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Learning Theorists

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Adult Learning Theorists[edit | edit source]

John Seely Brown[edit | edit source]

Famous for many areas of learning and cognition from K-12 to corporate worlds, John Seely Brown is perhaps most well known for his work on communities of practice as well as that related to situated learning and informal learning. His book with Paul Duguid on the social life of information is a classic. He was Chief Research scientist at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) and is now a famous consultant and keynote speaker. Brown has worked on intelligent tutoring systems in math. He has also worked in the area of hypermedia and collaboration tools. Recently, he has provided consulting support for the Hewlett Foundation on Open Educational Resources which are free resources in education.

He gave a talk on this topic at MIT on open content and its impact on education on December 1, 2006: http://b2e.nitle.org/index.php/2006/12/01/john_seely_brown_icampus_keynote


See his homepage at: http://www.johnseelybrown.com/

"Relearning Learning-Applying the Long Tail to Learning." Go here to watch it: http://mitworld.mit.edu/video/419/ The link is not working. Go here to watch it http://video.mit.edu/watch/relearning-learning-applying-the-long-tail-to-learning-9174/

Alan Paivio[edit | edit source]

Psychology professor from the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario (in Canada). Paivio is famous for dual coding theory. He conducted much research on learning strategies and mnemonics. Dual coding theory, in effect, if we learn information visually and verbally, it is more likely to be retrieved. Such information is not only available knowledge, but accessible. Dual coding theory is highly related to current uses of technology in education--when we learn something with multimedia, we engage our senses and have multiple retrieval paths. As technology becomes more mobile, wireless, collaborative, visually-rich, and ubiquitous, then learners have more opportunities top store their learning in multiple ways; and, hence, retrieve them as well. Paivio may have developed his ideas 30-40 years ago, but they are highly relevant today. People in introductory learning theory courses and educational psychology as well as educational technology courses, should read from Alan Paivio.

  • You can learn more about his at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allan_Paivio
  • And here: http://tip.psychology.org/paivio.html
  • http://www.answers.com/topic/allan-paivio
  • Mayer, R. E. & Moreno, R. (2003). Nine ways to reduce cognitive load in multimedia learning. Educational Psychologist, 38(1), 43-52.
  • Moreno, R., & Mayer, R. E. (2000). A coherence effect in multimedia learning: the case for minimizing irrelevant sounds in the design of multimedia instructional messages. Journal of Educational Psychology, 92, 117-125.
  • Paivio, A (1971). Imagery and verbal processes. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.
  • Paivio, A (1986). Mental representations: a dual coding approach. Oxford. England: Oxford University Press.

David Ausubel[edit | edit source]

David Ausubel from the University of Illinois is famous for the idea of advance organizers. He believed that priming student knowledge helps learning. An advance organizer is something that comes before instruction that helps people learn. It might be a metaphor, a concept map, a timeline, a quote or joke, a taxonomy, a flowchart, etc. Whatever it is, it should provide the scaffolding for later learning. This technique is highly popular with teachers across educational settings. Ausubel had a deep impact on education.

Some resources and references:

Organizational Learning Theorists[edit | edit source]

Jerome Bruner[edit | edit source]

Jerome Bruner was born on October 1, 1915 in New York City, New York. By the age of 2, Jerome Bruner had corrective eye surgery as a result of developing cataracts. His educational development was hindered as a result of several relocations as a child after his father’s death at the age of 12. His grades were such that Duke University admitted him and he eventually received his A.B. in 1937. In the subsequent years, Bruner completed both his Master’s (1939) and Ph. D. (1941) in Psychology at Harvard University. During World War II, Bruner was a social psychologist for the U.S. Army intelligence. He has made contributions in many fields of study. Most notably, he is considered to be a key figure in the “cognitive revolution”, but as of late he has been critical of the "cognitive revolution" and has focused more on the cultural psychology within a person’s societal and historical context.

Educational achievements[edit | edit source]

  • Duke University-General Education 1937
  • Harvard University-A.M Psychology 1939
  • Harvard University-Ph.D. Psychology 1941

His representative books include The Process of Education (1960), Acts of Meaning (1991) and The Culture of Education (1996).

References[edit | edit source]

Elizabeth Tisdell[edit | edit source]

Elizabeth J. Tisdell is Associate Professor of Adult Education at Penn State, Harrisburg. While not commonly known as a major theorist in the area of adult learning, Tisdell recently authored “Exploring Spirituality and Culture in Adult and Higher Education” (2003). In this, as well as her other writings, she has introduced the concept that spirituality and culture are major components in the development of adult learners. Relying heavily on Meizrow’s transformational learning theory as well as the liberating learning premise of Paulo Freire, Tisdell incorporates the idea of spirituality, culture and gender into various adult learning theories.

Major Contributions to the Field of Learning[edit | edit source]

“A common theme is the focus of meaning-making in adult learning as intricately related to the spiritual quest of adults.” (Tisdell, 2001, p. 2) This is the foundation upon which Elizabeth Tisdell makes her greatest contribution to the field of adult learning. For adults, learning takes place in various forms and environments. As a result, formal and informal learning becomes a life-long process. Likewise, spirituality is often the driving force guiding life choices such as vocations, relationships, and cultural development. It is through the lens of spirituality that adults view the world and their place in it. This is the same world and environment in which life-long learning occurs. Here an interesting web is spun between the meaning-making of adult learning and the meaning-making associated with spirituality.

Additionally, Tisdell makes a distinct connection between spirituality and cultural identity. “Cultural identity is a psychologically central aspect of an individual’s self-concept deriving from their awareness of membership in a particular social group.” (Tolliver & Tisdell, 2002, p. 391) More simply stated, “the term culture refers broadly to a relatively stable set of beliefs, values and behaviors commonly held by a society.” (Lim, 1995, p. 16) When considering personal authenticity, one’s culture is inextricably tied to their understanding of self. Subsequently, “cultural identity development is coming to know self as an expression of Spirit.” (Tolliver & Tisdell, 2002, p. 390) Tisdell contends that there is a cultural dimension to spirituality and spiritual dimension to culture. While offering support to various other adult learning theories, these theories simply do not go far enough to include cultural identity into the equation (Tisdell & Tolliver, 2001). Inasmuch as culture informs spiritual experience, this is an unexplored area of adult development and learning.

Tisdell also made great strides in the field of adult learning by introducing a feminist pedagogy that draws attention to the role that gender plays in the classroom. While this gender praxis may not be directly connected to spirituality in learning, it is important that educators recognize that women may have different learning needs than men. Therefore it is necessary to validate the learning that comes from their life experiences, spiritual or otherwise, as women. (Tisdell, 1993) Relying heavily on the liberatory pedagogy of Paulo Freire, whose work primarily has dealt with class-based oppression in education, Tisdell prefers to focus specifically on how to create environments where women (in the generic sense) can come to voice, see themselves as constructors of knowledge in an atmosphere of psychological safety that emphasizes connection and relationship, and appreciate their learning experiences.

References[edit | edit source]

  • Tisdell, E. (1993). Feminism and Adult Learning" Power, Pedagogy, and Praxis. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 57, 91-103.
  • Tisdell, E., & Tolliver, D. (2001, Fall). The Role of Spirituality in Culturally Relevant and Transformative Adult Education. Adult Learning, 10, 13-14.
  • Tolliver, D., & Tisdell, E. (2002). Bridging Across Disciplines: Understanding the Connections Between Cultural Identity, Spirituality and Sociopolitical Development in Teaching for Transformation. Raleigh, NC: North Carolina State University. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED471835)
  • Tisdell, E. (2001). Spirituality in Adult and Higher Education. Columbus, OH: ERIC
  • Merriam, S., Cafferella, R., & Baumgartner, L. (2007). Learning In Adulthood. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Humanist Learning Theorists[edit | edit source]

John Dewey[edit | edit source]

“John Dewey is considered by many to be the most influential education theorist in the twentieth century” (Finnan, 2006, p. 83). He has contributed seminal works in the field of psychology, philosophy and education. Dewey is known in the education field for his ideas on experience and reflection, democracy and education, motivation of students, the nature of freedom in learning, and pragmatism. He believed education should be active and practical; students should learn in order to help them at home, in their communities, or in their work life (Dewey 1952).

While many agree that Dewey has made a huge impact in the education field and is still relevant today, few are able to articulate why. Few schools resemble the schools Dewey designed in terms of their organization, or application of his teaching methods (Finnan, 2006). Dewey’s original writings are rarely read by students, they are not even read by education students. Many of his ideas, such as progressive education, are misunderstood by both its supporters and its opponents. Reasons for this include his writing style and the changing of his position on many topics. (Finnan, 2006).

