
again, which is exactly what seems to happen when we search for material
that is not organised (Raaijmakers and Shiffrin, 1981).

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(b) Context
It is easier to retrieve a particular event if you are in the same context in
which that event occurred. For example, it is likely that your ability to
retrieve the names of your classmates in secondary school would improve
if you were to walk through the corridors of your school. Similarly, your
ability to retrieve an emotional moment if you were back in the place where
the incident occurred, would be better than if you were somewhere else.
Perhaps it is for this reason that when we visit a place we once lived, we
are sometimes overcome with so many memories about our earlier life.
Thus, the context in which an event was encoded is itself one of the most
powerful retrieval cues possible.


1. Illustrate with examples, how organisation helps retrieval from

long-term memory.
2. How does context help in the recall of information?


1. Give examples of how you organise contents to help recall.

2. Select any textbook or instructional material and examine how
information is organised to facilitate understanding and recall.


This is an issue that has fascinated psychologists for decades. In the 1900s, Edward
Thorndike proposed the Law of Disuse (1914) which led to the concept of decay.
It maintained that if one practices particular habits (i.e. using them), it tends to be
strengthened. Alternatively, if one does not practise those habits (i.e. disused), it
tends to be weakened. Thus, the decay (disuse) theory assumes that, memories
decay with the passage of time, much as does radioactive material (Reynolds and
Flagg, 1977). Evidence of decay was observed for sensory memory and working
memory. We know that information in sensory and working memory that is not
attended to, somewhat decays or fades away. Evidence for decay of memories
that have been stored in long-term memory is more difficult to prove.

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Do you remember your first day in school? Do you remember the first time you
drove a car? Do you remember a particular traumatic event in your life? How is
this possible? This has led to the suggestion that we never really lose our
memories forgotten memories are still there but are too weak to be revived. The
results as reported by Penfield (1959) are consistent with this notion. As part of a
neurological procedure, Penfield electrically stimulated portions of patients
brains surgery for the treatment of epilepsy. He then asked them to report what
they experienced. [Note that the patients were conscious during the surgery but
the simulation technique was painless]. Penfield found that when certain parts of
brain were stimulated, patients reported vivid memories of events from their
early childhood, events they said they had not thought of for decades.

Penfields findings were provocative, but they must be interpreted with caution.
For one thing, it is difficult to verify whether the patients reports were of events
they actually experienced years before or whether they were events that the
patients unconsciously constructed at the time of electrical stimulation. It is hard
to know whether the patients memory reports were accurate, since going back in
time to check whether the events reported actually occurred was nearly

Nevertheless, whether memory decays because of disuse or it never lost, we still

forget. You may have forgotten what was discussed in the earlier chapters of this
course. In 1932, McGeoch published an influential paper in which he proposed
that we forget due to two kinds of interference: retroactive interference and
proactive interference. To prove his interference theory, he conducted several
experiments like the one shown in Figure 4.10.

Figure 4.10: Experiments to show two kinds of interference

In Experiment I, subjects in the experiment group and the control group learned
a list of words (A-B). Later, subjects in the experimental group learned a new list
of words (A-C) while the control group took a break. Later, both groups were
given a test to recall the A-B list of words. The results showed that the control

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group recalled significantly fewer words than the experimental group. This
suggested that retroactive interference occurred in which materials learned after
(A-C) the to-be-remembered material (A-B) interfered with memory for the to-be-
remembered material.

In Experiment II, subjects in the experiment group learned a list of words (A-B)
while the control group took a break. Later, subjects in both the experimental
group and control group learned a new list of words (A-C). Later, both groups
were given a test to recall the A-C list of words. The results showed that the
control group recalled significantly fewer words than the experimental group.
This suggest that proactive interference occurred in which materials learned
before (A-B) the to-be-remembered materials (A-C) interfered with memory for
the to-be-remembered materials. These experiments demonstrated that old
materials interfered with memory for newly learned materials (proactive
interference) and new materials interfered with memory for previously learned
materials (retroactive interference).

Besides decay and interference, retrieval failure

has been identified as another process contributing
to forgetting (see Figure 4.11). To use the analogy
of a library, it is not that the books have been
removed from the library, rather that they are still
in the building, but cannot be found. The difficulty
of finding information in memory is termed as
retrieval difficulty. Studies of long-term memory
have revealed several kinds of evidence for the
existence of retrieval difficulties. One phenomenon
which we are all familiar with, is the tip-of-the-
tongue (TOT) phenomenon. This is experienced
when you are sure that you know some fact but
cannot think of it at the moment.

Brown and McNeil (1966) made a systematic study of this phenomenon. They
read a list of word definitions such as, A navigational instrument used to
determine the direction of the sun, moon and stars at sea, to college students,
asking the students to state the word defined. Whenever any student reported
being in the TOT state, the researchers tried to determine just how much the
person knew about the sought-after word.

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Figure 4.11: Retrieval failure

They found that people in this state often could report the beginning letter of the
word in question, the number of syllables and the stressed syllable. Also, people
reported being in the TOT state were usually able to recognise the information
they are attempting to retrieve when it is presented to them. Notice that the TOT
phenomenon suggests that, we are able to judge that we know some material,
even though we cannot report it. It reveals that many people suffer from retrieval
difficulties and not because of a lack of knowledge. The information is there
somewhere but they are having difficulty retrieving it.


The next time you encounter a TOT state in yourself or someone else,
see if the person in this agonising condition reports similar findings to
those of Brown and McNeil.


1. Is memory erased from long-term memory?

2. Discuss the different arguments of the decay theory, the interference
theory and retrieval failure from memory.

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Many of the retrieval difficulties people encounter can be overcome by using
appropriate retrieval cues. Sometimes, these cues are presented by other people
or external events. For example, a person who has failed to recall the word dog is
given the cue animal, or when the sight of an old friend brings to mind some
long-forgotten shared adventure. Even certain smells may bring to mind certain
forgotten childhood memories. At other times, the person is able to jog his own
memory with a skilfully chosen retrieval cue. For example, when you misplace
your keys, you may attempt to recall what you did with them by trying to
reconstruct the events, since the keys were last seen, hoping that this will bring to
mind, where you put them.

What are the characteristics of a good retrieval cue? Tulving and Thomas (1973)
proposed the encoding-specificity principle which states that operations
performed on what information is stored determines its retrieval. In other words,
the retrieval cue associated with the information that is stored, will act as
retrieval cue in recalling the information. To provide evidence for this principle,
the researchers presented subjects with a list of words in capital letters (e.g.
SNOW). Subjects were then told to commit these words to memory since they
would be later tested on them.

(a) One group of subjects were given the words in capital letters accompanied
with other words printed in lowercase letters which acted as strong cues
(e.g. hot-COLD). Subjects were told that they do not need to remember the
lowercase words.

(b) Another group of subjects were given words accompanied with other
words printed in lowercase letters which acted as weak cues (e.g. blow-
COLD). Subjects were told that they do not need to remember the
lowercase words.

Subjects were then tested for the recall of the words in order to determine how
effective the strong and weak cues were as retrieval or recall cues. They found
that subjects given strong cues recalled 85% of words compared to 76% words
recalled by subjects given weak cues. Tulving and Thomas called this as the
encoding specificity principle, in which the probability of recalling an item at test
depends on the similarity of its encoding at test and its original encoding at
study. The problem, however, is that for the most important material, we cannot
predict all of the contexts in which we will need it. Therefore, the richer the
connections to many potential retrieval cues, the more likely that you will be able
to produce the material when you need it.

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1. Explain the encoding specificity principle.

2. How would you apply the encoding specificity principle in teaching?


What is meant by constructive? When we read a passage and are then asked to
recall its content, we tend to omit, add or modify the material. In other words,
recall from long-term memory is constructive.

(a) Additions (Inferences) and Omissions

In 1932, Sir Frederic Bartlett conducted a study in which he asked a group
of subjects to read an American Indian folk tale entitled, The War of the
Ghosts. The story was about a group of Indians involved in a battle with a
rival tribe along the banks of a river. Subjects read the story twice and after
a 15-minute break, were told to reproduce it in writing. The material
recalled by the subjects had the following characteristics:

(i) There were many omissions of details (such as the names of the
towns), resulting in increasingly condensed versions of the story.

(ii) There was a tendency to change the original words into more modern
words (e.g. my relatives to my folks and the warriors to the

(iii) There were additions to the original story when subjects tried to recall
the story. These additions were an attempt to make the story more
coherent than the original story. They were trying to make sense of
the story, reflecting what Bartlett termed an effort after meaning.

Why do we do this? Bartlett explained that our long-term memory consists

of a set of schemas, which are called into play in attempting to learn new
material. A schema is an active organisation of past experiences. If the new
material conflicts with previously developed schemas, then the new
material is often modified to fit into the existing schema.

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To fix the broken door, Peter pounded the nail.

In a later study, Bransford, Barclay and Franks (1972) presented a series of

questions like the one above, to a group of subjects. When hearing this,
many subjects inferred that Peter used a hammer. This is hardly a
necessary inference (Peter could have used a brick, a spanner or even his
shoe). There is strong evidence that when we read a sentence, we draw
inferences from it and store the inferences along with the sentence.

Inferences can also affect memory for visual scenes as illustrated by the
following experiment by Loftus and Loftus (1975). Subjects were shown a
film of a traffic accident and soon after, asked questions about their
memory of the accident. One question about the speed of the vehicles was
asked in two different ways (see Figure 4.12).

Figure 4.12: Reconstructing a memory of an accident

Group 1: How fast were the cars going when they smashed into each
Group 2: How fast were the cars going when they hit each other?

Group 1 subjects inferred that the accident was a very destructive one, even
more destructive than they actually remembered. Group 2 subjects did not
do this and inferred that the accident was less severe. A week later, the
subjects were asked, Did you see any broken glass? There was no broken

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glass in the film of the accident. There was a tendency for more subjects in
Group 1, who had been asked the smashed question to say mistakenly,
that there was glass compared to subjects in Group 2 who were asked the
hit question. Subjects who were asked the smashed question, inferred
that the severity of the accident would most likely lead to broken glass even
though there was no glass. Such results have important implications for
eyewitness testimony.

(b) Stereotypes
Another means by which we fill in or construct memories is through the
use of social stereotypes. A stereotype is a packet of knowledge about the
personality or physical attributes that we assume to be true of a whole class
of people. We may, for example, have a stereotype of the typical Japanese
as hardworking, meticulous and serious or the typical Italian as artistic,
carefree and a food connoisseur. These descriptions rarely apply to many
people in the class and can often be misleading guides for social
interaction. What effect has stereotypes on memory? I presented a class of
100 undergraduates with this description:

Rosie is 40 years old and unmarried.

She is a successful corporate lawyer,
living alone in an exclusive neighbourhood.

The following were the responses obtained:

(i) Rosie is choosy in terms of the men she dates

(ii) Rosie may have had bitter experiences in a relationship

(iii) Rosie hates men

(iv) Rosie is a lesbian

(v) Rosie is too busy with her career to consider relationships

(vi) Rosie is an unattractive person

(vii) Rosies personality drives men away

When presented with the information about Rosie, the undergraduates had
stereotyped her. They combined the information presented with that in
their stereotype, resulting in a distorted opinion of the person.

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Explain what is meant by recall from memory is constructive


Bartlett first introduced the notion of schema as early as 1932 in order to explain
why people reconstructed a story when recalling it, so as to make more sense of it
in terms of their own knowledge and experience. According to Bartlett, the story
is assimilated to pre-stored schemas based on previous experience. Rumelhart
(1980) defined a schema as a data structure for representing the generic concepts
stored in memory. In other words, a schema is an organising and orienting
attitude that involves active organisation of past experience (Driscoll, 2000).
Modern versions of schema theory incorporate many of Bartletts ideas. For
example, Shank and Abelsons concept of scripts (1977) proposed that, such
event schemata could be organised into a temporally ordered sequence of events.
Alba and Hasher (1983) examined all schema theories and identified four major
processes: selection, abstraction, interpretation and integration. It explicitly
illustrates how memory and comprehension operate.

One of the central issues that cognitive psychologists are interested in is mental
structure. According to the schema theory, the knowledge we have stored in
memory is organised as a set of schemata or mental representations, each of
which incorporates all the knowledge of a given type of object or event that we
have acquired from past experiences.

The schema theory provides an account to the knowledge structure and

emphasises the fact that what we remember is influenced by what we already
know. Schemas facilitate both encoding and retrieval. Moreover, the mental
structures are active. Memory can be reconstructed through the integration of
current experience, with prior knowledge. In other words, schemas represent an
active process and can change over time, as a result of new experiences and

There are two information resources: the incoming from the outside world and
information already stored in memory. The analysis of the sensory information
coming in from the outside is known as bottom-up processing or data-driven

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processing because it relies on the data received via the senses. The information,
already stored in the memory in the form of prior knowledge, influences our
expectations and helps us to interpret the current input. This influence of prior
knowledge is known as top-down or conceptual-driven processing. Schemas
operate in a top-down direction to help us interpret the bottom-up flow of
information from the world. Rumelhart and Norman (1983) listed five
characteristics of schema:

(a) Schemas represent knowledge of all kinds from simple to complex.

(b) Schemas can be linked together into related systems.

(c) A schema has slots, which may be filled with fixed, compulsory values or
with variable, optional values.

(d) Schemas incorporate all the different kinds of knowledge we have

accumulated, including both generalizations, derived from our personal
experiences and facts we have been taught.

(e) Various schemas at different levels may be activity engaged in reorganising

and interpreting new inputs.


Explain what is a schema and discuss its role in learning.


The cognitive approach explains how humans learn by focusing on memory,
reasoning, thinking and problem solving. Emphasis is on how learners construct
meaning as they encounter new information and try to fit it in with what they
already know. Learning is described as a process of accommodating new
information into existing framework that the learner has established for fitting
pieces of information together. At times, new frameworks must be constructed as
well. Svinicki (1991) outlines the following principles and their implications for
teachers and instructors:

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(a) If information is to be learned, it must first be recognised as important and

attended to.


(i) The more attention is effectively directed towards what is learned (i.e.
towards critical concepts and areas), the higher the probability of

(ii) Use cues to signal when you are ready to begin.

(iii) Provide handouts. Write on the board or use transparencies.

(iv) Move around the room and use voice inflections.

(b) During learning, learners act on information in ways that make it more


(i) Both teacher and students should use examples, images, elaborations
and connections to prior knowledge to increase meaningfulness of

(ii) Connect new information to something already known.

(iii) Look for similarities and differences among concepts.

(iv) The use of metaphors and analogies provides instructional effectiveness.

(c) Learners store information in long-term memory in an organised fashion

related to their existing understanding of the world.


(i) The teachers can facilitate the organisation of new materials by

providing an organisational structure, particularly one with which
students are familiar, or by encouraging students to create such

(ii) Show a logical sequence to concepts and skills. Go from simple to

complex, when presenting new material.

(iii) Show students how to categorise (chunk) related information.

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(iv) Help students to impose structure on what they learn and thus make
it more memorable, such as the use of information mapping or
advance organiser.

(d) Learners continually check understanding, which results in refinement and

revision of what is retained.


Ample opportunities for checking and diagnosis should be given to aid


(e) Transfer of learning to new contexts is not automatic but results from
exposure to multiple applications.


(i) Provision must be made during initial learning for subsequent


(ii) Opportunities should be provided for learners to apply their

knowledge in varying situations.

(f) Learning is facilitated when learners are aware of their learning strategies
and monitor their use.


(i) The teacher should help students learn how to translate these
strategies into action at appropriate points in their learning.

(ii) Document in writing, the steps students took to solve a problem or

arrive at a conclusion.

(iii) Discuss with learners their learning approaches and get peers to
observe the thinking processes of other students.


1. What are some implications of the I-P Model in the classroom?

2. To what extent have you practised these principles in your
classroom? Give specific examples.

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The essence of the cognitive approach: knowing, mental organisation,

constructive and active.

Cognition is defined as the act or process of knowing in the broadest sense

and more specifically, as an intellectual process by which knowledge is
gained through the five senses.

Maintenance rehearsal is when we keep repeating information to keep it

alive in working memory.

Elaborative rehearsal is when meaning is given to the information by relating

it to something we already know, to prevent it fading from working memory.

Long-term memory has an unlimited capacity and it has been said that all
you have learned and experienced in your lifetime is stored in long-term

Network theories assume that retrieving or recalling information from

semantic memory involves a search through the pathways (or relations)
leading from one concept to another concept.

Organisation improves retrieval, presumably by making memory search

more efficient.

Recall from long-term memory is constructive: omit, add or modify the


Humans construct memories through the use of social stereotypes.

The encoding specificity principle states that the probability of recalling an

item at test depends on the similarity of its encoding at test and its original
encoding, at study.

A schema is an organising and orienting attitude that involves active

organisation of past experiences.

Forgetting is due to two kinds of interference: retroactive interference and

proactive interference.

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Attention Maintenance rehearsal

Cognitive approach Procedural memory
Constructive Schema
Elaborative rehearsa Semantic memory
Encoding Sensory memory
Encoding specificity Storage
Forgetting Working memory
Long-term memory

Ferguson, T. (n. d.). Memory and consciousness. Utah State University. Retrieved

Huitt, W. (2003). The information processing approach to cognition. Educational

Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University, Retrieved
from http://chiron.valdosta.edu/whuitt/col/cogsys/infoproc.html.

Oliver, R. (1995). Putting your memory to work. Student Learning Assistance

Center (SLAC). San Antonio College, 1995. Retrieved from

Psychology. http://ibs.derby.ac.uk/~gary/Mpa/Memory2-handout.html

Shulman, H. G. (1997). Semantic Memory. Retrieved from

http://www.psy .ohio-state. edu/psy312/semmem.html

Sutton, J. (2010). Retrieved from


The Information Processing Model of Memory. Retrieved from


Tulving, E. Why Did Episodic Memory Evolve? Retrieved from


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Topic Constructivism
5 and
By the end of this topic, you should be able to:
1. Define constructivism;
2. Trace the proponents of constructivism;
3. Discuss the principles of learning derived from constructivism;
4. Compare the constructivist and traditional classroom;
5. Define metacognition;
6. Discuss the application of metacognition in the classroom; and
7. Propose ways to enhance metacognitive ability.

This topic discusses two important concepts in explaining human learning:
constructivism and metacognition. Constructivism has its roots in 18th century
philosophy. It provides an alternative view of explaining how humans learn. As
the name suggests, it focuses on learners constructing knowledge based on their
prior knowledge and experience. Reality is not in the objects observed or events
experienced but reality is constructed by persons. Metacognition is the ability to
think about ones own thinking. Metacognitive ability is closely related to learning.
The teacher has an important role to enhance the metacognitive ability of learners.

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Constructivism is not a new concept and its roots can be traced to the work of
18th century philosopher Giambattista Vico, who held that humans can only
clearly understand what they have constructed, themselves. He commented
that one only knows something if one can explain it. Another philosopher,
Immanuel Kant, further elaborated on this idea by asserting that human beings
are not passive recipients of information. More recent advocates of constructivism
include John Dewey, Jean Piaget, Jerome Bruner, von Glaserfeld and Vygotsky.

(a) Jerome Bruner (1960) He defined constructivism as a learning theory in

which learning is seen as an active process, in which learners construct new
ideas or concepts based upon their current and past knowledge.

(b) Dewey (1916): Education depends on action. Knowledge and ideas emerge
only from a situation in which learners had to draw them out of
experiences that had meaning and importance to them. These situations
had to occur in a social context, such as a classroom, where students joined
in manipulating materials and, thus, creating a community of learners who
build their knowledge together.

(c) Piaget (1930): The growth of human thought occurs through the
construction of knowledge through assimilation and accommodation.
Knowledge is not something that individuals gain from the outside rather,
it is something that they gain through their own active experiences, their
own acting in the world, physically or mentally to make sense of it.

(d) Von Glaserfeld (1984): He sees knowledge as being actively received

through the senses or by way of communication and actively constructed
by the subject. The subject interprets and constructs a reality, based on his
or her experiences and interaction with his or her environment.

(e) Vygotsky (1962): A person constructs knowledge through social interaction

in the context of a culture. Culture and social interaction teaches a person
both what to think and how to think.

(f) Cunningham and Duffy (1996): They stated that learning is an active
process of constructing rather than acquiring knowledge. Instructions
should be directed towards supporting that construction of knowledge
rather than communicating or transmitting knowledge.

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The main principle of constructivism is that a person interprets events, objects and
perspectives from his or her experiences, mental structures and beliefs. People
construct their own understanding and knowledge of the world, by experiencing
things and reflecting on those experiences. For example, when we encounter
something new, we have to reconcile or settle it with our previous ideas and
experiences, maybe change what we believe, or maybe discard the new information
as irrelevant [Refer to the concepts of assimilation and accommodation proposed
by Piaget which we discussed in Topic 3]. Thus, based on this principle,
knowledge is constructed and not merely reproduced. The knowledge constructed
is personal and individualistic. In other words, we as humans, actively construct
knowledge and knowing. This is an adaptive process in which we make sense of
the world on the basis of our experiences, goals, curiosities and beliefs (Cole, 1992).

Snake Encounter!!!
What is your initial reaction when you
encounter a snake? For most people, the
initial reaction is fear and to run away, even
though they have not seen a snake in real
life. For the slightly braver ones, they might
come back with a stick or spade to kill the
snake. Why do we fear snakes? Why do we
have the urge to kill them?

We have constructed the concept of fear of snakes based on our prior knowledge
of snakes. This prior knowledge could have been built from what we saw on TV,
the movies or stories we have heard about snakes. The concept of fear is not in
the snake but created by us, based on our belief that snakes are evil and cold-
blooded killers, capable of dealing a quick death in a single venomous strike.

When we encounter new information, we relate it to our previous ideas and

experiences. We are constantly doing something to the new information and what
we already know and in the process, create our own knowledge. To do this, we are
always asking questions, exploring and assessing what we know. According to the
constructivist perspective, knowledge cannot be imposed or transferred intact
from the mind of the knower to the mind of another. If this be the case, then
learning and teaching cannot be synonymous. Even if we teach very well, students
may not learn unless they have constructed their own knowledge.

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Even if we teach very well, students may not learn unless they have
constructed their own knowledge

To what extent do you agree with the above statement?


Let us now examine how constructivism operates and applies to teaching.
As mentioned earlier, constructivism argues that learners construct knowledge
individually and socially. Teaching in a non-constructivist setting involves
imparting a body of knowledge that has been predetermined by the curriculum.
As teachers, we present this information to learners because we believe that is
what they should know. We may engage them in activities and hands-on
learning, with opportunities to experiment and manipulate objects. But our main
purpose is still to show learners how the facts, concepts and principles of a
body of knowledge are organised and applied. In short, we are merely presenting
content and at no point do we encourage them to construct their own
knowledge or understanding of the facts, concepts and principles presented.

In Figure 5.1, the teacher is talking about Francis Light and the opening of
Penang. The learner is constructing his own meaning or conception of the
information presented about Penang. Most probably, the teacher is not aware of
the learners own construction of meaning. If we accept the constructivist theory
of learning, teachers have to accept that there is no such thing as knowledge out
there that is independent of the learner but only knowledge that learners
construct for themselves as they learn. This may be very much different from
what teachers usually do in the classroom. The constructivist position requires
that teachers provide learners with the opportunity to interact with the
information presented and allow them to construct their own meaning or
interpretation of the information. However, the teacher cannot assume that all
learners have the same background knowledge or experiences on which to build
new knowledge. In such situations, the teacher has to design instructions in such
a way as to make the missing connections for learners. In other words, the
teacher facilitates the constructive learning process.

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Figure 5.1: The teacher presenting information and the learner constructing his own
conception of the information


1. What is constructivism?
2. How is constructivism different from behaviourism?


Russian scholar, Lev Vygotsky contributed much towards
our understanding of an important aspect of constructivism.
His career was cut short by his death from tuberculosis in
1934, at the age of 38. His theory was made famous when his
books, Thought and Language (1962) and Mind in Society
(1978) were translated into English. His ideas formed
the basis for social constructivism which emphasised the
importance of social interaction and culture in the construction
of knowledge and learning. According to him, knowledge
and learning are constructed through humans interacting
Lev Vygotsky
with one another. Knowledge is a human product that is
socially and culturally constructed (Gredler, 1997). Learning
is not simply the assimilation and accommodation of new knowledge but
acquired by actual relationships between learners.

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Figure 5.2 shows a simple example of how knowledge about a rainbow is

socially constructed from the interaction of two children. The two children share
their personal meaning of a rainbow and through the process of negotiation,
shape their understanding of rainbows. Vygotsky believed strongly that
language and culture play an important role in the intellectual development of
humans. Language and culture are the frameworks through which humans
experience, communicate and understand phenomena. For example, when you
see the colours red, yellow or white in the environment, you do not merely see
colours but more importantly the meaning associated with the colours. You may
associate the colour white with clean, pure, reflects light and so forth, which
are determined by your culture.

Figure 5.2: Social construction of knowledge about Rainbows

[Source: Beaumie Kim (2001). Social constructivism.
In M. Orey (Ed). Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching and technology.

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Based on his belief that learning is a collaborative process and influenced by

culture, he distinguished two levels of development (see Figure 5.3). The level of
Actual Development is the level of development that the learner has already
reached. It is the level at which the learner is capable of solving problems
independently. The level of Potential Development is the level of development
that learners are not capable of doing at the moment but have the potential to do
so. Between the actual and the potential levels, Vygotsky said there was what
was a called a Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). Proximal simply means
next. The three stages may be viewed as a check-list of:
(a) what learners can do alone (Actual)
(b) what learners can do with help (ZPD)
(c) what learners cannot do yet (Potential)

Figure 5.3: Zone of proximal development

The ZPD is not a permanent state but is the next step towards learners being able
to do something on their own. The key is to stretch learners to know their ZPD
so that teachers and other adults can lead them towards realising their potential.
He observed that when children were tested on tasks on their own, they rarely
did as well as when they were working in collaboration with an adult. Hence, for
him, the development of language and articulation of ideas was central to
learning and development.

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1. What is social constructivism?

2. Explain the zone of proximal development. How would you apply
it in teaching?


You would have observed that at any construction of a high-rise building, a
series of structures called scaffolding are erected. This is to enable workers
to carry out their work in high places. When the building is complete, the
scaffolding is removed. Scaffolding instruction originated from Vygotskys ideas
on learning. The term has become a useful metaphor to describe how teachers
help students in learning. Generally, teachers would focus on the ZPD. Teaching
or instruction that falls outside the zone (above or below a students ZPD) will
not contribute to the intellectual development of students. Why? It would be
pointless to focus on what learners can do or what learners cannot do yet. So, the
most logical step would be for the teacher to mediate between learners actual
development and potential development; i.e. the ZPD.

Scaffolding Activities
(a) Motivate learners to be interested in the task
(b) Simplify the task to make it more manageable and achievable
(c) Keep students on task by focusing on the goals and the path to choose
(d) Indicate the differences between learners work and the desired standard
(e) Reduce confusion, frustration and risk by providing clear instructions
towards meeting expectations
(f) Model the skills required

Source: Adapted from Bransford J., Brown, A., & Cocking, R. (2000);
McKenzie, J. (2000).

