Educational Philosophies that Frame Intuitive Learning

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For a graphic representation of the following learning theories and how they are related to Intuitive Learning, click here for Framing Intuitive Learning.


Constructivist teaching techniques are based on the constructivist learning theory. This theoretical framework relies on the earlier framework of cognitivism, which holds that learning should build upon knowledge that a student already knows; this prior knowledge is called a schema. Constructivists suggest learning is more effective when a student is actively engaged in the construction of knowledge rather than passively receiving it.

Constructivist teaching methods are based on the constructivist learning theory developed by a variety of philosophers. Along with John Dewey, Piaget researched childhood development and education. Their theories are now encompassed in the broader movement of progressive education.

The constructivist learning theory says that children learn best when they construct a personal understanding based on experiencing things and reflecting on those experiences. One of the primary goals of using constructivist teaching is that students learn how to learn by giving them the training to take initiative for their own learning experiences.

According to Audrey Gray, the characteristics of a constructivist classroom are as follows:

  • the learners are actively involved
  • the environment is democratic
  • the activities are interactive and student-centered
  • the teacher facilitates a process of learning in which students are encouraged to be responsible and autonomous

Furthermore, in the constructivist classroom, student’s work primarily in groups and learning and knowledge are interactive and dynamic. There is a great focus and emphasis on social and communication skills, as well as collaboration and exchange of ideas. This is contrary to the traditional classroom in which students work primarily alone, learning is achieved through repetition, and the subjects are strictly adhered to and are guided by a textbook. Some activities encouraged in constructivist classrooms are:

  • Experimentation: students individually perform an experiment and then come together as a class to discuss the results.
  • Research projects: students research a topic and can present their findings to the class.
  • Field trips. This allows students to put the concepts and ideas discussed in class in a real-world context. Field trips would often be followed by class discussions.
  • These provide visual context and thus bring another sense into the learning experience.
  • Class discussions. This technique is used in all of the methods described above. It is one of the most important distinctions of constructivist teaching methods.

In the constructivist classroom, the teacher’s role is to prompt and facilitate discussion. Thus, the teacher’s main focus should be on guiding students by asking questions that will lead them to develop their own conclusions on the subject.

David Jonassen identified three major roles for facilitators to support students in constructivist learning environments:

  • Modeling
  • Coaching
  • Scaffolding

Jonassen has proposed a model for developing constructivist learning environments (CLEs) around a specific learning goal. This goal may take one of several forms, from least to most complex:

  • Question or issue
  • Case study
  • Long-term Project
  • Problem (multiple cases and projects integrated at the curriculum level)

Jonassen recommends making the learning goals engaging and relevant but not overly structured.

Learning is driven in CLEs by the problem to be solved; students learn content and theory in order to solve the problem. This is different from traditional objectivist teaching where the theory would be presented first and problems would be used afterwards to practice theory.

Depending on students’ prior experiences, related cases and scaffolding may be necessary for support. Instructors also need to provide an authentic context for tasks, plus information resources, cognitive tools, and collaborative tools.

Traditionally, assessment in the classrooms is based on testing. In this style, it is important for the student to produce the correct answers. However, in constructivist teaching, the process of gaining knowledge is viewed as being just as important as the product. Thus, assessment is based not only on tests, but also on observation of the student, the student’s work, and the student’s points of view. Some assessment strategies include:

  • Oral discussions. The teacher presents students with a “focus” question and allows an open discussion on the topic.
  • KWL(H) Chart (What we know, What we want to know, What we have learned, How we know it). This technique can be used throughout the course of study for a particular topic, but is also a good assessment technique as it shows the teacher the progress of the student throughout the course of study.
  • Mind Mapping. In this activity, students list and categorize the concepts and ideas relating to a topic.
  • Hands-on activities. These encourage students to manipulate their environments or a particular learning tool. Teachers can use a checklist and observation to assess student success with the particular material.
  • Pre-testing. This allows a teacher to determine what knowledge students bring to a new topic and thus will be helpful in directing the course of study.

In fact, there are many pedagogies that leverage constructivist theory. Most approaches that have grown from constructivism suggest that learning is accomplished best using a hands-on approach. Learners learn by experimentation, and not by being told what will happen. They are left to make their own inferences, discoveries and conclusions. It also emphasizes that learning is not an “all or nothing” process but that students learn the new information that is presented to them by building upon knowledge that they already possess. It is therefore important that teachers constantly assess the knowledge their students have gained to make sure that the students’ perceptions of the new knowledge are what the teacher had intended. Teachers will find that since the students build upon already existing knowledge, when they are called upon to retrieve the new information, they may make errors. It is known as reconstruction error when we fill in the gaps of our understanding with logical, though incorrect, thoughts. Teachers need to catch and try to correct these errors, though it is inevitable that some reconstruction error will continue to occur because of our innate retrieval limitations.

In most pedagogies based on constructivism, the teacher’s role is not only to observe and assess but to also engage with the students while they are completing activities, wondering aloud and posing questions to the students for promotion of reasoning.  Teachers also intervene when there are conflicts that arise; however, they simply facilitate the students’ resolutions and self-regulation, with an emphasis on the conflict being the students’ and that they must figure things out for themselves. For example, promotion of literacy is accomplished by integrating the need to read and write throughout individual activities within print-rich classrooms. The teacher, after reading a story, encourages the students to write or draw stories of their own, or by having the students reenact a story that they may know well, both activities encourage the students to conceive themselves as reader and writers.

Specific approaches to education that are based on constructivism include:

  • Constructionism- An approach to learning developed by Seymour Papert and his colleagues at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Papert had worked with Piaget at the latter’s Institute in Geneva. Papert eventually called his approach “constructionism.” It included everything associated with Piaget’s constructivism, but went beyond it to assert that constructivist learning happens especially well when people are engaged in constructing a product, something external to themselves such as a sand castle, a machine, a computer program or a book. This approach is greatly facilitated by the ready availability of powerful ‘constructing’ applications on personal computers. Promoters of the use of computers in education see an increasing need for students to develop skills in multimedia literacy in order to use these tools in constructivist learning.
    • Reciprocal Learning
    • Procedural Facilitations for Writing
    • Cognitive Tutors

Cognitive Apprenticeship 

Cognitive apprenticeship is a theory of the process where a master of a skill teaches that skill to an apprentice.  Constructivist approaches to human learning have led to the development of a theory of cognitive apprenticeship. This theory holds that masters of a skill often fail to take into account the implicit processes involved in carrying out complex skills when they are teaching novices. To combat these tendencies, cognitive apprenticeships “…are designed, among other things, to bring these tacit processes into the open, where students can observe, enact, and practice them with help from the teacher…” (Collins, Brown, & Newman, 1987, p. 4). This model is supported by Albert Bandura‘s (1997) theory of modeling, which posits that in order for modeling to be successful, the learner must be attentive, must have access to and retain the information presented, must be motivated to learn, and must be able to accurately reproduce the desired skill.

