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Education Bookcast

Feb 25, 2023

My friend Zoë (hi Zoë!) is taking a course on learning design. In it, she heard about Behaviourism, Cognitivism, and Constructivism, and while she said that she found it confusing, her main takeaway is that "you need a bit of each". I recorded this episode to help her have a clearer sense of what these three words really mean, and that "a bit of each" is emphatically not the right message.

I thought that others might benefit from the same summary. This is a frequent topic in education courses, and I think it generally gets a pretty poor treatment. Hopefully this will clear things up for a lot of people.

Enjoy the episode.



Note how the distribution of episodes reflects the importance of topics. Behaviourism is important to know about but it really isn't current as a way of thinking about learning, it's more of a historical relic with some lasting applicability to animal training. Constructivism is a mistaken and misleading theory that keeps negatively affecting educational practice and never seems to go away, so I keep having to talk about it. Cognitivism is a really effective approach which deserves to be known more widely - it took me a long time to find out about it, hence why the episodes about it tend to be more recent.

Behaviourism: 3. Don't Shoot the Dog! The New Art of Teaching and Training by Karen Pryor

Constructivism: 42. Do Schools Kill Creativity? by Ken Robinson; 65. Beyond the Hole in the Wall by Sugata Mitra; 87. Experiential Learning by Colin Beard and John Wilson; 88. The Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-based, Experiential, and Inquiry-based Teaching; 90. Discovery learning: the idea that won't die; 124. The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences

Cognitivism: 79. What learning is; 80. The Chimp Paradox by Prof Steve Peters; 82. Memorable Teaching by Pepps McCrea; 85. Why Don't Students Like School? by Daniel Willingham; 95. The Reading Mind by Dan Willingham; 132a. Direct Instruction and Project Follow Through; 132b. Direct Instruction: the evidence; 135. Professional writing expertise; 136. Congitive architecture and ACT-R; 136+. Interview with Prof. Christian Lebiere on ACT-R and Cognitive Architecture


I mention the following article as one where the authors (eminent figures in cognitive architecture, one of whom is a Nobel Prize winner) ask Constructivists to stop misrepresenting their work and saying things in direct contradiction to the evidence.

Anderson, Reder, & Simon (1999). Applications and Misapplacations of Cognitive Psychology to Mathematics Education.


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