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The teacher should act as a scaffold, providing the support necessary for learners
to proceed towards the next stage or level and independently complete the task
(see Figure 5.4). To effectively scaffold a student, a teacher should stay one step
ahead of the student, always challenging him or her to reach beyond his or her
current ability level. The challenge for the teacher, then, is to find the optimal
balance between supporting the student and pushing the student to act
independently. The role of the teacher is not teaching students how to perform a
task, but to refine their thinking through engagement and enhancing their
performance. The teacher continually adjusts the level and amount of help in
response to the learners level of performance. The purpose of scaffolding is to
instil the skills necessary for independent learning in the future. To effectively
scaffold students within their ZPDs, a teacher could also model the behaviours
needed. For example:

(a) The teacher could model a particular skill that students are weak in

(b) Students imitate the teachers behaviour in performing the skill

(c) Students practise the skill until it is mastered by all in the classroom.

Figure 5.4: Teacher scaffolding students by constantly challenging them

So, scaffolding instruction guides learners towards independent and self-regulated

competence of skills. Since the work that learners have to perform are more
structured and focused, the time spent on the task and the efficiency in completing
the task, are increased. Through the structure provided by scaffolding, students
spend less time searching and more time on learning and discovering, resulting in
quicker learning (McKenzie, 2000). Scaffolding instruction minimises the level of
frustration among learners, especially among the academically weak learners who
become frustrated very easily, then shut down and refuse to participate in further

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1. How do you scaffold instruction?
2. What are some benefits of scaffolding instruction?
3. Is scaffolding the same as giving tuition? Explain.


Ernest (1999), Brooks and Brooks (1999) offer the following guiding principles of
constructivism. They argue that when applied to the classroom, the concept of
learning should be viewed differently (see Figure 5.5). Specifically:

(a) Learning should be viewed as an active process in which learners receive

information and construct meaning out of the information received. The
learner needs to do something because learning requires learners to engage
with the world.

Figure 5.5: A constructivist view of learning (active change to activity)

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(b) It should be understood that people learn to learn as they learn. In other
words, we learn by constructing meaning which in turn, influences further
learning. For example, if we learn about the climate of different countries,
we are simultaneously learning the meaning of climate. Each meaning we
construct makes us better able to give meaning to other information which
can fit a similar pattern.

(c) Learning involves language. In other words, the language that we use
influences our learning. Language and learning are inextricably intertwined.
It is not surprising that many people talk to themselves as they learn.

(d) Learning is a social activity. Our learning is closely related to our

connection with other human beings (our teachers, our peers, our family,
etc). Much of present education is directed towards isolating the learner
from social interaction. It is seen as a one-to-one relationship between the
learner and the material to be learned.

(e) Learning is contextual. We do not learn facts and theories in isolation, but
rather we learn in relationship to what we know, what we believe, our
prejudices and our fears.

(f) It should be understood that one needs knowledge to learn. It is not

possible to absorb new knowledge without having some structure developed
from previous knowledge to build on. Therefore, any effort to teach must
be connected to the state of the learner. The learner is brought to interact
with the information, based on the learners previous knowledge.


A constructivist classroom is different from a non-constructivist classroom.
Generally, the teacher in the constructivist classroom guides learning, scaffolds
instruction, helps learners in the zone of proximal development and develops the
metacognitive ability of learners [We will discuss metacognition in the next
section]. Jacqueline G. Brooks and Martin G. Brooks (1993) offer the following
suggestions as to how constructivism is to be applied in the classroom.
According to them, in the constructivist classroom:

(a) The Ideas and Opinions of Students are Respected

Students are encouraged to express their opinions, give ideas and
comments (see Figure 5.6). This encourages independent thinking among
students, who take responsibility for their own thinking.

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(b) Teacher Asks Questions

The questions framed encourage students to reflect on their thoughts and
attain their own intellectual identity. Sufficient waiting time is given for
students to respond to questions.

Figure 5.6: Ideas and opinions of students are respected

(c) Students Engage in Dialogue with the Teacher

(i) Encourage students to engage in dialogue, both with the teacher and
one another. Classrooms discourage dialogue and teachers often
monopolise the talking and teaching becomes a lecture.

(ii) Draw students out especially those who are shy or inarticulate.

(d) Students Discuss in Groups

Through group discussions, students change or reinforce their ideas. If they
have the chance to present what they think and hear others ideas, students
can build a personal knowledge based on what they understand. Only
when they feel comfortable enough to express their ideas, will meaningful
classroom dialogue occur.

(e) Prompt Inquiry by Engaging in Tasks Requiring Higher-level Thinking

(i) The questions asked go beyond simple factual response.

(ii) Students are encouraged to make connections, summarise information,

analyse, predict and defend their ideas.

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(iii) Students generate and test their hypotheses by manipulating raw data,
primary sources and physical materials. For example, community
resources provide opportunities for students to collect and classify
primary material.

(iv) Students are viewed as thinkers with emerging theories about the

(f) Students Engage in Real-life Problems

Students go about analysing real life problems and take responsibility for
their own learning and become problem solvers. While pre-digested
information (textbooks, workbooks and the like) may be valuable, they
demonstrate someone elses construction of knowledge, not your students.
By engaging in real-life situations, students create their own knowledge.

What are the benefits of constructivism? Advocates of constructivism argue that,

when the opinions and ideas of students are accepted, they will become more
involved and interested in what is being studied (see Figure 5.7). When students
become involved and interested, they will take ownership in what is being
studied, enjoy their work and want to learn. Constructivist teaching fosters
critical thinking and creates active and motivated learners (Zemelman, Daniels
and Hyde, 1993). Constructivist teaching creates learners who are autonomous,
inquisitive thinkers who question, investigate and reason (Twomey, 1989).

Figure 5.7: The benefits of student involvement in learning

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1. How is constructivist teaching different from traditional teaching?

2. What are some problems of applying constructivist principles in the


We have all been in a classroom where the teacher asks question and
students hands fly up excitedly because they feel they know the
answer. The teacher then looks around the room and chooses a student.
He answers, and the teacher says, No. The teacher then calls on
another student who answers and the teacher says, Close but not
quite. The teacher then proceeds to a third student who answers and
then the teacher replies, Yes, that is the right answer! The teacher has
conveyed many messages by conducting the classroom in this manner.
The student now knows that there is one answer to each of the teachers
question and that they have to find that one right answer. Another
thing is that students now know that they put themselves at risk if they
raise their hand, unless they are certain that they have the right answer.
(a) Is this an example of a constructivist classroom?
(b) If this was a constructivist classroom, how would it be different?


Teaching science from constructivist and non-constructivist perspectives are as

(a) Non-Constructivist Teaching of Science

(i) Teaching of science tends to resemble a one-person show with a

captive audience. Lessons are usually driven by teacher-talk and
depend heavily on textbooks and notes for the structure of the course.

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(ii) There is the idea that there is a fixed world of knowledge that the
student must know. Information is divided into parts which are built
into a whole concept.

(iii) Teachers serve as a pipeline and seek to transfer their thoughts and
meanings to the passive student. There is little room for student-
initiated questions, independent thoughts or interaction between

(iv) Cookbook experiments are common where students follow closely

the instructions on what hypotheses to test and method of carrying
out experiments.

(v) The goal of the learner is to regurgitate the accepted explanation or

methodology presented by the teacher.

(b) Constructivist Science Teaching:

(i) The teacher organises information around problems, questions

and issues in order to engage the interest of students. E.g. do a
demonstration, show a short film, present data.

(ii) Next, present some information or data that does not fit with their
existing understanding.

(iii) Students break into small groups

to formulate their own hypotheses
and experiments. They plan their
own investigation and activities to
resolve the discrepancy between the
new information presented and their
previous learning and understanding.

(iv) The role of the teacher is to move from group to group, asking
probing questions that aid students in coming to an understanding of
the concept or principle being studied. The teacher is both a resource
person and a facilitator.

(v) After sufficient time for experimentation, the small groups share their
ideas and conclusions with the rest of the class. The idea is to come to
a consensus about what they have learned. Concepts and principles
emerge from the discussions and they suggest how the concepts and
skills may be applied to new situations.

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Identify a subject or course that you teach or will be teaching. Explain

how you would teach the subject or course based on constructivist
learning principles.

What is metacognition? At first, the words may sound sophisticated, complex or
even intimidating. Actually, we all engage in metacognitive activities every day.
Metacognition enables us to be successful learners and has also been associated
with intelligence (Borkowski, Carr, & Pressley, 1987; Sternberg, 1984). It is often
referred to simply as thinking about thinking. Cognition refers to thinking while
metacognition is the ability to look at your thinking. It is like getting out of your
head and looking at the way you think (see Figure 5.8). Metacognition refers to
higher order thinking which involves active control over the cognitive processes
engaged in learning.

Figure 5.8: Metacognition

For example, you dislike a certain person and have been telling your friends
what a horrible person he is. One fine day, you sit back and reflect on your
thoughts. You ask yourself why you dislike that person. You realise that you
formed an opinion of that person based on what a friend told you. You start
asking yourself whether your friend was fair in his assessment of that person you
dislike and whether he had a motive for demeaning him. You are actually
engaging in metacognition. You are questioning the way you think. You are
thinking about your thinking.

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There is still much debate over exactly what is metacognition, resulting in several
terms used to describe the same phenomena such as self-regulation, executive
control and metamemory. The term metacognition is most often associated
with John Flavell (1976) who stated that Metacognition refers to ones
knowledge concerning ones own cognitive processes or anything related to
them. For example, I am engaging in metacognition if I notice that I am having
trouble learning A than B; if it strikes me that I should double-check C before
accepting it as fact (p. 232).

Metacognition is also described as consisting of two processes: metacognitive

knowledge (knowing about your thinking) and metacognitive experiences or
regulation (controlling your thinking) (see Figure 5.9). The key words are
knowledge and control. The learner who knows about his or her thinking
processes, is likely to be able to control these.

Figure 5.9: Metacognitive Knowledge and Metacognitive Control

Source: J. Flavell. (1979). Metacognition and cognitive monitoring: A new area of
cognitive-developmental inquiry. American Psychologist. 34. 907

What is Metacognitive Knowledge?

Metacognitive knowledge is knowledge about personal variables, task variables
and strategy variables.

(a) Knowledge of personal variables refers to knowledge about your learning

processes. For example, you know that studying in a quiet library will be
more productive than studying at home where there are many distractions.

(b) Knowledge of task variables refers to knowledge about the nature of the
task as well as the type of processing demands required. For example, you
know that it will take you more time to read and comprehend a science text
than it would for you to read and comprehend a novel.

(c) Knowledge about strategy variables refers to knowledge about the

cognitive and metacognitive strategies appropriate for the task. For
example, studying for an written? examination is different from studying
for an examination with multiple-choice questions.
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What is Metacognitive Control?

Metacognitive control refers to your ability to do something or take remedial
action when you do not know. It also involves the ability to monitor your
progress of learning, correcting errors, analysing the effectiveness of the learning
strategies you have used and changing learning strategies when necessary
(Ridley, Schutz, Glanz & Weinstein, 1992). You ensure that the mental activities
you used to achieve a cognitive goal (e.g., understanding your science text) has
been met. You are regulating and overseeing your learning which involves
planning and monitoring the cognitive activities used, as well as checking the
outcomes of those activities.

For example, after reading a paragraph in a text about e-commerce, a learner may
question herself about the concepts discussed in the paragraph (see Figure 5.10).
Her cognitive goal is to understand the text. Self-questioning is a common
metacognitive comprehension monitoring strategy. If she finds that she cannot
answer her own questions or that she does not understand the material
discussed, she must then determine what needs to be done to ensure that she
meets the cognitive goal of understanding the text. She may decide to go back
and re-read the paragraph with the goal of being able to answer the questions she
had generated. If, after re-reading through the text she can now answer the
questions, she may determine that she understands the material. Thus, the
metacognitive strategy of self-questioning is used to ensure that the cognitive
goal of comprehension is met.

Figure 5.10: Learner is aware and doing something to overcome her lack of
understanding of e-commerce

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What is the Difference between Cognitive and Metacognitive Strategies?

One major issue involves separating what is cognitive from what is metacognitive.
What is the difference between a cognitive and a metacognitive strategy? For
example, is the knowledge that you have difficulty understanding principles
from chemistry, cognitive or metacognitive knowledge? Flavell (1979) himself
acknowledged that metacognitive knowledge may not be different from
cognitive knowledge. The distinction lies in how the information is used.

Recall that metacognition is referred to as thinking about thinking and involves

overseeing whether a cognitive goal has been met. This should be the defining
criterion for determining what is metacognitive. Cognitive strategies are used to
help an individual achieve a particular goal (e.g., understanding a passage from a
text) while metacognitive strategies are used to ensure that the goal has been
reached (e.g., quizzing oneself to evaluate ones understanding of that passage in
the text). Metacognitive experiences usually follow a cognitive activity. They
often occur when cognitions fail. The learner recognises that he or she did not
understand what was just read. When confronted with such a situation,
metacognitive processes are activated as the learner attempts to rectify the

Metacognitive and cognitive strategies may overlap. For example, questioning could
be regarded as either a cognitive or a metacognitive strategy, depending on the
purpose of using such a strategy. If you use self-questioning while reading as a
means of obtaining knowledge, it is a cognitive strategy. If you are using self-
questioning as a way of monitoring what you have read, it is a metacognitive
strategy. Cognitive and metacognitive strategies are closely intertwined and are
dependent upon each other.

Some learners may know about their cognitive strengths or weaknesses and the
nature of the task without actively utilising this information to oversee learning
or regulate their learning. Until they do something about it, they have not used
their metacognitive strategies. For example, a student may plan how to approach
a mathematics exam: I know that I (person variable) have difficulty with word
problems (task variable), so I will answer the computational problems first and
save the word problems for last (strategy variable). When implemented, the
student monitors to determine whether the strategy used led to the desired goal.
If it did not, then the student will take steps to find out what went wrong and
attempt to remedy the situation. This is a complete metacognitive activity.
Knowledge is considered to be metacognitive if it is actively used in a strategic
manner to ensure that a goal is met.

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What is the main difference between a cognitive strategy and a
metacognitive strategy? Give specific examples.


Imagine you are about to take a final examination. What are the metacognitive
strategies you may employ? See Figure 5.11 which describes some of the mental
strategies used by successful learners.

Figure 5.11: Using metacognitive strategies to study for an essay exam

Source: Julie Halter. Metacognition University of California, San Diego. Retrieved from

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(a) Metacognitive Knowledge:

(i) You begin by asking yourself what your goal is: To get an A in next
weeks examination.

(ii) You identify what you already know about the first six chapters of the
textbook that is to be tested.

(iii) You do not understand completely Topic 3. You need to go to the

library or access the Internet.

(iv) You consider the task requirements: the examination will consist of
four essay questions and the time allotted is two hours.

(v) You plan the study time required to revise the six chapters.

(vi) You plan to create graphic organisers for each of the chapters to show
relationships between concepts and principles.

(b) Metacognitive Control

(i) You monitor your own learning by self-questioning to determine

whether you understand the material.

(ii) If you do not understand and are unable to recall some sections of the
material, you will re-read and perhaps redraw the graphic organisers
to enhance understanding.

(iii) You remind yourself and control your thoughts not to wander away
from the task at hand. Concentrate! Focus on the task!

Because metacognition plays a critical role in successful learning, it is

important that students are proficient in such strategies. As students
become more skilled at using metacognitive strategies, they gain confidence
and become more independent learners. Independence leads to ownership
as students realise they can acquire information to enhance their intellectual
capabilities. The task of educators is to acknowledge, cultivate, exploit and
enhance the metacognitive capabilities of all learners.

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Experts and Novices
Metacognitive ability plays an important role in differentiating successful
students from their less successful peers. Current research in metacognition has
highlighted interesting differences between the novice and expert learners.

Expert Learners:
Are purposeful and attention-directed;
Practise self-questioning when studying;
Have a highly developed knowledge base which
can be accessed more readily;
Have superior general strategies for problem
Design new strategies for processing information
when old strategies prove inadequate;
Are able to extract the main ideas more efficiently
Use prediction and inferencing skills when studying; and
Are selective when processing information.

(a) Metacognition and Learning

How is lack of metacognitive ability linked to learning? Metacognitive
knowledge of strategies and tasks, as well as self-knowledge, is linked to
how students will learn and perform in the classroom. Students who know
about the different kinds of strategies for learning, thinking and problem
solving, will be more likely to use them. On the other hand, if students do
not know of a strategy, they will not be able to use it. Sounds logical,
doesnt it? Generally, students who know their own strengths and
weaknesses can adjust their own cognition or thinking to be more adaptive
to diverse tasks and, thus, facilitate learning.

(i) If a student realises that she does not know very much about a
particular topic, she might pay more attention to the topic while
reading and use different strategies to make sure she understands the
topic being studied.

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(ii) If a student is aware that she has difficulties in certain tests (e.g.,
mathematics versus history tests), she can then prepare for an
upcoming mathematics test in an appropriate manner.

Students who lack knowledge of their own strengths and weaknesses will
be less likely to adapt to different situations and regulate their own

(i) If a student reads a text and thinks he understands it, but in reality
does not, he will then be less likely to go back and re-read or review
the text to make sure he understood it.

(ii) If a student believes he understands the material thoroughly, he will

not study for an upcoming test to the same extent as a student who
knows he does not understand the material.

(iii) If a student believes he understands the material when he does not, he

will not do well on the test of that material because he did not study
as well as the student who had an accurate perception of his lack of


What are the characteristic metacognitive abilities of expert learners?

(b) Metacognitive Training

Can students be taught to enhance their metacognitive abilities? Research
suggests that teaching students how to be more aware of their learning
processes, enhances their effectiveness as learners. Increasingly, research
seems to indicate that there is a need to teach metacognitive knowledge
explicitly. Teachers may do this in some lessons but in many cases, the
instruction is more implicit. It may be inaccurate to assume that all students
will be able to acquire metacognitive knowledge on their own. Of course,
some students do acquire metacognitive knowledge through experience
and with age, but many more students fail to do so.

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However, there is debate as to how metacognitive strategies should be

taught. Some researchers have argued that they should be taught as
separate courses or units. Others have suggested that metacognitive
knowledge be embedded within the usual content in different subject areas
(Boekaerts, 1997).

(i) General strategies for thinking and problem solving can be taught in
English, mathematics, science, geography, history, economics, art,
music and even physical education courses.

(ii) Science teachers can teach general scientific methods and procedures,
but learning will likely be more effective when it is tied to specific
science content, not taught in the abstract.

(iii) Reading and writing lessons could focus on different general

strategies for reading comprehension or writing.

Teachers are encouraged to plan for teaching metacognitive knowledge in

their regular teaching and assess their use among students. For example,
during any lesson, the teacher identifies, labels and discusses a particular
metacognitive strategy when it comes up. This explicit labelling and
discussion creates awareness of the strategies and hopefully encourages
them to recognise such strategies when they appear in other situations. In
addition, making the discussion of metacognitive knowledge and
strategies, part of everyday discussion in the classroom, fosters the habit of
students talking about their own cognition and learning. As they hear and
see how their classmates approach a task, they can compare their own
strategies with their classmates and make judgments about the relative use
of different strategies (see Figure 5.12). This type of discussion helps makes
cognition and learning more explicit rather than something that happens
mysteriously or something whereby some students get it and learn while
others struggle and do not learn.

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Figure 5.12: A student sharing his metacognitive thoughts with others

In addition to classroom discussion about metacognitive knowledge, another

important instructional strategy is the modelling of strategies, accompanied by
an explanation of them. For example, as the teacher is solving a problem for the
class, he might talk aloud about his own cognitive processes as he works through
the problem. This provides a model for students, showing them how they use
strategies in solving real problems. In addition, the teacher also might discuss
why he is using this particular strategy for this specific problem, thereby also
engaging students in issues concerning the conditional knowledge that governs
when and why to use different strategies. As experts in their field, teachers have
all kinds of implicit knowledge about strategies and when and why they are
appropriate to use; however, students often lack the means to gain access to this
knowledge. If the knowledge is never shared through discussion, modelling or
explicit instruction, it is difficult for students to learn [We discuss specific
strategies in Topic 7: Learning from Text].

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You would expect university students to have well established
metacognitive ability. In their study among university students, Hofer,
Yu, & Pintrich (1998) and McKeachie, & Lin (1987), were surprised at the
number of students who came to college having very little metacognitive
knowledge, knowledge about different strategies, different cognitive
tasks and, particularly, accurate knowledge about themselves.

Given the fact that students who go on to college are more likely to be
better students in general, suggests that there is a need to explicitly teach
metacognitive knowledge in primary and secondary schools.
(a) Do you agree with the above finding about university or secondary
school students?
(b) Were you an efficient learner while you were in secondary school or
university? Do you wish you were a more efficient learner?

Assessment of Metacognitive Knowledge

Assessment of metacognitive knowledge by teachers will be informal rather than
formal. For example, if teachers are teaching and discussing metacognitive
knowledge as part of their normal classroom teaching, they will need to talk to
their students about metacognitive knowledge and, perhaps more importantly,
actually listen to the students as they talk about their own cognition and learning.
As a result of these conversations, teachers will become aware of the general level
of metacognitive knowledge in their classrooms and will be able to judge the
level and depth of students metacognitive knowledge.

In many respects, this is no different from what teachers do to assess the level of
content knowledge their students bring to their classrooms. They start a
discussion, ask some questions, listen to the answers and talk with students.
Based on interaction, they can quickly estimate the depth of students' prior
knowledge. This type of informal assessment can be used to help students gain
both content knowledge (whether it be factual, conceptual, or procedural) and
metacognitive knowledge.

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From these informal assessment conversations, teachers also may be able to

make inferences about the level of metacognitive knowledge of individual
students. Just as there is variance in the content knowledge that students bring to
the classroom, it is likely that there will be a wide distribution of metacognitive
knowledge in a class of 20 to 30 students. This information about individual
students can be used to adapt instructions to individual differences. Teachers can
talk to students individually or in small groups to estimate levels of
metacognitive knowledge.

Another technique that can be used is self-assessment. Students are given the
opportunity to assess their own strengths and weaknesses. Pintrich & Schunk
(2002) suggest that this should be done privately. Students meet individually
with their teachers to discuss their perceptions of their own strengths and
weaknesses and teachers can provide them with feedback about these

Still another technique is to use portfolio assessment. It offers students the

opportunity to reflect on their work as represented in the portfolio and this also
provides self-assessment information to them.

Constructivism is not a new concept and its roots can be traced to the work of
18th century philosopher, Giambattista Vico.

Knowledge is not something that individuals gain from the outside, rather it
is something that they gain through their own active experiences.

Social constructivism: A person constructs knowledge through social interaction

in the context of a culture.

The constructivist position requires that teachers provide learners with the
opportunity to interact with the information presented and allow them to
construct their own meaning or interpretation of the information.

Benefits of constructivism: When students become involved and interested,

they will take ownership of what is being studied, enjoy their work and want
to learn.

Metacognition refers to higher order thinking which involves active control

over the cognitive processes engaged in learning: Thinking about Thinking.

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Metacognitive knowledge is knowledge about personal variables, task variables

and strategy variables.

Metacognitive control refers to your ability to do something or take remedial

action when you do not know.

Metacognitive ability plays an important role in differentiating successful

students from their less successful peers.

Research suggests that teaching students how to be more aware of their

learning processes enhances their effectiveness as learners.

Assessment of metacognitive knowledge by teachers should be informal

rather than formal.

Construction of knowledge Metacognitive training

Constructivism Modelling
Constructivist principles of learning Scaffolding instruction
Metacognition Social constructivism
Metacognitive control Think aloud
Metacognitive knowledge Zone of proximal development

Concepts to Classroom. (2004). Constructivism as a paradigm for teaching and

learning. Retrieved from

Funderstanding. (19992001). Constructivism. (19992001). Retrieved from


Huitt, W. (2003). Constructivism. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta,

GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved from
http://chiron.valdosta .edu/whuitt/col/cogsys/construct.html

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Topic Critical and
6 Creative
By the end of this topic, you should be able to:
1. Define thinking;
2. Differentiate between critical and creative thinking;
3. Discuss Socratic questioning;
4. List the critical thinking skills;
5. Define creative thinking;
6. Describe the creative process;
7. Explain ways to foster creativity;
8. Explain the obstacles to creative thinking; and
9. Discuss how children can be encouraged to be more creative.

In the last topic, we discussed constructivism and metacognition. In this chapter,
we will focus more specifically on the development of critical and creative
thinking in the classroom. Each day, we are called upon to solve problems and
make decisions that involve us as individuals and others in society. In solving
problems and making decisions, critical and creative thinking have become
important tools.

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Increasingly, the need to develop the critical and creative thinking of students is
being more given importance. With rapid changes in society, critical and creative
thinking skills have become an essential pre-requisite for all Malaysians, in order
to remain competitive in a global environment.


The characteristic that differentiates humans from animals is the ability to think.
Humans are naturally endowed with the capacity to deduce, classify, apply,
infer, predict, think numerically, think temporally and spatially, to name a few. It
is as natural as breathing. However, the ability to think is not equally distributed.
As pointed out by Nickerson,

All people classify, but not equally perceptively,

All people make estimates, but not equally accurately,
All people use analogies, but not equally appropriate,
All people draw conclusions, but not with equal care,
All people construct arguments, but not with equal cogency.

(1987, p. 28)

It has been suggested that the distinction between an educated and uneducated
person will not only be in the amount of knowledge possessed but more
importantly, in the ability to think and use such knowledge. All too often, schools
overemphasise the mastery of content to the exclusion of thinking about the
content. Thinking has not been given due consideration, partly because of certain
perceptions which educators have about thinking (see Figure 6.1). First, there is
the perception among some educators that the development of thinking skills
should be confined to academically superior learners because they can think.
Teaching thinking to academically weak learners would be futile and even
frustrating because they will have difficulty taking part in such activities. This
belief may arise from the belief that thinking is a mental activity, too arduous for
the academically weak.

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Figure 6.1: Perceptions of educators about teaching thinking

Second is the belief that children should have complete understanding of a

subject area before they can deliberate and think about the facts, concepts and
principles. Educators who subscribe to this view tend to be preoccupied with
coverage of the syllabuses rather than ensuring understanding. It is often not
known that understanding is the consequence of thinking and if learners are
taught to think about the content they are learning, then understanding is greatly
enhanced, which would result in better academic performance (see Figure 6.2).

Figure 6.2: Interaction between Thinking, Learning and Academic Performance

Source: John Arul Phillips. Perkembangan kemahiran berfikir pelajar melalui program
KBSM. Jurnal Pendidikan Guru. 8. 1992. p. 14

The third perception is related to examinations. Few would deny that schooling
is extremely examination-oriented because the success of a learner is determined
by how he or she performs in public examinations. Also, a school is judged

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by the number of passes and the number of As obtained by its learners.

Unfortunately, examinations tend to test the acquisition of facts, or more
precisely, how well students are able to remember and recall facts. Few questions
demand higher order thinking. Given this situation, educators are rather
reluctant to venture into teaching for higher order outcomes because they are
tested minimally in examinations.

Finally, is the concern by some educators that teaching thinking will entail
preparation and production of materials, which will add to the already heavy
workload of teachers. However, to allay the fears of educators, it should be
emphasised that teaching thinking will increase workload only minimally. What
is required of educators is a re-examination of current approaches in presenting
content and how thinking skills might be infused during teaching [We will
discuss the infusion approach in more detail later].


