Analysis of Learning Theory Essay
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Teaching and education in the church utilizes both the spiritual, as well as the psychological. Andy Stanley and Lane Jones in their book Communicating For A Change discuss teaching the Bible in a clear and concise way that encourages one to change. William Yount in his book Created to Learn examines traditional learning theory and how it applies to teaching the Bible. Andy Stanley has come up with three ways one can approach teaching the Bible. The first way is to teach the Bible to people.
This method is just to educate the people about Bible facts. It does not address doctrine or to dig deeper into biblical truth. Stanley states, “This is the perfect approach for the communicator whose goal is to simply explain what the Bible teaches.” This is not a very helpful teaching method. Just knowing Bible knowledge will not impact one’s life. Change requires application. The second way to approach teaching Scripture is to teach people the Bible. This is the traditional way pastors and teachers approach the Scriptures. It is three points and a poem.
Stanley states, “This goal differs from the first in that the communicator takes his audience into account as he plans his approach.” The third method of teaching is the method the authors present, which is hearing and doing. Stanley states, “A third goal, and the one I subscribe to, is to teach people how to live a life that reflects the values, principles and truths of the Bible. In short, my goal is change. I want them to do something different instead of just think about it.” This is best summed up when James states to be a doer of the Word not just a hearer, in the first chapter, talks about being a hearer and a doer of the Word. Appling the Word is the only way one will see any change in one’s life. Learning also has a psychological aspect as well. There are various theories on how one learns. One such theory is behavioral learning theory. Behavioral theory teaches that one learns through conditioning. Edward Thorndike has adapted traditional behavioral learning to the classroom.
William Yount describes Thorndike’s law of readiness. “The law of readiness states that learning proceeds best when learners are properly prepared to respond…In the classroom, learning proceeds best when learners are made ‘ready’ – when they are engaged in the subject – at the beginning of the session.” The law of readiness takes into account the environment where learning takes place. By providing the optimal learning environment, the teacher is creating an atmosphere that encourages learning. Learning also takes place through repetition and practice, which is known as the law of exercise. The third law Thorndike recognizes is the law of effect. Yount states, “The law of effect states that any response that is followed by pleasure or reward strengthens the association between that response and its stimulus.” This theory treats human learning just like training an animal. It does not take into consideration man’s spiritual nature. However, conditioning is useful in classroom management and conduct. Another theory of learning is social learning theory. Albert Bandura is the psychologist who popularized this theory.
It has four stages. Stage one is known as attention. Yount states, “Attention is attracted, intentionally or not, by the perception that models help status competence, popularity, success, or similarity.” The concept of modeling is best described biblically as discipleship. The next phase is called retention. Yount states, “Retention – ‘retaining information or impressions’ – refers to the observer’s encoding of the model’s behavior into memory so that it can be remembered and produced at a later time.” This is done by mentally storing the information in one’s brain. The third stage is production. Production is practicing the observed behavior and adapting it based on feedback. This concept is learning by doing what one has seen in the model. Jesus sent out the disciples in groups of two to put into practice what they have learned. The fourth stage is motivation. The learning is motivated by their behavior being reinforced. This is done through feedback, both positive and negative. Social learning theory is consistent with the process of discipleship.
Mentors are able to model what the Christian life looks like and the disciples put that behavior into practice. A third learning theory is cognitive learning theory. One form of cognitive learning is known as discovery learning. Yount states, “Discovery learning builds upon direct instruction to help students see the relationships among principles and concepts. It leads to longer-lasting retention of the material, as well as higher self-esteem in learners. Discovery learning encourages the development and use of creative thinking skills, involving formal logic, but more, including beliefs, desires expectations, emotions, and intentions of learners.” Discovery learning is made up of five concepts. The first concept is structure. This is organizing material in a concrete way in order to be taught. It is organizing material into outlines or graphs and the like. The next concept is presentation. Yount states, “Bruner believed that people possess different modes of understanding, and that these modes were available to learners of any age. He called these modes the enactive, the iconic, and the symbolic.”
The enactive mode is learning by doing and seeing presentations. The iconic mode is learning visually by pictures and such. The symbolic mode is learning by describing complicated concepts verbally. The third concept is economy. This concept deals with the idea that providing too much information can cause overload and actually hinder learning. Stanley refers to this when evaluating traditional Bible teaching. The next concept is power. This power is best found in keeping learning simple and concise. Breaking concepts down into formulas or diagrams is helpful. The final concept of discovery learning is motivation. Yount states, “Intrinsic motivation sustains that will to learn; extrinsic motivation does not. Intrinsic motivation comes from the student’s own curiosity, their drive to achieve competence, and reciprocity – the desire to work cooperatively with others. These are rewarding in themselves, and thus, self-sustaining.
The fourth learning theory is educational humanism. This concept takes the whole person into consideration and is learner focused. Yount states, “Learners are persons; therefore, life-changing learning engages personal attitudes, emotions, and values. The goal of educational humanism was to personalize the classroom.” There are several positive aspects to humanistic learning. One is the ability for teachers to build relationships with their students. This can also apply the modeling concept of social learning. Another positive aspect is the ability for students to explore their feelings and emotions.
Yount states, “In the context of Bible study, exploring personal feelings and sharing personal testimonies are means to spiritual growth as God’s Word speaks, and Bible truths are discovered, personalized, and integrated into the authentic activities of life.” Learning theory impacts how one approaches teaching the Bible. In the opinion of the author, social learning theories, as well as, aspects of discovery learning and humanistic learning are effective in teaching the Scriptures. The concept of modeling is biblical. When Jesus told the disciples to follow Him, He was inviting them into a modeling relationship. This is the call to discipleship. By discovering biblical truth and applying to one’s life, both individually and in community, is how one grows in Christ.
Stanley, Andy and Lane Jones. Communicating For A Change. Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2006. Yount, William R. Created to Learn: A Christian Teacher’s Introduction to Educational Psychology. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010.
[ 1 ]. Andy Stanley and Lane Jones, Communicating For A Change, (Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2006), 93. [ 2 ]. Stanley and Jones, 94.
[ 3 ]. William R. Yount, Created to Learn: A Christian Teacher’s Introduction to Educational Psychology, (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010), 178. [ 4 ]. Yount, 179.
[ 5 ]. Ibid., 219.
[ 6 ]. Ibid., 220.
[ 7 ]. Ibid., 221.
[ 8 ]. Ibid., 242.
[ 9 ]. Ibid., 243.
[ 10 ]. Stanley and Jones, 102.
[ 11 ]. Yount, 244.
[ 12 ]. Ibid., 313.
[ 13 ]. Ibid., 323.