BEHAVIORISM vs. COGNITIVISM vs. CONSTRUCTIVISM. Is there one best way to design instruction? Shouldn't all three have a place in learning design?
Many people tend to veer from one extreme to another extreme, often following the letter rather than the spirit of the law. More than three years ago, behaviorist or cognitivist Computer Based Training (CBT) used to be the norm. Now, behaviorist terms have become taboo in many circles. The buzzwords now are almost all constructivist: "collaboration", "problem-based learning", "experiential learning", "service learning", and so on.
Yet, sometimes, wouldn't constructivist approaches can confuse more than teach? And didn't Ragan point out in his paper, Good Teaching Is Good Teaching, regardless of the label one may use?
BRENDA MERGEL NOTED in her paper [paraphrased], Instructional Design & Learning Theory, "Behaviorism, cognitivism and constructivism -- what works where and how do we knit everything together to at least give ourselves some focus in our approach to instructional design? First of all, we do not need to abandon the systems approach, but we must modify it to accommodate constructivist values. We must allow circumstances surrounding the learning situation to help us decide which approach to learning is most appropriate. It is necessary to realize that some learning problems require highly prescriptive solutions, whereas others are more suited to learner control of the environment. (Schwier, 1995)
"In A Manifesto for a Constructivist Approach to Technology in Higher Education, Jonnassen & Mayes stressed that it is still important to consider the context before recommending any specific methodology. They identified three levels of knowledge acquisition and matched them with appropriate learning approaches:
1. Introductory. Learners are at the initial stages of schema assembly and integration. They have very little directly transferable prior knowledge about a skill or content area. Classical instructional design is most suitable because it is predetermined, constrained, sequential and criterion-referenced. The learner can develop some anchors for further exploration.
2. Advanced. This is an intermediary stage. Constructivist approaches may be introduced.
3. Expertise. The learner can make intelligent decisions within the learning environment. A constructivist approach would work well.
"Reigeluth's Elaboration Theory which organizes instruction in increasing order of complexity and moves from prerequisite learning to learner control may work in the eclectic approach to instructional design, since the learner can be introduced to the main concepts of a course and then move on to more of a self directed study that is meaningful to them and their particular context.
"After having compared and contrasted behaviorism, cognitivism and constructivism, Ertmer & Newby (1993) feel that the instructional approach used for novice learners may not be efficiently stimulating for a learner who is familiar with the content. They do not advocate one single learning theory, but stress that instructional strategy and content addressed depend on the level of the learners. Similar to Jonassen, they match learning theories with the content to be learned:
"... a behavioral approach can effectively facilitate mastery of the content of a profession (knowing what); cognitive strategies are useful in teaching problem-solving tactics where defined facts and rules are applied in unfamiliar situations (knowing how); and constructivist strategies are especially suited to dealing with ill-defined problems through reflection-in-action.
1. Behavioral. ... tasks requiring a low degree of processing (e.g., basic paired associations, discriminations, rote memorization) seem to be facilitated by strategies most frequently associated with a behavioral outlook (e.g., stimulus-response, contiguity of feedback/reinforcement).
2. Cognitive. Tasks requiring an increased level of processing (e.g., classifications, rule or procedural executions) are primarily associated with strategies having a stronger cognitive emphasis (e.g., schematic organization, analogical reasoning, algorithmic problem solving).
3. Constructive. Tasks demanding high levels of processing (e.g., heuristic problem solving, personal selection and monitoring of cognitive strategies) are frequently best learned with strategies advanced by the constructivist perspective (e.g., situated learning, cognitive apprenticeships, social negotiation.
"Ertmer & Newby believe that the strategies promoted by different learning theories overlap (the same strategy for a different reason) and that learning theory strategies are concentrated along different points of a continuum depending of the focus of the learning theory - the level of cognitive processing required.
"The duo's suggestion, that theoretical strategies can complement the learner's level of task knowledge, allows the designer to make the best use of all available practical applications of the different learning theories. With this approach, the designer is able to draw from a large number of strategies to meet a variety of learning situations."