Dewey’s writing style can be hard to comprehend. He takes his time expressing his ideas, and explores many related topics before completing his thought. He was also extremely prolific. Dewey was born in 1859 and died in 1952. In his life time he wrote nearly 700 articles and 40 books (Hill, 2006). As he matured, his beliefs and thoughts evolved, and at times, changed. This added to the misinterpretations and misunderstandings of his work (Perricone, 2006).

Dewey’s influential works in the field of education philosophy include: Democracy and Education (1944), Experience and Nature (1929), Art and Education (1927), Art and Experience (1934) and Experience and Education (1938). But perhaps Dewey’s theory on progressive education and the importance of experience is his most influential contribution to the field of education. “Above all, Dewey believed in the power of actual experience” (Deblois, 2002).

This paper will discuss influences of Dewey, as well as theorist and theories that he has influenced. This paper will also review major works by Dewey, and criticism of these works. Because of the lasting importance of Dewey’s book titled Experience and Education, it will be discussed in detail.

Influences of John Dewey[edit | edit source]

During his formative years, John Dewey was influenced by two prominent theorists: Hegel and Darwin. Dewey was introduced to Hegelianism by an intellect he studied under at Johns Hopkins University, George Sylvester Morris, a German trained Hegelian. Hegelianism is a branch of Idealism in which Hegel held “that every existent idea or fact belongs to an all embracing mind in which each idea or situation (thesis) evokes its opposite (antithesis) and these two result in a unified whole (synthesis), which in turn becomes a new thesis” (Guralnik, 1999).

Eventually Dewey’s beliefs evolved from Hegelianism to Darwinism. Darwinism emphasized empirical data and experimentation in the logic of knowledge. “Dewey’s idealism, with its categories of the organic whole, and development viewed as a passage from ‘contradiction’ to ‘syntheses’ gave way to the evolutionary and biologically conceived notion of growth as a process of ‘conflicts’ and resolutions’” (Perricone, 2006, p. 21). Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species” would greatly influence Dewey and his later works (Perricone, 2006).

Dewey was introduced to the importance of the scientific method by Darwin’s works. In, Experience and Education, Dewey states that the scientific method is an excellent way for students to learn because of its use of empirical data and experimentation in the logic of knowledge. He states that there are three reasons why the scientific method is an important method for teaching: students create a hypothesis, students then test the hypothesis and learn from consequences, and the methodology of intelligence in used since students must keep tract of ideas, activities and consequences (Dewey, 1952).

Dewey, influenced by Darwin, now sees man as adaptive and as a problem solving animal. Dewey relates learning as an individual process intertwined and heavily influenced by the environment. The need to survive in the environment provides the impulse, the instrumental value, to learn and to grow intellectually (Perricone, 2006). He in heavily prejudiced by Darwin’s conceptualization of the ever altering nature of our world; Dewy believes the school’s ultimate duty is to prepare students for life, which entails constant change (Finnan, 2006).

John Dewey’s Influence[edit | edit source]

As stated before, “John Dewey is considered by many to be the most influential education theorist in the twentieth century” (Finnan, 2006, p. 83). He is one of the founders of both pragmatism thought and progressive education (Deblois, 2002). His influences include many of the ideas and concepts used by progressive educators and outcome based education practitioners including: outcome based education, standard based education, life-long learning, critical thinking skills, problem solving skills, and meaningful learning (Deblois). His devotion to transforming schools into democratic institutions dedicated to addressing social inequities, and understanding how to deal with a world which is constantly changing still resonates with parents and new educators today. Many parents want schools to challenge their children and prepare them for an unknown, changing future. Dewey’s ideas of curriculum, teaching and school organization are still widely referenced today in education coursework. New teachers inspired by Dewey enter into the teaching profession with hopes of changing the system. These teachers believe in Dewey’s thoughts on how schools can initiate change and transformation in society (Finnan, 2006).

Hands-on learning program, outdoor education and community learning service programs were ideas taken from Dewey’s book Experience and Education (Deblois, 2002).

Dewey founded the University of Chicago Lab Schools and his work influenced one of the oldest national school reforms models, the Accelerated Schools (Finnan, 2006).

Many educational theorists were influenced by John Dewey. Dewey abhorred standardized test, such as I.Q. test. He believed these test did not reflect how learners actually learned: through experiences (Dewey, 1952). Howard Gardner’s theory on multiple intelligences was influenced by Dewey’s work (Deblois, 2002).

“Piaget echoed Dewey’s thoughts on experience-based conception of development through the process of equilibration” (Glassman, 2004). Piaget’s theory on instrumentality in which individuals learn by solving problems they encounter in their environment was influenced by Dewey’s belief in the need of instrumentality to learn (Glassman, 2004).

Coyle, Kolb and Rogers work on the development of informal education all were influenced by Dewey’s original works (Glassman, 2004).

Experience and Education[edit | edit source]

One of Dewey’s most influential works and a major contribution to education philosophy is his book titled Experience and Education originally published in 1938. Dewey wrote this work in part because he wanted to set the record straight on his thoughts on what progressive education should be, and what it should not be. Many criticisms of progressive education mounted, and because Dewey was one of the founders of this new education theory the criticisms were directed towards him personally.

Critics of progressive education argued that progressive schools were given free rein in education were problematic. One criticism was: this anything goes approach to education resulted in education chaos, in which no standards of learning were neither identified nor achieved, creating an environment counterproductive to learning. Some traditional educators argued that progressive schools ignored significant knowledge that was essential to participating in a democratic society. Critics also believed that progressive education instruction created habits in students which resulted in undisciplined students. Furthermore, these undisciplined students would be unleashed into the world without the tools to continue learning throughout their lives and be unprepared to contribute to society in adulthood. If students did not learn a common core of knowledge about our culture, country and shared history, the glue that binds and stabilizes our society would not be created, the critics argued (Deblois, 2002).

Dewey begins the book with discussing what is required of an educational theory. He states that many schools who practice progressive education are not applying a new theory of education; they are merely reacting against the shortcomings and criticisms of Traditional Education Theory. In order for progressive education to be a legitimate theory, the theory must be able to stand on its own and answer questions on how students should learn, how can the teacher help the learning process, and how can new concepts of teaching and learning be applied in the real world. A theory, he argues, should explain what must be done and how it is to be done (Dewey, 1952).

Dewey then discusses the short comings of the traditional theory of education and explains how progressive education theory can address these shortcomings and answer the questions stated above. In short, he explains the importance of experience in the learning process and how teachers and parents can and should help guide students in the learning process (Dewey, 1952).

Criticisms of Traditional Education Theory[edit | edit source]

Traditional education, Dewey states, is primarily concerned with teaching students information and skills that have already been worked out in the past. They assume that the future will be just like the past; therefore the skills and knowledge that were of use in the past will help students succeed in the future. He identifies this assumption as a major flaw in traditional education. Dewey believes the world is constantly changing, and students need to learn critical thinking skills and problem solving skills in order to deal with these changes. Traditional education treats students as docile, non-active receptive entities that learn only from books and teachers. Knowledge is taught as a finished product. Students cannot learn essential problem solving skills if they are taught that all problems and answers to these problems have already been worked out (Dewey, 1952). “If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob out children of tomorrow” (Dewy, 1944, p. 167).

Dewey stressed the importance of active learning; students must be engaged in the learning process. Traditional education, in which conduct is strictly enforced, automatic drills are used to transfer knowledge and students’ power of judgment and intelligence are impeded, created the wrong kind of experiences to promote learning. They rendered the students callous of ideas and caused students to associate learning with boredom (Dewey, 1952).

Progressive Education[edit | edit source]

Progress Education Theory main tenet is that education is based on personal experiences of the learner. Teachers are the mature person who provides guidance to the students to facilitate learning. The instructor’s main function is to arrange for the kind of experiences that engage students and promote further experiences. Dewy states that quality experiences are necessary. Quality experiences are experiences that lead to more experiences; Dewey refers to these types of experiences as the experiential continuum. Quality experiences must also lead to intellectual growth, which arouses curiosity and strengthens initiative. Again, Dewey criticized traditional education practices because the type of experiences promoted did not lead to the continuity of new experiences or aroused curiosity or initiative (Dewey, 1952).