By using processes such as modeling and coaching, cognitive apprenticeships also support the three stages of skill acquisition described in the expertise literature: the cognitive stage, the associative stage, and the autonomous stage (Anderson, 1983; Fitts & Posner, 1967). In the cognitive stage, learners develop declarative understanding of the skill. In the associative stage, mistakes and misinterpretations learned in the cognitive stage are detected and eliminated while associations between the critical elements involved in the skill are strengthened. Finally, in the autonomous stage, the learner’s skill becomes honed and perfected until it is executed at an expert level (Anderson, 2000).

Like traditional apprenticeships, in which the apprentice learns a trade such as tailoring or woodworking by working under a master teacher, cognitive apprenticeships allow the master to model behaviors in a real-world context with cognitive modeling (Bandura, 1997). By listening to the master explain exactly what she is doing and thinking as she models the skill, the apprentice can identify relevant behaviors and develop a conceptual model of the processes involved. The apprentice then attempts to imitate those behaviors with the master observing and providing coaching. Coaching provides assistance at the most critical level – the skill level just beyond what the learner/apprentice could accomplish by herself. Vygotsky (1978) referred to this as the Zone of Proximal Development and believed that fostering development within this zone leads to the most rapid development. The coaching process includes additional modeling as necessary, corrective feedback, and reminders, all intended to bring the apprentice’s performance closer to that of the master’s. As the apprentice becomes more skilled through the repetition of this process, the feedback and instruction provided by the master “fades” until the apprentice is, ideally, performing the skill at a close approximation of the master level (Johnson, 1992). Part of the effectiveness of the cognitive apprenticeship model comes from learning in context. Cognitive scientists maintain that the context in which learning takes place is critical (e.g., Godden & Baddeley, 1975). Based on findings such as these, Collins, Duguid, and Brown (1989) argue that cognitive apprenticeships are less effective when skills and concepts are taught independent of their real-world context and situation. As they state, “Situations might be said to co-produce knowledge through activity. Learning and cognition, it is now possible to argue, are fundamentally situated” (Brown, Collins, Duguid, Brown, 1989, p. 32). In cognitive apprenticeships, the activity being taught is modeled in real-world situations.

Constructivist Learning Environments 

During the 1990s, several theorists began to study the cognitive load of novices (those with little or no prior knowledge of the subject matter) during problem solving. Cognitive load theory was applied in several contexts (Paas, 1992; Moreno & Mayer, 1999; Mousavi, Low, & Sweller, 1995; Chandler and Sweller, 1992; Sweller & Cooper, 1985; Cooper & Sweller, 1987). Based on the results of their research, these authors do not support the idea of allowing novices to interact with ill-structured learning environments. Ill-structured learning environments rely on the learner to discover problem solutions (Jonassen, 1997). Jonassen (1997) also suggested that novices be taught with “well-structured” learning environments.

Jonassen (1997) also proposed well-designed, well-structured learning environments provide scaffolding for problem-solving. Finally both Sweller and Jonassen support problem-solving scenarios for more advanced learners (Jonassen, 1997; Kalyuga, Ayres, Chandler, and Sweller, 2003).

Sweller and his associates even suggest well-structured learning environments, like those provided by worked examples, are not effective for those with more experience — this was later described as the “expertise reversal effect” (Kalyuga et al, 2003). Cognitive load theorists suggest worked examples initially, with a gradual introduction of problem solving scenarios; this is described as the “guidance fading effect” (Renkl, Atkinson, Maier, and Staley, 2002; Sweller, 2003). Each of these ideas provides more evidence for Anderson’s ACT-R framework (Clark & Elen, 2006)[15]. This ACT-R framework suggests learning can begin with studying examples.

Finally Mayer states: “Thus, the contribution of psychology is to help move educational reform efforts from the fuzzy and unproductive world of educational ideology—which sometimes hides under the banner of various versions of constructivism—to the sharp and productive world of theory-based research on how people learn.” (Mayer, 2004, p.18).

Reciprocal Teaching

Reciprocal Teaching is a remedial reading instructional technique which applies a problem-solving heuristic to the process of reading comprehension, thereby promoting thinking while reading (Alfassi, 2004). It provides students with four discrete and specific reading strategies that are actively and consciously used as texts are processed. These reading strategies are Clarifying, Predicting, Questioning, and Summarizing. All of this takes place within the context of small-group collaborative investigation, which is maintained, monitored, and scaffolded by the teacher or reading tutor.

Reciprocal teaching is an amalgamation of reading strategies that effective readers have been shown to use. Proficient readers have well-practiced decoding and comprehension skills which allow them to proceed through texts somewhat automatically until some sort of triggering event alerts them to a comprehension failure (Palincsar & Brown, 1984).

This trigger can be anything from an unacceptable accumulation of unknown concepts to an expectation that has not been fulfilled by the text. Whatever the trigger, proficient readers react to a comprehension breakdown by using a number of strategies in a planned, deliberate manner. These “fix-up” strategies range from simply slowing down the rate of reading or decoding, to re-reading, to consciously summarizing the material. Once the strategy (or strategies) has helped to restore meaning in the text, the successful reader can proceed again without conscious use of the strategy (Palincsar & Brown).

Approaching the problem from the perspective of Cognitive Strategy Instruction (Slater & Horstman, 2002), reciprocal teaching attempts to train students in specific and discrete strategies to prevent cognitive failure during reading. Palincsar and Brown (1984) identified four basic strategies that help students recognize and react to signs of comprehension breakdown: Clarifying, Predicting, Questioning, and Summarizing. These strategies serve dual purposes of being both comprehension-fostering and comprehension-monitoring; that is, they enhance comprehension while at the same time affording students the opportunity to check whether it is occurring.