1. What are some perceptions of educators about teaching thinking?

2. To what extent do you agree with these perceptions?


While most people would agree that schools should aim for the development of
thinking among students, there is less agreement on what is thinking. Over the
decades, many terms have been proposed to describe thinking and surely you
have heard of some of them. Among the common terms are: critical thinking,
reflective thinking, lateral thinking, analogical reasoning, inductive thinking,
deductive thinking, logical thinking, analytical thinking and so forth. Are these
different types of thinking? In what way are they similar or different? The
many terms used to describe thinking have complicated the task of educators,
trying to bring thinking into the classroom. A doctor deciding on the right
prescription; a housewife balancing the family budget; a lawyer preparing for the
best possible defence of her client; a teacher planning a lesson for the day or a
person simply sitting and deliberating what to do, as portrayed in the famous
sculpture by Rodin (see Figure 6.3). Are these manifestations of thinking? What
kinds of thinking activities are involved? Various theoreticians and researchers
have attempted to define thinking.

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Figure 6.3: The Thinker by the sculptor Rodin

(a) Bartlett (1958) defined thinking as interpolation (i.e. filling in gaps of

information), extrapolation (i.e. going beyond the information given) and
re-interpretation (i.e. rearranging information).

(b) Warren (1934) defined thinking as a predetermined course of ideas,

symbolic in character, initiated by a problem or task and leading to a

(c) Dewey (1933) defined thinking as an attempt to examine and evaluate

information, based on certain criteria.

(d) Fraenkel (1980) defined thinking as the formation of ideas, reorganisation of

ones experiences and the organisation of information in a particular form.

(e) Chaffee (1988) characterised thinking as an unusual process used in making

decisions and solving problems.

(f) Bourne, Ekstrand and Dominowski (1985) defined thinking as a complex,

multifaceted process that is essentially internal, involving symbolic
representation of events and objects, initiated by some external events.

(g) Mayer (1983) viewed thinking from three perpectives:

(i) Cognitive (i.e. involving knowing, preceiving and conceiving) which

occurs internally in the mind or cognitive system and is inferred
indrectly from behaviour

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(ii) Manipulation of a set of operations of knowledge in the cognitive


(iii) Results in behaviour directed towards the solution of a problem.

(h) Nickerson, Perkins and Smith (1985) looked upon thinking as a collection
of skills or mental operations used by inidividuals.

A synthesis of the various definitions of thinking reveals the following five

characteristics of thinking (see Figure 6.4). First, it is evident that thinking is a
process that requires knowledge because it is quite impossible to think in a
vacuum. For example, a boy who is dreaming about owning a 16-speed bicycle
and thinking about ways to get the bicycle. Knowledge about ways to get the
bicycle might include the following: doing odd jobs to save money, borrowing
money from a friend or buying a used bicycle. Second, thinking involves the
manipulation of mental or cognitive skills such as comparing, classifying,
analysis, synthesis and so forth. These skills can be performed well or poorly.
When performed poorly, it can be improved or enhanced. Third, thinking is
targeted at the solution of a problem. For example, thinking how to write an
essay, solving a mathematical problem or raising money for the poor. Fourth,
thinking is manifested in a behaviour or ability such as being able to compare,
classify, differentiate and so forth. Fifth, thinking is reflected in certain attitudes
that are indicative of good and poor thinking.

Figure 6.4: General definitions of thinking

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If there is no agreed upon definition of thinking, how does one go about
determining good and poor thinkers? Glatthorn and Baron (1985) and Nickerson
(1987) developed a list of attributes of good and poor thinkers (see Table 6.1).
According to them, a good thinker unlike a poor thinker, welcomes problematic
situations and is tolerant of ambiguity. A good thinker is self-critical and looks
for alternative possibilities and goals and seeks evidence on both sides, while the
poor thinker is satisfied with first attempts.

Table 6.1: Attributes of Good and Poor Thinkers

Good Thinker Poor Thinker

Welcomes problematic situations Prefers situations which are more definite
Open to multiple possibilities Prefers limited possibilities
Uses evidence skilfully Ignores evidence
Makes judgement only after considering all Quick to make judgement
Listens to other peoples views Ignores other peoples views
Reflective Impulsive
Perseveres in searching for information Gives up easily and is lazy to think further

The good thinker is reflective and deliberative while the poor thinker is
impulsive and gives up prematurely. While the good thinker believes in the
value of rationality, the poor thinker overvalues intuition and believes that
thinking would not help. The good thinker is open to multiple suggestions and
considers alternatives, while the poor thinker prefers to deal with limited
possibilities and is reluctant to seek alternatives. The good thinker uses evidence
that challenges favoured possibilities, while the poor thinker tends to ignore
evidence that challenges favoured possibilities.


1. What is thinking?
2. List some attributes of good thinkers.

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Generally, all thinking is directed to the solution of some problems and/or
making decisions. When one talks about the process of thinking, one is actually
referring to problem-solving and decision-making activities undertaken (see
Figure 6.6). Similarly, when one talks about improving the thinking of learners,
one is actually referring to the problem-solving and decision-making abilities of
learners (process of thinking). Learners are solving problems and making
decisions every day. Problems come in all shapes and sizes and begin with a gap,
which has to be filled. Some of the problems are well-defined such as
mathematical problems, whereby the steps leading to their solution are definite,
sequential and the goal clearly stated. However, some problems are ill-defined
and the desired goals are not clear or obvious and the steps leading to the
solution of the problems may vary, such as writing a poem. In ill-defined
problems, the goal may be vague or incomplete, which makes the generation of
solutions difficult and their evaluation even more difficult.

Figure 6.6: A programme for teaching thinking

Source: Phillips. (1993)

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A decision involves two or more competing alternatives of action. Usually, each

alternative has several pros and cons associated with it. Unlike problem solving,
in decision making there is no single correct solution. The learner has to judge
which alternative is the best and often decisions have to be made with
insufficient information. Also, it is important to realise that a decision is judged
to be good or bad, after the fact. For example, if it succeeds, it is a good decision
but if it fails, it is a bad decision. Problem solving and decision making overlap
and in many ways one can view decision making as a special case of problem
solving and vice-versa (Swartz and Perkins, 1990, p. 150).

For example, if a learner had to vote for a member of parliament, he or she might
consider the pros and cons of each candidate. This is a decision-making task. But
if the learner is having a weight problem, then he or she might find out what is
causing the problem. Is it over-eating, the kinds of food eaten or lack of exercise?
This is a problem-solving task. Both problem solving and decision making
require the employment of critical and creative thinking. There is hardly any task
in a learners life that does not involve critical and creative thinking (macro-
thinking skills). For example, deciding which car or motorcycle to buy requires
comparison and evaluation, which are subskills of critical thinking. Attempting
to come up with an unusual design for multimedia presentation requires creative

Both critical and creative thinking are served by various subskills, such as
detection of bias, prediction, evaluation, inferencing and so forth (micro-thinking
skills). Improving the acquisition and usage of these subskills by learners will
help them to be better critical and creative thinkers and in turn, improve their
problem-solving and decision-making abilities.


What is the difference between the process of thinking, macro-thinking

skills and micro-thinking skills?

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The term critical thinking is sometimes
misunderstood to mean an activity aimed at
criticising or pointing out the weaknesses and
finding fault with others. However, this
interpretation of the definition is not accurate at
all. The term critical is derived from the Greek
word kritikos which means to question, to make
sense of, to be able to analyse. There has been a
tendency for some educators to interpret critical
thinking more broadly and to include all good
thinking as critical thinking. However, other
educators prefer the narrower concept of critical
thinking. For example, Dewey (1933) defined
critical thinking as reflective thinking, which is
thinking deeply and giving serious thought to a
certain issue or task. According to Blooms taxonomy (1956), evaluation would
be considered as critical thinking wherein objects, ideas or events are assessed
based on certain criteria.

Ennis (1985) defined critical thinking as deciding whether a certain thing is to be

believed or not. According to him, critical thinking encourages the individual to
analyse statements carefully and find valid evidence before making a decision. The
ability to evaluate is the basis of critical thinking; it involves evaluating ideas,
evidence, suggestions, actions and solutions. Similarly, Swartz and Perkins (1990)
viewed critical thinking as the critical examination and evaluation of actual and
potential beliefs and courses of action (p. 37). For example, the statement that
Parameswara discovered Melaka in 1402. How do we know that? What evidence
is there to support this claim? Is the evidence reliable and valid? Russell (1945) did
not attempt to define critical thinking but instead suggested that to be able to think
critically, the following four main conditions are required:

(a) Knowledge of the field or subject in which the thinking is being done;

(b) A general attitude of questioning and suspended judgement; a habit of

examining before accepting;

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(c) Some application of method of logical analysis or scientific inquiry; and

(d) Taking action in light of this analysis or reasoning.

In short, learners who think critically, evaluate whether to accept a particular

reason as appropriate or reasonable, use accepted criteria to evaluate the reason
given, use different reasoning strategies in the implementation of the said criteria
or standards and find information that is reliable as evidence supporting the
decision made. As suggested by Fisher (1990), learners:

(a) Learn to question

(i) Learn when to question
(ii) Learn what types of questions to ask

(b) Learn to reason

(i) Learn when to use reasoning
(ii) Learn to use the appropriate reasoning methods


Critical thinking is composed of both skills/abilities and certain related attitudes
or dispositions (see Figure 6.7). Skills or abilities relate to the cognitive aspect of
critical thinking while attitudes or dispositions relate to the affective aspect of
critical thinking.

Figure 6.7: The components of critical thinking

Critical Thinking Skills:

Critical thinking consists of a collection of abilities/ skills which may be used
singly or in combination and in whatever order. To develop critical thinking
skills of students, it is necessary that the characteristics of the various subskills be
clearly understood. The clearer these subskills are, the easier it would be for

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educators to develop them in the classroom. Numerous suggestions have been

put forward by various experts in the field. Among them is the well-known
Robert Ennis (1968) who broke down critical thinking into a number of subskills,
as shown in Figure 6.8.

Critical Thinking Abilities

(a) The ability to recognise vague and ambiguous language.

(b) The ability to recognise types of language that aim to influence.

(c) The ability to form and apply concepts.

(d) The ability to analyse arguments:

(i) Identify conclusions;
(ii) Identify stated/unstated reasons;
(iii) See similarities and differences;
(iv) Identify and handle irrelevance;
(v) See the structure of an argument; and
(vi) Summarise.

(e) The ability to relate ideas, things and events such as chronological,
process, comparative, analogical and causal relationships.

(f) The ability to go beyond factual information and draw inferences.

(g) The ability to evaluate information based on certain criteria.

(h) The ability to identify fallacies, circularity of argument, bandwagonism,

oversimplification and others.

Source: Robert Ennis. (1962). A Concept of Critical Thinking. Harvard

Educational Review 32. p. 84

Figure 6.8: List of critical thinking abilities

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(a) Definition
Each of the skill or abilities listed has a definition, a set of generic
procedures and a statement of conditions when it is to be used. For
example, to infer means to go beyond the explicit information given. i.e.
to read between the lines (text implicit) and to read beyond the lines
(schema implicit).

(b) When Does One Use This Critical Thinking Skill?

This skill may be employed when one wants to know the hidden or implied
message of a statement.

(c) How Does One Go About Inferring?

First, is to understand properly the literal message of a statement. Second,
is to select certain words or phrases that have an implied meaning. At times
the inference can be drawn merely by reading between the lines, but on
other occasions, one has to use ones prior knowledge and go beyond the
lines to make inferences.

Critical Thinking Attitudes or Dispositions:

A critical thinker is one who not only possesses the above thinking skills but is
disposed or inclined to exhibit or use them. According to Glaser (1941), persons
who have acquired a disposition to want evidence for beliefs and who have
acquired an attitude for reasonableness, have also acquired something of a way
of life which makes for more considerate and human relationships (p. 6). In
other words, a learner who thinks critically is not only skilful in evaluating
information but also a person who:

(a) Thinks rationally Rational comes from the word ration which means
balance. Students who reason critically are able to examine their
experiences, evaluate and weigh differing opinions and ideas before
making a decision. The student is also able to determine the validity of

(b) Is curious and open-minded A person may be considered a critical thinker

if he or she is prepared to listen and examine other peoples ideas and
suspend judgement when information is incomplete.

(c) Gives importance to accuracy, objectivity and desires clear explanation.

(d) Is sensitive to alternatives and other peoples feelings, level of knowledge

and degree of sophistication.

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According to Russell (1956), many students do not learn to think critically

themselves; they need help in becoming critical thinkers. Students need adult
guidance to develop critical thought. The need for critical thinking was never
more important than today when students are increasingly bombarded with
countless bits of information. The onus is upon the learner to determine what to
believe and what to ignore. As candidly suggested by Russell, although there is
little scientific evidence available, the whole effect of the mass media in a
persons life, is probably to make him uncritical of ideas presented to him or her
(1956, p. 287).


Socratic questioning is named after the Greek philosopher and
teacher, Socrates, who believed that to discipline the mind,
teachers should engage students in thoughtful dialogue.
Socrates was convinced that disciplined practice of thoughtful
questioning, enables the scholar/student to examine ideas
logically and be able to determine the validity of those ideas.
Although Socratic questioning appears simple, it is in fact
intensely rigorous. This questioning approach can correct Socrates
misconceptions and lead to reliable knowledge construction. (470399 B.C.)

The teacher pleads ignorance about a given subject in order to encourage

students to participate and draw out answers from them. He assumed that
incomplete or inaccurate ideas would be corrected, during the process of
disciplined questioning and hence would lead to progressively greater truth and
accuracy. Plato and Aristotle were students of Socrates and Plato wrote much
about what we know of Socrates. The six types of questions that Socrates asked
his students form a simple yet strong method for exploring ideas or statements in
depth and breadth. By following up all answers with further questions and by
selecting questions which advance the discussion, the Socratic questioner forces
students to think in a disciplined manner.

1. Questions seeking clarification or explanation:

What do you mean by ______?
What is your main point?
How does ____ relate to ____?

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Could you put that another way?

What do you think is the main issue here?
Let me see if I understand you; do you mean _____ or _____?
Jamal, would you summarise in your own words what Leela has said?
Could you give me an example?
Would this be an example: ____?
Could you explain that further?
Could you expand upon that?

2. Questions about the questions or issue:

How can we find out?
What does this question assume?
Would ____ put the question differently?
How could someone settle this question?
Can we break this question down at all?
Is the question clear? Do we understand it?
Is this question easy or hard to answer? Why?
Does this question ask us to evaluate something?
Do we all agree that this is the question?
To answer this question, what questions would we have to answer first?
Im not sure I understand how you are interpreting the main question at
Is this the same issue as ____?
How would ____ put this issue?
Why is this question important?
Does this question lead to other questions or issues?

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3. Questions that probe assumptions:

What are you assuming?
What is Zalina assuming?
What could we assume instead?
You seem to be assuming ____. Do I understand you correctly?
All of your reasoning depends on the idea that ____. Why have you based
your reasoning on ____ rather than ____?
You seem to be assuming ____. How would you justify taking this for
Is it always the case? Why do you think the assumption holds here?
Why would someone make this assumption?

4. Questions that probe reasons and evidence:

What would be an example?
How do you know?
Why do you think that is true?
Do you have any evidence for that?
What difference does that make?
What are your reasons for saying that?
What other information do we need?
Could you explain your reasons to us?
Are these reasons adequate?
Can you explain how you logically got from ____ to ____?
Do you see any difficulties with their reasoning here?
Why did you say that?
What led you to that belief?
How does that apply to this case?
What would change your mind?
But is that good evidence to believe that?
Is there reason to doubt that evidence?

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5. Questions that probe implications and consequences:

What are you implying by that?
When you say ____, are you implying ____?
But if that happened, what else would have happen, as a result? Why?
What effect would that have?
Would that necessarily happen or only probably happen?
What is the probability of this result?
What is an alternative?
If this and this are the case, then what else must also be true?
If we say that this is unethical, how about that?

6. Questions about viewpoints or perspectives

You seem to be approaching this issue from ____ perspective. Why have
you chosen this rather than that perspective?
How would other groups/types of people respond? Why? What would
influence them?
How could you answer the objection that ____ would make?
What might someone who believed ____ think?
Can/did anyone see this in another way?
What would someone who disagrees say?
What is an alternative?


What percentage of Malaysians are creative? 5%, 10%, 30% or 50%? The response
from most people is that only a small number are creative. Actually, everyone is
creative, though some people are more creative than others. As quite aptly stated
by Hilgard (1960), the capacity to create useful or beautiful products and to find
ways of resolving perplexity is not limited to the highly gifted, but is the
birthright of every person of average talent (p. 62). The distinguishing criterion
is the extent to which students have been able to realise their creative potential.
Students are by nature, creative but many tend to suppress their creative abilities
which may remain as hidden talents.

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Being creative is not about writing great poems (like Omar Khayyam, Usman
Awang, Rabindranath Tagore or John Keats), or producing great paintings (like
Leonardo da Vinci or Latiff Mohidin), or musical compositions (like Mozart, Ravi
Shankar or P. Ramlee). Traditional notions of creativity tend to emphasise the
production of something novel in the fine arts. One only needs to watch children
to realise how curious they are in investigating the world around them and how
adept they are, at finding answers to problems that arise from their curiosity. It is
this natural ability in children to produce creative answers, creative methods and
creative uses of materials, which needs to be nurtured. Unfortunately, childrens
curiosity tends to be stifled when parents and teachers insist that children
conform to tradition and straight-jacket them into behaving in ways that do not
foster creativity. Soon, children realise that it is less and less meaningful to
express themselves or to investigate their world. Just think how many children,
who had the potential to be creative, had to so-called toe the line drawn by
well-meaning adults and in the process, lost their creative spirit.

DeBono (1963) introduced the concept of vertical and lateral thinking. He

illustrated vertical thinking as digging the same well deeper in search of water
and lateral thinking as digging another well somewhere else. Vertical thinking is
commonly practised by most individuals because it is sometimes regarded as the
more logical thing to do. However, lateral thinking is a way of thinking around a
problem and is not a natural mental activity for most individuals.

Lateral thinking generates the idea and vertical

thinking develops it

(DeBono, 1968, 6).

It is the ability to perceive a problem from a different perspective, which is not

immediately obvious and contributes to creative ideas or products. Guilford
made a distinction between convergent and divergent thinking (see Figure 6.9).
Convergent thinking occurs when a student brings material from various sources
to solve a problem so as to produce the correct answer. The emphasis is on logic
and accuracy and focuses on accumulating information, recognising the familiar,
reapplying a set of techniques and preserving the already known. It is most
effective in situations where ready-made answers exist and need to be recalled
from stored information. Convergent thinking leads to the single best answer
and thus, leaves no room for ambiguity. Answers are either right or wrong. For
example, What are the causes of traffic jams in Kuala Lumpur?

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Figure 6.9: Convergent and divergent thinking

In contrast, divergent thinking involves producing multiple or alternative

answers from available information. It requires the recognition of links between
remote possibilities. It requires the transformation of known information into
something new and unusual. The learner takes risk by venturing into uncertain
areas and explores various possibilities. He or she is willing to be different and
deviate from the usual, in generating as many ideas as possible, when presented
with a stimulus. For example, How can frequent traffic jams in Kuala Lumpur
be solved?

There is a tendency to equate divergent thinking with creativity and convergent

thinking with conventional thinking. Also, divergent thinking is seen as good
and convergent thinking as bad or at best, a necessary evil that is greatly
exaggerated in school and business (Cropley, 1967). However, it is realised that
both kinds of thinking are important in creativity. Any creative production is the
result of both the accumulation of facts (convergent thinking) and divergent
thinking (reorganisation or transformation of the facts). One cannot generate
something new or unusual unless one is equipped with a body of knowledge or
information about the area examined. For example, to generate solutions to
traffic jams in Kuala Lumpur, one should know what the causes of traffic jams


Think of as many different uses as you can, for each of the following
everyday objects: a brick, a blanket, a spoon, a paper clip, a CD

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There is no definition of creativity that can be agreed upon because experts in the
field have different notions of the mental activity. The following are some
definitions of creativity:

(a) Torrance (1974)

A well-known authority in the area of creativity defined creativity as a
process of becoming sensitive to problems, deficiencies, gaps in knowledge,
missing elements, disharmonies and so on; identifying the difficult, searching
for solutions, making guesses or formulating hypotheses about the
deficiencies, testing and retesting these hypotheses and possibly modifying
and retesting them in and finally, communicating the results (p. 8).

(b) Guilford (1991)

Guilford suggested that to be creative, one has to think divergently which
requires originality (generation of unusual ideas), flexibility (generation of
different ideas, sensitivity towards problems) and also to think convergently
(equipped with the facts, concepts and principles of the phenomena

(c) Parnes (1967)

Parnes viewed creativity as a function of imagination, facts and the ability
to find ideas and problems.

(d) Perkins (1984)

A review of various definitions of creativity concluded that it is a process of
generating unique products by the transformation of existing products
which could be something tangible or intangible and considered unique
and valuable to the person who produced it.

(e) VanGrundy (1991)

VanGrundy described creativity as the process of bringing something new,
unusual or original into being, which may be a product, a method, a system
or an idea.

(f) Mayesky (1995)

Mayesky defined creativity as a way of thinking and acting or making
something that is original for the individual and valued by that person or
others. What this means is that, a new way to solve a problem or to produce
a new product, such as a song, a poem or a new machine, is a creative act. A
person does not have to be the first one in the world to produce something,
in order for it to be considered a creative act (p. 4).

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(g) Khatena (1978)

Khatena described creativity as fluency, which is the ability to produce
many ideas for a given task; flexibility, which is the ability to show a
conceptual shift in thinking relative to a given task; originality, which is the
ability to produce unusual or clever ideas that not many other people think
of and elaboration, which is the ability to add details to the basic idea.

Many believe that in order to be creative, one has to

produce something that has not been produced or
done by others and to be the first one to do so.
However, this is not altogether true. Creativity could
be expressed by adapting or modifying what is
already available. For example, improving an existing
product by making it more efficient, affordable,
portable, durable, attractive or whatever, is a creative
act; sometimes referred to jokingly as being a creative

Regardless of how creativity is defined, most people

would agree that it is a crucial aspect of a childs
development. All the great inventions, discoveries, Thinking Out of
innovations and artistic expressions known to the Box
mankind, are the consequences of creative thinking.
The advancement of any civilisation or culture depends on the creative abilities
of its people or being able to think out of the box. The ability to think creatively is
becoming even more important as nations rapidly transform into technological
societies, where a strong creative potential will provide the means of coping with
the future. It is difficult to predict the nature of future societies but the problem
encountered will have to be addressed creatively.


1. What is your definition of creativity?

2. Compare your definition of creativity with those of experts in the
3. To what extent do our schools develop the creative abilities of

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How does the creative process operate? Are there specific steps in producing
something creative? One of the earliest descriptions of the creative process was
provided by Wallas in 1926 who identified four stages: preparation, incubation,
illumination and verification (see Figure 6.10).

Figure 6.10: Stages in the creative process

(a) At the preparation stage, the individual who is confronted with a problem
identifies what is to be done and ways to solve the problem. It is here that
information is gathered and ideas are manipulated and tried out to find the
one that fits or feels right.

(b) If the individual comes to what seems like a dead end or mental block and
cannot find the solution, he or she should put the problem aside. This is
called the incubation stage. By temporarily leaving the problem, the mind
unfreezes itself of being glued to a particular pattern of thinking. It also
gives the mind time to recall relevant information from memory, which was
earlier not available for the solution of the problem.

(c) After this stage, the chances are that the solution will become apparent at
the illumination stage. This has been described as the AHA phenomenon;
the flashlike, unexpected or sudden insight as to the solution of the problem
(or Eureka! for some). Recognition of the insight is usually followed by a
positive emotional reaction in the individual such as joy, a sense of
accomplishment and the desire to share the discovery with others, such as
parents and teachers.

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(d) The verification stage is where the individual checks to determine if the
solution to the problem is viable and widely applicable. At times, it might
be necessary to verify whether the solution is cost-effective, not time
consuming and so forth.

Another variant of the creative process is provided by Parnes, Noller and Biondi
in 1977, which viewed the process as involving the Three S sensitivity, synergy
and serendipity (see Figure 6.11).

Figure 6.11: The origin of a creative idea

(a) Sensitivity is when one uses all the senses (touch, smell, taste, sight and
hearing) to investigate the world. It has been suggested that highly
creative people experience the physical world with greater intensity than
the rest of us Halpern, 1984, p. 319). Sensitivity also relates to the ability to
not only solve problems but also find them.

(b) Synergy is the bringing together of seemingly disparate parts into a useful
and functioning whole. In other words, diverse and different bits of
information and ideas are synthesised or brought together to form and
work as a new entity.

(c) Serendipity means making discoveries by accident or unexpected discovery

that come about when bits of information are brought together (quite
similar to illumination). For example, a new idea is discovered as a result of
an accident or mishap. In fact, most inventions and discoveries result from
a methodological and systematic process, requiring persistence, motivation
and sheer hard work. Remember the old saying, Success is 90% perspiration
and 10% inspiration.

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Compare the two explanations of the creative process


There are many attributes of a creative person and as such, there is no set criteria
to describe such an individual. However, teachers and parents interested in
developing creativity in students, should begin with the premise that, all
students are creative to some degree, though some are more creative than others
and some are more creative in one area than another. Researchers such as
Torrance (1962) and Williams (1968) attempted to identify the characteristics,
traits and attributes that have something to do with being creative. But, as
pointed out by MacKinnon, there are many paths along which persons travel
toward the full development and expression of their creative potential, and there
is no single mould into which all who are creative, will (1974, p. 186). Among
the many attributes of a creative person, the following traits may be more
characteristic of the creative person (see Figure 6.12).

Figure 6.12: Some common attributes of a creative person

It should also be realised that besides the listed traits, creative persons also
exhibit certain not so desirable behaviours such as stubbornness, discontentment,
fault finding and even rudeness. However, it depends on how these behaviours
are manifested. For example, stubbornness may be a positive trait when the
person perseveres in carrying out a new idea and does not give up easily.

Also, traits of fault finding and discontentment may be viewed positively as

these may result in the person questioning things, even though it may be viewed
as undesirable. It is for this reason that teachers and parents should understand
creativity and how it manifests itself because certain behaviours perceived to be
undesirable, if discouraged, may in the process, destroy the creative potential in
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One of the main attributes of a creative person is being open-minded to various

possibilities. However, the human mind is prevented from being more creative
because individuals build walls that hamper creative thinking. Society, especially
educators and parents, have an important role to play in identifying those
barriers which originate within students and imposed on them, externally.
Unfortunately, students are not aware of these barriers to creative thinking but
society can play a role in assisting them to develop the mental abilities needed to
overcome these obstacles (see Figure 6.13).

Figure 6.13: Some common barriers to creativity

Basically, there are two groups of barriers internal or external. Barriers imposed
by the individual himself or herself are grouped as internal obstacles. For
example, the fear of failure prevents some people from even trying anything.
Barriers imposed by society, the home or school are grouped as external
obstacles. For example, parents or teachers who are autocratic may discourage
the questioning attitude in students. However, between the two groups of
barriers, overcoming internal barriers imposed by oneself is perhaps more
important. Once a person is able to liberate his or her mindset, creative thinking
is possible because the influence of external barriers may be greatly reduced.

(a) Internal Barriers

Generally, humans are extremely logical and because of this, they tend to
impose on themselves many constraints and barriers which may not even
exist. One of the most significant barriers to being creative is the fear of
failure or making mistakes. If students are led to believe that failure is bad,

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then they will not even try because they are so worried about failing. As the
saying goes, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Students scolded for
making mistakes may be reluctant to venture into the unknown.

Similarly, the fear of negative criticism can cause learners to shy away from
coming up with anything new or radical and in the process, may kill the
creative talent of many students and their valuable ideas. Generally,
students are brought up to take the safe course and not to take risks. While
it is agreed that caution is important in helping students avoid life-
threatening situations, in other situations, innovative ideas would not
evolve if students are concerned with only playing safe. Creative thinking
requires some element of risk-taking. If not, many of the great innovations,
discoveries and inventions throughout history would not have taken place.

