What are my current beliefs about teaching and learning?
What are the key elements of different theories/models that have developed over the years?
How have these theories/models informed educational practices?
How can I incorporate principles from these learning theories/models into my personal theory of teaching/learning?
How do these theories/models impact my classroom practice?
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Learning Styles: Fact or Fiction? What This Decades-Old Theory Can Teach Us
October 30, 2019
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Do you know whether you’re a visual, auditory, reading/writing, or kinaesthetic learner? What about your students? If you’ve been in the educational field long enough, you’ve probably come across Fleming’s learning styles theory. For over forty years, researchers have sought to classify how different students learn and what teachers can do to support them.
While many teachers feel that taking a student’s learning style into account can help them succeed, others feel that this theory is about as scientific as a horoscope. Whether the evidence points for or against learning styles, however, this theory can remind us that some students may need individualized instruction or resources to best help them learn.
In this article, we’ll provide an overview of learning styles and a fair presentation of the research for and against the theory. Then, we’ll discuss how to best incorporate what the learning styles theory teaches about individualized learning in the classroom.
What Are the Four Learning Styles?
In talking about the learning styles theory, we’re defining it here as the educational model proposed by Neil Fleming in 1984 that presents four types of learning styles. While educators have researched different models and provided various examples of learning styles since the 1970s, Fleming’s model is one that gained a lot of traction among teachers.
Also known as the VARK model, this theory presents four distinct ways that students might best process information:
Visual: information presented through images, like graphs or illustrations
Auditory: information presented through sounds, like audiobooks or songs
Reading/writing: information presented through written words, like books or articles
Kinaesthetic: information presented through experience or touch, like models or simulations
According to the learning styles theory, every student has certain learning styles that work better for them than others. An auditory learner, for example, may focus better while listening to an audiobook than they would while reading a book. These preferences don’t indicate abilities but only differences in processing information.
How would you discover a student’s learning style? Measuring learning styles often involves an assessment such as this one from the Georgia Department of Education. Based on a student’s answers to the questionnaire, teachers can choose to provide them with resources or supplementary information that corresponds to their learning style.
Is There Evidence to Support Different Types of Learning Styles?
What do the experts say about learning styles? Well… it’s complicated. One of the biggest barriers to studying different learning styles in the classroom is that they are hard to reliably measure. Teachers often include a variety of visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinaesthetic lessons in class without even classifying them as such. It can be difficult to pinpoint which lesson or element helped a student grasp a concept the most. Surveying students on learning styles can gauge preferences, but it can’t scientifically measure the cause of academic achievement.
Researchers, however, have sought to measure how effective the theory is and uncovered some positive evidence. One study conducted in Taiwan, for example, came to the conclusion that educating students on learning styles can encourage self-reflection—always a positive thing. In another study, a professor at Auburn University found that using learning styles to teach concepts to individual students can improve information recall. This suggests that educating students about learning styles and using them in class may help students pay attention and reflect on their academic needs.
Learning styles can also be a gateway for teachers to implement personalized learning in class. A study conducted in 2013 found that personalized learning can improve motivation as well as academic achievement. Regardless of whether the learning styles theory accurately reflects how people learn, personalization is a great way to support students with unique needs in the classroom.
Have Learning Styles Been Debunked? The Growing Research Against the Theory
While there’s plenty of support for this theory among teachers who find it helpful, research surrounding learning styles is sparse and sometimes critical. It’s true that many students have a preference for one of the four learning styles. As of yet, however, no link has been found between a preferred learning style and academic achievement.
This means that while students may have personal preferences, they don’t actually learn better using one style over another. Because the theories have been around for decades and still fail to produce a measurable effect, an increasing number of educators question the extent to which they should deliberately use them in class.
Rather than an educational theory, some researchers view learning styles as more of a personality test. It can be useful to know which learning medium your students like the most to help them engage more with your lessons. But if you’re looking for a theory that models how the brain actually works, learning styles may not be it.
Others, however, discourage using the learning styles theory in any sense because they view it as detrimental. The human brain is complex, and neuroscientists still have plenty to discover about what an ideal learning environment looks like. Fleming’s learning styles theory requires educators to put students into one of four boxes, even though how they best learn may vary depending on the project.