The clarification strategy focuses on training students in specific steps to help with decoding (letter-sound correspondence, “chunking,” spelling, etc.), as well as fix-up strategies to deal with difficult vocabulary and lapses in concentration.


The prediction phase involves readers in actively combining their own background knowledge with what they have gathered from the text. With a narrative text students imagine what might happen next. With an informational text, students predict what they might learn or read about in subsequent passages. 


When using the questioning strategy, readers monitor and assess their own understanding of the text by asking themselves questions. This self-awareness of one’s own internal thought process is termed “metacognition.”


Summarization requires the reader to perform the task of discriminating between important and less-important information in the text. It must then be organized into a coherent whole (Palincsar & Brown, 1984).

Different reading strategies have been incorporated into the reciprocal teaching format by other practitioners. Some other reading strategies include visualizing, making connections, inferencing, and questioning the author.

Reciprocal teaching follows a dialogic/dialectic process. Palincsar, Ransom, and Derber (1989) wrote that there were two reasons for choosing dialogue as the medium. First, it is a language format with which children are familiar (as opposed to writing, which may be too difficult for some struggling readers). Second, dialogue provides a useful vehicle for alternating control between teacher and students in a systematic and purposeful manner.

Reciprocal teaching also follows a very scaffolded curve, beginning with high levels of teacher instruction, modeling, and input, which is gradually withdrawn to the point that students are able to use the strategies independently. Reciprocal teaching begins with the students and teacher reading a short piece of text together. The teacher then specifically and explicitly models his or her thinking processes out loud, using each of the four reading strategies. Students follow the teacher’s model with their own strategies, also verbalizing their thought processes for the other students to hear.

Over time, the teacher models less and less frequently as students become more adept and confident with the strategies. Eventually, responsibility for leading the small-group discussions of the text and the strategies is handed over to the students. This gives the teacher or reading tutor the opportunity to diagnose strengths, weaknesses, misconceptions, and to provide follow-up as needed.

Socratic Dialogue

Socratic dialogue is a genre of prose literary works developed in Greece at the turn of the fourth century BC, preserved today in the dialogues of Plato and the Socratic works of Xenophon – either dramatic or narrative – in which characters discuss moral and philosophical problems, illustrating the Socratic method. Socrates is often the main character.

Most accurately, the term refers to works in which Socrates is a character, though as a genre other texts are included; Plato’s Laws and Xenophon’s Hiero are Socratic dialogues in which a wise man other than Socrates leads the discussion.  Likewise, the stylistic format of the dialogues can vary; Plato’s dialogues generally only contain the direct words of each of the speakers, while Xenophon’s dialogues are written down as a continuous story, containing, along with the narration of the circumstances of the dialogue, the “quotes” of the speakers. 

Socratic Questioning 

Socratic Questioning is disciplined questioning that can be used to pursue thought in many directions and for many purposes, including: to explore complex ideas, to get to the truth of things, to open up issues and problems, to uncover assumptions, to analyze concepts, to distinguish what we know from what we don’t know, and to follow out logical implications of thought. The key to distinguishing Socratic questioning from questioning per se is that Socratic questioning is systematic, disciplined, and deep, and usually focuses on foundational concepts, principles, theories, issues, or problems.

Socratic Questioning is often referred to in teaching, and has gained currency in as a concept in education particularly in the past two decades.

According to Paul and Elder (The Art of Socratic Questioning, 2006), teachers, students, or indeed anyone interested in probing thinking at a deep level can and should construct Socratic questions and engage in Socratic dialogue.

When teachers use Socratic questioning in teaching, their purpose may be to probe student thinking, to determine the extent of student knowledge on a given topic, issue or subject, to model Socratic questioning for students, or to help students analyze a concept or line of reasoning. Students should learn the discipline of Socratic questioning so that they begin to use it in reasoning through complex issues, in understanding and assessing the thinking of others, and in following-out the implications of what they, and others think.

In teaching, then, teachers can use Socratic questioning for at least two purposes:

To deeply probe student thinking, to help students begin to distinguish what they know or understand from what they do not know or understand (and to help them develop intellectual humility in the process).

To foster students’ abilities to ask Socratic questions, to help students acquire the powerful tools of Socratic dialogue, so that they can use these tools in everyday life (in questioning themselves and others). To this end, teachers can model the questioning strategies they want students to emulate and employ. Moreover, teachers need to directly teach students how to construct and ask deep questions. Beyond that, students need practice to improve their questioning abilities.

Socratic questioning illuminates the importance of questioning in learning (indeed Socrates himself thought that questioning was the only defensible form of teaching). It illuminates the difference between systematic and fragmented thinking. It teaches us to dig beneath the surface of our ideas. It teaches us the value of developing questioning minds in cultivating deep learning.

The art of Socratic questioning is intimately connected with critical thinking because the art of questioning is important to excellence of thought. What the word “Socratic” adds to the art of questioning is systematicity, depth, and an abiding interest in assessing the truth or plausibility of things.

Both critical thinking and Socratic questioning share a common end. Critical thinking provides the conceptual tools for understanding how the mind functions in its pursuit of meaning and truth; Socratic questioning employs those tools in framing questions essential to the pursuit of meaning and truth.

The goal of critical thinking is to establish an additional level of thinking to our thinking, a powerful inner voice of reason, that monitors, assesses, and reconstitutes—in a more rational direction—our thinking, feeling, and action. Socratic discussion cultivates that inner voice through an explicit focus on self-directed, disciplined questioning.

Project-based Learning

Project-based learning, or PBL (often “PjBL” to avoid confusion with “Problem-based Learning”), is the use of classroom projects, intended to bring about deep learning, where student’s use technology and inquiry to engage with issues and questions that are relevant to their lives. These classroom projects are used to assess student’s subject matter competence compared to traditional testing.

Project-based learning is best defined as instruction relating questions and technology relative to the students everyday lives to classroom projects. Students form their own investigation with their own group which allows students to develop valuable research skills. The students engage in design, problem solving, decision making, and investigative activities. It allows students to work in groups or by themselves and allows them to come up with ideas and realistic solutions or presentations. Students take a problem and apply it to a real life situation with this projects.