Another barrier to creativity is making judgements too quickly. It is

rejecting an idea or suggestion as soon as it is proposed before giving it a
chance to bloom. Students should be taught to give others a chance to
present their ideas before evaluating them. Students should be encouraged
to listen to different viewpoints before deciding whether the ideas
proposed are valid, relevant or useful and not to rush into making
judgement. It is not unusual for good ideas to be lost because the group has
not given the person presenting the idea, a chance to complete his or her

Some students have a low tolerance for ambiguity. In other words, they are
not ready to accept situations which are not clear-cut or ambiguous; i.e.
neither here nor there. For them, problems and issues are either right or
wrong. But, in the real world, situations are seldom black or white. In fact,
they are more often grey and fuzzy. Students who are unable to tolerate
ambiguity, tend to rush in and solve problems as either right or wrong,
without bothering to consider different viewpoints. The solution seems to
be more important than the problem. Students also become frustrated,
when having tried repeatedly, the solution is not immediately apparent.
This may be due to a failure to incubate when insufficient time is given to
the mind to relax. Incubation relaxes the mind when the student puts aside
the problem for a moment ,which may lead to the discovery of a solution.

(b) External Barriers

Among the serious external barriers to creativity is the actions of parents
and teachers who subscribe to the belief that fantasy, intuition and
imagination are a waste of time. This is based on the mistaken notion that
these activities lead to idleness. Society generally tends to emphasise facts

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and consider fantasy to be unproductive. However, it has been said that

The day humans stop imagining the very fabric of civilisation is
threatened. People fail to realise that it is dreams, imagination and
intuition, that have taken humankind from one level of achievement to
another. For example, it was the dream of flying that led many individuals
to invent various types of flying machines, even though many of these did
not work.

Being bound by tradition can also restrict problem-solving capabilities

because most creative solutions require some degree of breaking from
tradition. Most people are comfortable with tradition and find change,
threatening. Though tradition is important, some traditional practices
impede the production of creative ideas. How do we get society to
unshackle itself from tradition that is secure and certain to nurture creative
thinking among students? For example, the lack of a questioning attitude is
caused by the traditional belief that it is rude for children to ask too many
questions. On the contrary, a questioning attitude is necessary for all
aspects of creative problem solving. The more questions that are asked, the
clearer will be the path towards the solution of the problem.


1. Do you consider yourself a creative person?

2. Give examples of your creative efforts.
3. To what extent do you have the attributes of a creative person?
4. Are the barriers to creativity listed true of Malaysian schools and
Malaysian society?
5. How do parents obstruct creativity in children?


Having identified some of the behavioural attributes of creative people and the
obstacles to creative thinking, it might be useful for educators and parents to
explore some of the ways to nurture creative behaviours. In many circumstances,
educators and parents are unaware that some of their actions in the school and
the home and what they say, may in fact curtail creativity in students. Adults
tend to raise children relying on their experiences of how they were brought up
by their parents. It is likely that earlier generations were brought up in a more
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authoritarian environment, which subscribed to the adage that Children should

be seen but not heard. Some of the creative behaviours of children may be found
intolerable and even perceived as misbehaviour or arrogance. The immediate
reaction of adults is to reprimand or suppress such behaviours. Some of the
behaviours of creative children such as defying convention, may be interpreted
as rudeness or disobedience. Sometimes, the manner in which children defy
convention is seen by adults as arrogant but one should also look at it from the
childs point of view.

Children are unable to show defiance subtly (an art, adults have so cleverly
perfected!) and hence, their behaviour is looked upon as undesirable.
Understanding creativity in children requires patience and acceptance which will
encourage them to develop their creativity further. There is some evidence to
suggest that the parents of less creative children tend to be strict and allow less
autonomy compared to the parents of more creative children, who give more
autonomy (Khatena, 1989).

Mayesky (1995) listed eight main ways educators and parents can nurture
creative expression in children (see Figure 6.14). Change seems to be the order of
the day. Children who are brought up to accept change as a way of life will be
less anxious about change. Children should be made aware that a problem may
have many different possible answers and some problems may not have ready-
made answers. The school system tends to reinforce the one-right answer
syndrome, whereby children are brought up to believe that there is only one
right answer to many things in life. Granted that in some areas of knowledge
(such as mathematics) there is more likely to be just one right answer, in other
areas of knowledge, there may be more than one possible answer.

Figure 6.14: Ways of helping children to be more creative

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Children should be encouraged to examine a

problem or issue from different viewpoints which
may contradict and be in conflict with one another.
Rothenberg (1979) introduced the notion of Janusian
thinking named after the Roman god Janus, who was
supposed to have two, four or six faces and was able
to see from different directions at the same time. This
kind of thinking resulted in the merging of varying
opinions leading to the production of a creative
product, a creative method of doing something or a
creative solution to a problem. Educators and Janus, the Roman god of
parents have an important role to play in making the beginning and the end
children feel comfortable about being different and
not afraid to express their feelings about things. Children should be encouraged
to be proud of their creative efforts and should like themselves for being unique
or unusual. While the tendency is to reward children for conforming, educators
and parents should also make a conscious effort to reward creative behaviour.
Reward should be given for creativity and the efforts put into a creative idea.

The characteristic that differentiates humans from animals is the ability to

think. However, the ability to think is not equally distributed.

Thinking has not been given due consideration, partly due to certain
perceptions educators have about thinking.

Generally, all thinking is directed to the solution of problems and/or making


While most people would agree that schools should aim for the development
of thinking among students, there is less agreement on what is meant by

A synthesis of the various definitions of thinking reveals the following five

characteristics of thinking:
Manipulation of mental skills;

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Solution of a problem;
Manifested in behaviour; and
Reflected in attitude.

Learners who think critically, evaluate whether to accept a particular reason

as appropriate or reasonable, use accepted criteria to evaluate the reason
given, use different reasoning strategies in the implementation of the said
criteria or standards and find information that is reliable as evidence to
support the decision made.

Socrates was convinced that disciplined practice of thoughtful questioning,

enables the scholar/student to examine ideas logically and to determine the
validity of these ideas.

The capacity to create useful or beautiful products and to find ways of

resolving perplexity is not limited to the highly gifted but is the birthright of
every person of average talent.

The creative process involves the following stages: preparation, incubation,

illumination and verification.

Both internal and external barriers prevent a person from being more

Children can be encouraged to be more creative by helping them:

Accept change;
Realise that problems do not have easy answers;
Recognise different ways of solving a problem;
Not feeling guilty for having feelings;
Through rewards for creativity;
Feel joy in creative productions;
Appreciate themselves for being different; and

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Barriers to creativity Culture of thinking

Convergent thinking Divergent thinking
Creative person Enculturation
Creative process Language of thinking
Creative thinking Socratic questioning
Critical thinking Teacher responses
Critical thinking attitudes Thinking
Critical thinking skills

Harris, R. (1998). Introduction to creative thinking. Retrieved from


Introduction to thinking skills. Area Education Agency 267. Retrieved from


Kentucky Odyssey of the Mind. (1997). Creative thinking strategies. 1997.

Retrieved from http://kycreative.mis.net/creativity.htm

Strategies for teaching critical thinking. ERIC Clearinghouse for Assessment.

Retrieved from

Thinking skills. Robert Fisher. U. Retrieved from


Teaching thinking skills. Kathleen Cotton. 1991. School Research Improvement

Series. Retrieved from

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Teaching thinking dispositions: From transmission to enculturation. Shari

Tishman, Eileen Jay, and D. N. Perkins. Harvard University. Retrieved from

Teaching thinking through effective questioning. Jill Slack. Retrieved from


Van Gelder, T. (2006). Critical thinking on the web. Retrieved from


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Topic Individual
7 Differences in
By the end of this topic, you should be able to:
1. Define individual differences;
2. Describe learning traits;
3. Explain how different learning styles influence learning;
4. Differentiate between FI and FD learners;
5. Differentiate between the four types of learners according to Kolb;
6. Assess the role of personality in affecting learning;
7. Differentiate between the different taxonomies of learning; and
8. Justify Piagets theory of cognitive development.

We often hear people say that humans are basically the same. However in the
next instance, we hear people say that no two persons are the same. Take the case
of a science teacher with 40 students in the classroom. Are the 40 students each
different in terms of ability to understand science concepts? Do the 40 students
have different attitudes towards science? What contributes to the differences in
abilities among the students we teach?

In this topic, we will discuss the issue of individual differences among students
in the classroom. Understanding individual differences is important in enabling
educators to organise and deliver appropriate instructions to cater to the needs of

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If two dogs can behave differently, imagine the differences in a class of 40 students.
Each student brings to the classroom his or her own knowledge, skills and values,
which may account for the differences in attitudes, interests, aptitudes, abilities
and knowledge about a certain subject area. Plato stated more than 2000 years
ago that No two persons are born exactly alike, but each differs from the other
in natural endowments, one being suited for one occupation and the other for
another. As educators, we often wonder about the following:

(a) Why do some students find it difficult to learn whereas others find it
(b) Why are some students better equipped to learn some skills but not
(c) Why cant all students learn all skills equally well?

Psychologists have identified two main factors that may explain individual
differences the learning traits that a student brings when confronted with a
learning task and the thinking and learning skills that are activated as demanded
by the task (Jonassen and Grabowksi, 1993). See Figure 7.1.

Figure 7.1: A learner approaching a learning task

(a) Learning Traits refer to aptitudes for learning, willingness to learn, styles of
learning, preferences for learning and the prior knowledge of students.
These traits have an impact on the learning process and determine how
well an individual is able to learn.

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(b) Learning Tasks determine the thinking and learning skills demanded. For
example, if a task requires a learner to go beyond the information given in
the text, than the student will have to make or draw inferences.


When a learner approaches a situation where he or she has to learn something
such as listening to the teacher, writing an essay or reading a chapter from a
book, he or she comes with a broad range of LEARNING TRAITS. In biology, a
trait is a distinguishing character that is genetically inherited by an organism. For
example, hair colour, facial features and so forth. In psychology, a trait is a
characteristic in which an individual perceives, feels, believes, acts, behaves or
approaches a task. For example, an introvert is usually very shy and loves

In this topic, we will focus on three kinds of learning traits that explain
individual differences in learning, namely, learning styles, personality and prior
knowledge (see Figure 7.2).

Figure 7.2: Components of learning traits

(a) Learning style relates to the preferences for different types of learning and
instructional activities. These styles are generally measured by self-report
techniques (paper and pencil tests) that ask individuals how they prefer to
learn. For example, Do you prefer to learn alone or in groups? The
learning style of Student A may be different from that of Student B, which
may explain the differences in the way the two individuals learn.

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(b) Personality describes how an individual interacts with his or her

environment and especially with other people. Personality is the mental
disposition or inclination to behave in certain ways. In this topic, we will
focus on personality types which affect learning more directly.

(c) Prior knowledge refers to what the learner already knows and how what is
known, is organised. Besides the facts and concepts of a particular body of
knowledge, it also includes the skills and learning abilities that individuals
previously acquired.


1. What two aspects are involved when a learner approaches a

learning task?
2. What are learning traits?
3. What is the role of personality in learning?

7.2.1 Learning Style

Learning style refers to the preferred ways in which a student processes
information. The key word is preferred which describes a persons typical
mode of paying attention, organising information in the mind and then
retrieving or recalling it. Learning style (or preference) should not be confused
with cognitive ability. Simply put, cognitive ability refers to a persons ability
to solve problems and use logic (mathematical ability), the ability to visualise
manipulation of shapes (spatial ability), the ability to understand and use
language (language ability) and the ability to recall things (memory ability). A
persons ability can be enhanced if information is presented in a way that
matches the persons preference or learning style. Hence, preference or learning
style and ability are related. In other words, it is good if there is a match between
teaching and learning.

Why is learning style important? It is important because teaching in most schools

tends to be focused towards the learning style of the majority of learners. This
results in a minority of learners being left out and unable to cope. While it may
be small in percentage but translated into numbers, it can be quite sizeable. These
are students who will be housed in the 10th class with a name like mawar or
anggerik or kejujuran and so forth. Whatever name we give them, we all

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know that they are the weakest group of students. Unconsciously, there seems to
be an in-built match between the learning style of the majority of students and
the teaching methods used.

Imagine you have just arrived in a foreign country where you cannot speak
nor read the language used. You are at the airport and your contact person is
not there to meet you. To make matters worse, one of your bags is missing. Its
2 a.m. and there are few airport staff and those who are present, dont speak
English. What will you do? Your response to this situation will depend largely
on the cognitive styles you happen to bring to bear. Cognitive style is your
general disposition towards processing new information or challenges in a
particular way. For instance, if you are ambiguity tolerant, you will not get
easily flustered by your unfortunate circumstances. If you are reflective,
you will exercise patience. If you are field independent, you will be able to
focus on the relevant details and not be distracted by unnecessary details.

Source: R. Wyss. (2002). Field Independent/Dependent Learning Styles and L2


The way we learn things in general and the particular approach we adopt when
dealing with problems, is said to depend on a somewhat mysterious link
between personality and cognition; this link is referred to as cognitive style.
When cognitive style is applied to an educational setting, it is generally referred
to as learning style which is made up of the cognitive, affective (feelings &
emotions) and physiological traits, that are relatively stable indicators of how
learners perceive, interact with and respond to the learning environment (Keefe,
1979). Educators have always been reminded to adjust teaching methods toward
the learning styles of learners, but little has been achieved. How is learning style
related to learning? In theory, there exist as many learning styles as there are
learners but we will examine three well-known explanations of learning style and
how they are related to learning. They are: Field Independence and Field
Dependence and Kolbs Learning Style.
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(a) Field Independence and Field Dependence

Field independence and field dependence (FI/FD) has been the most
extensively researched learning style. FI/FD describes the extent to which a
person is affected by the environment. FD persons are global, meaning that
they are highly influenced by the environment. They see the forest rather
than the trees. On the other hand, FI persons are more analytical and are
more interested in details and more inclined towards spotting discrepancies,
i.e. the trees rather than the forest (Hall, 1967). This may explain why FI
students tend to be better in mathematics, especially for concept and
application (Vaidya & Chansky, 1980). In a given learning situation, FI
students are more likely to reorganise and restructure information to suit
their needs or conception. FD students tend to accept the given information
as it is presented without reorganisation or restructuring. They are happy
with the information presented.

Table 7.1: Differences Between FI/FD Students

Field Independent (FI) Field Dependent (FD)

Analytical Global or Holistic
Generates structure and ideas Accepts structure and ideas as presented
Internally directed Externally directed
Individualistic and Intrapersonal Sociable and Interpersonal
Conceptually oriented Factually oriented

FI students will make an effort to generate new ideas or create new models
in an attempt to understand the given information. FD students however,
tend not to generate new ideas and accept the ideas given. FI students are
internally directed and are more individualistic, aloof and reserved. On the
other hand, FD students who are externally directed, need friendship, prefer
to work in groups and are more sensitive towards others. FD students focus
more on factual information while FI students tend to extract the concepts.

(i) Field IndependentField Dependent: Implications for Teaching and

The differences in learning styles between FI and FD learners have
distinct implications for instructional strategies. According to Anderson
and Adams (1992), an initial approach is for teachers to understand
the expectations of FI and FD students and instructors bring into
the classroom. Based on extensive research conducted on FI and FS,
Musser (2000) concluded that:

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FD learners are more likely to excel at learning tasks:

that are group-oriented and involve collaborative work where
individuals need to be sensitive to social cues from others
in situations where students must follow a standardised
pattern of performance
which include tests requiring learners to recall information in
the form that was presented.

To maximise learning for FD students, teachers are encouraged to

provide a social learning environment (work with others); support
that will enhance understanding such as the use of advance
organisers, outlines and others; clear and explicit directions;
extensive feedback; a lot of examples and illustrations and
well structured materials. Lessons should be student-centred;
emphasising positive reinforcement and extensive use of the
discussion method of teaching over the lecture method of teaching.

FI learners are more likely to excel at learning tasks:

that involve structured problem solving, especially mathematics
where learners must figure out the underlying organisation of
ideas, such as concept mapping or outlining
that involve the use of a lot of language, such as information
that is ambiguous or disorganised
that require predicting, generating metaphors and analogies
that require learners to evaluate information.

To maximise learning for FI students, provision should be made

for an independent learning environment using discovery and
inquiry teaching methods. Students are provided with large
amounts of reference and resource materials to sort through with
minimal guidance and direction from the teacher.

(ii) Research Evidence

In a test on nutrition, Tannenbaum (1982) found that FD students

scored higher after using highly structured materials (presented
in a logical order which provided written answers to convergent
questions) whereas FI students scored higher using low-structured

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FI students learned the most in mathematics lessons when given

minimum guidance and maximum opportunity for discovery,
whereas FD students gained most from maximum guidance
(Adams and McLeod, 1979).

FI students learned more from an individualised, self-paced

course than FD students (Wilborn, 1981).

FI students were more efficient at taking notes in outline format

than FD students, which improved their performance over FD
students (Frank, 1984).

Case Study:
Differences between FI and FD Learners in a Science Lesson

Topic: Metals and Heat

Field Independence Learner (FI Learner)

The student has a preference for detail, sometimes called differentiation.
He or she prefers to start with details or particulars and move to the general.
This is called inductive reasoning which involves moving from the particular
or specific, to the general.

Rather than being given the general rule which governs a phenomenon,
students are presented with the particulars.

EXAMPLE: What happens when you hold a piece of metal over a flame?
Why do some metals bend and not others? The student finds the reasons and
pretty soon gets to the general rule that certain types of metal are more
responsive to heat than others.

Field Dependent Learner (FD Learner)

The student prefers a global approach. He or she prefers that the rules or
principles be given first, followed by how metals react to heat. With this
principle, the student knows the limits of what is going to be taught and is
comfortable with it. This is deductive reasoning and it moves from the
general to the particular or specific.

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1. What do you understand by learning style?

2. What are the main differences between a field-dependent learner
and a field-independent learner?
3. How should teaching be organised to match FD and FI students?

(b) Kolbs Learning Style

Kolb defines learning styles as ones preferred methods for perceiving and
processing information. He identified four types of learning styles: divergers,
assimilators, convergers and accommodators (see Figure 7.3).

Figure 7.3: Kolbs Learning Styles

(i) Learners who are divergers are:

able to assimilate different pieces of information into an integrated
able to generate many ideas;
imaginative and intuitive;
open-minded; and
able to relate to others.

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(ii) Learners who are assimilators are:

logical and precise;
scientific and systematic;
analytical and good at quantitative tasks;
good at theory building;
good organisers of information; and
good at inductive reasoning.

(iii) Learners who are convergers are:

good at problem solving, especially technical tasks;
good at deductive reasoning;
able to apply ideas to practical situations;
able to create new ways of thinking and doing;
pragmatic and unemotional;
able to influence others and situations; and
focused and able to make decisions.

(iv) Learners who are accommodators are:

action and results oriented;
opportunity seeking and seeking new experiences;
risk takers and pragmatic;
intuitive and artistic;
open-minded and people oriented;
personally involved in what they do; and
able to adapt to new situations.

(c) Kolbs Learning Style: Implications for Teaching and Learning

Kolb (1981) found that undergraduate business majors tended to be
accommodators, engineering majors tended to be convergers and history,
political science, psychology, economics and sociology majors, tended to be
assimilators. Physics majors were very abstract and tended to be either
convergers or assimilators. Carrier, Williams and Dalgaard (1988) found
that students with different learning styles showed distinctly different
preferences for note-taking. Students who were accommodators and
divergers, did not practise note-taking seriously. Students who were
assimilators and convergers, copied verbatim information from the teacher.

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Based on research and descriptions of Kolbs learning styles, Jonassen and

Grabowski (1993) highlighted the following implications for teaching:

(i) Divergers are more likely to excel at learning tasks such as:
Gathering information in novel ways
Open-ended assignments
Individualised learning
Making sense of situations that are ambiguous
Sensitive to values and feelings

(ii) Divergers are good at doing the following:

searching for information
evaluating information
generating examples and metaphors
imaging or illustrating knowledge
inferring causes

(iii) Assimilators are more likely to excel at learning tasks such as:
Organising information
Testing theories and ideas
Designing experiments
Analysing quantitative data

(iv) Assimilators are good at doing the following:

selecting information sources
validating information sources
analysing key ideas
predicting outcomes
inferring causes

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(v) Convergers are more likely to excel at learning tasks such as:
Creating new ways of thinking and doing
Experimenting with new ideas
Choosing the best solution
Setting goals
Making decisions

(vi) Convergers are good at doing the following:

setting learning goals
validating authenticity of information
repeating material to be recalled
predicting outcomes

(vii) Accommodators are more likely to excel at learning tasks such as:
Those that lack structure
Committing to objectives
Seeking and exploring opportunities
Influencing and leading others
Being personally involved and dealing with people

(viii) Accommodators are good at doing the following:

generating personal examples
providing concrete examples to apply information
using a concrete to abstract sequence

In this topic, we have only discussed two classifications of learning styles i.e.
Field-Dependence and Field-Independence and Kolbs learning styles. There are
other classifications of learning styles that you may want to explore. Among
them are Dunn & Dunn Learning Styles conceived by R. Dunn and K. Dunn;
Grasha-Reichmann Learning Styles by A. Grasha and S. Reichmann; Gregorc
Learning Styles by A. Gregorc; and Hills Cognitive Style Mapping conceived by
Joseph Hill.

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1. What are the main differences between convergers, divergers,

accommodators and assimilators?
2. How should teaching be organised to match students who are
convergers, divergers, accommodators and assimilators?

7.2.2 Personality and Learning

Personality has been described as another dimension, accounting for individual
differences. We often hear people comment on the personality of others based
on the behaviours exhibited. For example, we describe a person as having a
pleasant personality if he or she is gentle, kind and friendly. Alternatively,
we describe a person as having an aggressive personality if he or she exhibits
aggressive behaviour. Lately, we hear of the term towering personality!
Personality has often been defined in terms of characteristics of human behaviour
or inherited mental qualities. Both philosophers and psychologists agreed that,
there are many different types of personalities and had attempted to provide
various classifications of personality. For example, early Greek philosophers
classified human behaviour as consisting of four temperaments or personality
types, based on the amount of different bodily fluids:

(a) Sanguine (people who are sociable, enthusiastic, contented);

(b) Melancholic (people who are sad, anxious, worried, serious);

(c) Choleric (people who are irritable and hot-headed); and

(d) Phlegmatic (people who are passive, calm and controlled).

More recently, various psychologists have provided their own classification

of personality types. For example, Digman (1989) identified five personality
types. They are surgency, agreeableness, emotional stability, irritable and
conscientiousness (see Figure 7.4).

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Figure 7.4: The five personality types identified by Digman (1989)

Another well-known classification was proposed by Miller (1988) who identified

four distinct personality types:

(a) Reductionists are individuals who are scientific, impersonal, precise, value-
free, realistic, controlled and sceptical.

(b) Schematists are individuals who are conceptual, theoretical, imaginative,

value-free, ambiguous and speculative.

(c) Gnostics are individuals who are artistic, personal, value-based, non-
rational, involved, biased and have personal knowledge.

(d) Romantics are individuals who are political, personal, value-based,

uncertain, imaginative and speculative.

The personality types proposed by the Greek philosophers, John Digman and
Allan Miller are merely indicators that are descriptive of different types of
individuals. These differences affect how individuals perceive themselves and
the world. Research has shown that different personality types react differently
to different types of learning and different instructional techniques. For the
purposes of this topic, THREE selected characteristics of personality are
discussed in terms of their direct influence on learning. They are anxiety, locus of
control and achievement motivation.

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(a) Anxiety
Anxiety is an emotional state that is characterised by
feelings of tension, apprehension and nervousness
(Spielberger, 1972). This emotional state can cause
negative effects, such as disrupting learning. Anxiety is
manifested in sweating hands, increased heart rate,
high blood pressure, distress and even anger. Anxiety
also has a positive side in that it enhances interest and
excitement. It can help a person deal with a tense
situation, such as encouraging a student to study
harder for an examination. Among the earliest research
on anxiety was conducted by Sarason (1959, 1961) who presented evidence
that, when anxiety becomes excessive, it has a detrimental effect on test-
taking and learning. Anxiety is best described as a continuum from high
anxiety to low anxiety (see Table 7.2).

Table 7.2: Characteristic Differences in Anxiety

High Anxiety Low Anxiety

Restlessness Calmness
Better performance on simple tasks Better performance on complex tasks
Difficulty in communicating Good communication skills
Shy Adventuresome
Negative self-image Positive self-image
Insecure Secure
Submissive Independent
Lack of ambition Ambitious
Underachievement Achieving
Hides emotions Shows emotions
Tense posture Relaxed posture

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Anxiety: Implications for Teaching and Learning

The large amount of research on anxiety has revealed that anxiety has an
effect on learning. For example, Eysenck (1985) found that storage of
information involving complex tasks was lower among high-anxiety
learners compared to low-anxiety learners. Penney (1965) discovered that
high-anxiety learners were less likely to explore unknown and unfamiliar
situations. Testing procedures such as open-book examinations helped
high-anxiety learners (Sieber and Kameya, 1967). Based on studies
investigating the relationship between anxiety and learning, Jonassen and
Gabrowski (1993) listed the following implications for teaching and

(i) High-anxiety learners are more likely to do better at learning tasks

are simple and less complex;
are mechanical and structured;
are repetitive;
require shallow processing; and
are supported with visual aids.

(ii) To help High-anxiety learners, teaching should:

use more extensively, audio-visual aids such as TV and
use more frequently, graphic organisers and overviews;
use open-book evaluation techniques;
provide positive feedback and praise;
provide for gradual transition from one chunk of information to
break down information into smaller chunks; and
reduce the importance of test taking.

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Do you have Mathematics Anxiety?

Disagree .. (5) Agree

1. I become afraid when it is the mathematics period. 1 2 3 4 5

2. I am scared to ask questions in mathematics class. 1 2 3 4 5
3. I am always worried about being called to answer
Questions in class. 1 2 3 4 5
4. I fear mathematicss test more than any other test. 1 2 3 4 5
5. I dont know how to study for mathematics test. 1 2 3 4 5
6. Im afraid I wont be able to keep up with the rest of
the class. 1 2 3 4 5
7. Its clear to me in class, but when I go home, its like
I was never there. 1 2 3 4 5
8. I tend to block out my mind in mathematics class. 1 2 3 4 5
9. I am uneasy about going to the blackboard in
mathematics class. 1 2 3 4 5
10. I sometimes wonder why everyone has to do such
high-level mathematics. 1 2 3 4 5

Rate your answers from 1 to 5, add them up and check your score below.

Check Your Score

4050 Sure thing, you have mathematics anxiety.
3039 No doubt! Youre still fearful about mathematics
2029 On the fence!
1019 Wow! You sure are cool!

Source: Ellen Freedman. 2006. mathpower.com.


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(b) Locus of Control

The word locus comes from the Latin word for place. Therefore, locus
of control refers to an individuals feelings about the placement of control
over his or her life events and who is responsible for those events. Locus of
control describes an individuals belief regarding the causes of his or her
experiences; those factors to which an individual attributes his or her
successes or failures. The person may attribute his or her success or failure
to luck, chance, skill, competence, ability, effort and so forth. Locus of
control in relation to teaching and learning is an affective learning style,
specifically an expectancy or incentive style (Keefe, 1987). Locus of control
affects learning outcomes through the learners expectation of success and
the motivation to perform.