Ultimately, the choice to use learning styles in class is up to individual teachers. Some may find it a helpful reminder to provide individualized resources, while others may see learning styles as a myth that doesn’t actually help their students. Either way, the debate a great reminder for teachers to research and test an educational theory for themselves before accepting it as fact.
So, What Can We Conclusively Take Away from the Learning Styles Theory?
As you can see, the educational field is split between proponents and critics of the learning styles theory. While it’s often helpful to use different ways of learning in class, the research doesn’t conclusively suggest the theory to be an accurate model of how our brains work. Like the multiple intelligences theory, learning styles can be a practical tool but not a fully-backed theory.
It may also be possible that different learning styles exist and researchers haven’t yet pinpointed what they are. For the most part, the VARK model of learning styles appears to be a personal preference. But in future studies, researchers may discover a new model that accurately represents different ways students learn in class.
Where does this leave learning styles in terms of practical use? The one thing all educators can agree on is that every student has unique needs that may change your teaching approach for that student. A child with dyslexia, for example, would have different needs from a child that simply has trouble learning to read. Some strategies or resources might help certain students more than they do others. Instead of planning activities based on learning styles, teachers may want to opt for a different, but better researched technique: differentiated instruction.
How to Shift from Learning Styles to Differentiated Instruction
What is differentiated instruction and how does it differ from learning styles? Differentiated instruction is when educators provide individualized lesson plans, accommodations, or other resources to students based on their needs. Rather than theming support around a certain learning style, teachers get to know their students to determine what needs they have and how to fill them.
Perhaps because differentiated instruction is more tailored to individuals than to categories of learning styles, its effects are more measurable in the classroom—particularly for students with disabilities. If learning styles piqued your interest in personalized learning, differentiated instruction can provide a more effective framework.
Instead of providing the four-pronged cookie-cutter approach that learning styles suggest, teachers focus on individual students and observe what helps them learn. As they get to know their students and discuss their unique needs with parents, teachers can use differentiated instruction strategies to support academic growth.
In conclusion: generally, the learning styles theory has the right idea. Students learn best when teachers provide resources that meet their personal needs. But rather than categorizing students as a “kinaesthetic” or “visual” learner, they might be better served if teachers work to provide individualized support for different assignments.
Riener, C. & Willingham, D. The Myth of Learning Styles. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 2010, 42(5), pp. 32-35.
Romanelli, F., Bird, E., and Ryan, M. Learning Styles: A Review of Theory, Application, and Best Practices. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 2009, 73(1).
Curry, L. A Critique of the Research on Learning Styles. Educational Leadership, October 1990, 48(2), pp. 50-56.
Reynolds, M. Learning Styles: A Critique. Management Learning, June 1997, 28(2), pp. 115-133.
An, D., and Carr, M. Learning styles theory fails to explain learning and achievement: Recommendations for alternative approaches. Personality and Individual Differences, October 2017, 116(1), pp. 410-416.
Smith, J. Learning Styles: Fashion Fad or Lever for Change? The Application of Learning Style Theory to Inclusive Curriculum Delivery. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 2002, 39(1), pp. 63-70.
Scott, C. The Enduring Appeal of ‘Learning Styles.” Australian Journal of Education, April 2010, 54(1), pp. 5-17.
Willingham, D.T., Hughes, E.M., and Dobolyi, D.G. The Scientific Status of Learning Styles Theories. Teaching of Psychology, June 2015, 42(3), pp. 266-271.
Hsieh, S., Jang, Y., Hwang, G., and Chen, N. Effects of teaching and learning styles on students’ reflection levels for ubiquitous learning. Computers & Education, August 2011, 57(1), pp. 1194-1201.
Hilgersom-Volk, K. Celebrating Students’ Diversity through Learning Styles. OOSC Bulletin, May 1987, 30(9), pp. 1-32.
Kirschner, P.A. Stop propagating the learning styles myth. Computers & Education, March 2017, 106, pp. 166-171.
Dembo, M., and Howard, K. Advice about the Use of Learning Styles: A Major Myth in Education. Journal of College Reading and Learning, 2007, 37(2), pp. 101-109.
Hwang, G., Sung, H., Hung, C., Huang, I., and Tsai, C. Development of a personalized educational computer game based on students’ learning styles. Educational Technology Research and Development, August 2012, 60(4), pp. 623-638.