Project-based learning provides complex tasks based on challenging questions or problems that involve the students’ problem solving, decision making, investigative skills, and reflection that include teacher facilitation, but not direction. Project Based Learning is focused on questions that drive students to encounter the central concepts and principles of a subject hands-on.

With Project-based learning students learn from these experiences and take them into account and apply them to their lives in the real world. PBL is a different teaching technique that promotes and practices new learning habits. The students have to think in original ways to come up with the solutions to these real world problems. It helps with their creative thinking skills by showing that there are many ways to solve a problem.

Project-based learning is an approach for classroom activity that emphasizes learning activities that are long-term, interdisciplinary and student-centered. This approach is generally less structured than traditional, teacher-led classroom activities; in a project-based class, students often must organize their own work and manage their own time. Within the project based learning framework students collaborate, working together to make sense of what is going on. Project-based instruction differs from inquiry-based activity by its emphasis on collaborative learning. Additionally, project-based instruction differs from traditional inquiry by its emphasis on students’ own artifact construction to represent what is being learned.

Elements of a good project based learning experience include:

  • A fertile question or issue that is rich, real and relevant to the students lives
  • Real world use of technology
  • Student-directed learning and/or the deliberate engagement of student voice
  • Collaboration
  • Multi-disciplinary components
  • Long term (more than 3 weeks) time frame
  • Outcomes-based, with an artifact, presentation, or action as a result of the inquiry
  • Project should be focused on making sure students are learning.

When used with 21st century skills, Project based learning (PBL) is more than just a web-quest or internet research task. Within this type of project, students are expected to use technology in meaningful ways to help them investigate or present their learning. Where technology is infused throughout the project, a more appropriate term for the pedagody can be referred to as iPBL, to reflect the emphasis of technological skills and academic content. When used effectively, research has shown PBL, and iPBL, helps teachers create a high-performing classroom in which teachers and students form a powerful learning community. The aim is for real-life context and technology to meet and achieve outcomes in the curriculum through an inquiry based approach. A PBL approach is designed to encourage students to become independent workers, critical thinkers, and lifelong learners. Many teachers and researches involved in PBL believe it makes school more meaningful as it provides in-depth investigations of real-world topics and significant issues worthy of each individual child’s attention and investigation.

PBL relies on learning groups. Student groups determine their projects, in so doing, they engage student voice by encouraging students to take full responsibility for their learning. This is what makes PBL constructivist. Students work together to accomplish specific goals.  When students use technology as a tool to communicate with others, they take on an active role vs. a passive role of transmitting the information by a teacher, a book, or broadcast. The student is constantly making choices on how to obtain, display, or manipulate information. Technology makes it possible for students to think actively about the choices they make and execute. Every student has the opportunity to get involved either individually or as a group.

Instructor role in Project Based Learning is that of a facilitator. They do not relinquish control of the classroom or student learning but rather develop an atmosphere of shared responsibility. The Instructor must structure the proposed question/issue so as to direct the student’s learning toward content-based materials. The instructor must regulate student success with intermittent, transitional goals to ensure student projects remain focused and students have a deep understanding of the concepts being investigated. It is important for teachers not to provide the students any answers because it defeats the learning and investigating process. Once the project is finished, the instructor provides the students with feedback that will help them strengthen their skills for their next project.  The student’s role is to ask questions, build knowledge, and determine a real-world solution to the issue/question presented. Students must collaborate expanding their active listening skills and requiring them to engage in intelligent focused communication. Therefore, allowing them to think rationally on how to solve problems. PBL forces students to take ownership of their success.

More important than learning science, students need to learn to work in a community, thereby taking on social responsibilities. The most significant contributions of PBL have been in schools in poverty stricken areas; when students take responsibility, or ownership, for their learning, their self-esteem rises. It also helps to create better work habits and attitudes toward learning. In standardized tests, schools have been able to raise their testing grades a full level by implementing PBL. Although students do work in groups, they also become more independent because they are receiving little instruction from the teacher. With Project-Based Learning students also learn skills that are essential in higher education. The students learn more than just finding answers, PBL allows them to expand their minds and think beyond what they normally would. Students have to find answers to questions and combine them using critical thinking skills to come up with answers.

Waldorf Education

Waldorf education (also known as Steiner or Steiner-Waldorf education) is a pedagogy based upon the educational philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Anthroposophy. Learning is interdisciplinary, integrates practical, artistic, and intellectual elements, and is coordinated with “natural rhythms of everyday life.”  The Waldorf approach emphasizes the role of the imagination in learning, developing thinking that includes a creative as well as an analytic component. Studies of the education describe its overarching goal as providing young people the basis on which to develop into free, moral and integrated individuals, and to help every child fulfill his or her unique destiny.  Schools and teachers are given considerable freedom to define curricula within collegial structures.

The first Waldorf school was founded in 1919; there are now more than 1000 independent Waldorf schools and 1400 independent Waldorf kindergartens located in approximately sixty countries throughout the world, making up one of the world’s largest independent educational systems; there are also Waldorf-based public and charter schools, homeschooling environments, and schools for special education. Waldorf methods have also been adopted by numerous educators teaching in other states and private schools.

The structure of the education follows Steiner’s pedagogical model of child development, which views childhood as divided overall into seven-year developmental stages, each having its own learning requirements; the stages are similar to those described by Piaget. The approach has been termed “the most complete articulation of an evolutionary developmental K-12 curriculum and creative teaching methodology.”

According to Waldorf pedagogy:

  • Early childhood learning is largely experiential, imitative and sensory-based. The education emphasizes learning through practical activities.
  • Elementary school years (age 7-14), learning is regarded as artistic and imaginative. In these years, the approach emphasizes developing children’s “feeling life” and artistic expression.
  • During adolescence, to meet the developing capacity for abstract thought and conceptual judgment the emphasis is on learning through intellectual understanding and ethical thinking, including taking social responsibility.

Direct Instruction

Direct instruction is a general term for the explicit teaching of a skill-set using lectures or demonstrations of the material, rather than exploratory models such as inquiry-based learning.

This method is often contrasted with tutorials, participatory laboratory classes, discussion, recitation, seminars, workshops, observation, case study, active learning, practica or internships. Usually it involves some explication of the skill or subject matter to be taught and may or may not include an opportunity for student participation or individual practice. Some direct instruction is usually part of other methodologies, such as athletic coaching.  Direct instruction may be ad hoc or even an incidental digression. Although there is usually some element of frontal instruction and a general concept of the skill or lesson, there may or may not be a formal lesson plan.