Like most personality characteristics, it is best represented as a continuum:

Internals and Externals. Learners classified as Internals tend to attribute the
cause of success to themselves, such as effort, ability or competence. Failure
is attributed to the lack of these attributes. Externals, on the other hand,
tend to attribute their successes and failures to external forces that control
an individuals performance such as luck, chance or competence. Failure is
attributed to the lack of help, bad luck or because the task was too difficult.
See Table 7.3 which presents individual differences related to locus of

Table 7.3: Characteristic Differences in Locus of Control

Internal External
Self Others
Open-minded Dogmatic
Goal-driven Fear of failure
Self-assured Anxious
Negative self-image Positive self-image
Persistent Frustrated
Reflective Impulsive
Risk takers Cautious
Organised Distracted
Verbal Visual/kinaesthetic
Analytical Global

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Locus of Control: Implications for Teaching and Learning

In a review of 36 studies on locus of control and academic achievement by
Bar-Tal and Bar-Zahor (1977), 31 studies showed that students with high
internal locus of control, achieved more because of their greater persistence,
effort and better use of task-relevant information. Nowicki and Roundtree
(1971) found significant relationship between students who had an internal
locus of control and higher grade point average. Similarly, internals had
better study habits and more positive academic attitudes (Ramanaiah,
Ribich and Schmeck, 1975). Internals had a better attitude towards
mathematics and performed better (Brown, 1980).

(i) To help students with an External Locus of Control do well:

Instruction should be highly structured with clear goals and
directions, work checked often and important information
indicated to the learner;
Teaching materials should be more visual and graphic and less
Instruction should incorporate movements and kinaesthetic
Teachers should provide praise and rewards after the learner
responses, i.e. need for reinforcement;
Provide more individual attention; work under observation rather
than in isolation;
Introduce a contract-for-grade plan;
Develop learning to learn skills to increase internal locus of
control; and
Gradually reduce structure and cueing, so that learners can
proceed on their own with more difficult tasks.

(ii) To develop students further with an Internal Locus of Control:

Provide inductive experiences;
Ask students to provide their own structure for the information
Provide tasks that require analytical thinking;
Provide problem-solving situations, especially where learners
must select and apply relevant information; and
Provide complex tasks that require persistence.

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1. Would you classify yourself as a person with an internal locus of

control or an external locus of control? Why?
2. Do you see evidence of internal and external locus of control
among students in your class or among your colleagues?

(c) Extroversion-Introversion
The classification of people as extroverts or introverts has been extensively
researched and the results seem to be quite consistent. As the words imply,
extroversion describes people whose thinking and behaviour are directed
outward or to the surrounding environment while introversion, describes
people whose thinking and behaviour are directed inward or to oneself. As
a personality trait, level of introversion and extroversion is relatively
constant, although some studies have indicated that the environment
may influence thinking and behaviour. An individual may be extremely
introverted, but in an exceptional case, show extroverted behaviour.
However, there are certain characteristics that are prevalent.

Table 7.4: Characteristic differences between extroverts and introverts

Extroverts Introverts
Look to the outside world Look inward
Sociable and friendly Quiet and aloof
Desire excitement and take chances Contemplative and reflective
Impulsive Non-impulsive and plan ahead
Energetic and enthusiastic Prone to fatigue
Easily distracted Less distracted
Dislike complicated procedures Concentrate longer on tasks
Task-oriented Conceptually oriented
Influenced by public opinion Influenced by personal values
Skilled at short-term retention Skilled at long-term retention
Tolerant of frustration Intolerant of frustration
Good at physical activities Prefer to read more

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There is also evidence to suggest that as people mature, they tend to

become more introverted. In addition to describing and predicting social
behaviour, this personality trait (extroversion-introversion) can, to some
extent, predict learning and the way in which individuals process
information (see Table 7.4). The extroversion-introversion personality trait
has been explored by many people, but probably the individual most noted
for his work in this area is H.J. Eysenck. He was born in Berlin in 1916,
studied at the University of London and developed an appreciation for the
analysis of human behaviour through experimentation.

Extroversion-Introversion: Implications for Teaching and Learning

Research on the relationship between extroversion-introversion and
academic performance has been inconclusive. For example, Kline (1966)
found that introversion was strongly related to academic success across
many different cultures. On the other hand, Savage (1966) revealed that
students high in extroversion had higher academic scores than others.
Entwistle and Cunningham (1968) found no significant correlation between
extroversion and scholastic achievement. Todd (1980) found that art
education and music education majors tended to be more extroverted while
Eysenck (1983) found that creativity in the arts was positively related to

Besides relating extroversion-introversion to academic performance, there

are many studies that examined other characteristics of extroverts and
introverts that may indirectly influence academic performance. For
example, Entwistle and Entwistle (1970) found that introverts had better
study habits than extroverts. Extroverts selected places to study that were
more stimulating compared to introverts, who preferred quiet places
(Campbell & Hawley, 1983). Also, extroverts were more willing to
communicate compared to introverts, who preferred to listen (McCroskey
and Richmond, 1990). Despite the conflicting results from research,
Jonassen and Grabowksi (1993) suggested that:

(i) Extroverted Learners are more likely to excel at:

learning tasks that require rapid processing of information;
tasks that present large amounts of information that are multi-
modal and multi-image;
tasks that involve social and behavioural assessment (e.g. group
participation is assessed);
tasks that are group-oriented, involving collaborative activities;

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tasks that provide learners with examples, non-examples,

tasks conducted in open-spaced classroom with discovery;
information that is presented in small chunks; and,
tasks that provide graphic cues, mind maps, outlines, concept
maps, colours.

(ii) Introverted Learners are more likely to excel at:

learning tasks that are visual, imaginable or involve spatial
tasks that require organising and structuring information for
learning tasks involving analysis for problem solving;
tasks that require learners to evaluate information;
tasks that require the paraphrasing and summarising of
tasks that require imagining or illustrating knowledge; and
tasks that arouse learners with novelty, uncertainty or surprise.


1. Would you classify yourself as an extrovert or introvert? Why?

2. Do you see evidence of extroversion and introversion among
students in your class or among your colleagues or friends?

(d) Achievement Motivation

Achievement motivation is a personality trait that describes an individuals
willingness to achieve. We have discussed in detail about motivation and
learning in Topic 9. Defined broadly, motivation is what energises or
pushes us to action or to do something. For example, why did you come to
class even though you are sick? Achievement motivation has been
described in many ways; however, in this topic, it is confined to the type
most relevant to learning and teaching, that is, need achievement. Need is
defined as a lack of something that, by doing something, can be fulfilled.
Achievement motivation is the need to accomplish something difficult such
as completing all the problems given in mathematics class. It includes the

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desire to excel and surpass others. It is the determination to be the best and
focus on winning. The person who is high on achievement motivation, will
make an attempt to overcome obstacles and enjoys competition (Murray,

Table 7.5: Characteristic Differences between Motive to Achieving Success and Motive
to Avoiding Failure

Motive to Achieve Success Motive to Avoid Failure

Success orientation Failure orientation
Pride orientation Shame orientation
Confident Anxious
Independent Dependent on feedback and supervision
Energetic and enthusiastic Prone to fatigue
Persistent Reluctant
Perceives failure as a lack of effort Perceives failure as a lack of ability
Can handle long-term goals Prefer short-term goals
Ambitious Not ambitious

McClelland (1961) and Atkinson (1964) designated two contrasting types of

personality traits with regards to achievement motivation: those with the motive
(need) to succeed, and those who have a motive (need) to avoid failure (see
Table 7.5). Those who have a need to achieve, expect to succeed and feel proud,
whereas those who fear failure, expect to fail and feel shameful as a result of it.
Students with a high motive to succeed, are more comfortable with tasks that
have a 50-50 chance of success. These individuals have a realistic estimation of
their ability and, therefore, would not select a task that has a high probability of
failure or tasks that are deemed too easy. Those with a need to avoid failure
would be more comfortable with tasks that are easy so that their chances of
success are enhanced to avoid failure. For those tasks that are difficult, these
students justify failure and avoid embarrassment by saying that the task was too

Heckhausen (1967) found that students with high achievement motivation were
able to sustain interest in a task, even when interrupted or extended over a long
period. Sid and Lindgren (1982) found that achievement motivation scores were
positively correlated with grade point average among both male and female
undergraduates. Similarly, Gjesme (1983) found that academic performance

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correlated positively with success-oriented sixth graders. French (1956) found

that students with high achievement motivation, selected study partners
based on their competency rather than their friendliness. Based on the extensive
research and descriptions of achievement motivation, Jonassen and Grabowksi
(1993) proposed that:

(i) Students with the Motive to Achieve Success are more likely to excel at
learning tasks that:
Are very important;
Require their attention;
Are long-term;
Require independent thoughts and action;
Allow them to assume leadership roles that capitalise on their desire to
Encourage more independent study;
Provide for active experimentation;
Use discovery learning;
Provide lessons in large chunks; and
Use feedback as diagnostic information, especially success feedback.

(ii) To help students with the Motive to Avoid Failure do well:

Make available extra help;
Provide for immediate feedback;
Provide many opportunities for positive feedback;
Help students select realistic goals;
Provide opportunities for learners to experience success;
Use tests for diagnostics rather than comparison;
Invite students to select their own goals and activities;
Deal with failure privately (do not ridicule learners in front of others);
Use a mastery approach.

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7.2.3 Prior Knowledge

When you started this course on Psychology of Learning & Instruction, you had
with you, a massive amount of prior knowledge regarding how humans learn.
Not only do you have a mass of knowledge and experiences, you also come
equipped with many cognitive skills and abilities. With regard to knowledge,
you know that rewards encourage students to perform better; with regard to
abilities, you are able to write an essay on critical thinking by referring to
sources from books, journals and resources from the Internet; with regard to skill,
you are able to summarise information for your essay. In other words, you
approach a learning task with a substantial amount of prior knowledge. Prior
knowledge consists of the knowledge, skills or abilities that a student brings to
the learning environment (Jonassen and Grabowski, 1993). Knowledge refers to
the prerequisite knowledge that is necessary to understand new information.
Students lacking this information would not significantly profit from instruction
at all (Tobias, 1981). For example, if you had not studied or at least read about
psychology, it is likely that you will have difficulty with this course.

However, dont panic! It is not the end. Psychologists have extended the
definition of prior knowledge more broadly to include the total existence of
knowledge and prior achievement that you bring to the learning environment,
which can and will be activated when you read the material in this learning
package. In other words, your experiences (in your place of work and the home)
and the knowledge you have gained from various sources (books, magazines,
newspapers, TV, radio, movies, discussion with friends, colleagues, family
members and so forth) may be directly or indirectly related to the content you are
studying in this course. However, there is evidence to suggest that, instead of
helping you understand new information, prior knowledge (old information) can
prevent the acquisition of new knowledge by forming a barrier or preconceived
ideas, which must be overcome before learning can take place.

The existence of prior knowledge will likely enhance any learning task but will
be most helpful for:
(a) Problem solving and transfer of learning;
(b) Comprehension of material to be learned;
(c) Retention and recall of material;
(d) Reasoning ability;
(e) Integration of knowledge;

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(f) Paraphrasing and summarising;

(g) Comparing new knowledge with existing knowledge, beliefs;
(h) Generating metaphors and examples; and
(i) Elaboration of knowledge.

[Refer to Topic 3 on Cognitive Learning Theories, specifically Ausubels Theory

of Meaningful Learning and Topic 4 on The Information Processing Model.
Examine how prior knowledge influences learning and creates differences
between learners].


So far, we have examined the learning traits that a student brings to a learning
task. Learning traits include the students learning style, personality and prior
knowledge. These learning traits will come into contact and interact with the
learning task, creating further differences in the classroom (refer to Figure 7.1 on
page 136). For example, student A is given the task to list the characteristics of
the Malaysian rainforest while student B is given the task to give her opinion on
how to conserve the Malaysian rainforest. Different sets of learning traits might
be used by the two students depending on the learning task. Student A is
required to list while student B is required to give her opinion. The mental
processes required will vary between student A and student B. The types of
learning or learning tasks that are required in schools and other educational
settings, have been conveniently described in terms of taxonomies of learning.

Taxonomy is a classification scheme that arranges objects or phenomena

hierarchically. That is, terms at the top of the taxonomy are more general.

(a) Blooms Taxonomy of Learning Objectives

The Taxonomy of Cognitive Objectives or Outcomes by Benjamin Bloom
(1956) is perhaps the best known. It describes the range of cognitive
behaviours or intellectual abilities or skills desired, when a person interacts
with a body of knowledge (see Figure 7.5). A body of knowledge will have
no meaning unless and until the learner interacts with the facts, concepts
and principles of the body of knowledge. How the learner interacts with the
material will depend on what he or she is required to do or the objectives of
the task or the outcomes desired.

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Figure 7.5: Blooms taxonomy of learning objectives or outcomes

(i) Knowledge: Learning at the knowledge level involves only the recall
of facts, terminology and methodology. The learner is required to
merely recall and state without interpreting or elaborating.

(ii) Comprehension: It involves elementary understanding and use of

knowledge, such as translation and interpretation.

(iii) Application: It requires the abstraction of a rule or generalisation from

a body of knowledge. The learner then applied it to solve a related

(iv) Analysis: It involves investigating a body of knowledge, breaking it

down and identifying its component elements and the relationship
between those elements. Analysis requires determining the structure
or organisation of a set of ideas.

(v) Synthesis: Knowledge that has been analysed is reassembled into a

new form of communication such as, devising a new plan from
different elements.

(vi) Evaluation: The highest level of cognitive activity, which involves

making judgement about some content based on a set of criteria.

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(b) Gagnes Taxonomy of Learning

Robert Gagne (1970) identified different levels of learning for the purpose of
sequencing instruction. He believed that instruction should begin with the
simplest skills and proceed hierarchically to greater levels of difficulty (see
Figure 7.6).

Figure 7.6: Gagnes taxonomy of learning

(i) Verbal Information: Verbal information is similar to Blooms

knowledge level and it requires learners to only memorise and recall
information without understanding or applying it.

(ii) Concrete Concepts: Concrete concepts are based on discrimination

between members and non-members of a concept without extensive
awareness of the basis of classification.

(iii) Defined Concepts: Defined concepts are understood through their

definitions, i.e. through their defining characteristics. They are the
basis for most understanding.

(iv) Rule: Rules are the statement of relationships between two or more
concepts. Most often, they indicate cause-effect relationships. Using
rules implies that learners apply those statements in a new situation.

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(v) Higher Order Rule: Higher order rules are more general statements of
relationships, usually referred to as principles. The use of higher order
rules is similar to problem solving. It requires the learner to select,
interpret and apply appropriate rules.

(vi) Cognitive Strategy: Cognitive strategies are techniques for solving

problems or for acquiring new information. Learning to learn is a
cognitive strategy.

(c) Merrills Component Display Theory

Merrill (1973) developed his own taxonomy of learning through analysis of
school-based learning outcomes. He concluded that almost all learning
activities involve facts, procedures, concepts and principles.

(i) Facts are arbitrary associations.

(ii) Concepts are classes of objects or events.

(iii) Principles are generalised explanations that relate two or more

concepts and are used to predict, explain or infer.

The taxonomy of learning is classified as illustrated in Figure 7.7.


Facts Concept Concept
Concept Procedure Procedure
Procedure Rule Rule
Rule Principle Principle

Figure 7.7: The taxonomy of learning


Thus far, we have discussed individual differences in terms of learning traits and
how these traits interact with learning tasks. There was no mention about age
differences, though studies have been done among students in primary and
secondary schools as well as among university students. We are well aware that
age plays an important role in the ability to learn. Perhaps, the most well-known

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theory explaining differences in learning ability according to age, was proposed

by Jean Piaget. He was regarded as one of the foremost developmental
psychologists and had written extensively in the field. His explanations of
cognitive differences according to age, were contained in more than 30 books and
several hundred different articles.

The Theory of Cognitive Development he proposed, described differences among

children at different ages (see Figure 7.8). The main subjects of his studies were
his three children and the theory he proposed has stood the test of time. Though
there have been many criticisms of the theory, an alternative theory of cognitive
development has not made much of an impact. Based on the processes of
assimilation and accommodation and the tendency towards equilibrium, Piaget
proposed his theory of cognitive development [Refer to Topic 3 for explanations
about Assimilation and Accommodation].

Figure 7.8: Stages of cognitive development according to Piaget

Piaget developed a method for studying children that permitted the investigator
to be both flexible and relatively precise. The technique is known as the clinical
method. It is an interview approach, where the researcher has a clear idea of the
questions to ask and how to phrase the questions, but where many of the
questions are determined by the childs answers. Hence, it provides for the
possibility that the child will give unexpected answers and that further
questioning will lead to new discoveries about cognition or thinking.

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(a) Sensorimotor Stage: Birth To Two Years

Piaget called the first two years of life, the period of sensorimotor
intelligence because the child is not able to represent the world mentally
and instead, is confined to sensorimotor functions. For the child, it is here
and now and objects exist when they can be seen, touched or tasted. The
moment the object is removed or hidden, the child stops focusing on it. This
phenomenon is called the object concept.

You can try this experiment with a child. Show a brightly
coloured object (such as a ball) to an eight-month-old child. Let
him hold the ball. Then, hide the ball under a piece of cloth. It is
likely that the child will not even look for the object. However,
by about the age of one, that child will search for the object,
especially if he saw it being hidden.

As the child reaches the age of two, he realises that he can organise the
information about the surrounding world. For example, he understands the
concept of cause and effect. For example, lets say the child gets a toy which
makes sounds or moves when its string is pulled. This will encourage the
child to repeat the task of pulling the string. By the age of one, the child has
already realised that things continue to exist, even when they are no longer
present when he looks for them. The child has achieved object permanence.

(b) Preoperational Stage: Two To Seven Years

The preoperational period is so called because children do not acquire
operational thinking until around the age of seven. They fumble at
conceptual thinking, contradict themselves and make errors in logic. For
example, their thinking at this stage is egocentric, which leads them to
believe that everyone thinks the way they do. Read the dialogue below
between two preschool children playing right next to each other, one with a
colouring book and the other with a doll.

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Julie : I love my dolly, her name is Tina.

Carol : Im going to colour the sun yellow.
Julie : She has long, curly hair like my aunt.
Carol : Maybe Ill colour the trees yellow too.
Julie : I wonder what Tinas eyes are made of?
Carol : I lost my orange crayon!
Julie : I know her eyes are made of glass.

This type of a dialogue demonstrates the egocentrism of childrens thinking

at this stage of cognitive development. The Egocentrism of young children
leads them to believe that everyone thinks like they do and that the whole
world shares their feelings and desires.

Another striking feature of childrens thinking at this stage, is their inability

to classify. While they can group objects in simple collections, they cannot
group these collections, one with another. That is, they cannot reason about
two classes if one is part of the other.

A five-year-old child is shown a collection of wooden beads, of which

10 are black and five are yellow. He admits that all of the beads are
wooden. When asked, Are there fewer, more or the same number of
black beads as wooden beads?, he answers, more. Why? According
to Piaget, it is simply because the child is asked to consider the sub-class
(black beads) and this destroyed his concept of the larger class (wooden
beads). In other words, children at this level understand that classes
may contain many different but similar members, but they do not yet
understand that classes can be nested or subsumed one inside the
other, in hierarchies. The class of black beads is nested within that of
wooden beads, each being separate but related.

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(c) Concrete Operational Stage: Seven to 11 Years

The key feature of the concrete operational child is activity in relation
to the environment. At this stage, the child develops operations for the
manipulation of objects. Piaget conducted numerous experiments to
determine what children at this stage were capable of doing. One of them
dealt with the concept of conservation which is the realisation that quantity
or amount remains the same, when nothing has been added or taken away.
Figure 7.9 is an experiment on conservation of liquid quantity. A child is
presented with two identical containers filled to the same level with water.
The water in one of the containers is then poured into a tall thin tube and
the child is asked whether the amount of water in each remains equal.
Guess what was the response of the concrete operational child?

Figure 7.9: Experiment on conservation of liquid quantity

This experiment shows that the child can reason logically and organise
thoughts. However, the child can only think about actual physical objects
but cannot handle abstract reasoning. The concreteness of the thought
processes at this stage means that the child is able to deal mostly with
objects he can see or feel in some way, which explains why he said the tall
tube contained more water.

(d) Formal Operational Stage: 11 Years And Beyond

The final stage in the evolution of thought is labelled formal operations.
Formal because the subject matter with which children can now deal, may
be completely hypothetical. To it, they can apply a formal set of rules of
logic. For example, lets say the following problem is given:

Hassan is taller than Mike.

Mike is shorter than Ramesh.
Who is the shortest of the three?

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[If you have difficulty with this..!] The ability of the child to respond
correctly to such a task will indicate whether the child is capable of formal
operational thinking. The child is able to consider many possibilities for a
given condition. The child is able to think abstractly and can solve complex
and hypothetical problems involving abstract operations. Formal operational
thinkers can recognise and identify a problem. They can state several
alternative hypotheses, execute procedures to collect information about the
problems to be studied and test the hypotheses.

See Table 7.6 which is a summary of the four stages of intellectual

development and the related cognitive abilities for each stage.

Table 7.6: Summary of the Four Stages and Characteristic Cognitive Abilities

Stage Cognitive abilities

Sensorimotor Differentiates self from objects.
(Birth to Two Years)
Recognises self as agent of action and begins to act intentionally:
e.g. pulls a string to set mobile in motion or shakes a rattle to
make a noise.
Achieves object permanence: realises that things continue to exist
even when they are no longer present to the sense around the age
of one.
Preoperational Learns to use language and to represent objects by images and
(Two to Seven Years) words.
Thinking is still egocentric: has difficulty taking the viewpoint of
Classifies objects by a single feature: e.g. groups together all red
blocks regardless of shape or all square blocks regardless of
Concrete Operational Can think logically about objects and events.
(Seven to 11 Years)
Achieves conservation of number (age six), mass (age seven), and
weight (age nine).
Classifies objects according to several features and can order
them in series along a single dimension such as size.
Formal Operations Can think logically about abstract propositions and test
(Above 11 Years) hypotheses systematically.
Becomes concerned with the hypothetical, the future and
ideological problems.

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Psychologists have identified two main factors that may explain individual
differences, namely, the learning traits that a student brings when confronted
with a learning task and the thinking and learning skills that are activated as
demanded by the task.

Learning traits refer to aptitudes for learning, willingness to learn, styles of

learning, preferences for learning and the prior knowledge of students.

Thinking and learning skills refer to the mental skills employed as demanded
by a task.

Learning style refers to the preferred ways in which a student processes


Field IndependentField Dependent describes the extent to which a person is

affected by the surrounding environment.

The differences in learning styles between FI and FD learners have distinct

implications for instructional strategies.

To maximise learning for FI students, provisions should be made for an

independent learning environment, using discovery and inquiry teaching

Kolb defined learning styles as ones preferred methods for perceiving and
processing information. He identified four types of learning styles: divergers,
assimilators, convergers and accommodators.

Anxiety is an emotional state that is characterised by feelings of tension,

apprehension and nervousness. Anxiety also has a positive side in that it
enhances interest and excitement as well as a negative side, that may impede

Locus of control refers to an individuals feelings about the placement of

control over his or her life events and who is responsible for those events.

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Extroversion describes people whose thinking and behaviour are directed

outward or to the surrounding environment while introversion, describes
people whose thinking and behaviour are directed inward or to oneself.

Achievement motivation is a personality trait that describes an individuals

willingness to achieve.

Prior knowledge consists of the knowledge, skills or abilities that a student

brings to the learning environment.

The types of learning or learning tasks that are required in schools and other
educational settings, have been conveniently described in terms of
taxonomies of learning.

Based on the processes of assimilation and accommodation and the tendency

towards equilibrium, Piaget proposed his theory of cognitive development
consisting of four stages: sensorimotor stage, preoperational stage, concrete
operations stage and formal operations stage.

Achievement motivation Learning styles

Anxiety Learning tasks
Blooms taxonomy Learning traits
Extroversion Leiths taxonomy
Field-dependent Locus of control
Field-independent Merrills component display theory
Gagnes learning events Personality
Individual differences Piagets theory of cognitive development
Introversion Prior knowledge
Kolbs learning styles

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Applying what we know: Students learning styles. Dennis Mills. Retrieved from

Boeree, G. (2010). Jean Piaget. 1896-1980.. Retrieved from


Extrovert-Introvert. Joseph Bergin. Pace University. Retrieved from


Individual differences. Topic 3. Retrieved from


Individual differences. Information Inquiry for Teachers. Retrieved from


Individual differences in motivation and performance. Retrieved from


Kolbs learning styles. BusinessBall.com. Retrieved from


Personality and learning. Canadian Conference of MB Churches. Retrieved from


Personality: Theory and perspectives. Retrieved from


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T op i c Learning
from Text
By the end of this topic, you should be able to:
1. Explain the process of learning to read;
2. Explain the role of metacognition in reading;
3. Describe how underlining and highlighting enhances learning;
4. Explain why not all students are able to summarise equally well;
5. Discuss strategies for teaching note-taking;
6. List the techniques for developing vocabulary; and
7. Argue why readers need guidance in reading their textbook.

A large proportion of the information that a student obtains about a particular
subject area is through reading. Successful learning relies heavily on the
students ability to comprehend the meaning of already written text and to create
new texts, containing their own meaning (such as making notes or writing).
Students have to read textbooks on various disciplines such as history, science,
mathematics, moral education, Islamic studies, technical subjects and so forth.
Are there specific reading strategies for each subject area? Do all students have
the same reading ability? Is reading ability related to academic performance?

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The first few years of schooling are occupied with learning to read and the rest of
a students life is spent reading to learn. The process of learning to read and
reading to learn are closely intertwined. In teaching students to read, one should
also teach them how to approach the text so that they retain its meaning for
future; reading then becomes a tool for future learning. A child, in learning to
read, needs not only to be able to use language, but also to be aware that
language is a tool to be used for ones own purposes and to be aware of using it.
Reading involves three interlocking processes:
(a) Decoding translating orthographics or marks on paper into words
(b) Comprehension translating words into meanings
(c) Studying extracting meaning for future use

Kirby (1988) graphically represented the reading process as shown in Figure 8.1.

Figure 8.1: Decoding and comprehending text

Source: Kirby. (1988). Style, strategy and skill in reading. In R. R. Schmeck (ed). Learning
strategies and learning styles. New York: Plenum Press.

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Features and letters include the loops, lines and curves that make the letters
themselves. For example, learning to distinguish visually among various letters
shapes, such as b versus p versus d.

(a) Sounds are associated with the letters and combinations of letters, which
involves learning the rules for converting visual letters into sounds. For
example, c sounds like k in cat and like s in city. Words are encoded
visually and phonemically. For example, learning to decode whole words,
both visually (cap versus cup) and through pronunciation (ship
versus sheep).

(b) Chunks are combinations of words in meaningful phrases which give a unit
of sense. For example, a sentence may comprise 11 words but only three
chunks / The two men / entered the room / and found a corpse/.

(c) Ideas are represented as a statement of meaning at the sentence level. For
the first time, the meaning is not a direct association of what is on the page
but an abstraction formed in the mind of the reader.

(d) Main Ideas are statements usually at the paragraph level comprising of the
gist, constructed from all the ideas in the passage.