Horton, C.B., and Oakland, T. Temperament-based learning styles as moderators of academic achievement. Adolescence, 1997, 32(125), 131-141.
Davis, S.E. Learning Styles and Memory. Institute for Learning Styles Journal, 2007, 1, pp. 46-51.
Wilfrid Laurier University. Understanding Your Learning Style. Retrieved from wlu.ca: https://web.wlu.ca/learning_resources/pdfs/Learning_Styles.pdf.
Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., and Bjork, R. Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 2009, 9(3), pp. 105-119.
Leite, W.L., Svinicki, M., and Shi, Y. Attempted Validation of the Scores of the VARK: Learning Styles Inventory With Multitrait–Multimethod Confirmatory Factor Analysis Models. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 2010, 70(2), pp. 323-339.
Darrow, A. Differentiated Instruction for Students With Disabilities: Using DI in the Music Classroom. General Music Today, 2015, 28(2), pp.29-32.
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Published by Open Access Publishing Group ©2015.
dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.2009706 Volume 1│Issue 1│September 2015
JOHN DEWEY –
PHILOSOPHER AND EDUCATIONAL REFORMER
Lecturer, Faculty of Education, Taiz University, Yemen
Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”
John Dewey was an American philosopher and educator, founder of the philosophical
movement known as pragmatism, a pioneer in functional psychology, and a leader of
the progressive movement in education in the United States.
Keywords: John Dewey, educational reform, functional psychology, pragmatism
John Dewey was born on October 20,
1859, in Burlington, Vermont. He
graduated with a bachelor’s degree from
the University of Vermont in 1879. After
two years as a high-school teacher in Oil
City, Pennsylvania and one teaching
elementary school in the small town of
Charlotte, Vermont, Dewey decided that
he was unsuited for employment in
primary or secondary education. After
studying with George Sylvester Morris,
Charles Sanders Peirce, Herbert Baxter
Adams, and G. Stanley Hall, Dewey
received his Ph.D. from the School of Arts & Sciences at Johns Hopkins University. His
unpublished and now lost dissertation was titled “The Psychology of Kant.”
Kandan Talebi –
JOHN DEWEY, PHILOSOPHER AND EDUCATIONAL REFORMER
European Journal of Education Studies – Volume 1 │ Issue 1 │ 2015 2
He started teaching philosophy and psychology at the University of Michigan in
1884. In time, his interests progressively moved from the philosophy of Georg Wilhelm
Friedrich Hegel to the new experimental influences on psychology of G. Stanley Hall
and the pragmatist philosopher and psychologist William James. Additional study of
child psychology encouraged Dewey to develop a philosophy of education that would
encounter the requests of a new dynamic democratic society.
In 1894, he joined the faculty of philosophy at the University of Chicago, where
he further promoted his progressive pedagogy in the university’s Laboratory Schools.
In 1904, Dewey left Chicago for Columbia University in New York City, where he spent
the majority of his career and wrote his most famous philosophical work, Experience
and Nature (1925).
His succeeding writing, which comprised articles in popular publications,
treated subjects in education, aesthetics, politics, and religion. John Dewey also wrote
about many other topics including experience, nature, art, logic, inquiry, democracy,
and ethics. He served as a major stimulus for various allied philosophical movements
that designed the thought development of 20th century, including empiricism,
humanism, naturalism and contextualism. He ranks among the highest thinkers of his
age on the subjects of pedagogy, philosophy of mind, epistemology, logic and
philosophy of science, social and political theory. Being one of the leading psychological
and philosophical figures of his time, he was elected as the president of the American
Psychological Association and president of the American Philosophical Association in
1899 and 1905 respectively. Dewey published more than 700 articles in 140 journals and
approximately 40 books in his lifetime.
The main theme underlying Dewey’s philosophy was his belief that a democratic
society of informed and engaged inquirers was the best means of promoting human
interests. As Dewey himself stated in 1888, while still at the University of Michigan:
“Democracy and the one, ultimate, ethical ideal of humanity are to my mind
Known for his advocacy of democracy, Dewey believed that two fundamental elements,
schools and civil society, to be major elements deserving consideration and
reconstruction in order to encourage experimental intelligence and plurality. Dewey
affirmed that complete democracy was to be gained not just by extending voting rights,
but also by ensuring that among voters exists a fully formed public opinion
accomplished by communication between citizens, experts, and politicians, with the
latter being accountable for the policies they adopt.