This form of instruction is often contrasted with discovery learning (Tuovinen, & Sweller,1999). While many support discovery learning, because they feel students learn better if they “learn by doing,” there is little empirical evidence to support this claim, quite the contrary in fact (Tuovinen and Sweller, 1999). Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark (2006) suggest that fifty years of empirical data does not support those using these unguided methods of instruction.

Opponents of direct instruction believe methods of measuring student progress, favor skills that are themselves emphasized by direct instruction and deemphasized by discovery education. In addition they suggest aptitude tests focus on students’ ability to solve problems, while discovery education emphasizes critical information-seeking and active, fruitful participation in social discourse, goals that cannot be easily measured by traditional empirical methods.

Discovery Learning 

Discovery Learning is a method of inquiry-based instruction and is considered a constructivist based approach to education. It is supported by the work of learning theorists and psychologists Jean Piaget, Jerome Bruner, and Seymour Papert.  Jerome Bruner is thought to have originated discovery learning in the 1960s, but his ideas are very similar those of earlier writers (e.g. John Dewey). Bruner argues that “Practice in discovering for oneself teaches one to acquire information in a way that makes that information more readily viable in problem solving” (Bruner, 1961, p.26). This philosophy later became the discovery learning movement of the 1960s. The mantra of this philosophical movement suggests that we should ‘learn by doing’.

Discovery learning takes place in problem solving situations where the learner draws on his own experience and prior knowledge and is a method of instruction through which students interact with their environment by exploring and manipulating objects, wrestling with questions and controversies, or performing experiments.

Several groups of educators have found evidence that discovery learning is a less effective as an instructional strategy for novices, than more direct forms of instruction (e.g. Tuovinen and Sweller, 1999). While discovery learning is very popular, it is often used inappropriately, to teach novices (Kirschner et al, 2006). According to Kirschner et al, learners should be given some direct instruction first, and then later, be allowed to apply what they have learned.

People can “learn by doing.” A debate in the instructional community now questions the effectiveness of this model of instruction (Kirschner, Sweller, & Clark, 2006). Bruner (1961) suggested that students are more likely to remember concepts if they discover them on their own. This is as opposed to those they are taught directly. However, Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark (2006) report there is little empirical evidence to support discovery learning. Kirschner et al suggest that fifty years of empirical data does not support those using these unguided methods of instruction.


Metacognition is the knowledge (i.e. awareness) of one’s cognitive processes and the efficient use of this self-awareness to self-regulate these cognitive processes (e.g. Brown, 1987; Niemi, 2002; Shimamura, 2000). It is traditionally defined as the knowledge and experiences we have about our own cognitive processes (Flavell 1979).  J. H. Flavell (1976, p 232) invented the word “Metacognition.”  He describes it in these words: “Metacognition refers to one’s knowledge concerning one’s own cognitive processes or anything related to them, e.g., the learning-relevant properties of information or data. For example, I am engaging in metacognition if I notice that I am having more trouble learning A than B; if it strikes me that I should double check C before accepting it as fact.”

Metacognition is classified into three components:

  • Metacognitive knowledge (also called metacognitive awareness) is what individuals know about themselves and others as cognitive processors.
  • Metacognitive regulation is the regulation of cognition and learning experiences through a set of activities that help people control their learning.
  • Metacognitive experiences are those experiences that have something to do with the current, on-going cognitive endeavor.

Metacognition refers to a level of thinking that involves active control over the process of thinking that is used in learning situations. Planning the way to approach a learning task, monitoring comprehension, and evaluating the progress towards the completion of a task: these are skills that are metacognitive in their nature. Similarly, maintaining motivation to see a task to completion is also a metacognitive skill. The ability to become aware of distracting stimuli – both internal and external – and sustain effort over time also involves metacognitive or executive functions. The theory that metacognition has a critical role to play in successful learning means it is important that it be demonstrated by both students and teachers.

Students who demonstrate a wide range of metacognitive skills perform better on exams and complete work more efficiently. They are self-regulated learners who utilize the “right tool for the job” and modify learning strategies and skills based on their awareness of effectiveness. Individuals with a high level of metacognitive knowledge and skill identify blocks to learning as early as possible and change “tools” or strategies to ensure goal attainment. The metacognologist is aware of their own strengths and weaknesses, the nature of the task at hand, and available “tools” or skills. A broader repertoire of “tools” also assists in goal attainment. When “tools” are general, generic, and context independent, they are more likely to be useful in different types of learning situations.

Another distinction in metacognition is executive management and strategic knowledge. Executive management processes involve planning, monitoring, evaluating and revising one’s own thinking processes and products. Strategic knowledge involves knowing what (factual or declarative knowledge), knowing when and why (conditional or contextual knowledge) and knowing how (procedural or methodological knowledge). Both executive management and strategic knowledge metacognition are needed to self-regulate one’s own thinking and learning.

Finally, there is a distinction between domain general and domain-specific metacognition. Domain general refers to metacognition which transcends particular subject or content areas, such as setting goals. Domain specific refers to metacognition which is applied in particular subject or content areas, such as editing an essay or verifying one’s answer to a mathematics problem.

Experiential Education

Experiential education is a philosophy of education that focuses on the transactive process between teacher and student involved in direct experience with the learning environment and content. The term is mistakenly used interchangeably with experiential learning. The Association for Experiential Education regards experiential education “as a philosophy and methodology in which educators purposefully engage with learners in direct experience and focused reflection in order to increase knowledge, develop skills and clarify values.” Many will find a relationship between experiential education and educational progressivism. The former is the philosophy and the latter is the movement it informed (some might suggest it is still a current movement).

John Dewey was the most famous proponent of experiential education, perhaps paving the course for all future activities in his seminal Experience and Education, first published in 1938. Dewey’s fame during that period rested on relentlessly critiquing public education and pointing out that the authoritarian, strict, pre-ordained knowledge approach of modern traditional education was too concerned with delivering knowledge, and not enough with understanding students’ actual experiences. Dewey’s work went on to influence dozens of other influential experiential models and advocates, including Foxfire, service learning, Kurt Hahn and Outward Bound, among others.