(e) Theme, which is inferred, goes beyond the main idea and is often not stated

Because these decoding skills are so complex and varied, they are not mastered
easily by any child and some children never manage to master them. Therefore,
educators have developed a variety of teaching methods to try to optimise the
acquisition of decoding. Two contrasting strategies, which have generated
considerable research interest, are known respectively as phonics and look-say
methods. The phonics method teaches the child to dissect words into letters or
sound units before blending the sound together in pronouncing a word. e.g. b
a = ba; t u = tu; batu. The look-say method takes the whole word as a unit
and teaches the child to read it, without any previous breakdown into
component sounds. Controversy has raged for decades over which of these two
methods is more effective. Research has also not been conclusive as to which
method is superior. Taking sides on this issue is not helpful either, because both
are important.

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Novice readers cannot think about meaning until they can phonically analyse
words. Only then can they focus on what is important: the ideas, main ideas and
themes. If decoding skills are slow and uncertain, words slip from working
memory before the relationship with other words can be understood. Slow
reading inevitably leads to poor comprehension. Poor readers have double
trouble. Poor decoding leads to poor comprehension. This problem could
persist even in secondary school.

Comprehension starts where decoding ends, from words up, the general
idea of what the text is about. Readers who focus on the words, phrases and
sentences used by the author (processing the words, chunks and ideas) are said
to adopt a surface approach to the text and are likely to miss the main ideas and
theme. Readers who are interested in what the author means, focus on larger and
more abstract units such as main ideas and themes. They are said to adopt a deep
approach to the text.


1. Find out whether the phonics method or the look-say method is

adopted in Malaysian schools.
2. Ask the teachers why they prefer to use a particular method to teach
reading in Bahasa Melayu or English.


Reading is a metacognitive activity. [We have discussed in Topic 5 about
metacognition]. Skilled readers are equipped with two important metacognitive
skills: awareness and action. The skill of awareness or an accurate appreciation of
the overriding purpose of reading, enables the reader to focus on extracting the
essential meaning of the text. The skilled reader is also aware when he or she
does not understand a word or phrase or sentence. To know that you know and
know that you do not know. When the skilled reader knows that he does not
know, he does something about it, which leads us to the second metacognitive
skill. It is the ability to take action and deploy special strategies to facilitate
comprehension. For example, if you do not know the meaning of a particular
word, you could either refer to a dictionary or re-read the sentence and use the
context to figure out the meaning. This is called using context clues.

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Less skilful readers lack metacognitive skills. Skilled readers use the following
highly effective strategies, which are automatic to them:

(a) Periodic monitoring of their ongoing level of understanding as they go

through the text,

(b) Paraphrasing the meaning of complex sentences in their own words,

(c) Searching the context for useful clues such as pictures, familiar words or
redundant phrases to boost comprehension of difficult parts of the text, and

(d) Formulating hypotheses about where the most important information in the
text would be located so they could either skim read, reread or memorise
with optimal efficiency, depending on the constraints of the task.

Enhancing Reading Through Instruction

If students are having difficulty reading their textbooks, can anything be done
about it? Can students be encouraged to be more metacognitive about their
reading comprehension strategies? Paris (1987) developed a programme called
Informed Strategies for Learning (ISL), which began with the assumption that
reading strategies can be explained to students and, if it is done effectively, they
can then use them correctly and spontaneously in subsequent reading. The
programme consists of the following steps:

(a) Informed Teaching

If teachers are to tell students what a strategy is, how it operates and when
and why it should be used, the teachers better know these, themselves.
Although this knowledge is simple enough, many people do not really
understand what skimming is or what it is best used for. On the other
hand, students have their own notions of skimming which to some of
them, is reading the first and last words of a sentence very fast.

(b) Use of Metaphors

In order to cue students to use these strategies, clear and concrete directions
are needed. Paris (1987) used various metaphors and analogies to do this.
The following are examples of how he used metaphors:

(i) Pre-reading Plan your reading trip [How is planning to read like
planning a holiday? Would you read in a different way if you wanted
to learn a lot of details or just the general idea?].

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(ii) Summarising Round up your ideas. [STOP: Say the meaning in

your own words]

(iii) Identifying the Main Idea Be a detective. Track down the main
idea. [Dead end: Go back and reread the parts you didnt understand]

(c) Group Discussion

Students need the opportunity to express their confusion, distress or pride.
Discussion enables them to share with others, ways they have developed
that seem to work for them. Paris (1987) noted that teachers are often
surprised, both at the ignorance and lack of understanding expressed by
some readers, in their approach to text.

(d) Guided Practice

Each lesson requires students to read and apply the strategy they are
currently learning and to discuss it again immediately afterwards: Did it
work? How did it work? When did it work best?

(e) Bridging to the Content Areas

One of the problems with teaching students strategies to read, is their lack
of understanding on how a particular strategy may be applied across
different subject areas such as science, history, geography and so forth.


1. To what extent do teachers in secondary schools teach their students

how to read their textbooks and other printed materials?
2. Do you think history, science, geography and economics teachers
should teach their students how to read their textbooks and other
printed material?


The textbook is more often the primary source of information in schools, colleges
and universities. In industry, it could be reports and manuals. Textbooks are
written for the purpose of presenting information about a certain subject that
students need to know. Students need to become familiar with the techniques for
effectively studying and learning textbook materials. They need to know how to
learn as they read. The following are some strategies which may be used in
learning from text.

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(a) Underlining and Highlighting

Underlining and highlighting are activities designed to focus attention on
important information in a text, usually the main ideas. The act of
identifying the main idea and tagging it, takes more mental effort than
passive reading and as long as the effort is directed at the higher textual
levels, learning is facilitated. There is no purpose served in indiscriminate
highlighting and underlining texts without such higher level processing.
Inbuilt into effective highlighting and underlining, then, is reader
sensitivity to importance. Unfortunately, poor readers are less sensitive to
main ideas than their more competent peers. Studies have shown that
students who highlighted and underlined the text they read, outperformed
students who read the text without highlighting or underlining (Chan &
Cole, 1986, Rickards & August, 1975).

Underlining and highlighting are effective ways to prepare for studying for
the following reasons:

(i) First, the process of underlining forces the reader to sift through what
is read, to identify important information. This sifting or sorting helps
the reader keep in mind what he or she is doing.

(ii) Second, underlining or highlighting keeps the reader physically active

while reading. The physical activity helps the reader to focus or
concentrate on what is being read.

(iii) Third, underlining forces the reader to weigh and evaluate what is
being read. In other words, the reader must think about and react to
what is being read in order to decide whether to underline or

(iv) Fourth, underlining or highlighting helps the reader see the

organisation of facts and ideas as well as their connections and
relationships to one another. This is because the reader is forced to
look for those things in order to underline or highlight.

(v) Finally, underlining or highlighting demonstrates to the reader

whether he or she understands what has been read. If the reader had
difficulty underlining, or his or her underlining is not helpful or
meaningful after having completed reading, the reader will know that
he or she did not understand the text.

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(b) Summarising and Note-Taking

Taking notes from a text and writing a summary, are means of helping
readers clarify the meaning of a text and help remember its main content.
Summaries help us read to learn and involve the production of a written text.
Note-taking and summarising are, however, unlike most other writing tasks
in that, both are usually written for the writer to read, not someone else.

Student Note Making

Ask yourself the following questions in relation to student
note making in your classes:
(a) Have I taught a method or methods for taking notes?
(b) Why do I want students to take notes?
(c) Is it always justified?
(d) What use will be made of the notes taken?
(e) Is note making the best way to achieve the learning objectives I have in
(f) Does the student understand how to make notes and how this can be
used for various purposes?
(g) What standards and conventions do I impose upon notebooks? Are
these always reasonable?
(h) What is the attitude of students towards their notes? How do I
encourage them to feel that these are their personal possessions and
part of their learning?
(i) Would your student note-taking sessions be more effective, if they had
been given regular practice?

Take notes on facts and you will retain the facts; summarise main ideas and
you will remember the main ideas. What is a good summary? A good
summary presents the theme of the text. One of the greatest difference
between good and poor summary writers lies, in the inability to distinguish
between what is important from what is less important (Hidi & Anderson,
1986). Good summary writers are able to extract the theme of the text which
is conveyed, into a set of statements. For example, one topic sentence might
replace a paragraph. The final summary is thus written at a higher, more
abstract level than the original. Hidi & Anderson (1986) identified three
stages in the development of summarising skills.

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(i) The deficiency stage, which is found in young children, indicates no

sense of relative importance. Learners at this stage see what is
important as what is interesting to them, not what is more or less
relevant in terms of the text itself.

(ii) The inefficiency stage, which shows some sense of relative

importance, but the focus is still on the sentence level. Learners here
use the copy-delete strategy, observable well into secondary school,
in which students copy more or less verbatim what they think is a
significant sentence, omitting subsequent sentences until the next
significant one is found. Students using such a strategy see the trees
but not the forest; they ignore the way in which sentences modify
each other to convey a main idea, not contained in any one sentence.

(iii) The efficiency stage, in which the significant sentences are restructured
and transformed into new, higher order generative sentences that
effectively subsume all the important information in the text, thus
giving high depth and high content. The ability to write good topic
sentences is, however, a problem even at tertiary level and may not be
within the ability of young children, prior to adolescence. Effective
notes should accomplish three things:

First, good notes should serve as a summary of the main points of

the material

Second, good notes should include enough details and examples

so that the learner can completely understand and recall the
information later,

Third, the notes should show the relative importance of ideas and
reflect the organisation of the material.

Can Summarisation Skills be Taught?

The encouraging news is that they can be taught. Even low-ability readers
in secondary schools can benefit from strategy training in locating main
ideas. Rinehart, Stahl and Erickson (1986) developed a strategy of teaching
summarisation skills. They focused on four summarisation rule operations:
locating main ideas, deleting trivial information, deleting redundant
information and relating main and supporting information. The training
programme is based on:

(i) explicit explanation (each of the to-be-mastered skills is taught


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(ii) modelling (the teacher models the procedures using a talk-aloud

method followed by student talk-alouds). See Figure 8.2;

(iii) practice with feedback (ample opportunity is given for practice with
immediate feedback); and

(iv) breaking down of complex skills (summarisation begins with short

paragraphs, later moving to note-taking from a topic in a textbook).

One technique that is adopted, is to tell students that they will not be
allowed to look at the materials when making the notes. This will force
them to think of higher level meanings when they read the material and not
the details. If the text is made available, readers tend to scan inefficiently,
rather than search actively for the structure of the text. Getting readers to
summarise from memory encourages them to adopt a deep approach
because it forces them to read actively first, organising details into
appropriate main ideas.

Figure 8.2: Steps in Modelling a Cognitive Skill

Source: John Arul Phillips. (1992). Metacognitive training for helping poor readers in the
content areas. Malaysian Journal of Reading. 1(1). p. 14.

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1. Design a programme for teaching note-taking to:

(a) Primary school pupils.
(b) Lower secondary school students.

2. Which approach will you adopt? Give your reasons

(c) Vocabulary Development Using Context Clues

Vocabulary development is crucial to the development of effective and
efficient reading. By vocabulary is meant, the ability to recognise individual
words and to associate meaning with the particular combination of letters
that form the word. Words are symbols: they are groups of letters that stand
for, or represent, a physical object, an idea, a feeling and so forth. In other
words, vocabulary development requires the reader to make associations
between the combination of letters (called words) and a physical object, idea,
feeling and so forth. The major task involved in vocabulary development is
to increase the number of associations between words and what they stand
for, which determines the readers vocabulary level. There are a number of
methods that a reader can use to develop his or her vocabulary. One of the
easiest and most practical ways of determining the meaning of an unknown
word, is to carefully study how the word is used in the sentence, paragraph
or passage in which it is found. The context the words around an unknown
word frequently contains various types of clues that can help the reader to
figure out the meaning of the unknown word.

There are four types of context clues that are useful in determining the
meaning of words in factual material. These types of clues are:

(i) Definition: A brief definition or a synonym of an unknown word may

be included in the sentence in which the word is used. The author is
aware that the word is a new word to the reader and takes the time to
give an accurate definition of the term.

A chemical reaction is an interaction involving different atoms, in
which chemical bonds are formed, broken or both.

A democracy is a form of government in which the people effectively

participate in the political process.

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(ii) Example-Illustration: Writers may explain their words and ideas by

giving specific and concrete examples of them. It is sometimes
possible that an example is given to illustrate or explain a new term or
concept, to figure out the meaning of an unknown word from the
example. Writers sometimes give readers an advance warning or
signal that, they are going to present an example or illustration.
Phrases that signal example or illustration are: for example, for
instance, to illustrate, such as, included are.

Psychological disturbances are sometimes traceable to a particular
trauma in childhood. For example, the death of a parent may produce
long-range psychological effects.

The play contained a variety of morbid events; the death of a young

child, the suicide of her mother and the murder of an older sister.

(iii) Contrast: The meaning of an unknown word can sometimes be

determined for a word or phrase in the context, which has the
opposite meaning. For example, Sam was thin but Zain was obese.
By knowing the meaning of thin and knowing that Zain is the
opposite of thin, the reader can figure out the meaning of obese
which is not thin but fat.

The Chief Minister was very dogmatic about government policies
while the Assistant Chief Minister was more lenient and flexible in his

(iv) Logic of the Passage: The meaning of an unknown word can

sometimes be determined through reasoning or by applying logic to
the content of the sentence or paragraph. Suppose the reader comes
across this sentence:

Some of the questions now before us, are empirical issues that require
evidence directly bearing on the question.

From the way empirical is used in the sentence, the reader knows
that an empirical issue is one that requires direct evidence and from
that information, the reader can infer or reason that empirical has
something to do with proof or supporting facts.

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The police officer was exonerated by the police review panel of any
possible misconduct or involvement in a case of police bribery.

(v) Like horses, human beings have a variety of gaits; they amble, stride,
jog and sprint.


The SQ3R system has been in use for many years. Since it was developed by
Robinson in the 1940s, it has been advocated as a method of helping students
read their textbooks. To learn information presented in text, it is necessary to do
more than simply read the material as it is assigned. The information must be
reviewed and studied, then transferred to the readers long-term memory. The
steps of the system are as follows:

(a) S- Survey
Try to become familiar with the organisation and general content of the
material you are to read. For example, you could:

(i) Read the title

(ii) Read the introduction

(iii) Read each boldface heading

(iv) Notice any maps, graphs, tables, diagrams and read the last
paragraph or summary

(v) Read through the end-of-topic questions

After you have surveyed the material, you should know generally what it is
about and how it is organised.

(b) Q Question
Try to form questions that you can answer as you read. The easiest way to
do this is to turn each heading and sub-heading into a question.

(c) R Read
Read the material, section by section. As you read, look for the answer to
the question you formed from the headings and sub-headings of that

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(d) R Recite
After you finish each section Stop. Check to see if you can answer your
question for the section. If you cannot, look back and find the answer. Then
check your recall again. Be sure to complete this step after you read each

(e) R Review
When you have finished the whole reading assignment, go back to each
heading; recall your questions and try to answer. If you cannot recall the
answers, be sure to look back and find the answers. Then test yourself


Knowing that not all students in a class can read equally well, teachers can help
poor readers by adopting guided reading strategies. Not all textbooks have been
written in a manner that will help unskilled readers. Given the importance of
reading in academic performance, students can be assisted in reading their
textbooks and other relevant materials. Often, students have problems in three
basic areas: unknown words, sentences which contain words which are not
known in the context and overall structure of the text. We will discuss two
techniques teachers can use to help readers learn from text: advance organisers
and three-level reading guides.

(a) Advance Organisers

Generally, students have some existing knowledge about a topic and unless
this knowledge was acquired completely and randomly, it will be
organised in some kind of cognitive structure or mental filing system [Refer
to Topic 4: The Information Processing Model]. As students encounter new
ideas, they need to be able to store the information in an appropriate filing
system. Useful learning takes place when, firstly, students possess and
properly organise cognitive structure and secondly, the new material to be
learned, is also carefully structured.

See Figure 8.3 which is a schematic representation of a readers cognitive

structure and its relationship to materials to be learned (Phase 1). The
students cognitive structure is represented as a network connecting bits of
information already known to him or her. In Phase 2, the new materials to
be learned are organised into the readers existing cognitive structure.
Among good learners, the cognitive structure is well-organised so the
reader automatically knows where and how the new material is to fit the

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cognitive structure. Among poor learners, students have to be told where

and how the new material fits, so that the new idea will become part of
the readers cognitive structure.

Ausubel (1968) suggested that students should be presented with advance

organisers or general concepts to ensure that their cognitive structures can
accommodate the new materials [Refer to Topic 3 on Cognitive Theories
Learning, p. 5860]. The aim of the advance organiser is to help the reader
make connections between new and old information. Often, teachers tend
to provide a kind of advance organiser orally before a lesson begins. For
example, the teacher may recall the previous lesson and try to make
connections with the new lesson. They might remind students where the
new lesson fits with previous work. However, when it is done orally, there
is no guarantee that all students would have followed the teachers
explanations and reminders, or that all the background information needed,
has been covered.

Figure 8.3: Schematic representation of cognitive structure and its

relationship to new material to be learned
Source: F. Robinson. (1970). Study Guide for Ausubel Robinson. School Learning. New
York: L Holt, Rinehart and Winston

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Barron (1969) and many psychologists have proposed that students may
approach text more effectively by placing new material in their cognitive
structure, when they are provided with an advance organiser that takes the
form of a structured overview. In other words, rather than make
connections orally, it is more effective if teachers provide some written
advance organisers. The advance organiser can take many forms: structured
overviews, cartoons, stories, pictures, drawings, newspaper cuttings,
quotations, speeches, poems, learning objectives, summaries and so forth.
An advance organiser is intended to prime the reader into organising new
information into appropriate cognitive structures.

(b) Three-Level Reading Guides

Read Topic 15 of your textbook. The skilled reader will have an idea as to
what is required but the less skilled reader is not sure what he or she is
supposed to do. Should I make notes?, Should I read the topic in
preparation for a test?, Must I remember everything in the topic?, What is
it that I should know in the topic? It is not surprising that in the next lesson,
some students remark that they have read the topic three times and yet, are
unable to understand. Reading experts and psychologists have proposed that
less skilled readers need some kind of guidance in their reading. This would
be strange for some history, geography, science or mathematics teachers.
Teaching reading and helping students to read, is always seen as the work of
the language teacher (Bahasa Melayu or English teacher). Obviously, the
language teacher will be less able to help students read in the respective
subject areas. The subject teacher has to decide on the following:

(i) What concepts, inferences or applications should the students

understand once they have read that portion of text of the topic?

(ii) What thinking process is experienced in order to develop these

concepts? Is it inductive and will the readers be able to read the literal
statements in the text and make the inferences that the science, history
or geography teacher expects?

(iii) Is the text cluttered with unrelated factual statements?

(iv) Does the author of the passage assume that the readers will be able to
make the correct inferences and ultimately apply, what has been
learned in other situations?

Herber (1978) suggested that the progressive levels of abstractions implied

by these questions may be subsumed under three headings and accordingly
guided, based on this model, have become known as THREE-LEVEL
GUIDES for Literal Comprehension, Interpretive Comprehension and
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Applied Comprehension (see Figure 8.4). This has also been termed as
Reading the lines, Reading between the lines and Reading beyond the

(i) Reading the lines at the literal level, involves understanding what the
author actually said. It involves decoding words and determining
their meanings in context. Readers may identify statements at this
level without actually understanding what they mean.

(ii) Reading between the lines at the interpretive level, requires readers to
ask the question, What did the author actually mean? Readers must
be able to interpret the literal statements and see relationships
between them.

(iii) Reading beyond the lines at the application level, carries the student
beyond the text being read, by taking the results of the literal and
interpretive levels and applying them to other experiences in the
readers cognitive structure so that a new idea, unique to the reader,

Literal Understanding
Read Topic 15 on Weathering and state whether these statements are TRUE or FALSE.
(a) The alternate freezing and thawing of water, pushes rocks apart.
(b) When rocks are wetted and dried repeatedly, they begin to decompose.
(c) Oxidation is a form of weathering.

Interpretive Understanding
Read Topic 15 on Weathering and state whether the following statements are an
accurate interpretation of the contents of the Topic. When you interpret, you try to
combine parts of the information in the text to generate an idea.
(a) For weathering to take place, there should be the presence of water.
(b) Weathering is more intense in tropical countries.

Applied Understanding
Read Topic 15 on Weathering. To apply what you read, you must combine what you
have read with your own ideas and experiences, which are personal to you. Applied
Understanding is the personal meaning you bring to the Topic.
(a) Water is the greatest agent for change on earth.
(b) Gravity is the force that drives water to move material.
(c) Erosion and deposition could level the land, eventually.

Figure 8.4: A Three-level guide for a topic on weathering

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1. Do you think students in your class need guidance in reading their

textbooks or other printed material?
2. Design a Three-Level Reading Guide for a topic in a subject or
course you teach.

The first few years of schooling are occupied with learning to read and the
rest of the students life is spent reading to learn.

Decoding is translating orthographics or marks on paper into words.

The phonics method teaches a child to dissect words into letter or sound
units, before blending the sound together in pronouncing a word.

The look-say method takes the whole word as a unit and teaches a child to
read it without any previous breakdown into component sounds.

Reading strategies can be explained to students. If this is done effectively,

students can then use them correctly and spontaneously in subsequent

Students need to become familiar with the techniques for effectively studying
and learning textbook material.

Underlining and highlighting are activities designed to focus attention on

important information in a text, usually the main ideas.

One of the greatest differences between good and poor summary writers lies
in the ability to distinguish between what is important from what is less

Summarisation skills can be taught.

Vocabulary development is crucial to the development of effective and

efficient reading.

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The context the words around an unknown word frequently contains

various types of clues that can help the reader to figure out the meaning of
the unknown word.

The SQ3R system has been advocated as a method for helping students read
their textbooks.

The aim of an advance organiser is to help a reader make connections

between new and old information.

The Three-Level Guide aims to guide readers to process information at the

literal, interpretive and applied levels.

Action Metacognitive skills

Advance organiser Note-taking
Applied understanding Phonics method
Awareness Reading to learn
Comprehension SQ3R system
Decoding Summarising
Highlighting Teaching reading strategie
Interpretive understanding Three-Level Reading Guide
Literal understanding Underlining
Look-say method Vocabulary development

Context clues. Cuesta College Academic Support. Retrieved from


Content area reading. Retrieved from

www.state.tn.us/education/ci/ cistandards2001/la/cicontentreading.pdf

Metacognitive strategies for helping poor readers in the content areas. Retrieved
from John Arul Phillips: http://www.learningdomain.com/MetaRead.htm

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Reading strategies that assist content area reading. Retrieved from


Reading. Saskatchewan Government. Retrieved from


Three-level guide. Keiju Suominen & Amanda Wilson. Retrieved from


Using context clues. Atwater High School. Retrieved from


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Topic Motivation
and Learning
By the end of this topic, you should be able to:
1. Define motivation;
2. Explain how motivation is related to learning;
3. Discuss the Expectancy-Value Theory of Motivation;
4. Compare the different types of motivation related to valuing a task;
5. Explain Expecting Success;
6. Describe self-efficacy and how it is related to motivation;
7. Explain how attribution is related to motivation; and
8. Propose ways of motivating students to learn.

This topic discusses the role of emotion and in particular, motivation in
influencing learning. There is increasing evidence to suggest that affective
aspects play an equally significant role in determining learning. We often lament
that students are not interested in what we are teaching in schools and wonder
what can be done. Motivating students to learn is a challenge for most educators.
This topic examines in detail the concept of motivation, the different explanations
of motivation, factors determining motivation and ways to motivate students to

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We have spent a lot of time examining the cognitive aspects of learning. Perhaps,
the only exception was in Topic 7: Individual Differences in Learning, where we
did dwell on the role of personality in learning, focusing on anxiety, locus of
control and extroversion introversion. What about the emotions or feelings of
the learner? Some people tend to ignore emotions and their influence on learning.
Already there are so many factors that affect learning and to add emotions to it
would make the task of teaching even more complex.

According to Jensen (1988), emotions drive the threesome of attention, meaning

and memory. This basically sums up the whole process of learning which
involves attending to information, constructing meaning and storing it in
memory. There is evidence to suggest that emotions play a role in ensuring how
humans organise information in the brain and how information is retrieved. For
example, stress, frustration, anger and fear can overwhelm the brain with
hormones and thought patterns that totally shut down ones ability to learn.
Similarly, emotions assist in both evaluating and integrating information and
experiences. However, as we know, emotional instability can literally hinder us
from thinking straight.

Let us look at the classroom and examine instances where emotions might play
an important role in influencing learning. Take the case of a student whose past
experiences have been filled with poor grades, failure and low self-esteem, which
will inevitably have a major impact on his or her current ability to learn.
Emotions related to competence, self-assurance, fear, frustration and so forth
play a role in how a student approaches learning. Educators have to recognise
that students come to our classrooms with varying emotions and predispositions
about being a student.

Besides emotions related to their learning abilities, how students interact with
others is also highly emotive. Positive interactions greatly enhance opportunities
for learning while negative responses can virtually shut down learning for the

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affected students. Since much of learning is social, positive experiences with

others (such as teachers and fellow students), greatly enhance the push towards
learning. In this context, how students perceive the teachers emotion has an
impact on them. For example, if learners perceive that teachers see them as lazy,
dumb, uninterested and incapable, there is strong likelihood they will act
accordingly. The moment students begin to feel alienated or threatened, you can
bet your last ringgit that they will stop learning, become difficult, cease
participating or perhaps even drop out.


(a) Take care how you respond to your learners. Check your own
emotions. When you find yourself irritated at a stupid question,
disappointed in a learner's lack of understanding, or furious with off-
topic remarks in the classroom, stop. Wait and react after some time to
decrease the likelihood of negatively affecting the learning process.

(b) Show your enthusiasm for the content and for learning. It is
contagious. Give learners reasons to care about the topic by showing
that you do. Encourage their understanding by helping them
personally create meaning from class material. Point out successes and
give them goals to achieve in their learning. Such actions provide
emotional and social support for their learning.

(c) Personalise your communications. Use the learners name. Use

personal examples. Ask learners to relate their learning to real life or
past experience. These techniques make the interpersonal aspects of
the content more emotionally accessible and enhance learning.

(d) Do not hesitate to express your own emotions. You might say, I was
really impressed, I am confused, I was surprised or I am


In this topic, focus will be on one aspect of emotion, namely, motivation. Some
have said that motivation is emotion in motion. Motivation is a core construct
in human behaviour. Sufficiently motivated, an individual will experience
physiological changes. Apparently, everything we do, from getting out of bed in
the morning to answering a phone call, is motivated by something. We may be
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motivated by hunger, fear or the desire for self-fulfilment. As educators, we

would love to have students who are intrinsically motivated, that is, who provide
their own motivation for learning. We wish that students are driven by curiosity
and the natural desire to know and understand the world around them.
However, we know that this is often not the case.

According to Groccia (1992), motivation is that which

influences the arousal, selection, direction and
maintenance of all human behaviour. Students require
some form of stimulus to activate, provide direction for
and encourage persistence in their study and learning
efforts. Motivation is this energy to study, to learn and
achieve and to maintain these positive behaviours over
time. Motivation is what stimulates students to acquire,
transform and use knowledge.

Psychologists studying motivation have focused on five basic questions (Graham

& Weiner, 1996; Pintrich, Marx, & Boyle, 1993):

(a) What choices do people make about their behaviour?

Why do some students, for example, focus on their homework and others
watch television?

(b) How long does it take to get started?

Why do some students start their work right away while others

(c) What is the intensity or level of involvement in the chosen activity?