Students should understand why they are learning. Instrumentality of learning is paramount in progressive education. Students should not learn in isolation. Dewey stresses that education is a social process that everyone should participate in. Schools should be involved in their local community so that students learn how to participate in the community. Teachers are also required to know the students in order to identify their needs and capacities so that they can arrange classroom experiences that will help the students cope with real life situation.

Teachers must recognize what surroundings are conductive to promote quality experiences. Traditional Education did not allow teachers to affect the learning environment. Desks were arranged in rows and students were to sit still and sit up straight. This arrangement encourages passivity in students. Progressive education requires the teacher to arrange the learning environment to promote active student learning. Students may move around the room from work station to station, actively working on and solving problems. The classroom setting is arranged so that students have freedom of movement. Physical freedom of movement lends itself to freedom of intelligence. This requires teachers to put more thought into lesson planning and arranging the learning environment (Dewy, 1952).

A major criticism of progressive education is the lack of rules. Dewey addresses this by discussing to use of rules and their function. Teachers create rules for the students to follow, but these rules are not used as social control mechanisms as they are used in traditional education classrooms. Teachers should not act as dictator in the classroom but as a leader of the group. The rules are created to increase student’s freedom and limit the situations in which the teacher must exercise authority. Games have rules so that players know how to conduct the game and ensure everyone plays fair, so must the learning environment Dewey argues. The rules are also designed so as to encourage participation from all students.

Dewey argues that progressive education is more democratic, more humane, has less rigid rules than traditional education. Progressive education promotes freedom of students in both physicality and intellectually. It encourages participation and promotes better, more enjoyable learning experiences that are more democratic; both teachers and students have influence on learning and the learning environment (Dewey, 1952). For these reasons many individual like and are in favor of progressive education. Then why are so few schools in the United States designed, organized or apply Dewey ideas? Finnan (2006) states that “attitudes and beliefs become more conservative when education is seen as part of a societal threat or problem” (p. 90). Although many educational policies are still made at the local level, the federal government, through the no child left behind act, influences standards at an unprecedented level. These rigid standards which require students to pass standardized test create an environment which opposes progressive educational practices and theory (Finnan, 2006).

Summary[edit | edit source]

This paper has reviewed the influences of Dewey, as well as theorist and theories that he has influenced. This paper has also reviewed the major works by Dewey, and criticism of these works. Dewey’s book titled Experience and Education was discussed in detail and examples in how this work influenced education throughout the United States was discussed. Although Dewey’s body of work has had a major influence on education philosophy, most schools in the United States never adopted the major tenets of his Progressive Education Theory.

References[edit | edit source]

  • Deblois, R. (2002). John Dewey in a new century: Constructing meaning from real experiences [Electronic version]. Independent School 61(4), 72-77.
  • Dewey, J. (1944). Democracy and education. New York: The Macmillan Company.
  • Dewey, J. (1952). Experience and education. New York: The Macmillan Company.
  • Finnan, C. (2006) Enacting curriculum and teaching theory in contexts of countervailing Thought [Electronic version]. Curriculum & Teaching Dialogue 8 (1/2), 83-98.
  • Glassman, M. (2004). Running in Circles: Chasing Dewey [Electronic version]. Educational Theory 54(3), 315-341.
  • Guralnik, D.B. (1999). Webster’s new world dictionary of the American language (2nd edition). Cleveland, OH: William Collins Publisher.
  • Hill, J. (2006). Brush us on your Dewey…start quoting him now, or John Dewey for teaching artist [Electronic version]. Teaching Artist Journal 4(1), 4-11.
  • Perricone, C. (2006). The influence of Darwinism on John Dewey’s philosophy of art [Electronic version]. Journal of Speculative Philosophy 20 (1), 20-41.

Carl Rogers[edit | edit source]

Carl Rogers was born January 8, 1902 in Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, the fourth of six children. His father was a successful civil engineer and his mother was a housewife and devout Christian. His education started in the second grade, because he could already read before kindergarten. He got a degree in agriculture from the University of Wisconsin and later a PhD. in clinical psychology from Columbia University. He got a faculty position at Ohio State University and later the University of Chicago. In 1957, he landed a job as professor at the University of Wisconsin but tension in the department caused him to leave for a research position La Jolla, California in 1964 where he gave talks, provided therapy, and wrote until 1987 when he passed away. Today, with project and problem-based learning, participatory learning, constructivism, and now the Web 2.0, we can see his ideas in action. Carl Rogers is famous for his works, "Freedom to Learn" and "Freedom to Learn for the 1980s." These summarize his learning theory--learning should be open, genuine, inviting, respectful, active, collaborative, and student driven. In effect, he was a humanist who was learner-centered. He believed that if you were free and open to experiences, you will more likely be creative and participate productively in the world. He believed that the experience of being understood and valued gives us the freedom to grow, while pathology derives from attempting to earn others' positive regard rather than following an inner compass. With this focus, he would likely have loved Wikis, blogs, and social networking software since they allow learners to express themselves and participate in their own learning.

While his work was mainly in psychology, he had deep and lasting impact in education, such as in learner-centered and invitational learning. We want to invite students to learn not distract them from learning. We want to welcome in learners, not deter them or put up roadblocks. He is a hero for many teachers, and, of course, many students.

Some references and resources:

B.F. Skinner[edit | edit source]

Burrus Frederic Skinner (B.F. Skinner), also known as Fred to friends and family, was born on March 20, 1904, in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania. Skinner was the elder of two sons and his family lived in a quaint city while his father worked as an attorney. As a child, Skinner enjoyed building things and working with his hands, which eventually led to him creating the Skinner Box which will be addressed further in this paper. After graduating from high school, Skinner attended and graduated from Hamilton College in New York. One memorable moment in Skinner’s college days was that he decided to play a hoax on his college classmates and posted around campus that the silent film star, Charlie Chaplin, would be making a special guest appearance at Hamilton College. Although Skinner wasn't aware of it, the college president decided to attend the ceremony and invited several distinguished guests and children from the local orphanage planned to attend. Ultimately, the hoax was found out, but Skinner never was identified as the prankster. In 1928, Skinner entered Harvard University to study Psychology, and in 1931 B.F. Skinner received his Ph.D. After receiving his doctorate, Skinner taught at the University of Minnesota and in 1948 became chairman of the Department of Psychology at Indiana University. In 1936 Skinner married and had 2 daughters. One daughter studied educational psychology and the youngest became an artist. B.F. Skinner died on August 18, 1990, at the age of 86 from complications of leukemia.

Skinner’s first published book was Behavior of Organisms. Skinner’s philosophy was that “behaviorism is a formulation which makes possible an effective experimental approach to human behavior” (O’Donohue & Ferguson, 2001, p.56). The belief was that behaviorism was concerned with purposive or voluntary behavior—what we can help doing rather than what we can’t help doing. Skinner did not look within the human psyche for any of the causes of behavior. Skinner pointed out that the social and physical conditions of our environment are critically important in determining our behaviors (neighborhoods, family, community). Skinner believed there was no such thing as free will or individual choice. Behavior is pre-determined by past and present events in the objective world (past events from life history and evolution).

Skinner believed that innate hereditary factors contribute to aspects of behavior. A term that Skinner used to reference behaviors and frequency of behaviors is operant conditioning. “Operant conditioning (OC) occurs when the frequency of behavior changes based on the behaviors consequences” (O’Donohue & Ferguson, 2001, p. 73). Skinner created an apparatus termed a Skinner Box which is “principally a compartment with two simple mechanisms (e.g. a bar to press or a disc to be pecked and another apparatus to reward the animal for using the first apparatus—a food dispenser)” (O’Donohue & Ferguson, 2001, p.73). Skinner used the box to allow animals to manipulate devices to elicit a response from them. Ultimately through his research and studies, Skinner was able to introduce the world to behaviorism and be identified as a leader in the behaviorist approach.

