Are you considering a career as an educational assistant? One important subject you’ll encounter during your training is learning theories. Simply put, a learning theory is a way of understanding how knowledge is acquired and retained, which makes it an extremely useful concept for educational assistants when helping students better comprehend new material.
If you pursue training to be an educational assistant, you will work under the supervision of the teacher to help students with their lessons. Since lessons are often built on the principles of at least one main learning theory, understanding the main tenets of a few important learning theories will be an asset in the classroom.
Read on for a look at the three main learning theories and how they can be utilized by educational assistants.
Educational Assistants Can Use Behaviourism to Help Students Learn Factual Material
Behaviourism focuses on knowledge and learning that is quantifiable and observable, such as facts and dates. Behaviourists favour a model of learning that focuses heavily on positive and negative reinforcement. For example, as an educational assistant, your responsibilities may include assisting with grading tests, which showcases behaviourism in action. A good grade on a test is a case of positive reinforcement as it encourages the student to remember the correct answers that led to that grade. A bad grade, on the other hand, is a type of negative reinforcement, which discourages a student from repeating an incorrect answer.
Behaviourism is a useful tool if you are helping students learn something for which there is always a correct answer, such as scientific facts, foreign language vocabulary and historic dates. However, it is less useful with teaching more abstract concepts, like comprehension and critical thinking.
Cognitive Constructivism is an Important Tool for Students in Educational Assistant Training
Cognitive constructivism (also called cognitivism) is a learning theory which argues that people construct knowledge based on what they already know, such as their previous learning, cultural background and their life experiences. Instead of viewing students as passive learners motivated only by positive or negative reinforcement, a cognitivist sees learning as a process of active discovery.
After educational assistant training, you can use cognitivism in a number of ways, including by helping students with learning difficulties. In such a case, a teacher, with your assistance as an educational assistant, may develop an individual program tailored to the abilities and knowledge of these students. You will then help put this program into action. For example, as an educational assistant, you may ask a student to repeat new material in his or her own words. Having a student put material into their own words is more effective than simply having them repeat material verbatim, since the latter doesn’t necessarily indicate that he or she has understood the lesson.
A lesson built on cognitivist principles is less concerned with drilling students with right answers and focuses more on creating an environment that allows them to discover new knowledge for themselves.
Social Constructivism Focuses on the Collaborative Nature of Education
Social constructivism shares the cognitivist belief that learners construct knowledge based on what they already know. However, this theory emphasizes that the way new knowledge is constructed is a collaborative process involving the community, society and fellow students.
Once you’ve completed your educational assistant classes, you may find social constructivism put into practical use in the classroom through group exercises. For example, the teacher may divide the class into groups and give each group an assignment, like a mathematical problem, to solve together. Your job as an educational assistant may be to help each group by observing the behaviour of students and ensuring they stay focused on the task at hand.
While an educational assistant ensures the groups stay on track, students ultimately work on the assignment with their peers. This sort of social constructivist teaching strategy combines elements of both behaviourism and cognitivism, since students are constructing new knowledge based on what they already know, and they are also being motivated through positive reinforcement from other group members.
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