Experiential education informs many educational practices underway in schools (formal education) and out-of-school (informal education) programs. Each of the following teaching methods relies on experiential education to provide context and frameworks for learning through action.

Outdoor education uses organized learning activities occurring in the outdoors, utilizing environmental experiences as a learning tool.  Service learning is a combination of community service with stated learning goals, relying on experience as the foundation to provide meaningful experience in service. Cooperative learning alters heterogeneous grouping in order to support diverse learning styles and needs within a group. Active learning, a term popular in US education circles in the 1980s, places the responsibility of learning on learners themselves, requiring their experience in education to inform their process of learning. Environmental education are efforts to educate learners about relationships within the natural environment and how those relationships are interdependent. The experience of being outdoors and learning through doing makes this learning relevant to students.

Experiential education serves as an umbrella for linking these diverse practices in a coherent whole. Similarly, experiential education is also closely linked to a number of other educational theories, including progressive education, critical pedagogy, youth empowerment, and constructivism. The development of experiential education as a philosophy is intertwined with the development of these other educational theories and have helped articulate and clarify elements this philosophy.

Student-Centered Learning

Student-centred learning (also called student-centered learning or child-centered learning) is an approach to education focusing on the needs of the students, rather than those of others involved in the educational process, such as teachers and administrators. This approach has many implications for the design of curriculum, course content, and interactivity of courses.

For instance, a student-centered course may address the needs of a particular student audience to learn how to solve some job-related problems using some aspects of mathematics. In contrast, a course focused on learning mathematics might choose areas of mathematics to cover and methods of teaching which would be considered irrelevant by the student.  Student-centered learning, that is, putting students first, is in stark contrast to existing establishment/teacher-centered lecturing and careerism. Student-centered learning is focused on the student’s needs, abilities, interests, and learning styles with the teacher as a facilitator of learning. This classroom teaching method acknowledges student voice as central to the learning experience for every learner. Teacher-centered learning has the teacher at its centre in an active role and students in a passive, receptive role. Student-centered learning requires students to be active, responsible participants in their own learning.

Inquiry-Based Learning

Inquiry-based learning or inquiry-based science describes a range of philosophical, curricular and pedagogical approaches to teaching. Its core premises include the requirement that learning should be based around student questions. Pedagogy and curriculum requires students to work independently to solve problems rather than receiving direct instructions on what to do from the teacher. Teachers are viewed as facilitators of learning rather than vessels of knowledge. The teachers job in an inquiry learning environment is therefore not to provide knowledge, but instead to help students along the process of discovering knowledge themselves.

Inquiry-based learning is an instructional method developed during the discovery learning movement of the 1960s. It was developed in response to a perceived failure of more traditional forms of instruction, where students were required simply to memorize fact laden instructional materials (Bruner, 1961). Inquiry learning is a form of active learning, where progress is assessed by how well students develop experimental and analytical skills rather than how much knowledge they possess. 

Transformative Learning

Transformational learning is a process of getting beyond gaining factual knowledge alone to instead become changed by what one learns in some meaningful way. It involves questioning assumptions, beliefs and values, and considering multiple points of view, while always seeking to verify reasoning.

There is great debate on what qualifies as “transformative” and whether the process is best understood intellectually, emotionally, spiritually or politically. For instance, transformation can inspire action to change the world, and unfair distribution of resources and power in particular, in order to promote the welfare of all peoples.


The term “unschooling” has two distinct meanings. On one hand, it is increasingly used to describe methods of education that do not resemble schools, primarily indicating a lack of heavy reliance on textbooks or time spent at desks. In contrast, “unschooling” as envisioned by educator, author, and home education advocate John Holt, who coined the term, refers to a specific type of interest based education in which the parents do not authoritatively direct the child’s education, but instead aid the child in exploring his or her interests. “Unschooling” does not indicate that the child is not being educated, but that the child is not being “schooled”, or educated in a rigid school-type manner.

Holt asserted that children learn through the experiences of life, and he encouraged parents to live their lives with their child. Also known as interest-led or child-led learning, unschooling attempts to follow opportunities as they arise in real life, through which a child will learn without coercion. An unschooled child may utilize texts or classroom instruction, but these are not considered central to education. Holt asserted that there is no specific body of knowledge that is, or should be, required of a child. 

Model-Centered Instruction 

Model-centered instruction is a general theory of instructional design developed by Andrew S. Gibbons. This theory can be used to design individual and group instruction for all kinds of learning in any type of learning environment. In addition, this theory may be used to design instruction with a wide variety of technologies and media delivery systems.

The theory of model-centered instruction is based on the assumption that the purpose of instruction is to help learners construct knowledge about objects and events in their environment. In the field of cognitive psychology, theorists assert that knowledge is represented and stored in human memory as dynamic, networked structures generally known as schema or mental models. This concept of mental models was incorporated by Gibbons into the theory of model-centered instruction. This theory is based on the assumption that learners construct mental models as they process information they have acquired through observations of or interactions with objects, events, and environments. Instructional designers can assist learners by (a) helping them focus attention on specific information about an object, event, or environment and (b) initiating events or activities designed to trigger learning processes.

Instructional designers may guide learner attention by introducing learners to carefully selected objects and events that occur in certain environments. In some situations, it is not possible to have learners work with real objects, events, or environments. In these cases, instructional designers may create representations of the objects, events, or environments. These representations are called models. A model is a definition or representation of an object, event, or environment that includes some information regarding their properties, actions, or cause-effect relationships. Instructional designers may use a variety of models to help learners construct their own mental models. A model can take various mediated forms, from simple textual descriptions to complex, multimedia simulations.

According to the theory of model-centered instruction, there are three types of models: (a) a natural or manufactured cause-effect system, (b) an environment in which one or more systems operate, or (c) an expert performance—a set of purposeful, goal-driven actions that causes changes within systems and environments. These three types of models — system, environment, and expert performance – form a comprehensive framework for the representation and communication of subject-matter information in any domain.

When learners interact with complex objects or models, they sometimes need assistance in discovering and processing information. Instructional designers can guide learners by introducing problems to be solved in a sequence that may be partially or fully determined by the learner. Gibbons defines a problem as “a request for information about an incompletely known model. A problem is a request for the learner…to supply one or more of the model’s behaviors, elements, or interrelations that are missing”. Problems act as filters or masks that focus learner attention on specific information about the objects or models. Problems also trigger learning processes used in the construction of mental models. As problems are solved in sequence, learners process more information and construct more comprehensive and useful mental models.