O’Donohue, W. & Ferguson, K.E. (2001). The Psychology of B.F. Skinner. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Chris Argyris[edit | edit source]

Chris Argyris has made a significant contribution to the development of organizational learning, and has been called one of the single most influential scholars in the field of organizational development (Smith, 2001). Argyris is noted for explaining how the needs of the organization and the needs of the individual are related. His conclusions are that these two sets of needs are at conflict with each other. The individual will work to satisfy his needs first, thus making the needs of the organization secondary. Following the lead of Lewin, Argyris has expanded the understanding of experiential learning. This paper will deal specifically with Argyris’ contribution of single-loop and double-loop learning, and how these theories translate into contrasting models of organizational learning systems. Developed with Donald Schön, these learning theories have been some of the most cited in the past thirty years. What Argyris would later describe as his greatest learning of “ineffective leadership” came as a Signal Corp officer during World War II (Woodell, 2003). He had recently been given an award for his leadership and was back visiting the officer that had replaced him at his command. When asked how had he really been as a leader, Argyris was shocked to hear a litany of negative comments. When another former report was asked, she confirmed what had been said. Although he was at first troubled by the comments his mind quickly started asking why there was such disconnect between what was publicly said and personally felt. This is what initiated his desire to understand his own “blind spots” which eventually turned evolved into a lifelong pursuit to understand the issue in the context of the organization and leadership and led to the development of the double-loop learning theory (Chris Argyris, 2001

Mary Field Belenky[edit | edit source]

Mary Field Belenky is an Associate Research Professor at the University of Vermont (Belenky, Bond, and Weinstock, 1997). She has also served as a consultant for community and educational organizations. She began as a developmental psychologist interested in the intellectual and ethical development of women. She worked with Carol Gilligan, a colleague of Kohlberg’s, studying people facing a serious moral crisis. They interviewed women facing an unwanted pregnancy, using Kohlberg’s map of moral development. Belenky became interested in gender studies when the women’s responses did not fit Kohlberg’s map.

Belenky’s major work is Women’s Ways of Knowing (Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, and Tarule, 1997). She and the other three researchers conceived of a project to study women’s educational development. FIPSE (Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education) agreed to support a three year project. The women interviewed 135 women at nine different sites over three years. Ninety women were from academic institutions with varying educational philosophies and student compositions. The other 45 were from invisible colleges-a term the researchers used to designate social agencies serving clients seeking information on parenting. The four co-investigators met three-four days every two months to evaluate the results of the interviews.

The cohort identified five different phases, what they called “ways of knowing” (Belenky, Clinchy, et al., 1997). The first phase was silence. Silent women were raised in neglected or abused conditions. They know words as weapons and not as tools for communication. To learn, they have to be shown how to do things. The next phase was called received knowledge. These women described their fathers as dictatorial and sometimes violent. Like the silent women, they look to authority for right and wrong, believing there is only one right answer to a problem. They learn by listening and absorbing knowledge. The subjective phase women, who comprised almost half of the interviewees, listen to an inner voice. They learn by listening, watching, and analyzing personal experiences. They become their own authority leaving them disadvantaged in the rational and scientific world. The next phase is procedural knowledge. The emphasis is on skills and techniques. These women are systematic thinkers who beat the system by excelling. The last phase is constructed knowledge. Women who achieve this stage integrate their knowledge with what they learn from others. They consider everyone’s needs and viewpoints. Belenky does not see these stages as a developmental model in the sense that Perry’s model is (Ashton-Jones and Thomas, 1990). Evidence suggests that one does not move through all five phases.

“Feminist pedagogy focuses on the concerns of women in the teaching-learning transaction” (Merriam, Caffarella, and Baumgartner, 2007, p. 262). Maher posits that there are two models: liberatory and gender. Liberatory pedagogy studies how social structures oppress through power and control. The gender model, represented by Belenky’s studies, examines how the educational environment can best help women to learn. Tisdell proposes a model that integrates the two.


  • Ashton-Jones,E., & Thomas,D.K. (1990). Composition, collaboration, and women's ways of

knowing: A conversation with Mary Field Belenky [Electronic version]. JAC 10.2. -NOT ABLE TO LOCATE the link Retrieved 3/31/2007 from http://jac.gsu.edu//jac/10.2/Articles/4.htm

  • Belenky,M.F., Bond,L.A.,& Weinstock,J.S. (1997). A tradition that has no name: Nurturing

the development of people, families, and communities. New York: Basic Books.

  • Belenky,M.F., Clinchy,B.M., Goldberger,N.R., & Tarule,J.M. (1997). Women’s ways of

knowing. New York: Basic Books.

  • Merriam,S.B., Caffarella,R.S., & Baumgartner,L.M. (2007). Learning in adulthood: A

comprehensive guide (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Jean Lave[edit | edit source]

Jean Lave has a strong interest in social theory and upon graduation from Harvard University from a Ph.D. program in social anthropology she began her career investigating learning activities through ethnographically-based research. This endeavor resulted in the 1991 publication of Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation, coauthored by Etienne Wenger. In this publication Lave and Wenger assert that “learning viewed as situated activity has as its central defining characteristic a process [called] legitimate peripheral participation” (p. 29). This social pursuit of learning theory was a divergence from the traditional psychological framework and accordingly provided both individuals a degree of acclaim as learning theorists.

Although Lave and Wenger coauthored the concept of situated learning and legitimate peripheral participation, for the purposes of this discussion I have chosen to associate the theory primarily with Lave who still champions this socially conscious postulation by asserting that “it is difficult, when looking closely at everyday activity . . . to avoid the conclusion that learning is ubiquitous in ongoing activity, though often unrecognized as such” (Lave, 1993, p. 5).

Elements of Theory[edit | edit source]

Lave believes that “the region of social theory that seems richest in clues for how to conceive of learning in social terms . . . is that of historical, dialectical, social practice theory” (1996, p. 150). The concept of situated learning postulates that cognitive knowledge acquisition must be presented from within a specific context. Accordingly, learning then becomes a social interaction or collaboration that can occur as a natural function of an activity, and therefore is generally unintentional. While situated learning defines the overall theory of learning from working within this contextual group, the functional process of the group has been defined as legitimate peripheral participation (LPP).

Foundational and Elaboration[edit | edit source]

While “learning-transfer research had its beginnings in Thorndike’s critique of the doctrine of formal discipline” (Lave, 1988, p. 23) much of the implications for instruction technologies steams from the Vygotskian school of Russian psychology claim that “attempt to link the social and individual levels of cognition” (Hung & Nichani, 2002, p. 172). Wertsch, Minick and Arns (1984) expound on this noting that “cognitive development is explained largely by what [Vygotsky] (1972) termed the ‘appropriation’ of socioculturally evolved means of mediation and modes of activity” (p. 152).

In the early 1970s Lave began researching the informal learning by observing the lives of tailor apprentices at Vai and Gola, in Liberia, which became instrumental in forming the pretext for situational learning. “Craft apprenticeship among tailors in Liberia is a complex educational form which calls into question the school-centric, simplistic dichotomy (formal and informal education) which pervades comparative research on education” (Lave, 1982, p. 181). Traditionally apprenticeships have been view as informal education because learners develop their understanding from abstract generalizations obtained by observation, demonstration or practical application. However, “comparative analysis of apprenticeship and schooling shifts the focus from differences in the organization of teaching, to the rich variety of learning processes that are integral to every form of education” (p. 181).

Essentially, during a long stay with the apprentices and masters of the tailor profession Lave began to understand that these individuals were not only learning a trade, but also the necessary information to participate in buying, selling, supporting oneself and family, and adhering to the criteria that would lead from apprentice to master. By watching these poor people develop into individuals making a contribution within their small community, within their own context, she began to see the intrinsic value of the apprenticeship. This is not to say that she concluded that an apprenticeship was better than a formal education but instead that there was a value to both. From this perception Lave realized that “understanding of both learning and teaching are thus problematic, inviting new analysis, which in turn requires novel analytic units and new questions” (Lave, 1996, p. 154).

Another outcropping of the tailor research projects were learning transfer experiments Lave undertook in an attempt to determine cross-cultural effectiveness of both Liberian school and tailoring practices. She chose arithmetic problems for the comparison because “arithmetic is an accepted topic for research within cognitive psychology . . . in settings other than laboratories [and] offers opportunities to compare results and raise questions about the ecological validity of experimental studies” (Lave, 1988, p. 5). Through these experiments it became clear that students of formal mathematic training were no more capable to transferring their understanding of beyond the context it had been presented than the apprentices were; in short, it appeared that all forms of learning are contextual. This was particularly important because it shifted the focus from the individuals presenting the information to the learners themselves. At the conclusion of these apprentice studies it was observed that “by combining intensive ethnographic work with formal experiments, it [was] possible to demonstrate that a traditional form of education – apprenticeship training – does teach general problem-solving skills . . . both tailoring experience and schooling contribute strongly to arithmetic problem-solving successes on unfamiliar problems” (Lave, 1977, p. 177).