When the book is opened, is the student absorbed and focused or just going
through the motions?

(d) What causes a person to persist or to give up?

Will the student read the entire story or just a few pages?

(e) What is the individual thinking and feeling while engaged in an activity?
Is the student enjoying listening to the poem, feeling competent or
worrying about an upcoming test?

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1. Give three reasons why you are pursuing this graduate degree.
2. What do you expect to do after graduation?
3. How are your interests related to your graduate studies?
4. How are your abilities related to your graduate studies?


Motivation is, thus, the starting point for learning. How a student is motivated
determines whether or not, the student will attempt to learn and how the task is
approached. So why do students learn? Or refuse to learn? Simple, because;

(a) They VALUE either the outcome or process of learning; and

(b) They EXPECT to be successful.

Without both these elements the activity being valued and the outcome being
probable people will not perform. Why should they? This is what the
Expectancy-Value Theory suggests (see Figure 9.1). This means that motivation is
the product of two main forces the individuals expectation of reaching a goal
and the value of that goal to him or her. If I try hard, can I succeed? and If I
succeed, will the outcome be valuable or rewarding to me? Motivation is a
product of these two forces because if either factor is zero, then, there is no
motivation. For example, if I believe I have a good chance of making the football
team (high expectation) and if making the team is very important to me (high
value), then my motivation should be strong. But if either factor is zero
(Expectation = I believe I do not have a chance of making the team, or Value = I
couldnt care less about playing basketball), then my motivation will be zero, too
(Tollefson, 2000).

Figure 9.1: Expectancy-Value theory

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In addition, Jacqueline Eccles and Allan Wigfield (1992) add the element of cost
to the expectancy x value equation. Values have to be considered in relation to
the cost of pursuing them. How much energy will be required? What could I be
doing instead? What are the risks if I fail? Will I look stupid? So the teachers task
becomes two fold:
(a) Help students see the value of what they are doing; and
(b) Give them a reasonable expectation of success in achieving it.


Let us examine valuing a task. How do we enhance the value of a task to
students? Show them that their work is important to them. Importance arises
from the value placed on the process, on the product, on what the product begins
or what other people value. For example, a student completes her history essay
because it is important to her or she sees the value of doing so. Completing her
essay will win praise from her history teacher. Valuing the task involves four
types of motivation, namely, extrinsic motivation, social motivation, achievement
motivation and intrinsic motivation.

(a) Extrinsic Motivation

A child does not misbehave because her father promised to buy her a toy.
When a person is motivated extrinsically, he or she does something because
of the value or importance attached to what it brings, such as getting
rewarded or avoiding discomfort for not doing it. The focus is not on the
process or on the product itself, but on what is associated with the product.
In other words, the task is incidental.

Extrinsic motivation is based on the operant conditioning introduced by

B. F. Skinner [Refer to Topic 2: Behavioural Learning Theories]. Simply put,
if you want people to do something, you make sure it is worth their while;
a principle well known to parents and teachers. If you want them to stop
doing it, you stop making it worth their while or you make it worth their
while to do something else. Sometimes, we are not consistent and we end
up rewarding people for doing the very things we do not want them to.

To repeat what we had studied in Topic 2, positive reinforcement involves

following a desirable behaviour with a reward. Also important is the
timing of the rewards. If delayed too long, this will result in the behaviour
weakening. Negative reinforcement is where the consequences of the
desired behaviour remove distress and are consequently rewarded, not
punishing as is often thought. The reward is relief at not being punished.

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Punishment is widely used to stop undesirable behaviour. Punishment is

unreliable, because sometimes it works and at other times, it actually
increases the unwanted behaviour.

(b) Social Motivation

Students learn in order to please people whose opinions are important to
them. In other words, the opinions of these people are valuable to the
learner. Such people include parents, members of the family, classmates
and teachers. Motivation here is not focused on material rewards but the
approval of others. For example, praise from someone admired by the
student helps the student internalise and take ownership of the task. A
student may think, Gee, I must be good at this if Ms. Wong says so!

An important mechanism of social motivation is modelling, which refers to

the tendency of people to imitate each other in the absence of direct
reinforcement [Refer to Topic 3: Cognitive Theories regarding the works of
Albert Bandura]. Modelling occurs throughout life with the model
changing at various points in a persons life. In the 1960s teenagers imitated
Elvis Presley and in the 1990s teenagers imitated Michael Jackson. In the
classroom, students might be motivated to learn because of the behaviour
of certain teachers. So teachers have a psychological and moral responsibility
to practise what they preach. The other day, we saw a teacher caning a
boy for smoking with a cigarette hanging out the teachers mouth!

(c) Achievement Motivation

Students learn to show that they can perform better than other people. The
motivation here is based upon the ego boost that comes about through
social competition. It is the struggle to get to the top, beating others in open
competition; it is not so important to gain material rewards as such
(although it helps). Neither is it important what the task is; it can be selling
cars, getting lucrative contracts, winning votes and so on. This is called
achievement motivation and was first described by McClelland, Atkinson,
Clark and Lowell in 1953. The two major motives involved in achievement
motivation are:

(a) the motive to achieve success; in particular, the ego enhancement that
success brings;

(b) the motive to avoid failure, which involves the fear of losing face.

[Refer to Topic 7: Individual Differences in Learning. Where we discussed

achievement motivation as a personality trait that accounted for individual
differences in learning].

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People for whom achieving success is a

stronger motive than avoiding failure are
called high-need achievers (their actual ability
is a separate question). For them, the greatest
glory in winning comes when the chances
are about 5050. If the chances are 80% of
winning, they will consider it a waste of
time as they are sure of winning. It is like
Manchester United playing against the MPPJ football team! People for
whom the motive to avoid failure is stronger than the motive to achieve
success, are called low-need achievers. These are people who will compete
against someone who they are certain to beat or defeat. They will take on a
stronger opponent so that they can fail gloriously by competing when the
odds are hopeless.

High-need achievers thrive on competition; low-need achievers adopt any

tactic to avoid it. High-need achievers are bored with tasks with high
success rate, such as mastery learning or programmed instruction. Low-
need achievers like these methods because of the higher success rate, which
is what they need to produce better feelings of self-efficacy.

(d) Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation is the natural tendency to seek out and conquer
challenges as we pursue personal interests and exercise capabilities. When
we are intrinsically motivated, we do not need incentives or punishments,
because the activity itself is rewarding. For example, Maznah studies
chemistry outside school simply because she loves the activity; no one
makes her do it. To enhance intrinsic motivation, the tasks need to be
potentially meaningful, at an optimum level of difficulty (see Table 9.1) and
presented in a way that enables multiple levels of processing.

Table 9.1: Degree of Intrinsic Motivation

Demand Motivational Consequence

Too little Familiar with all the content Boring, been there, done that.
Just right Mixture of familiar and unfamiliar A challenge, motivating
Too much Unfamiliar with all the content Cannot cope

The degree of intrinsic motivation experienced by a student depends on

the match between current ability and learning new material. When
the material to be learned is familiar and can be handled without too
much effort, there is no challenge and the task is seen as boring. Intrinsic

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motivation increases when students are placed in a slightly difficult

situation involving conflict between what they know and what they are
going to learn. When the material is unfamiliar and the student cannot
cope, intrinsic motivation decreases.


1. Explain the differences between extrinsic, social, achievement

intrinsic motivations.
2. Give specific examples for each type of motivation.


The second factor affecting academic motivation according to the Expectancy-
Value Theory relates to students expectations of success. What they believe
about themselves the competence and the reasons for their previous
performances are especially vital. Teachers play an important role in forming
and maintaining these beliefs. The two major issues when discussing expecting
success are students beliefs in their own efficacy and to what they attribute
their success and failure to.

(a) Self-Efficacy
How students see their chances of success depends to a large extent on how
they see themselves. Self-concept is how individuals see themselves. It
includes how they see themselves physically, socially, academically and so
forth. Academic self-concept is how students view their own abilities and
skills in handling academic tasks. Often, we hear academically weak
students admit openly and are resigned to the fact that they are stupid
since they have been in the worst class throughout secondary school!

Bandura (1977) proposed a very specific form of

self-concept theory called self-efficacy. Sadly, some
students believe that ability is something that a
person is born with and is a permanent, fixed trait.
Other students believe that ability is expandable
and that people can be successful through hard
work. When people approach a task, they form
expectations about how well they think they will be
able to carry it out. Such expectations derive from a
variety of sources but the critical ones are based on:

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(i) How well they have done that task in the past;

(ii) What they attribute their past performance to;

(iii) How their teachers and even other students think they will perform;

(iv) How difficult they see this particular task.

Note that self-efficacy is unlike general qualities such as self-esteem because

self-efficacy can differ greatly from one task or domain to another. A person
may have very high self-efficacy about learning to play the piano and very
low self-efficacy concerning learning calculus. It is also important to note that
self-efficacy judgements are not necessarily related to an individuals actual
ability to perform a task; rather, they are based on the persons beliefs about
that ability. Self-efficacy refers to the confidence in ones ability to behave in
such a way as to produce a desirable outcome (Bandura, 1977). Self-efficacy
makes a difference in how people feel, think and act.

(i) In terms of feeling, a low sense of self-efficacy for a particular

situation is positively related to depression and anxiety. High self-
efficacy for a specific situation allows one to deal better with
uncertainty, distress and conflict.

(ii) In terms of thinking, the strong sense of competence resulting from

high self-efficacy facilitates enhanced cognitive processes and
academic performance.

(iii) In terms of action, self-related cognitions are a major ingredient in the

motivation process. Self-efficacy levels can enhance or impede
motivation. People with high self-efficacy in a particular domain of
human functioning, choose to perform more challenging tasks. They
set higher goals and stick to them. Actions are pre-shaped in thought
and people anticipate either optimistic or pessimistic expected
outcomes of a specific task, in line with their level of self-efficacy.
Once an action has been taken, highly self-efficacious persons invest
more effort and persist longer than those low in self-efficacy to
accomplish a specific task. When setbacks occur, those with high self-
efficacy recover more quickly and maintain commitment to their goal.

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Bandura postulated that these expectations determined whether or not a

certain behaviour or performance would be attempted, the amount of
effort the individual would contribute to the behaviour and how long the
behaviour would be sustained when obstacles were encountered. In the
classroom, for example, poor grades and other negative assessments of
ability, can lower self-efficacy beliefs. Whether such experiences reinforce
or promote low levels of self-efficacy depends upon the individuals
perceptions and whether or not, the barriers are overcome.

Self-efficacy has been measured by psychologists and educators using self-

report tests. There are numerous such tests and Table 9.2 is an example of
one such test, called The General Self-Efficacy Scale (GSE). The 10-item
scale was developed by M. Jerusalem and R. Schwarzer in 1981 and has
been translated into 26 languages. The scale was created to assess a general
sense of perceived self-efficacy with the aim of predicting the ability to
cope with daily life as well as adapting to stressful life events. The scale
was reported to have Cronbachs alphas ranging from 0.76 to 0.90 with the
majority in the high 0.80s, which is relatively high.

Table 9.2: The General Self-Efficacy Scale (GSE)

1 I can always manage to solve difficult problems if I try hard enough.

2 If someone opposes me, I can find the means and ways to get what I want.
3 It is easy for me to stick to my aims and accomplish my goals.
4 I am confident that I could deal efficiently with unexpected events.
5 Thanks to my resourcefulness, I know how to handle unforeseen situations.
6 I can solve most problems if I invest the necessary effort.
7 I can remain calm when facing difficulties because I can rely on my coping abilities.
8 When I am confronted with a problem, I can usually find several solutions.
9 I can usually handle whatever comes my way.
10 If I am in trouble, I can usually think of a solution.

1 = Not at all true 2 = Hardly true 3 = Moderately true 4 = Exactly true

Source: Ralf Schwarzer and Matthisa Jerusalem (1993). Berlin, Germany. Retrieved from

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(b) Attribution
A different kind of belief about the self refers to the causes, individuals
attribute to their previous successes or failure. How they attribute their
success or failures will have an encouraging or discouraging effect. It will
also determine whether the individual will want to be further involved or
just give up. For example, certain graduate students in education will not
attempt to pursue a course in statistics because of their poor performance in
mathematics some 15 years ago.

Attribution Theory by Weiner (1972) offers another way of looking at

motivation. According to the theory, our beliefs about the causes of our
successes and failures influence our future motivation. We tend to attribute
success and failure to factors that vary along three dimensions: internal-
external, stable-unstable and controllable-uncontrollable. Internal factors
are those within the individual, while external factors come from others or
the environment (see Table 9.3).

Table 9.3: Dimensions of Attributions

Internal External

Stable Unstable Stable Unstable


So, if I did very well on an economics test, I might attribute my

performance internally to the fact that I studied for 11 hours, or externally,
to the thought that it was a very easy test. Using the same example, I might
attribute my good performance to a stable factor, such as my high aptitude
for economics, or to an unstable factor I just got lucky. Similarly, I might
attribute it to a controllable factor the amount of effort I put in, or to an
uncontrollable factor the teacher made a mistake in grading my test.

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As you might expect, these attributions can have considerable influence on

the motivation to perform.

(i) When one attributes performance largely to internal and controllable

factors, motivation tends to be higher.

(ii) When one attributes performance largely to external and uncontrollable

factors, motivation tends to be lower, since it appears that the
outcomes are beyond the individuals control.

The results for the stable-unstable dimension are less clear. For example, if I
believe that my ability to learn in some domain is generally high, then
stability is a positive factor; but if I believe that my ability is low, then
stability is a negative factor. How students perceive their competency and
how they judge the amount of control they have over the learning process,
influences how they perform in school.

With regard to academic performance, the following attributes are

significant: effort, interest, study strategy and ability. There is still some
debate about effort and ability. For example, students have better feelings
about failure when they are told that it may be attributed to a lack of study
strategies. High achievers tend to attribute their success to ability and
effort, while low achievers attribute their failure to lack of ability and their
success to luck or that the test was easy.

A particular bad form of attribution reduces the student to a state known as

learned helplessness (Seligman, 1975). This happens when students believe
that they have no control over unpleasant things that happen to them.
Learned helplessness leads to reduced motivation to control events,
impaired ability to learn how to control the situation and strong fears,
which lead to deep depression (Miller and Norman, 1979). The worst kind
of learned helplessness is attributed to internal, stable, uncontrollable and
general causes. In other words, the student is helpless in all circumstances.
In the school, an underachiever may show all the symptoms of learned
helplessness such as: persistent failure, lack of motivation to avoid future
failure, inability to learn remedial material and apathy bordering on
depression. Fortunately, this helplessness, being specific to school, does not
prevent students from blossoming once they get into the workforce.

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I want to share two illustrations from the classroom. Both examples are published
research studies that were conducted with elementary school children in their
classrooms with their teachers. Thus, these examples are not laboratory studies of
influence, but rather are real-life events. This makes their outcomes useful and
interesting for us. The first study concerns getting kids to clean up the classroom. The
second, involves improving mathematics performance and self-esteem.

Littering. A constant battle with younger children is to get them to clean up after
themselves. Especially in the classroom where there are 20 or 30 children, neatness
really makes a difference. How can you get children to be neater?

Our first example made children neater with the Attribution Theory. They set the
children up so that the children performed a desired behaviour, then were provoked to
think about why they did that behaviour. And, of course, the situation was set up so
that the children would make an internal attribution (I did it because Im that kind of
child). Heres what happened.

First, the researchers established a baseline for littering. They visited the fifth grade
class just before recess and handed out little candies wrapped in plastic. After the
children went to the playground, the researchers counted the number of candy
wrappers that were on the floor or in the waste can. And there were many more
wrappers on the floor than in the can, of course.

Now, the study. Its simplicity is going to surprise you. Over the next two weeks, people
visited this classroom. For example, the principal stopped in for a little chat and on her
way out she said, My, this is a neat classroom. You must be very neat students who
care about how their room looks. And one morning, the class arrived to find a note
on the blackboard from the custodian which said, This is the neatest class in school.
You must be very neat and clean students. Finally, the teacher would make similar
kinds of comments throughout the two week training period (Neat room, neat kids).
Thats all the researchers did.

Then they came back for a second visit again just before recess. And again they
handed out little wrapped candies. This time, when they counted whether the
wrappers went to the floor or in the waste can, they found that a lot more wrappers
where they belonged: in the garbage. There was a very big change in the littering and
cleaning up behaviour of the children.

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Let's review this simple study and make sure we understand what happened. First, we
use candy wrappers before and after, as an objective measure of littering. Second, we
have a variety of sources observing the classroom and offering explanations ("neat
room, neat kids").We also realise the things that were not going on. None of the
sources modelled the correct behaviour, so the children were not copying a source
with observational learning. None of the sources provided consequences of
reinforcement, nor were rewards or punishments given for specific acts of behaviour.
None of the sources provided "arguments" about why children should be clean and
not litter. All the sources did was, provide attributions.

(A little side note: The researchers also tried another treatment along with the
attribution training. They called it the "Persuasion Treatment." With a different
classroom, all the various sources essentially gave the typical adult, lectures about
cleanliness and neatness. They said all the things good teachers say about littering. It
had no effect on the candy wrapper test. Children, huh? Back to the main point.)

The analysis the researchers made is this. When the children heard, "neat room, neat
kids," they had to think about what had happened. In essence, they had to answer the
question, "Explain why the room is neat?" And their answer was simple. "The room is
neat because we don't litter. We're the kind of people who pick up after ourselves." In
other words, the children made internal attributions. And if you believe that you are the
kind of person who is neat and does not litter, what happens when you have a candy
wrapper? That's right, you throw it away into the waste can.

Mathematics Achievement and Self-Esteem.

Our second study goes much deeper, I think, in illustrating the impact of attribution.
Littering behaviour is an obvious thing. It is also a fairly simple behaviour that does not
depend on a lot of other factors. So, it should be easier to change. But what about
something like mathematics achievement or enhancing a child's self-esteem? These
things are complex. They are related to other factors (ability, persistence, training with
mathematics and family, life experience, peer support with esteem). Can we change a
child's mathematics performance or self-esteem with attribution?

Here are the details of the second study. First, the researchers used before and after
measures of mathematics achievement and self-esteem with second grade students.
Second, the researchers developed simple, little scripts for each student. All the
teacher had to do, was to read the folder provided for each student, then say or write
the appropriate statement. Thus, this study was highly automated. Each teacher
simply followed the instructions in a pre-planned, scripted way. Third, the researchers
had three different kinds of treatment. The children either got the attribution training,
persuasion training or reinforcement training. The study lasted eight days.

Source: Steve Booth-Butterfield. (2005). West Virginia University,


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Do you see yourself as having a lot of control over what happens in

your life? Believe in yourself is a common advice.
Why do you think one person succeeds while another with the same
skills and training fails?
1% of Americans and 30% of people from developing countries said, it
is fate or Gods will.
What is your answer?


As educators, we lament the fact that students are not interested in studying and
the problem is more serious among low achievers. Sometimes low-achieving
students are also difficult individuals who pose discipline problems.
Unfortunately, there is no single magic formula for motivating students. Many
factors affect a particular students motivation to work and to learn, such as
interest in the subject matter, perception of its usefulness, general desire to
achieve, self-confidence, self-esteem as well as patience and persistence (Bligh,
1971). Researchers are constantly finding ways of enhancing students motivation
in the classroom setting and the following are some suggestions:

(a) Kellers ARCS model

Kellers ARCS model (1983) attempts to identify the necessary components
of motivation in instructional settings. These are said to be:
A ttention
R elevance
C onfidence
S atisfaction

(i) Gaining Attention is perhaps the easiest of the requirements to satisfy

at least for most learners. Suggestions include framing new
information in such a way that it arouses curiosity, proposes a
mystery to be resolved or presents a challenging problem to be
solved. In addition, varying the presentation style helps to maintain

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(ii) Establishing Relevance includes relating new material to the learners

own needs and interests, or showing them how they will be able to
use the new skills. Relevance may also entail relating new learning to
things that are already familiar to learners. In this way, it parallels
findings from cognitive research that show that new information is
most comprehensible when it can be related to what the learner
already knows.

(iii) Building Confidence, according to Keller, can be accomplished by

strategies such as clarifying instructional goals or letting learners set
their own goals, helping students succeed at challenging tasks and
providing them with some control over their own learning.

(iv) Generating Satisfaction can best be accomplished by giving learners a

chance to use new skills in some meaningful activity. For example,
workers who are trained to use a new software package will likely feel
satisfaction if they are immediately given the opportunity to apply
their new skills in a real work project. In the absence of such natural
positive consequences, Keller suggested rewards such as verbal
praise. Also, he noted the importance of establishing a sense of
fairness by maintaining consistent standards and matching outcomes
to expectations.

Keller urged instructors to analyse the audience or student population to

determine the level of intrinsic motivation to learn the new information or
skills. Obviously, elaborate planning for extrinsic motivation is not needed
when intrinsic motivation is high.

Source: Keller, J. M., (1983). Development and Use of the ARCS Model
of Motivational Design (Report No. IR 014 039). Enschede, Netherlands:
Twente Univ. of Technology. ERIC Document Reproduction Service
No. ED 313 001

(b) Six Cs of Motivation

Turner & Paris (1965) proposed six strategies to increase motivation, called
the Six Cs:

(i) Choice
Provide explicit choices among alternatives to enhance intrinsic
motivation. For example, when giving assignments, the teacher can
allow the students to focus on their areas of interest. Students will
choose assignments close to their personal interest.

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(ii) Challenge
Provide tasks that are not too easy or too difficult but just beyond the
skill level of the students. If the task is too easy, boredom may creep
in; if it is too difficult, the students may feel helpless and give up or
will not try.

(iii) Control
Students should be involved in the process of decision making,
choosing team members and organising content. Students must be
self regulated, independent and responsible.

(iv) Collaboration
Students show deeper engagement and persistence if they work
together. They inspire each other and they improve performance by
heeding peer comments.

(v) Constructive Meaning

Value-related valences are associated with the construction of
meaning; if the students perceive the value of knowledge, their
motivation to learn increases.

(vi) Consequences
Students enjoy having their work and learning environment
appreciated and recognised by others.

Students work can be hung on the wall (e.g. posters), published on

websites and entered in competitions.

Source: J. Turner and S. Paris (1995). How literacy tasks influence childrens
motivation for literacy. The Reading Teacher. 48(8). 662763

(c) Some Ideas for Motivating Students

Robert Harris (1991) suggests the following:

(i) Explain
Some recent research shows that many students do poorly on
assignments or in participation because they do not understand what
to do or why they should do it. Teachers should spend extra time
explaining why we teach what we do and why the topic, approach or
activity is important, interesting and worthwhile. In the process, some
of the teachers enthusiasm will be transmitted to the students, who
will then be more likely to become interested. Similarly, teachers

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should spend more time explaining exactly what is expected of

assignments or activities. Students, who are uncertain about what to
do, will seldom perform well.

(ii) Reward
Students, who do not yet have powerful intrinsic motivation to learn,
can be helped by extrinsic motivators in the form of rewards. Rather
than criticising unwanted behaviour or answers, reward correct
behaviour and answers. Remember that adults and children alike,
continue or repeat behaviour that is rewarded. The rewards can (and
should) be small and configured to the level of the students. Small
children can be given a balloon, a piece of gum, or a set of crayons.
Even at the college level, many professors at various colleges have
given books, lunches, certificates, exemptions from final exams, verbal
praise and so on for good performance. Even something as apparently
childish as a Good Job! stamp or sticker can encourage students to
perform at higher levels. And the important point is that, extrinsic
motivators can, over a brief period of time, produce intrinsic
motivation. Everyone likes the feeling of accomplishment and
recognition; rewards for good work produce these good feelings.

(iii) Care
Students respond with interest and motivation to teachers who
appear to be human and caring. Teachers can help produce these
feelings by sharing parts of themselves with students, especially little
stories of problems and mistakes they made, either as children or even
recently. Such personalising of the student-teacher relationship helps
students see teachers as approachable human beings and not as aloof
authority figures. Young people are quite insecure and secretly
welcome the admission by adults, that insecurity and errors are
common to everyone. Students will attend to an adult who appears to
be a real person, who had problems as a youth (or more recently)
and survived them. It is also a good idea to be approachable
personally. Show that you care about your students by asking about
their concerns and goals. What do they plan to do in the future? What
things do they like? Such a teacher will be trusted and respected more
than one who is all business.

(iv) Have Students Participate

One of the major keys to motivation is the active involvement of
students in their own learning. Standing in front of them and
lecturing to them (or at them?) is, thus, a relatively poor method of

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teaching. It is better to get students involved in activities, group

problem-solving exercises, helping to decide what to do and the best
way to do it, helping the teacher, working with each other, or in some
other way, getting physically involved in the lesson. A lesson about
nature, for example, would be more effective walking outdoors than
looking at pictures.

Students love to be needed (just like adults!). By choosing several

students to help the teacher (take attendance, grade objective exams,
research bibliographies or biographies of important persons, chair
discussion groups, rearrange chairs, change the overhead
transparencies, hold up pictures, pass out papers on examinations),
students self esteem is boosted and consequently, their motivation is
increased. Older students will also see themselves as necessary,
integral and contributing parts of the learning process through
participation like this. Use every opportunity to have students help
you. Assign them homework that involves helping you (e.g. I need
some magazine illustrations and Internet resources on the Malaysian
mangrove swamps for next week, would someone like to find one for

(v) Teach Inductively

It has been said that presenting conclusions first and then providing
examples robs students of the joy of discovery. Why not present some
examples first and ask students to make sense of them, generalise
about them and draw the conclusions themselves? By beginning with
the examples, evidence, stories and so forth and arriving at
conclusions later, you can maintain interest and increase motivation,
as well as teach the skills of analysis and synthesis.

(vi) Satisfy Students Needs

Attending to need satisfaction is a primary method of keeping
students interested and happy. Students basic needs have been
identified as survival, love, power, fun and freedom. Attending to the
need for power could be as simple as allowing students to choose
from among two or three things to do two or three paper topics, two
or three activities, choosing between writing an extra paper and
taking the final exam, etc. Many students need to have fun in active
ways in other words, they need to be noisy and excited. Rather than
always avoiding or suppressing these needs, design an educational
activity that fulfils them.

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Students will be much more committed to a learning activity that has

value for them that they can see as meeting their needs, either long
term or short term. They will, in fact, put up with substantial
immediate unpleasantness and do an amazing amount of hard work,
if they are convinced that what they are learning, ultimately meets
their needs.

(vii) Make Learning Visual

Even before young people were brought up in a video environment,
it was recognised that memory is often connected to visual images. In
the middle ages, people who memorised the Bible or Homer ,would
sometimes walk around inside a cathedral and mentally attach certain
passages to objects inside, so that remembering the image of a column
or statue would provide the needed stimulus to remember the next
hundred lines of text. Similarly, we can provide better learning by
attaching images to the ideas we want to convey. Use drawings,
diagrams, pictures, charts, graphs, bulleted lists or even three-
dimensional objects, which you can bring to class, to help students
anchor the idea to an image.

It is very helpful to begin a class session or a series of classes with a

conceptual diagram of the relationship of all the components in the
class, so that at a glance, students can apprehend a context for all the
learning they will be doing. This will enable them to develop a mental
framework or filing system that will help them to learn better and
remember more.

(viii) Use Positive Emotions to Enhance Learning and Motivation

Strong and lasting memory is connected with the emotional state and
experience of the learner. That is, people remember better when the
learning is accompanied by strong emotions. If you can make
something fun, exciting, happy, loving or perhaps even a bit
frightening, students will learn more readily and the learning will last
much longer. Emotions can be created by classroom attitudes, by
doing something unexpected or outrageous, by praise and by many
other means.

