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Compare and Contrast Essay on Teaching and Learning Theories: Behaviorism and Constructivism

Modern methodologists put a lot of effort defining the best methodological model for students and for the future perspective. There are a lot of learning approaches and it’s not easy to choose the best one. In the papers I will concentrate on behaviorist and constructivist models of learning, their definitions, differences and similarities.

Behaviorism concentrates on learning through observing. Behaviorists believe that individuals need reinforcements as positive stimulus for their good actions and punishments for mistakes and blunders. According to this theory the surrounding shapes behavior and the learning process must be composed of small steps. Lefrancois defines main principles of behaviorism as following “They make use of one or both of two principal classes of explanations for learning: those based on contiguity (simultaneity of stimulus and response events) and those based on the effects of behavior (reinforcement and punishment)”.

Constructivism regards learning as a process, where the new ideas are built of constructed in the minds of learners and these models are based on the past knowledge. It puts the individual in the center of learning process and learning is regarded view as highly individual process. The knowledge is acquired through internalization. According to the constructivism theory the teacher works as a facilitator who helps to acquire the students the new material by problem-solving tasks and giving them interesting tasks. Gredlers defines constructivism as “Several related perspectives that view knowledge as a human construction. This theory was derived from Piaget’s perspective of learning, which views the learner’s knowledge as adaptive. The teacher’s role is to challenge the child’s way of thinking.” Constructivism model is associated with construction; constructing in the minds of minds of students.

Constructivism is often opposed to behaviorism. Behaviorism is interested in the study of changes of behavior caused by the changes of mental state. Learning is regarded as a process of changing or conditioning observable behavior as a response to selective reinforcement of an individual’s response. The mind of the child born is regarded as an empty vessel or “tabula rasa” to be fulfilled by the information from the surrounding. Teacher is supposed to transmit the knowledge from the world to the minds of pupils. Behaviorism relies on transmission, instructionism and hard control from the side of the teacher. It’s a teacher directed method. Behaviorists believe that there can be chosen the objective knowledge to describe the world and the process of learning can be reduced to the transmission and it states that what one person (the teacher) knows can be passed to the minds of others (students). “The goal of designers or teachers is to interpret events for them. Learners are told about the world and are expected to replicate its content and structure in their thinking” (Jonassen 1991, p.28). The behaviorist approach has created a stereotyped model of teaching which is often criticized by modern methodologists. The main points which are criticized are teacher-directed model where the students and given little possibilities for creativity and self-realization. It realizes a lot on the text books and fixed picture of what should be studied and there is very little space left for students’ creativity, making questions. While behaviorism relies on the objectiveness and behavior manifestation, cognitivism counts on the meaning, representation and thought or, to express it in few words counts on cognitive approach. Here lie the main differences in these two approaches and the way in which the knowledge is acquired, the prioritized types of knowledge, skills and activities chosen for learning process. Different goals are established and different means are chosen for their realization.

The roles of students and teachers are radically different in these two approaches. According radical constructivist conception of learning, the teachers play the role of a “midwife in the birth of understanding” which is opposed to the behaviorism “mechanics of knowledge transfer”. In constructivism the teacher isn’t supposed to transfer the new material to the students, but to make the willing to acquire new things setting up problem tasks and questions and prepare the soil for cognition, to show the way but to let the student to make the steps themselves. Gergen views, teachers as coordinators, facilitators, resource advisors, tutors or coaches. The concept of learning is central to constructivism. Unlike behaviorism which’s main goal is to give the new knowledge to the students by the way of punishment and reinforcement constructivism emphasizes the necessity to show the students the way to study correctly. Von Glasersfeld views its main goal in teaching the “self-regulation and the building of conceptual structures through reflection and abstraction”. So, we can say that behaviorism concentrates on the product of study and constructivism concentrates on the process itself. In constructivism the process of problem-solving is important but not the solutions itself. If to teach the students to look for the answers themselves they will be able to choose any problem in the future even if they don’t succeed in this very task. And different attitude to the mistakes of the students come from these differences in the approaches. In behaviorism the mistakes are corrected immediately and ambiguity is not supposed. The constructivist approach allows multiple choices and since it doesn’t concentrate on the result gentle correction of mistakes is saluted.

In modern methodology there is a tendency to change the behaviorist approach which was popular during past years into new approaches such as constructivism and others which let develop thinking, creativity and imagination.


  • Tynjala, P. 1999. Towards Expert Knowledge? A Comparison between a Contructivist and a Traditional Learning Environment in University. International Journal of Educational Research 31(5), 357- 442.
  • Extraordinary Teachers by Fred Stephenson Jr
  • Students’ ideas of learning: Conceptions, approaches, and outcomes in different educational contexts by Gunilla Eklund-Myrskog
  • Multimedia Learning by Richard E. Mayer
  • Collaborative Learning Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty by Elizabeth Barkley, l 2003 Can Write an Essay on Teaching and Learning Theories for You!

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