Lave, Murtaugh and de la Rochga (1984) next investigated the contextual usages of arithmetic in grocery shopping and found “the context that determines which events shoppers will experience as problematic” (p. 79) because shoppers’ views the event as routine. The ensuing analysis of practical arithmetic showed “implications for theories of cognitive processing” (p. 94) further supporting the concept that learning is situated. The “evidence from the Adult Math Project suggest that, at least in the United States, schooling always teaches an ideology, but only partially and sporadically a technology, of arithmetic practice” (Lave, 1985, p. 175).

Lave suggests “that an anthropological emphasis on learning as quintessentially contextualized, socially organized, active” (Lave, 1982, p. 181) and that “the ideology of math is a poor theory of practice because it supposes that arithmetic activity is value-free, information-seeking, factual, and an end in itself” (Lave, 1985, p. 176). In conclusion the Lave and Wenger (1991) suggest that“rather than learning by replicating the performance of other or by acquiring knowledge transmitted in instruction, we suggest that learning occurs through centripetal participation in the learning curriculum of the ambient community. Because the place of knowledge is within a community of practice, questions of learning must be addressed within the developmental cycles of that community, a recommendation which creates a diagnostic tool for distinguishing among communities of practice” (Lave & Wenger, 1991, p. 100).

  • Lave, J. (1977). Cognitive consequences of traditional apprenticeship training in West Africa. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 8(3), 177-180.
  • Lave, J. (1982). A comparative approach to educational forms and learning processes. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 13(2), 181-187.
  • Lave, J. (1985). The social organization of knowledge and practice: a symposium. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 16(3), 171-176.
  • Lave, J. (1988). Cognition in practice: mind, mathematics and culture in everyday life. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Lave, J. (1991). Situated learning: legitimate peripheral participation. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Lave, J. (1993). The practice of learning. In S. Chaiklin & J. Lave (eds.), Understanding practice: perspectives on activity and context (pp. 3-32). New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Lave, J. (1996). Teaching, as learning, in practice. Mind, Culture, and Activity, (3)3, 149-164.
  • Lave, J. (2001). Getting to be British. In D. Holland & J. Lave (eds.), History in person: enduring struggles, contentious practice, intimate identities (pp. 281-324). Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press.
  • Lave, J., Murtaugh, M. and de la Rocha, O. (1984). The dialectic of arithmetic in grocery shopping. In B. Rogoff & J. Lave (eds.), Everyday cognition: its development in social context (pp. 67-94). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Malcom Knowles[edit | edit source]

One of the most significant influencers of both adult learning academics and practitioners alike is a very humble, non-assuming man by the name of Malcolm Knowles. In many circles he is referred to as the Father of Adult Learning (Bell, 1989). He would have never claimed this title for himself as he often downplayed his impact on the field of organizational learning and adult education. This American adult educator will be the main focus of this paper as we investigate the theories and practices he advocated, the influences that had an impact on his thinking, and those whom he impacted with his thoughts.

Kurt Lewin is famous for saying “There’s nothing as practical as a good theory.” This idea actually describes Knowles contribution to the learning field quite well. The theory he advocated, known as Andragogy, was the term he used to describe how adults learn - - especially as it is contrasted with how children learn. He explained and illustrated andragogy with specific descriptions of what this theory looked like in practice. The details of this theory and the recommended applications will be covered in some detail throughout the remainder of this paper.

One of the first major influencers on Knowles’ thinking about learning was Cyril Houle. Dr. Houle was a professor at the University of Chicago Graduate School, Department of Adult Education where he served as Knowles’ major adviser. In Knowles’ first book, Informal Adult Education (1950) he gives a great deal of credit to Houle in the preface (p. ix): “The greatest contribution was made by Dr. Cyril O. Houle, Associate Professor of Education and Dean of University College, University of Chicago, who as a teacher guided me into advanced understanding of the theory and philosophy of adult education.” Knowles expounds on Houle’s influence in his 1989 classic, The Making of an Adult Educator (p. 12-13):

On June 2, 1946, I was accepted into the graduate program of adult education at the University of Chicago and started my first class on June 6. My adviser was Cyril O. Houle... Houle was without question the leading adult educator in this country at the time. He taught only in seminars (no lecture courses), and I experienced the feeling that I was being treated as an adult and as a valuable resource for the learning of my peers (and for Houle) from the outset. I learned a great deal from the experience of my fellow students, who were drawn from the wide spectrum of adult educational institutions. But Houle’s deep commitment to scholarship and his role modeling a rigours scholarly approach to learning stand out in my mind as probably the most important contribution to my development at the University of Chicago. His attitude toward students is exemplified in the inscription he made in the copies of his books he sent me for years: ‘To Malcolm Knowles, from whom I have learned so much!’

In terms of ideas that Knowles credits Houle for influencing, he specifically refers to Houle’s (1961) The Inquiring Mind as being the source that most greatly influenced his thinking regarding self-directed learning. In Knowles’ 1975 book, Self-Directed Learning: A Guide for Learners and Teachers, he references Houle’s seven key principles for continuing learners as being particularly impactful (p. 68-69):

  1. Act as though you are certain to learn.
  2. Set realistic goals – and measure their accomplishment.
  3. Remember the strength of your own point of view.
  4. Actively fit new ideas and new facts into context.
  5. Seek help and support when you need it.
  6. Learn beyond the point necessary for immediate recall.
  7. Use psychological as well as logical practices.

Another contribution to Knowles’ understanding of how adults learn that came from Houle was the adult learner typology the latter deduced from his research. During the 1950s, Houle conducted investigations to determine why adults decide to continue their learning. A colleague by the name of Allen Tough from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education continued those studies over the next two decades (Knowles, 1973). Houle concluded that there are basically three types of adult learners (Ibid, p. 35-36):

The criterion for typing the individuals into subgroups was the major conception they held about the purposes and values of continuing education for themselves. The three types are: 1. The goal-oriented learners, who use education for accomplishing fairly clear-cut objectives... 2. The activity-oriented, who take part because they find in the circumstances of the learning... All of the activity-oriented people ... were course-takers and group-joiners... it was the social contact that they sought... 3. The learning-oriented, who seek knowledge for its own sake. Unlike the other types, most learning-oriented adults have been engrossed in learning as long as they can remember.

PLEASE NOTE: More Content & References Coming! GSF

Howard Gardner[edit | edit source]

Howard Gardner (1943-) is an American psychologist and educator.

Dr. Gardner is the co-director with David Perkins of the Project Zero (http://pzweb.harvard.edu/) under Harvard University. He is also involved in the GoodWork Project. (www.goodworkproject.org)

Major contribution[edit | edit source]

Dr. Gardner proposed the Theory of Multiple Intelligences (MI) in his book, Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences in 1983. MI has a profound influence on education thereafter. In 2005 he was selected by Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines as one of 100 most influential public intellectuals in the world.

Definition of intelligence[edit | edit source]

"An intelligence is the ability to solve problems, or to create products, that are valued within one or more cultural settings (Gardner, 1983/2003, p. x)"


The criteria to consider "candidate intelligences" (Smith, 2002):

  1. Potential isolation by brain damage.
  2. The existence of idiots savants, prodigies and other exceptional individuals.
  3. An identifiable core operation or set of operations.
  4. A distinctive development history, along with a definable set of 'end-state' performances.
  5. An evolutionary history and evolutionary plausibility.
  6. Support from experimental psychological tasks.
  7. Support from psychometric findings.
  8. Susceptibility to encoding in a symbol system. (Howard Gardner 1983: 62-69)

According to Gardner, there are three essential elements to effective leadership. Gardner asserts that leaders must be good with language (possessing the art of story telling), they must possess high levels of personal intelligence (interpersonal and intrapersonal), and they must be an existentialist.

Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences establishes that all humans possess eight intelligences.

  1. Linguistic
  2. Logical/Mathematical
  3. Spatial
  4. Musical
  5. Bodily-Kinesthetic
  6. Interpersonal
  7. Intrapersonal
  8. Naturalist

References[edit | edit source]

Peter Senge[edit | edit source]

Learning Theorist: Peter M. Senge Vincent A. Cera (Vincent, that is fine. The only requirement for our purposes is the trunk) Dr. Dale Fowler Indiana Wesleyan University April 28, 2007

Being a baby boomer and residing in the state of Michigan from 1947 through 1985 provided me the opportunity to work for Jones & Laughlin Steel, Cadillac Motor Car, Uniroyal Tire, and the National Bank of Detroit—a diverse group of employers. One would be challenged to identify a theme of commonality other than they are all American based, and through 1990 were very successful in their respective industries. A review of their annual reports and strategic plans would portend a rather rosy outlook for years to come. Needless to say, all of these organizations left the twentieth century looking over their shoulders and trying to keep their heads above water.