A WebQuest is a learning activity used by educators. During this activity learners read, analyze, and synthesize information using the World Wide Web. Webquests were invented by Bernie Dodge and Tom March at San Diego State University in 1995.

According to Dodge’s original publication a WebQuest is “an inquiry-oriented activity in which some or all of the information that learners interact with comes from resources on the internet, optionally supplemented with videoconferencing” (Dodge, 1995a; Dodge, 1995b).

Learners typically complete WebQuests as cooperative groups. Each learner within a group can be given a “role,” or specific area to research. WebQuests may take the form of role-playing scenarios, where students take on the personas of professional researchers or historical figures.

WebQuests, are a great tool for teachers to use in their classroom. A teacher can search for WebQuests on a particular topic or they can develop their own using a web editor like Microsoft FrontPage or Dreamweaver. This tool allows learners to complete various task using other Cognitive tools (e.g. Inspiration, MS Word, PowerPoint, Access, Excel, and Publisher). WebQuests may be created by anyone, typically they are developed by educators. The first part of a WebQuest is the introduction. This describes the WebQuest and gives the purpose of the activity. Next describes what students will do. Then is a list of what to do and how to do it. There are usually a list of links to follow to complete the activity.

International Baccalaureate Program 

The International Baccalaureate Diploma Program is an educational program examined in one of three languages (English, French or Spanish) and is a leading university entrance course. It is taught in 2,075 schools, often in international schools, in 125 countries all around the world (as of 2007). More than half of the schools offering the Diploma Program are state funded schools. The program, administered by the International Baccalaureate Organization, is the most widely recognized pre-university educational program.

The Diploma Program curriculum consists of six subjects (see below), an extended essay, of up to 4,000 words, participation in the Theory of Knowledge, and a requirement of at least 50 hours in each area of CAS (Creative, Action, Service).

Students may also take a limited number of subjects or opt out of some activities (such as ToK). These students do not receive the Diploma, but instead receive certificates for each subject passed.

Students that pursue the diploma take six subjects; one each from Groups 1 – 5 (below) with an additional subject from 1, 2, 3, 4 or 6. A minimum of three subjects must be taken at higher level (HL) and the rest at standard level (SL). There must be no more than 4 subjects taken at a Higher Level. Higher level subjects require approximately 240 hours of teaching time, and standard level subjects about 150.

  • Group 1: Language A1 – Generally the student’s strongest language, with over 80 different languages available. Students may choose to self-study a language of their choice at standard level if their fluent language is not taught by the school.
  • Group 2: Second Language – An additional language, taken either at A2 (HL or SL), B (SL or HL) or ab initio (SL only). This group may also be replaced by a second A1 language.
  • Group 3: Individuals and Societies – Humanities and social sciences, such as philosophy, economics, business and management, psychology, social anthropology, information technology in a global society (ITGS), geography and history (or History of the Islamic World). At higher level, there are several different regionalized history classes, including History of the Americas, History of Europe, History of Africa, History of West Asia, and History of East and South-east Asia. The variant/s taught is usually largely dependent on the location of the school. In some schools it is possible to choose three subjects from this group and none from Group 4 with special permission from the IBO.
  • Group 4: Experimental Sciences – Subjects such as physics, chemistry, biology, environmental systems, Ecosystems & Societies and Design Technology. In some countries, such as the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, New Zealand and Turkey, students are allowed to choose three subjects from this group and none from Group 3, as it is required for admission into some universities.
  • Group 5: Mathematics – The subjects are, in order of increasing difficulty, Mathematical Studies SL, Mathematics SL, and Mathematics HL. Furthermore, Further Mathematics can be studied at SL in addition to a Mathematics HL course. This group also includes computer science but only as an elective (not a substitute for the other mathematics courses).
  • Group 6: Arts and Electives – Subjects such as visual arts, film, music, dance, and theatre arts. Can be replaced with another class from Group 2, 3, or 4, or Computer Science from Group 5.

Students must write an essay of up to 4,000 words in any chosen subject (not necessarily one taken for the final exam, although it is highly suggested that the student have some familiarity with the topic) but not across subjects. All subjects have specific guidelines that must be followed in order for the Extended Essay to be considered. The topic may be any that the student feels is researchable. This task involves teacher guided independent research and requires producing a written thesis. Each student is paired with a supervisor who provides insight and orients his or her work. The Extended Essay must be submitted in order to receive the IB Diploma.

CAS is the acronym for Creativity, Action, Service. This extracurricular aspect of the IB Diploma involves student engagement in social work or community service (Service), participation in sports (Action), and initiative in creative activity (Creativity). The purpose of CAS is to encourage students to go beyond academic pursuits and experience life outside school. Each Diploma candidate completes 150 hours of CAS related activities over the period of the IB course, where 50 hours each are contributed towards Creativity, Service and Action. Students may increase and decrease hours in the three categories provided no category exceeds 70 hours, no category has less than 40 hours and the student still reaches 150 hours. The hours of work completed are documented by the school using official forms (CAS/AEF Forms) which are submitted to the IBO by January of the final year of the IB course. The IB Diploma is awarded only upon successful completion of CAS.

Each student must complete the Theory of Knowledge (TOK) course of at least 100 hours, which aims to encourage students to be critical thinkers and to teach students basic epistemology. To complete requirements for TOK, diploma candidates must write a TOK essay of 1200-1600 words on a set title (from a choice of ten issued by the IBO), and present a TOK issue to their class on their choice of topic.

The grades that the student receives from the TOK essay and presentation are compared with the grade for the Extended Essay by way of a matrix designed by the IBO, which may result in the awarding of ‘extra’ points for the candidate’s Diploma. The candidate may get up to three extra points if both works are of a sufficient standard.


Looping is an educational practice in which a single graded class of children stays with a teacher for two or more years or grade levels. The children and the teacher remain together as the class is promoted. At the end of the second (or third) year in the pattern, the children move on to a new teacher while the looping teacher returns to the lower grade level to receive a new group of students. Although looping is not used in multiage grouping (because a multiage group does not comprise a single class grade), many schools that are considering implementation of a multiage program use looping as a first step.

