When theories collide…

What’s in a theory?  Should I subscribe to just one?  Is everything really so black and white?

Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism, Connectivism oh my!  I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore…


The Wizard of Oz Haley Bolger Garland Lahr 1939
By CBS Television Network [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Hopefully this isn’t overwhelming or scary to anyone, but really- what’s the ‘best’ theory?  Which one ‘best’ meets the needs of our learners?  How do we establish the one, clear winner? — Or is there one, clear ‘winner’?

Today’s classroom is vastly different then the classroom of years past.  Classrooms and learning look completely different now than they did when I was a student in Elementary school – and they should!

Classrooms of today have diversified and changed drastically in recent history.  We have a more individualistic approach, we work to meet the needs of each learner (which is far from homogeneous when we considered things like: behaviors, learning levels, background knowledge, language learners, among countless other factors that influence the plethora of needs within our rooms).

In addition to the diversification of learners needs, we have budgetary constraints, in recent history the amount of support staff allotted to schools changed, while we’ve seen (in many cases) enrollments climb.

Finally, the classroom has evolved because society has evolved, and technology has emerged to the forefront, and as such, technology has become imperative in the education of our children.

CC by 2.0 via flickr


So can we afford to have a one-size fits all mentality, when our classrooms are anything but?

I personally think that in order for the brain to develop the capacity for higher level thinking, neuron paths need to be established in order to facilitate those ideas.  This means I think we need to follow a combination of theories in order to best meet the needs of all of our students.  Additionally, we need to use a combination of theories to drive our practice, in order to move from ‘lower levels’ to ‘higher levels’ of thinking.  There needs to be a ‘baseline’ developed in order to allow for independent problem solving and rationalization to occur (in my opinion).

CC by 2.0 via flickr


I’ve often considered myself a social constructivist – and I would also say that there’s also value in connectivism and the half-life of our current knowledge, that being said – on a stand alone basis- I’m not convinced any one theory is enough!

11 thoughts on “When theories collide…

  1. Great thoughts Amy. I think it’s very true that teachers need to be well versed in different learning theories due to the diverse nature of the classroom.

  2. I feel the same way Amy. I believe that variety is the best way to reach student needs among other things in life. When we are exposed to varying methods we are able to fully develop an understanding of something.

  3. I really appreciate how you brought up the diverse needs and increase of numbers within classrooms and how this has an impact on what learning theories we embrace. I had never made that connection, but you definitely have me thinking now! Is it more comfortable to revert to a behaviorist approach when overwhelmed with the needs within your classroom? Interesting point Amy!

    1. Thanks Erin! I think it comes from the Constructivist tendancies that I have, I see each child and their experiences as making them who they are and somewhat defining what their ‘needs’ for learning are. That being said, I think it’s ironic that my tendency to lean on on a specific theory is the reason I question subscribing to one!

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and question. To answer – For me, I don’t think I find behaviourist approach a comfortable space, I do however see it’s value in specific instances for behaviours that are interfering with the specific child’s progress, but then I like to fade it out quickly when the desired outcome is reached!

  4. Great post Amy! Just as others have mentioned, I completely agree with you that we need a combination of theories to meet all of our student needs. We know one-size does NOT fit all when it comes to assessment; we should definitely realize the same when it comes to instruction. Thanks for the great post!

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