What happened? In spite of assuming organizational longevity like many of their American counterparts, things changed dramatically as they all experienced that familiar litany of challenges: global competition, technological advances, quality improvements, changing demographics, and social structures.

Since beginning the IWU/DOL program in July 2006, many of the research articles I have encountered have mentioned the concept of learning organizations and the role they can play in the increasingly more complex and competitive environment that organizations will encounter if they expect to survive. Synonymous and verbally joined at the hip with any writing on learning organizations was the name of Peter Senge. After listening to a DOL professor’s lecture last fall, I purchased Senge’s book, The Fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization, originally published in 1990. Reading this book has resulted in my selecting Senge as the learning theorist that this paper will be based on.

Who is Senge?[edit | edit source]

Database research on learning theorists will generally not portray Senge as one of historical pillars of learning, not quite yet a candidate for the Mount Rushmore of learning theorists. However, based on how he has been lauded since 1990 and the growing cadre of supporters, critics, and the curious, it appears that he will outlast the label of “fad” author that bursts on the scene and quickly fades away. Harvard Business Review has identified The fifth discipline as one of the seminal management books of the past 75 years. In 1999, the Journal of Business Strategy named him “Strategist of the Century,” one of the 24 men and women who have had the “’greatest impact on the way we conduct business today’” (Peter Senge, n.d., para 1).

Senge is also founding chair of the Society for Organization Learning (SoL), a group of corporations, researchers, and consultants committed to “’increase our capacity to collectively realize aspirations and resolve differences’” (Peter Senge, n.d., para 1). His focus is on decentralizing the role of leadership in organizations to help people to work productively toward common goals. His work places human values at the “cornerstone of the workplace, proposing that vision, purpose, reflectiveness, and systems thinking are essential for organization to realize their potentials.” (Peter Senge, n.d., para 1).

What is a Learning Organization?[edit | edit source]

A review of literature related to learning organizations reveals that there is no shortage of definitions that describe them. Since so many of the scholars that have written on the subject seem to credit Senge with popularizing the concept of the “learning organization,” let’s note his definition first and then include a few others by way of offering a summary literature review and their nuances.

Senge (1990) submits that learning organizations are organizations where “people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire; where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured; where collective aspiration is set free; and where people are continually learning—learning to see the whole together” (as cited in Smith, Peter Senge, 2001, Learning Organization section, para 1). Examination of these words would lead many readers to characterize this definition as utopian and abstract. Senge describes himself as an “idealistic pragmatist” (Smith, Peter Senge, 2001, Peter Senge section, para 2 ). It is important to note that despite the legions of advocates and supporters that have written on the concept of learning organizations, there are skeptics and critics that question its validity. Space will be later devoted in this paper to identify the questions and concerns that exist, as well as associated myths and realities.

Watkins and Marsick (as cited in Smith, The learning organization, 2001) contend that in learning organizations the employer, along with all the employees, is involved in changing the organization collaboratively, and everyone is held accountable as they work toward shared values or principles. Pedler, Burgoyne, and Boydell (as cited in Smith, The learning organization, 2001) define a learning organization as that is continually changing as it assists employees in learning. It is not brought about simply by training individuals; it can only happen as a result of learning at the whole organization level. Lahteenmaki, Toivan and Mattila (2002) believe that a learning organization is built by “empowering employees in the development of their working context and therefore getting them committed to continuous personal development (p. 188).

Garvin (1993) offers that a learning organization is “an organization skilled at creating, acquiring and transferring knowledge, and modifying its behavior to reflect knowledge and insights. New ideas are essential if learning is to take place” (p. 80). Batchelor (as cited in deWeerd-Nedenhof, Paritti, da Silva Gomes & Pearson, 2002) contends “learning occurs when individuals obtain representations of the world through assimilating new experiences” (p. 321). This can be best accomplished through the deployment of learning tools such as job rotation, innovative process planning, and diligent project review (de Weerd-Nederhof, et al.).

Other researchers summarize learning organizations as ones that have the following characteristics.

  • They provide continuous learning opportunities.
  • They use learning to reach their goal.
  • They link individual performance with organizational performance.
  • They foster inquiry and dialogue, making it safe for people to share openly and take risks.
  • They embrace creative tensions as a source of energy and renewal.
  • They are continuously aware of and interact with their environment. (Calvert, et al. and Watkins & Marsick, as cited in Kerka, n.d., Getting a Grip section, para 1).

Despite the lofty ideals and suppositions offered within these definitions, becoming a learning organization and sustaining the commitment to maintain momentum to remain one is daunting for most organizations. Senge (n.d.) notes that even though we may see and think in straight lines, reality is made up of circles (Learning Organizations, The Problem section, para 1). “Linear thinkers are always looking for a thing or person who is responsible. System thinkers take on greater responsibility for events because their perspective suggests that everyone shares responsibility for problems generated by a system” (Learning Organizations, The Problem section, para 1). He believes that it is no accident that most organizations learn poorly. Learning disabilities prevail in these organizations because of the way people’s jobs are designed, managed, and defined and “most importantly the way we have been taught to think and interact” (Senge, p. 18). Tragically, these disabilities generally go undetected, and to cure them they must be identified, which he does in his writings, and they are:

a) “I am my position” (Senge, p. 18). Most people describe the tasks of their job, not its purpose. Consequently, they feel limited by the boundaries of their position. Since they will be inclined to look only within themselves, they will have only a limited sense of responsibility for the result produced when required to interact with others. This compromises the ability to assess the reasons for disappointing results.
b) “The enemy is out there.” We tend to always want to find someone other than ourselves when things go wrong (Senge, p. 19).
c) The illusion of taking charge. When something goes wrong or faced with a difficult problem, it has become vogue to take change. Senge suggests that “all too often, proactiveness is reactiveness in disguise. True proactiveness comes from seeing how we contribution to our problems. It is a product of our way of thinking, not our emotional state” (Senge, p. 21).
d) The fixation on events. Most organizations see life as a series of events that always have an obvious cause. With this mindset, we can miss the long-term patterns of change and consequently never get to understand the causes of the patterns. Senge points out that most of today’s threats to our survival do not evolve from events but from gradual processes; the arms race, environmental decay, the erosions of public education are some examples that he offers (Senge, p. 21).
e) The delusion of learning from experience. “We learn best from experience but we never really experience the consequences of many of our most important decisions. Today, organizations attempt to surmount the difficulty of coping with the breadth of impact from decisions by breaking themselves into components” (Senge, p. 24).
f)The myth of the management team. Even though organizations are laden with turf battles, they try to maintain the appearance of having a cohesive team. Consequently, disagreements are often squelched and joint decisions are often watered down. Decisions are based on what can be lived wit. The consequence of this behavior is what Chris Argyris calls “skilled incompetence—teams full of people that are incredibly proficient at keeping themselves from learning (Senge, p. 25).

The basis for the formation of this list of disabilities took root early in Senge’s graduate school experience at MIT. It was there that his learning theory was shaped by his professors, such as Jay Forrester, a computer pioneer; David Bohm, a contemporary physicist; along with noted learning theorists like W. Edwards Deming, Paul Schön, and Chris Argyris to name a few. These names frequent the publications of Senge and their thoughts will be further developed in this paper.

In addition to being shaped by these noted individuals as a practitioner and writer on learning, his interactions with a “CEO group” that met regularly at MIT starting in the early 1980s. This group included William O’Brien of Hanover Insurance, Arie de Geus of Shell, Edward Irwin from Herman Miller, and Ray Itata of Analog Services. Involvement with this group led to work with noted organizations such as Apple, Ford, Harley-Davidson, Philips, Polaroid, and Trammel Crow.

Senge (1990) readily admits that his learning from these experiences is what shaped the development of his book The Fifth Discipline and of his passion for the practice of collective learning. In this book, Senge submits that there are five disciplines that serve as the antidote to the learning disabilities and the high mortality rate of so many organizations. The disciplines he elaborates on in his publications are: systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, shared vision, and team learning. This paper will later address each of the disciplines, but summarily they are:

a)Personal mastery. “The discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision of focusing our energies on developing patience and seeing reality objectively. People need to be committed to their own lifelong learning” (Senge, p. 7).
b)Mental models. “These are deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures or images that influence how we take action. They affect what we see and do” (Senge, p. 8).
c)Building shared vision. “With this discipline a focus of mutual purpose is establish” (Senge, p. 9). The counterproductiveness of dictated visions is undermined through this discipline.
d)Team learning. “This is the process of aligning and developing the capacity of a team to create the results its members truly desire through group interaction” (Senge, p. 218). It can lead to the effective mobilization of collective thinking.
e)Systems thinking. The “essence of the discipline of systems thinking lies in the shift of mind: seeing interrelationship rather than linear cause-effect chains and seeing processes of change rather than snapshots” (Review of the Fifth Discipline, Systems thinking section, 3).

