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Week 4: Theories of Knowledge and Teaching Philosophies

Although it’s always been an interest, the theories and philosophies behind teaching and learning is something I continue to find difficult to wrap my head around. Teaching and learning are an incredibly diverse, fluid, and unique experiences, and it seems difficult to boil it all down to into a specific theory. This being said, the more I learn about the various theorists and their viewpoints, the more I can identity these theories within my own work.

Read more: Week 4: Theories of Knowledge and Teaching Philosophies

When doing some initial research on the differentiation between theories, I came across this image. I found it quite effective on comparing theories across different areas of the classroom. The ability to compare across theories really aided my understanding. Additionally, Andragogy was new to me, and led me down another research rabbit-hole, investigating how adult educations methods contrast with K-12 Education.

When diving into the assigned readings for this week, I was impressed with Ertmer’s and Newby’s Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism: Comparing Critical features From an Instructional Design Perspective (2013.) When I began considering which theory underpins my own teaching philosophy, I started asking myself questions similar to those proposed by the authors as they examine each theory:

  1. How does learning occur?
  2. Which factors influence learning?
  3.  What is the role of memory?
  4. How does transfer occur? and
  5. What types of learning are best explained by the theory? (p.5)

When asking myself these questions, along with some comparisons between my class notes and the graphic above, I began to see numerous theories at work in my day-to-day.


I find Behaviorism, and it’s focus on reinforcing behaviours to be ever present in the management of classrooms.
Ivan Pavlov, one of the key contributors to Classical Conditioning and the Behavioral model.
B.F. Skinner, a key contributor to operant conditioning, part of the Behavioral model.

I believe behaviorism is present in the majority of classrooms, if not simply as a means of classroom management alone. Positive or negative reinforcement starts early in elementary school with feedback given for sitting in chairs, raising your hand, or cleaning up after yourself. Feedback around these types of traditional classroom behaviours follow students as they progress through school. In middle and high school, this theory can also be quite common in Math or Social/History classrooms. The extreme structure, undisputable answers, as well as the repetition and reinforcement that are common in these classrooms lend themselves to the behavioral model. (B.F. Skinner’s Teaching Machine is a prime example.)


I see Cognitivism taking place throughout the our schools, particularly in higher level math or science courses, or other courses in which specific steps are necessary to be able to achieve the desired outcome. As quoted by Ertmer and Newby, “cognitive theories are usually considered more appropriate for explaining complex forms of learning (reasoning, problem-solving, information processing) than are those of a more behavioral perspective (Schunk, 1991).” While the learners are certainly active participants, Cognitivism puts large importance on attention, memory, and how knowledge transfer occurs. I notice this theory come alive within my own teaching in terms of my planning. I seek a logical sequence of events for my lesson, guiding students through step by step, similar to Robert Gagne’s 9 Events of Instruction.


I find constructivism to be the most similar theory to my teaching methods and philosophy. Constructivists are concerned with experience, environment, context, and the social situation in which a learner learns. As I progress within my career, it becomes more evident that I cannot expect students to achieve highly within the classroom when they are their environment is struggling outside of it. Additionally, I find creating comfortable structure and environments within the classroom allows for better learning to take place. I continually look to elevate student voice through small group sessions, exploration, co-constructing expectations, and allowing for reflection pieces into my teaching. I’ve found that the more I include pieces like this, the deeper the learning becomes.

To summarize, while I see aspects of each theory present within my classroom and my school, I look to Constructivism when considering my own philosophy, and the methods I want to continue to include in my classroom. As I progress in my career, I find myself shifting from more traditional methods, rooted in both Behaviorism and Cognitivism, to methods based in Constructivism. It’s my hope that I will continue to see success with these methods and will keep me motivated to further expand their use in my classroom.


2 thoughts on “Week 4: Theories of Knowledge and Teaching Philosophies

  1. Colton – excellent post! I too find a variety of the three theories at play in my classroom. I also want to see myself use a constructivist approach in my classroom, but the issues I am find with this whenever I try to incorporate these types of activities, I am finding that students do not know how to create meaning for themselves, which ironically, sends me into a more behaviouristic mode where we learn how to think critically and work towards being a problem solver…. its a viscous cycle!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hey Colton,

    I appreciate the visuals you included in your post, specifically Gange’s 9 events of instruction. I agree I see this model in my own practice and planning, but only in the classroom. I think I lean more behaviorism in the gym and cognitivism in the classroom. It’s interesting how our perspectives can change from space to space and even year to year as we progress in our careers.

    Liked by 1 person

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