Psychological approaches to learning


A psychological approach based on study of how animals respond to environmental stimuli and can become 'conditioned'. Early investigators were Watson, Pavlov and Skinner. Sophisticated chains of such learning are possible, particularly in people, and behaviourism has been a dominant form of psychology for since the early 1900s.

Behaviour Managment

Loosely based on the approach described above, the underlying premise is that a child's behaviour can be changed through appropriate systems of reward and punishment 'conditioning' the child into positive behaviour patterns.


A psychological approach based on the study of children's attempts to construct understanding through interaction with their environment of people, things and experiences. The most influential constructivist was Piaget who, among other things, studied the role of language on children's thinking and who generated a model of four 'stages' in children's intellectual development.

Social constructivism

A psychological approach which locates many constructivist ideas within a social context to emphasise the influence of culture and interaction on learning. The most influential social constructivist was Vygotsky who, in particular, conceived of the 'zone of proximal development' (ZPD) and emphasised the role of a more knowledgeable other (teacher, parent or child) in scaffolding a learner's understanding.

Socio-cultural psychology

This approach builds on social constructivism in emphasising the importance of the social context in a person's learning and development. However it goes one step further as it recognises that social contexts are also cultural contexts that is to say they can be characterised by shared meanings and values, though these may often be taken for granted rather than explicit, (see also Culture in 'Social Processes and consequences')

Child development

A general psychological approach which traces the interaction of physical, intellectual, social and emotional development of children. Once particularly central to initial teacher education for what may seem to be obvious reasons, it has been largely excluded from courses in recent years as a result of government regulation and the wish to emphasise the teaching of subjects.