Note to Dr. Fowler[edit | edit source]

This submission of Part I reflects my first draft to identify the “trunk” for my theorist, Peter Senge. As this paper is further developed, not only will this trunk section be enhanced, I conceptualize adding the following sections that will address who influenced Senge; a deeper dive into the essence of Senge’s five disciplines; the linkage between learning organizations and leadership; concerns and criticism about Senge’s theories; relation of learning concepts to Senge’s learning organization; who Senge influenced; and the conclusion. I welcome your comments.

References[edit | edit source]

  • de Weerd-Nederhof, P. C., Pacitti, B. J., da Silva Gomes, J. F., & Pearson, A. W. (2002). Tools for the improvement of organizational learning processes in innovation. Journal of Workplace Learning, 14(8), 320-331. Retrieved January 29, 2007, from Emerald Insight database.
  • Garvin, D. A. (1993). Building a learning organization. Harvard Business Review, 71(4), 78-91. Retrieved February 19, 2007, from Emerald Insight database.
  • Lahteenmaki, S., Toivonen, J. & Mattila, M. (2001). Critical aspects of organizational learning research and proposals for its measurement. British Journal of Management, 12, 113-129. Retrieved January 25, 2007, from Business Source Premier database.
  • Peter Senge: Biography & Resources. (n.d.). Retrieved April 9, 2007, from http://www.wie.org/bios/peter-senge.asp- THIS LINK IS NOT WORKING
  • Fullerton, J. (n.d.). Review of The fifth discipline. Retrieved April 10, 2007, from www.rtis.com/nat/user/jfullerton/review/learning.htm.
  • Senge, P. M. (n.d.). Learning Organizations. Retrieved April 10, 2007, from www.solonline.org/res/kr/learningorg.html
  • Senge, P. M. (2006). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. New York: Doubleday.
  • Smith, M. K. (2001). The learning organization. In The Encyclopedia of Informal Education, Retrieved April 9, 2007, from http://www.infed.org/biblio/learning-organization.htm
  • Smith, M. K. (2001). Peter Senge and the learning organization. In The Encyclopedia of Informal Education. Retrieved April 9, 2007, from www.infed.org/thinkers/senge.htm

Edward Thorndike[edit | edit source]

Enrolled in a learning organization course, I first selected James Brian Quinn as my learning theorist (not a good selection); then Philip Candy, a good selection but not someone I felt comfortable with. I was definitely learning who I couldn’t or didn’t want but was becoming anxious to make a final learning theorist selection. After much deliberation, I was relieved to find that Edward Lee Thorndike had not been selected by my class peers. So here is where I begin my quest to learn more about the gentleman known as “one of the great learning theorists of all time” (Clark, n.d., p. 1), Edward Lee Thorndike.

Thorndike was born August 31, 1874, in Williamsburg, Massachusetts. Thorndike was the son of a Methodist minister and grew up in an age when “scientific psychology was first establishing its place in academic institutions” (Erika Reinemeyer, 1999, p. 1). While attending Wesleyan University he became interested in psychology after reading William James’ “Principles of Psychology” and, after graduating from Wesleyan in 1895, enrolled at Harvard to study under James (Erika Reinemeyer, 1999). He graduated from Harvard in 1896 and received his Ph.D. in 1898 from Columbia.

He became interested in researching children and his greatest contributions to educational psychology were “largely in the methods he devised to test and measure children’s intelligence and their ability to learn” (The Psi cafe - a psychology resource site (n.d.).

The theorist’s major contribution to the field of Learning[edit | edit source]

Thorndike’s major contribution to the field of learning and contributions to the study of psychology was his work with animals. Through his research with animals, he built devices called “puzzle boxes” (Erika Reinemeyer, 1999, p. 2).

This experiment was performed by putting a hungry cat into the puzzle box and then observing the cat’s behavior as it tried to escape and obtain food. When observing the cat, it appeared the food was only obtained through “trial-and error”. As the cat made successive attempts to escape, the trial-and-error behavior decreased and the cat escaped more quickly each time the experiment was performed. The experiment was performed using multiple cats and the length of time the cats spent in the box gradually shortened. What is this experiment trying to prove? What does this experiment mean? It means the cat not only knew what it had to do to escape from the box but the connection between the cat’s situation and the response that freed the cat was stamped in. Through this experiment, Thorndike hypothesized that “certain stimuli and responses become connected or dissociated from each other according to what has been called Thorndike’s law of effect. Thorndike stated, “When particular stimulus-response sequences are followed by pleasure, those responses tend to be ‘stamped in’; responses followed by pain tend to be ‘stamped out’” (Erika Reinemeyer, p. 2).

Thorndike’s research formulated the founding principle of instrumental learning known as the theory of “The Law of Effect”. The learning theory of “law and effect” represents the original stimuli and response associations and is based on the following principles: responses to a situation that are followed by satisfaction are strengthened; and responses that are followed by discomfort are weakened (Indiana University, n.d., p. 1). These associations, or habits, become “strengthened or weakened by the nature and frequency of the stimuli-response pairings” (Tip Psychology, n.d., p. 1). The stimuli-response theory was trial and error learning because certain responses dominate others due to rewards. “Connectionism (like all behavioral theory) was that learning could be adequately explained without referring to any unobservable internal states” (Tip Psychology, p. 1).

Thorndike’s theory consisted of three primary laws (Tip Psychology, n.d., p. 1):

  1. law of effect – responses to a situation which are followed by a rewarding state of affairs ill be strengthened and become habitual responses to that situation;
  2. law of readiness – a series of responses can be chained together to satisfy some goal which will result in annoyance if blocked; and
  3. law of exercise – connections become strengthened with practice and weakened when practice is discontinued.

This theory suggests that transfer of learning depends upon the “presence of identical elements in the original and new learning situations; i.e., transfer is always specific, never general” (Tip Psychology, n.d., p. 1).

Thorndike was known for his book Educational Psychology first published in 1903 and later revised in 1910 which linked the psychology of human nature and educational theory. Thorndike attempted to link educational theory into four parts (Thorndike, 1910):

  • a general knowledge about instincts, habits, memory, attention, interests, reasoning;
  • thoughts, feelings and conduct of children at different ages
  • teaching methods on perceptions, association, practice, fatigue
  • differences between human beings regarding sex, age, race, ancestry, and circumstances of life.

Educational theory requires the exact knowledge of the nature and amount of individual differences in intellect, character and behavior for two reasons: (1) the need to know the knowledge of the differences of individuals as well as knowledge of that type. “Education needs knowledge of men as well as of man” (Thorndike, 1910, p. 3); and (2) studying the causes of differences, education may learn how to make people more efficient, wise, and skillful. It therefore becomes important to know what differences in people is a result of sex, race, immediate ancestry, and maturity, and which are beyond control by ordinary educational endeavors, and then further what differences are a result of training or education.

What constitutes a difference in human nature is a difference in “the amount of one thing or an aggregate of differences each in the amount of one thing” (Thorndike, 1910, p. 4). Thorndike is adamant that to measure human nature and to make it useful in experiments the researcher must identify the “amount in question for any competent thinker, just as a useful description must identify the object in question” (Thorndike, p. 10). This is essential so that any competent person making the same measurement gets the same result. The measurement should be “at defined points on an objective scale, the distances of these points one from another being also defined” (Thorndike, p. 10).

Thorndike notes that the application of the principle as described above is essential to the study of educational psychology because these types of measurements have not been adhered to in the past, thus suggesting caution in trusting measurements which do not deserve trust. “The lesson to be drawn from the contrast is that a measurement can rightly be trusted or rejected or criticized or, indeed, understood, only if the concrete reality which it describes is known. Any numerical statement has meaning only in reference to a concrete scale and its units” (Thorndike, p. 11).

Who the theorist was influenced by, and how[edit | edit source]

Time Period 2 of “The Great Schools” was a period of time where the study of intelligence gained popularity based upon the work of William James and J. M. Cattell. James was a psychologist and a philosopher and was considered a profound and original thinker and the most widely known of American scholars (Indiana University, n.d.). Thorndike was a student of both these men and was influenced by their work to begin his study of intelligence.