For students, the benefits of looping include reduced apprehension at starting a new school year, increased continuity, and more in-depth relationships with teacher and with peers (McClellan, 1995). For teachers, the benefits of looping consist of becoming familiar with other developmental stages of children, and working with students and parents for longer periods of time (Mazzuchi & Brooks, 1993). The long-term relationships established through looping have been shown to support student learning. 

Simple Non-Associative Learning


In psychology, habituation is an example of non-associative learning in which there is a progressive diminution of behavioral response probability with repetition of a stimulus. It is another form of integration. An animal first responds to a stimulus, but if it is neither rewarding nor harmful the animal reduces subsequent responses. One example of this can be seen in small song birds – if a stuffed owl (or similar predator) is put into the cage, the birds initially react to it as though it were a real predator. Soon the birds react less, showing habituation. If another stuffed owl is introduced (or the same one removed and re-introduced), the birds react to it again as though it were a predator, demonstrating that it is only a very specific stimulus that is habituated to (namely, one particular unmoving owl in one place). Habituation has been shown in essentially every species of animal, including large protozoa.


Sensitization is an example of non-associative learning in which the progressive amplification of a response follows repeated administrations of a stimulus (Bell et al., 1995). An everyday example of this mechanism is the repeated tonic stimulation of peripheral nerves that will occur if a person rubs his arm continuously. After a while, this stimulation will create a warm sensation that will eventually turn painful. The pain is the result of the progressively amplified synaptic response of the peripheral nerves warning the person that the stimulation is harmful. Sensitization is thought to underlie both adaptive as well as maladaptive learning processes in the organism.

Associative Learning

Operant conditioning

Operant conditioning is the use of consequences to modify the occurrence and form of behavior. Operant conditioning is distinguished from Pavlovian conditioning in that operant conditioning deals with the modification of voluntary behavior. Discrimination learning is a major form of operant conditioning. One form of it is called Errorless learning.

Classical conditioning

The typical paradigm for classical conditioning involves repeatedly pairing an unconditioned stimulus (which unfailingly evokes a particular response) with another previously neutral stimulus (which does not normally evoke the response). Following conditioning, the response occurs both to the unconditioned stimulus and to the other, unrelated stimulus (now referred to as the “conditioned stimulus”). The response to the conditioned stimulus is termed a conditioned response.


Imprinting is the term used in psychology and ethnology to describe any kind of phase-sensitive learning (learning occurring at a particular age or a particular life stage) that is rapid and apparently independent of the consequences of behavior. It was first used to describe situations in which an animal or person learns the characteristics of some stimulus, which is therefore said to be “imprinted” onto the subject. 

Observational Learning

The most basic learning process is imitation; one’s personal repetition of an observed process, such as a smile. Thus an imitation will take one’s time (attention to the details), space (a location for learning), skills (or practice), and other resources (for example, a protected area). Through copying, most infants learn how to hunt (i.e., direct one’s attention), feed and perform most basic tasks necessary for survival.


Play generally describes behavior which has no particular end in itself, but improves performance in similar situations in the future. This is seen in a wide variety of vertebrates besides humans, but is mostly limited to mammals and birds. Cats are known to play with a ball of string when young, which gives them experience with catching prey. Besides inanimate objects, animals may play with other members of their own species or other animals, such as orcas playing with seals they have caught. Play involves a significant cost to animals, such as increased vulnerability to predators and the risk or injury and possibly infection. It also consumes energy, so there must be significant benefits associated with play for it to have evolved. Play is generally seen in younger animals, suggesting a link with learning. However, it may also have other benefits not associated directly with learning, for example improving physical fitness.

Multimedia learning

The learning where learner uses multimedia learning environments (Mayer, 2001). This type of learning relies on dual-coding theory (Paivio, 1971).

e-Learning and m-Learning

Electronic learning or e-learning is a general term used to refer to Internet-based networked computer-enhanced learning. A specific and always more diffused e-learning is mobile learning (m-Learning), it uses different mobile telecommunication equipments, such as cellular phones.

Machine Learning

Although learning is often thought of as a property associated with living things, computers are also able to modify their own behaviors as a result of experiences. Known as machine learning, this is a broad subfield of artificial intelligence concerned with the design and development of algorithms and techniques that allow computers to “learn”. At a general level, there are two types of learning: inductive, and deductive. Inductive machine learning methods extract rules and patterns out of massive data sets.

The major focus of machine learning research is to extract information from data automatically, by computational and statistical methods. Hence, machine learning is closely related to data mining and statistics but also theoretical computer science.

Machine learning has a wide spectrum of applications including natural language processing, syntactic pattern recognition, search engines, medical diagnosis, bioinformatics and cheminformatics, detecting credit card fraud, stock market analysis, classifying DNA sequences, speech and handwriting recognition, object recognition in computer vision, game playing and robot locomotion.

Rote Learning

Rote learning is a technique which avoids understanding the inner complexities and inferences of the subject that is being learned and instead focuses on memorizing the material so that it can be recalled by the learner exactly the way it was read or heard. The major practice involved in rote learning techniques is learning by repetition, based on the idea that one will be able to quickly recall the meaning of the material the more it is repeated. Rote learning is used in diverse areas, from mathematics to music to religion. Although it has been criticized by some schools of thought, rote learning is a necessity in many situations.

Informal Learning

Informal learning occurs through the experience of day-to-day situations (for example, one would learn to look ahead while walking because of the danger inherent in not paying attention to where one is going). It is learning from life, during a meal at table with parents, Play, exploring.

Formal Learning

Formal learning is learning that takes place within a teacher-student relationship, such as in a school system.  Non-formal learning is organized learning outside the formal learning system. For example: learning by coming together with people with similar interests and exchanging viewpoints, in clubs or in (international) youth organizations, workshops. 

Non-formal Learning and Combined Approaches

The educational system may use a combination of formal, informal, and non-formal learning methods. The UN and EU recognize these different forms of learning (cf. links below). In some schools students can get points that count in the formal-learning systems if they get work done in informal-learning circuits. They may be given time to assist international youth workshops and training courses, on the condition they prepare, contribute, share and can proof this offered valuable new insights, helped to acquire new skills, a place to get experience in organizing, teaching, etc.

Transitions to Intuitive Learning (PDF)

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