Source: Robert Harris March 2, 1991. Some Ideas for Motivating Students.
VirtualSalt. Retrieved from http://www.virtualsalt.com/motivate.htm

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Refer to the three lists of suggestions on motivating students:

(a) What are the common ideas among these suggestions?
(b) Do you agree with the three authors?
(c) Give some suggestions on how to motivate students.

There is evidence to suggest that emotions play a role in ensuring how

humans organise information in the brain and how information is retrieved.

Motivation influences the arousal, selection, direction and maintenance of all

human behaviour.

Expectancy-Value Theory suggests that motivation is the product of two

main forces the individuals expectation of reaching a goal and the value of
that goal to him or her.

When a person is motivated extrinsically, he or she does something because

of the value or importance attached to what it brings.

Social motivation is when students learn, in order to please people whose

opinions are important to them.

Two major motives are involved in achievement motivation: the motive to

achieve success, in particular the ego enhancement that success brings and
the motive to avoid failure, which involves the fear of losing face.

When one is intrinsically motivated, one does not need incentives or

punishments because the activity itself, is rewarding.

Self-concept is how individuals see themselves.

The two major issues when discussing expecting success are students
beliefs in their own efficacy and to what they attribute their success and
failure to.

Self-Efficacy: When people approach a task, they form expectations about

how well they think they will be able to carry out that particular task.

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Attribution Theory: Our beliefs about the causes of our successes and failures,
influence our future motivation.

Learned Helplessness: When students believe that they have no control over
unpleasant things that happen to them.

Researchers are constantly finding ways of enhancing students motivation in

the classroom setting: ARCS model, Six Cs and Ideas on Motivating Students.

Achievement motivation Learned helplessness

ARCS model Motivation
Attribution theory Self-concept
Emotion Self-efficacy
Expectancy-Value Six Cs approach
Expectation of success Social motivation
Extrinsic motivation Theory
Intrinsic motivation

Albion, P. R. (n. d.). Self-efficacy beliefs as an indicator of teachers preparedness

for teaching with technology. University of Southern Queensland, Australia.
Retrieved from

Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy defined. Stanford University. Retrieved from


Beswick, D. (2002). Management implications of the interaction between intrinsic

motivation and extrinsic rewards. University of Melbourne, 2002. Retrieved
from http://www.beswick.info/psychres/management.htm

Grabmeier, J. (n. d.). Intrinsic motivation doesnt exist, researcher says. Retrieved
from http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/inmotiv.htm

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Student motivation to learn. Kids Source Online. ERIC on Management.

Retrieved from

McClelland, D. (2010). Achievement motivation. Retrieved from


Motivating students to learn. Centre for the Advancement of Learning. Retrieved

from http://www.k-state.edu/catl/motive.htm

Tuckman, B. W. (1999). A Tripartite model of motivation for achievement:

Attitude/Drive/Strategy. The Ohio State University. Retrieved from

Weinstein, C. W. (n. d.). Self-efficacy understandings. Retrieved from


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Topic Teaching for
10 Better
By the end of this topic, you should be able to:
1. Compare the expository and inquiry approaches;
2. List the characteristics of teacher-centred teaching methods;
3. Justify why teaching should be more learner-centred;
4. List the learning outcomes that may be achieved through computer
5. Give reasons for using problem-based learning in schools; and
6. List the advantages of using role-playing in learning.

In Topics 1 to 9 we examined how humans learn, focusing on the different
explanations of how students acquire, process, store and recall information. In
this topic, we examine different teaching models or approaches that aim to
enhance student learning. There are many teaching methods available but the
extent to which they have been adopted in the classroom is still not clear. Is it
because educators are not aware of these methods or is it because of conditions in
the classroom that do not permit the use of different teaching approaches? The
didactic presentation continues to dominate much of teaching and educators
argue that other methods are not easily used because of conditions in the
classroom and the overemphasis on examinations.

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Education literature is filled with many models and methods of teaching. There
are many powerful models of teaching designed to bring about particular kinds
of learning to help students become more effective learners. Educators need to be
able to identify these models and methods and to select the ones that will meet
the needs of the students and the subject taught. However, educators are well
aware that no teaching method can accomplish every purpose. So they need to
master a sufficient repertoire of methods to deal with specific kinds of learning
desired. For example, some methods are especially useful for presenting a body
of information to a large group of students while other methods are useful in
developing the problem-solving skills of learners. Many books have been written
on teaching methods. Joyce and Weil (1986) identified over 20 models of teaching
which they claimed would be able to accomplish most of the common goals of
schools. In this topic, we will focus on a few of these models of teaching. For
purposes of discussion, we have classified the selected teaching models or
methods on a continuum as shown in Figure 10.1.




Teacher-centred Student-centred
Instructor Facilitator
Passive learner Active learner
Didactic Interactive
Deductive Inductive
Structured learning environment Flexible learning environment

PBL = Problem-based learning LEM = Lecture method

SIM = Simulations ROP = Role playing
CPS = Creative problem solving
Figure 10.1: A continuum of teaching methods

On one end of the continuum is the expository approach which is teacher-centred

and with information presented didactically. Learners are passive recipients of
information presented deductively. The role of the teacher is that of an instructor
or lecturer. On the other end of the continuum is the inquiry approach which is

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student-centred and learners actively participate in the teaching-learning process.

The learning environment is highly interactive with the teacher taking the role of
a facilitator. Between the two extremes of the continuum are numerous teaching
methods, depending on whether they are more teacher-centred or student-
centred. For example, the lecture method would be categorised more towards the
expository approach while teaching using role-playing would be categorised
more towards the inquiry approach.

Where would you put teaching in Malaysian schools on this continuum? To what
extent would you say that teaching in most schools and across most subject areas
tends to be more teacher-centred? Is teaching in our schools the same as when
we were in schools? Perhaps it has become so exciting and interesting to the
extent that students just cannot wait to go to school! Let us examine in more
detail the two extremes of the continuum: The Expository Approach and the
Inquiry Approach.


It has often been said that the two institutions that have not changed in
the last 100 years is the institution of religion (mosque, church, temple)
and of course, the school.
(a) Compare teaching methods in school today with teaching
methods when you were in school.
(b) Are they the same or different?
(c) What do you mean if they are the same?
(d) What do you mean if they are different?


The expository approach has its theoretical origins in behaviourism in which
psychologists focused on training people to perform complex behaviours that
involve a high degree of precision, such as training soldiers to handle
sophisticated weapons of war. The task is broken down into smaller components
with very specific objectives to be achieved. Learners master small chunks of
information before proceeding to the next level to ensure mastery. Learners
practise the concept or skill presented and corrective feedback is given

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Steps in the Expository Approach

The expository approach consists of FIVE phases of
activity: Orientation, Presentation, Structured Practice,
Guided Practice and Independent Practice (see Figure 10.2).
This approach assumes that the teacher has an idea about
the prior knowledge of students, to benefit from the
presentation of new information.

Phase 1: Orientation Phase 4: Guided Practice

Teacher Teacher
- establishes content of the lesson - circulates and monitors student practice
- reviews previous learning - provides feedback
- establishes lesson objectives Students may work in groups
- establishes the procedures for the lesson
Phase 5: Independent Practice
Phase 2: Presentation Students practise independently
Teacher Teachers assign homework
- explains/demonstrates concepts/skills Teachers provide feedback on homework
- provides visual representation
- checks for understanding

Phase 3: Structured Practice

- leads group through practice examples
step by step
- provides corrective feedback
Students respond to questions

Figure 10.2: Phases in the expository method

(a) Phase 1: Orientation

This phase sets the framework for the lesson. During this phase, the
teachers expectations are communicated, the learning task is clarified and
student accountability established.
(i) The objectives of the lesson are provided as well as the level of
performance desired.
(ii) The teacher describes the content of the lesson and its relationship
with prior knowledge or experience.
(iii) The teacher discusses the procedures of the lesson and the
responsibilities of the students.

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(b) Phase 2: Presentation:

The teacher explains the new concept or skill through demonstration and
examples. If the material is a new concept, it is important that the teacher
discusses the characteristics (or attributes) of the concept, the rule or
definition and prepare several examples. If the material is a new skill, the
steps of the skill are identified with examples of each step. The information
is presented orally with visual representation, such as graphic organisers on
PowerPoint slides or transparencies.

Students are questioned to check that they understand before they apply it
in the practice phase. Can they recall the attributes of the concept that the
teacher explained? Can they recall the number and list of steps in the skill
they have just been shown?

(c) Phase 3: Structure Practice In structured practice, the teacher leads

students through practice examples working in a lock-step fashion.
Students practise in groups, offering or writing answers. Students show the
steps involved in the solution of problems which may be projected on to the
screen or written on the board. The teachers role in this phase is to give
feedback on the responses of students, to reinforce accurate responses and
to correct errors.

(d) Phase 4: Guided Practice Students practise on their own while the teacher
is still in the environment. This activity is often called seatwork. Guided
practice enables the teacher to make an assessment of the students abilities
to perform the learning tasks by assessing the amount and type of errors
the students are making. The teacher circulates and monitors students
work and provides feedback where necessary. Students are told how they
are performing and may repeat the lessons if there are errors.

(e) Phase 5: Independent Practice This phase begins when students have
achieved an accuracy level of 85% to 90% in the guided practice. The
purpose of independent practice is to reinforce the new learning to ensure
retention as well as develop fluency. Students practise on their own without
assistance and with delayed feedback. This can be done in class or at home.
The teachers role is to review students work after completion, to assess if it
is accurate.

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The expository approach is perhaps, the most common teaching method in

many educational institutions, especially in secondary schools and at
tertiary-level education. This is only a general description of the expository
approach as there are many variants to the approach. For example, the
lecture method adopted in the delivery of content in higher education, may
consist of only Phases 1 to 3. Some may make provision for Phase 4 during
tutorial or small-group sessions.


On the other end of the continuum is the inquiry approach. A teacher, who believes
in the inquiry approach, believes that knowledge is tentative and socially
constructed [Remember we discussed Constructivism in Topic 5]. As such,
teachers will want students to be actively engaged in their own learning with
students carrying out investigations to construct their understanding. For example,
in the teaching of science , knowledge is constructed with information from the
natural world. Thus, the collection of empirical evidence will always be important
in the construction of science knowledge. The teacher will also have students
discuss their findings with the teacher and their peers and checking what they have
learned with what scientists believe. The teacher who has inquiry as a philosophy,
will value the different perspectives that students bring to a question or issue. They
have to select topics worthy of exploration but will leave the rest to the students.
The topic will have to be left open to encourage students to do independent
research projects beyond the curricular material being covered in class.

Phases in the Inquiry Approach

The inquiry approach is a process, a way of thinking and problem solving for
students, which has application in various ways. It is an effective strategy for the
development of higher order thinking skills, increasing student involvement
and ownership of the curriculum. Involvement in the process of inquiry may be
a classroom activity that takes place in a lesson or occurs over a few lessons.
Figure 10.3 shows the basic phases involved in the inquiry approach. Teachers
and students should be involved in the process of making decisions about the
inquiries being developed. Systematic observations of inquiries in classrooms
suggest that students puzzling over a problem seldom follow an organised
model of inquiry in its ideal form. Many students rapidly scan the available data
and jump to premature conclusions. Others give up easily if they are unable to
come quickly to a conclusion. Teachers should be prepared to intervene while
their students are developing inquiry skills. The roles teachers and students will
take in the inquiry process, should be carefully planned.

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Figure 10.3: Phases in the Inquiry Approach

(a) Phase 1: Selecting the Topics, Audience and Purpose

Students will be involved in the proposal and selection of inquiry topics,
especially as they become skilled in understanding the inquiry process and
the economic concepts, integral to the inquiry. The inquiries are selected
using the following:

(i) Access to and availability of resources for use by students;

(ii) Significance of the content;

(iii) Relationship of the content to other topics studied;

(iv) Appropriateness of the content to needs and interests of students; and

(v) Capacity of the inquiry to help students meet the skills, processes and
affective objectives of the syllabus.

(b) Phase 2: Identifying Questions, Issues or Problems

This phase is important because it affects the type and scope of the inquiry.
The questions or problems may come from the students or from the teacher.
The students should want to pursue the inquiry and may be motivated by
some particular quality in the problem that makes it especially interesting to
them (encouragement by the teacher). For example, Flooding of Urban
Areas in the Klang Valley.

(i) The role of the teacher in this phase may include:

Selecting the questions, issues or problems;
Creating an atmosphere conducive to inquiry;
Relating the inquiry to available learning resources;
Arousing and sustaining interest in the students; and
Presenting the problems or issues where appropriate.

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(ii) The role of students in this phase may include:

Selecting the questions, issues or problems;
Becoming involved in the process of inquiry;
Gaining personal satisfaction from this involvement; and
Identifying questions, issues or problems that require further

(c) Phase 3: Conducting the Inquiry

During this phase, students are usually involved in:

(i) Selecting an appropriate way of gathering data, such as locating

statistics, constructing and implementing surveys or questionnaires,
text or journal research;

(ii) Establishing goals and criteria for quality outcomes;

(iii) Planning, prioritising and organising their inquiry;

(iv) Working either individually or in teams;

(v) Applying problem-solving, critical-thinking and decision-making

strategies, to achieve expected or unexpected outcomes; and

(vi) Evaluating the effectiveness of processes and outcomes.

At times, it will be essential for the teacher to intervene and help students to
refine or redevelop some particular aspects of the inquiry. Students in this
phase are to use various critical-thinking operations and data-gathering
procedures as defined in the objectives. The teachers role in this phase is to
act as facilitator, with a major contribution in sustaining the inquiry. This is
particularly true while students are being taught the procedures associated
with the inquiry. Teachers may reduce their intervention when students
are proficient. The teacher should be involved in sustaining the inquiry by:

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(i) Encouraging and motivating the students;

(ii) Facilitating the collection of information;

(iii) Encouraging clear, lateral and critical thinking; and

(iv) Advising and assisting students in their inquiries.

(d) Phase 4: Concluding the Inquiry

During this phase of the inquiry, students should be involved in deriving
conclusions consistent with established criteria. The findings of the inquiry
are presented in modes and forms appropriate to audience and context.
During this phase, teachers are involved in assisting students to carry out
the above tasks and providing feedback to students.

The greatest challenge to those who advocate inquiry teaching is the threat
to the traditional and dominant role of the teacher in the classroom. The
philosophy of inquiry implies that the teacher views the learner as a
thinking, acting and responsible person. Students are capable of learning
how to learn; they have within their repertoire, the ability as well as the
motivation to question, to find out about and seek knowledge; they are
persons and therefore learners in their own right.


1. List the main differences between the expository approach and the
inquiry approach.
2. Which approach is dominant in the Malaysian classroom?
3. Why is this approach dominant?

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Inquiry in the Science Classroom

Inquiry in science teaching refers to a way of questioning, seeking
knowledge or information, or finding out about phenomena. Many
science educators have advocated that science teaching should
emphasise inquiry. Effective scientific investigation. Thus, the methods
used by scientists should be an integral part of the methods used in
science classrooms. We might think of the method of scientific
investigation as the inquiry process which includes:
Observation: Science begins with the observation of matter or phenomena. It is the
starting place for inquiry. Asking the right questions that will guide the observer is a
crucial aspect of the process of observation.
Measurement: Quantitative description of objects and phenomena is an accepted
practice of science, and desirable because of the value in science on precision and
accurate description.
Experimentation: Experiments are designed to test questions and ideas, and as such
are the cornerstone of science. Experiments involve questions, observations and
Communication: Communicating results to the scientific community and the public is
an obligation of the scientist, and is an essential part of the inquiry process. The
values of independent thinking and truthfulness in reporting the results of observations
and measurements are essential in this regard.
Mental Processes: Several thinking processes are integral to scientific inquiry such
as inductive reasoning, formulating hypotheses and theories, deductive reasoning, as
well as analogy, extrapolation, synthesis and evaluation. The mental processes of
scientific inquiry may also include other processes such as the use of imagination and


Having looked at the two extremes of the continuum, let us next examine those
methods that lie between these two ends of the continuum. Figure 10.1 lists some
of the methods which may be grouped as lying between the expository and
inquiry ends. The classification is based on the extent to which a particular
method may be considered as having, the attributes of an expository approach or
the attributes of an inquiry approach. However, this classification can be
disputed as some will argue that a particular method is either more expository
or more inquiry and so forth.

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(a) Lecture Method

Perhaps the most widely used method
is the lecture method, which is certainly
the cornerstone of university teaching.
Not surprisingly, it is also popular in
secondary school, where the teacher
might spend the whole 40 minutes
doing all the talking! A lecture can be
an effective method for communicating
theories, ideas and facts to students. It is best for the presentation of high
consensus content those in which there is agreement on the fundamental
principles and procedures.

The lecture is an economical and efficient method for delivering large

amounts of information to a large number of students. It provides a
framework or overview for subsequent learning such as reading
assignments, small group discussion and laboratory work. It offers current
information from various sources. However, it does not allow for the
instructor to provide students with individual feedback. It is difficult to
adapt to individual differences and fails to promote active participation
unless other teaching strategies, such as questioning and problem-solving
activities, are incorporated into the lecture. It also does not promote
independent learning.

(b) Role Playing

Role playing originated from psychotherapy in the 1930s. From that narrow
beginning, role playing has spread and is now used by primary schools to
training of managers and company executives. Many teachers confuse role
playing with drama. Although they are similar, they are also very distinct
in style. Perhaps the most strategic point of difference is the handling of the
subject matter. Genuine drama usually requires a script, whereas role
playing retains the element of spontaneous or at least, extemporaneous
reaction. Role may be defined as the way one behaves in a given position
and situation. Role playing as a teaching methodology is the conscious
acting out and discussion of the role in a group. In the classroom, a
problem situation is briefly acted out so that the individual student can
identify with the characters.

Role playing can be used for students of most ages. The complexity of the
role situations must be minimised in using the method with children. But if
we keep it simple for their limited attention spans, role playing can be used
even in teaching pre-schoolers.

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Role playing allows people to make mistakes in a non-threatening

environment. They can test several solutions to very realistic problems and
the application is immediate. It also fulfils some of the very basic principles
of the teaching-learning process, such as learners involvement and
intrinsic motivation. A positive climate often results in which, one can see
himself as others see him. The involvement of the role-playing participants
can create both an emotional and intellectual attachment to the subject
matter at hand. If a skilful teacher has accurately matched the problem
situation to the needs of his group, the solving of realistic life problems can
be expected. Role playing can often create a sense of community within the
class. Although at first it may seem a threatening method, once the class
learns to share mutual confidence and commitment to the learning process,
the sharing of analysis over the role situations, will develop a camaraderie
never possible in teaching methods, such as the lecture.

(c) Simulations
The word simulation comes from the Latin word simulare which means
to produce a convincing re-creation of real-life event or set of conditions.
Simulations have been used as a tool for teaching in many areas and
disciplines. The idea behind using simulations as pedagogical tools relies
on the idea that experience is the best teacher. If access to such experience
in real-time is impossible, an artificial environment may be, if not ideal, at
least sufficient. Simulations are useful in preparing students to cope with
future roles, providing practice in a safe environment with minimal risk
and testing as well as challenging students technical and decision-making
skills in realistic situations.

The use of computer simulations in teaching various subjects has rapidly

grown in the last decade. It is a computer application that replicates a
process and is designed for classroom instruction, either in a traditional
face-to-face classroom, a computer lab setting, or in an online environment.
A computer simulation is:

(i) Interactive: It requires active participation by the user. Its purpose is to

teach by helping the user replicate and participate in a process the
user is not simply receiving information passively. The user introduces
information that actually contributes to the creation of the process.

(ii) Non-linear: There are multiple, perhaps infinite, paths that a user
could initiate. The simulation reacts to the users input, rather than
following a pre-programmed agenda.

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(iii) Complex: More than one interaction is required to consider an

application to be a simulation.

It allows students to access a process as many times as they like, at their own
speed and at their own convenience, without worrying about limiting issues,
such as conflicting timetables or cost of materials. In addition, simulations
are particularly good at developing many critical skills (for example,
hypothesis testing) that can be difficult to acquire using traditional methods.
Simulations make it possible for students to participate in and learn from
situations that might otherwise be problematic due to various considerations.

(i) Danger: Anything that explodes or involves large projectiles; anything

involving chemicals, radiation or acid rain. These things can all be
studied safely with simulations.

(ii) Expenses: Chemistry experiments involving very expensive materials

and anthropology simulations that allow the user to travel to another
country and interact with its culture.

(iii) Ethical considerations: Cloning; any kind of experiment on the human

body (and for many people, on animals too).

(iv) Abstract nature of the material: Economic phenomena (e.g. how

inflation works, or the stock market); processes or phenomena that are
difficult to see and so require a mental picture such as, how gases
occupy physical space.


1. What kinds of computer simulations would you like to have for

teaching the topics in your subject area?
2. Why do you want to teach these topics using computer simulations?

(d) Creative Problem Solving

A new idea is a combination of old elements. Being able to devise new
combinations depends on ones ability to discern relationships between
seemingly disparate items. Creativity is the juxtaposition of ideas, which
were previously thought to be unrelated. It is the ability to combine ideas
in a unique way or to make useful associations among ideas. Creativity is
not about inventing something totally new, it is about making new
connections. One does not have to be a special kind of person to be creative

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everyone can do it. It is not about who one is, it is about what one does.
Psychologists call the activities associated with idea generation loose
associative thinking processes. Associative thinking is not linear or
sequential. It is jumpy. To invent new connections, the maintenance of
uncertainty is important for a time. Closure is a killer; it strangles
associative thinking, in favour of arriving at an answer.

To facilitate the generation of new ideas, the Creative Problem Solving

Model was developed by Scott Isaksen and Donald Treffinger as described
in their book Creative Problem Solving: The Basic Course (1985). Creative
thinking is described as making and communicating connections to think
of many possibilities; think and experience in various ways and use
different points of view; think of new and unusual possibilities and guide
in generating and selecting alternatives. Critical thinking is described as
analysing and developing possibilities to compare and contrast many
ideas; improve and refine ideas; make effective decisions and judgements
and provide a sound foundation for effective action. The development of
these two kinds of thinking is facilitated by using a six-stage problem-
solving process:

(i) Stage 1: Mess Finding

Just what is the mess that needs cleaning up, the situation
that demands our attention? We have to identify and
acknowledge this first before we can proceed.

(ii) Stage 2: Data Finding

Once the general mess is defined, the next stage involves
taking stock unearthing and collecting information,
knowledge, facts, feelings, opinions and thoughts to sort
out and clarify your mess more specifically. What do you
know about the situation and what do you still need to

(iii) Stage 3: Problem Finding

Now that your data is collected, you need to formulate a
problem statement that expresses the heart of the
situation. You must try to put aside the common
assumption that you already know what the problem is
and try to state the problem in such a manner as to invite
novel perspectives on it.

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(iv) Stage 4: Idea Finding

This is the state in which you brainstorm as many ideas or
alternatives as possible for dealing with your problem
statement. Do not evaluate your ideas at this point,
merely list them as an idea pool from which you will
draw out, putting together a variety of solutions to your

(v) Stage 5: Solution Finding

Now that you have a number of ideas that can serve as
possible solutions to your problem, its time to evaluate
them systematically. To do this, you have to generate a
variety of criteria and select the most important one for
your problem. Is it cost, expediency, pleasure, time
involvement or something else? In this way, you will be
able to identify and evaluate the relative strengths and
weaknesses of the possible solutions.

(vi) Stage 6: Acceptance Finding

Having decided upon a solution, it is time to formulate a
plan of action to implement your solution. Determine
what kind of help you will need, what obstacles or
difficulties might get in the way and what specific short-
and long-term steps you are going to take, to rid yourself
of that original mess!

(e) Problem-Based Learning

Problem-based learning (PBL) is an instructional method that challenges
students to learn to learn and work in groups to seek solutions to real-
world problems. These problems are used to engage students curiosity and
initiate learning on the subject matter. PBL prepares students to think
critically and analytically and to find and use appropriate learning
resources. The following is a general method for PBL:

(i) Form Small Groups

You may decide to devote all or part of a class session to PBL, but
students must form small workgroups during that time. Ask the
students to form groups of three to five people, or assign the groups
yourself or by lottery.

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(ii) Present the Problem

Present the students with a brief problem statement (preferably on a
printed work sheet, an example of which is shown below), e.g.
Pigeons in the district are suddenly dying. In some cases, a video
clip or specimen might be used as a trigger. Emphasise to the students
that they are dealing with an authentic case history. Bizarre problems
work best.

(iii) Activate the Groups

Ask the groups to brainstorm possible causes for the death of the
pigeons. Each group will have to discuss, review or investigate
bacteria and viruses affecting birds. This is when much learning
occurs, as the students help each other understand about diseases
among birds rather than just memorising facts (as might occur in
some traditional lecture-only courses). The instructor circulates
among the groups, providing assistance but not solutions. The groups
may well explore avenues unanticipated by the instructor. This is
highly desirable and should not be discouraged. The instructor should
avoid controlling the agenda of the groups. Each group ranks its
hypotheses in order of priority and prepares requests for more data.

(iv) Provide Feedback

Ask that a representative from each group place their top priority
hypothesis or data request on the chalkboard (if already entered by
another group, place their second choice, etc.). If this is not practical,
ask for oral suggestions from the groups, when the small group work
is halted and the class is reconvened. The small group work can be
stopped and the instructor can briefly discuss the ideas with the entire
class. It is important to value every contribution, to assist the students
in analysing the issues involved and to provide further information.
The students can be prompted for data requests by: If you could ask
for just three test results from the examination of the birds, what
would they be? The key to managing a PBL session is providing
continuous feedback to maintain student enthusiasm while
simultaneously prolonging the resolution of the problem, to ensure
that adequate learning occurs.

(v) Ask for a Solution

When a reasonable number of groups have solved the problem, you
might request for a brief written analysis from each group describing
the case. Students may be asked to include certain key words in their
reports. If you wish, you could pursue this case at a later date.

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Problem-based learning engages students with fuzzy, messy problems

such as those we encounter in real life. Students work in teams with
projects they develop, based on higher order thinking, collaboration,
communication and just-in-time learning of content and skills.

Educators need to master a sufficient repertoire of methods to deal with

specific kinds of learning desired.

The expository approach has its theoretical origins in behaviourism, in which

psychologists focused on training people to perform complex behaviours that
involve a high degree of precision.

The expository approach consists of five phases of activity: Orientation,

Presentation, Structured Practice, Guided Practice and Independent Practice.

A teacher who believes in the inquiry approach believes that knowledge is

tentative and socially constructed.

The inquiry approach involves the following phases: selecting the topic,
audience and purpose; identifying questions, issues or problems; conducting
the inquiry and concluding the inquiry.

Simulations are useful in preparing students to cope with future roles,

providing practice in a safe environment with minimal risk and testing as
well as challenging students technical and decision-making skills in realistic

Problem-based learning (PBL) is an instructional method that challenges

students to learn to learn, working cooperatively in groups, to seek
solutions to real-world problems.

Creative Problem Solving Problem-Based Learning

Expository Approach Role Playing
Inquiry Approach Simulations
Lecture method

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Advantages and Disadvantages of the Lecture Method. Retrieved from


Creative Problem Solving. Retrieved from


Creative Problem Solving. P. Lutus. Retrieved from


Problem-Based Learning. Retrieved from http://www.studygs.net/pbl.htm

What is Inquiry-Based Learning. Concept to classroom. Retrieved from


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