Who the theorist influenced, and how[edit | edit source]

David Wechsler is known for developing several widely used intelligence tests which include the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children and the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (Indiana University, n.d.).

Wechsler first met Thorndike after joining the Army during World War I. Wechsler received his master’s degree in psychology from Columbia University and while waiting to be inducted into the Army, Wechsler volunteered to score the Army Alpha test, one of two group intelligence tests developed by the Committee on the Psychological Examination of Recruits (Indiana University, n.d.).

References[edit | edit source]

Leon Festinger[edit | edit source]

Albert Bandura[edit | edit source]

Bandura was born in 1925 in the small town of Mundare in Northern Alberta, Canada. He received his bachelors degree in Psychology from the University of British Columbia in 1949. He became a professor at the University of Iowa, where he received his Ph.D. in 1952. In 1953, he started teaching at Stanford University, where he has remained to pursue his career.

Bandura found that Behaviorism was not enough to explain humans’ behaviors. He decided to take into account the environment, behavior, and the person’s psychological processes when he looked at personality. He developed a theory called Social learning theory. This theory focuses on cognitive, vicarious, self-regulatory, and self-reflective processes in human adaptation and change.

Little known fact: Bandura is on the board of directors of the School of Education at Indiana University.

Resources[edit | edit source]

Kurt Lewin[edit | edit source]

Kurt Lewin, who died at the age of 57, was born in Moglino in the Prussian province of Posen. Being Jewish, the family was subjected to public discrimination but education was legally required for all children. Lewin's parents wanted the best education for him he was sent to live with friends in Posen to further his education. When the family relocated to Berlin, he moved with them.

Upon completing his high school studies where he had developed a love for philosophy, Lewin entered the University of Freiburg intent on becoming a doctor. After a semster, he transferred to the University of Munich and then in 1910 he went on to the University of Berlin. During his education at the University of Berlin, he began his studies in psychology.

Lewin worked on his dissertation under the direction of Carl Stumpf. Stumpf was a "leader in redirecting the study of man's mind from the discipline of philosophy to that of science" (Alfred J. Marrow, 1977, p.7) and was the developer of theories of space perception and sensation. Stumpf was a mentor to Lewin and gave him the freedom to work on his own ideas.

At the time, the study of experimental psychology was in its beginnings. While other researchers did not deny the existence of an individual's will or his emotions and their impact, it was believed that "emotions were...to fluid and intangible to be pinned down by scientific analysis or by experimental procedures" (Marrow, 1977, p.9). Lewin believed that psychological topics should be included in the science arena and he coupled these thoughts with those of Ernst Cassirer. Cassirer's thoughts on science and research deeply affected Lewin as he wrote "...acknowledge the help which Cassirer's views on the nature of science and research offered...To proceed beyond the limitations of a given level of knowledge, the researcher, as a rule, has to break down methodological taboos which condemn as 'unscientific' or 'illogical' the very methods or concepts which later on prove to be basic for the next major progress" (Marrow, 1977, p.9).

When World War I began, Lewin was already in the military. He had enlisted after completing his academic requirements and was on active duty during most of the war. This time in the military led to his concept of life space which Lewin studied throughout much of his life. In 1917, he published an article entitled "The War Landscape" in which the landscape the soldier sees changes dependent upon his needs. A soldier may have the same object during war and during peace but its use may change if the needs of the soldier change.

Lewin's concept of field referred to the "totality of psychological factors acting at any particular moment to determine a person's behavior"(Sheeny, 2004, p. 139) and this concept was in line with the views of the phenomenological philosopher, Edmund Husserl. Phenomenologists developed a "method of inquiry based on the premise that reality consists of object and event as they are perceived or understood in human consciousness and not of anything independent of human consciousness" (American Heritage Dictionary). The war in combination with the influence of Husserl were formative to Lewins thoughts on the 'field' ideas. Lewin was also included in the category of psychologists known as Gestalts. Gestalt psychology deals with the whole person and as such it is based on the "observation that we often experience things that are not a part of our simple sensations" (Boeree, 2000, p.2). Wertheimer, Kohler, and Koffka were the roots of the Gestalt study with Lewin and Goldstein introducing it into other aspects of psychology (Boeree, 2000).

Lewin, different than Wertheimer, Kohler and Koffka, explained human behavior and what caused it. He believed human behavior was aimed toward a goal. His work included study on human needs, levels of aspiration, groups and action research. His research spanned studies on children, marriage and racial inequality. Lewin completed his PhD at the University of Berlin in 1916, was a visiting professor at Stanford in 1932 and part of the faculty at Cornell University in 1933. He was a Professor at the University in 1935. His published works included "A Dynamic Theory of Personality", "Principles of Topological Psychology", "Frontiers in Group Dynamics" and other papers compiled into volumes. He never wrote a textbook as he preferred writing monographs and articles (Lewin, 1935). Lewin was also involved in the establishment of the Commission on Community Interrelations, the Research Center for Group Dynamics at M.I.T. and the National Laboratories Training. His contributions to his field are well recognized today.

References[edit | edit source]

  • Boeree, C. (2000). The History of Psychology. Retrieved May 1, 2007, from Shippensburg University Web site: http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/gestalt.html
  • Lewin, K. (1935). A Dynamic Theory of Personality. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Lewin, K. (1936). Principals of Topological Psychology, New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Marrow, A. (1977). The Practical Theorist. New York: Teachers College Press.
  • Mook, D. (2004). Classic Experiments in Psychology. Westport,CT: Greenwood Press.
  • Sheehy, N. (2004). Fifty Key Thinkers in Psychology. New York: Routledge.

R.J. Stemberg[edit | edit source]

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Jack Mezirow[edit | edit source]

Major Contributions

Jack Mezirow is a Professor Emeritus at Teacher’s College, Columbia University. His chosen field of interest is adult education and adult learners. Mezirow has written many articles, books, and research reports. His two latest books include Transformative Dimensions of Adult Learning and Fostering Critical Reflection in Adulthood. He is largely responsible for the body of research that exists regarding transformation theory. According to Mezirow, transformation theory contains three major ideas. The first is that an individual experiences a crisis and reflects on one’s own assumptions in regard to the crisis phenomena. Second, the individual engages in discourse and critical self-reflection evaluating his or her ideas on the subject. Third, the individual takes action regarding the crisis. This action is taken based upon the reflection on assumptions that occur in the previous two phases.

Major Influence

Mezirow has been influenced by Paulo Freire in his work with transformation theory. Freire, an idealist from Brazil, was exiled by the Brazilian government for his views on societal change and transformation in 1959. In his discussions via books and interviews, Mezirow sees transformational theory as personally liberating for the individual. The individual undergoes a series of transformations when confronted by a crisis and as a result betters himself or herself. This idea is one that Freire shares, however personal fulfillment is not enough in his opinion. According to Freirie, the individual must use his or her newfound learning as a means to transform society, thereby balancing the societal inequalities which exist. Although Mezirow has been influenced by Freire in personal transformation, he would not agree with the latter’s view on quick and expedient societal change.

Critical Review

Most of Mezirow’s career has been involved with developing, presenting, and providing evidence for his theory of transformational learning. As a result, a short explanation regarding critical reviews of this theory will provide insight into the man himself. Transformational theory puts much emphasis into the crisis phase that an individual experiences. Critics suggest that too much emphasis is placed on it. It has been suggested that greater attention be placed on the context in which the crisis is occurring. Other criticisms of transformational theory suggest that there should be an increased role in the ways of knowing and learning a concept, and that transformational theory is not applicable as a guide to classroom teaching. This last criticism is important because Mezirow’s focus is on adult learning. Although his books have won the Frandson Award for Outstanding Publication in Continuing Education and Last Gamble on Education and the Okes Award for Outstanding Research in Adult Education, some theorists say that his work is difficult to apply to the adult classroom environment. Finally, his theory does not stress the importance of relationships enough. It is thought that relationships play such an important role in the life of an individual when confronting a crisis, that Mezirow should focus more on this aspect.


Jack Mezirow. (no date listed). Retrieved September 9, 2012 from http://www.columbia.edu/itc/tc/parker/adlearnville/transformativelearning/mezirow.htm

Taylor, E. (2007). An Update of Transformative Learning Theory: A Critical Review of the Empirical Research. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 26, 173-191. doi: 10.1080/02601370701219475

Transformative Learning Theory – An Overview. (no date listed). Retrieved September 9, 2012 from http://www.calpro-online.org/eric/docs/taylor/taylor_02.pdf