Life and works
In 1894, Dewey joined the newly founded University of Chicago (1894 1904) where he
developed his belief in Rational Empiricism, becoming associated with the newly
Kandan Talebi –
JOHN DEWEY, PHILOSOPHER AND EDUCATIONAL REFORMER
European Journal of Education Studies – Volume 1 │ Issue 1 │ 2015 3
emerging Pragmatic philosophy. His time at the University of Chicago resulted in four
essays collectively entitled Thought and its Subject-Matter, which was published with
collected works from his colleagues at Chicago under the collective title Studies in
Logical Theory (1903).
During that time, Dewey also initiated the University of Chicago Laboratory
Schools, where he was able to actualize the pedagogical beliefs that provided material
for his first major work on education, The School and Society (1899). Divergences with
the administration ultimately triggered his resignation from the University, and soon
thereafter, he relocated near the East Coast.
In 1899, Dewey was designated president of the American Psychological
Association. From 1904 until his retirement in 1930, he was professor of philosophy at
both Columbia University and Columbia University’s Teachers College.
In 1905, he became president of the American Philosophical Association. He was
a longtime member of the American Federation of Teachers.
Along with the historians Charles A. Beard and James Harvey Robinson, and the
economist Thorstein Veblen, Dewey is one of the founders of The New School. Dewey’s
most significant writings were “The Reflex Arc Concept in Psychology” (1896), a critique of
a standard psychological concept and the basis of all his further work; Democracy and
Education (1916), his celebrated work on progressive education; Human Nature and
Conduct (1922), a study of the function of habit in human behavior; The Public and its
Problems (1927), a defense of democracy written in response to Walter Lippmann’s The
Phantom Public (1925); Experience and Nature” (1925), Dewey’s most “metaphysical”
statement; Art as Experience (1934), Dewey’s major work on aesthetics; A Common
Faith” (1934), a humanistic study of religion originally delivered as the Dwight H. Terry
Lectureship at Yale; Logic: The Theory of Inquiry” (1938), a statement of Dewey’s
unusual conception of logic; Freedom and Culture” (1939), a political work examining
the roots of fascism; and Knowing and the Known” (1949), a book written in conjunction
with Arthur F. Bentley that systematically outlines the concept of trans-action, which is
central to his other works. While each of these works emphases on one particular
philosophical theme, Dewey included his major themes in most of what he published.
Reflecting his immense influence on 20th-century thought, Hilda Neatby, in
“Dewey has been to our age what Aristotle was to the later Middle Ages, not a
philosopher, but the philosopher.”
At the University of Michigan, Dewey published his first two books, Psychology
(1887), and Leibniz’s New Essays Concerning the Human Understanding” (1888), both of
which expressed Dewey’s early commitment to British neo-Hegelianism. In Psychology,
Dewey attempted a synthesis between idealism and experimental science.
While still professor of philosophy at Michigan, Dewey and his junior colleagues,
James Hayden Tufts and George Herbert Mead, together with his student James
Kandan Talebi –
JOHN DEWEY, PHILOSOPHER AND EDUCATIONAL REFORMER
European Journal of Education Studies – Volume 1 │ Issue 1 │ 2015 4
Rowland Angell, all influenced strongly by the recent publication of William James’
Principles of Psychology (1890), began to reformulate psychology, emphasizing the
social environment on the activity of mind and behavior rather than the physiological
psychology of Wundt and his followers.
By 1894, Dewey had joined Tufts, with whom he would later write Ethics (1908), at
the recently founded University of Chicago and invited Mead and Angell to follow him,
the four men forming the basis of the so-called “Chicago group” of psychology.
Their new style of psychology, later dubbed functional psychology, had a
practical emphasis on action and application. In Dewey’s article “The Reflex Arc Concept
in Psychology” which appeared in Psychological Review in 1896, he reasons against the
traditional stimulus-response understanding of the reflex arc in favor of a “circular”
account in which what serves as “stimulus” and what as “response” depends on how one
considers the situation, and defends the unitary nature of the sensory motor circuit.
While he does not deny the existence of stimulus, sensation, and response, he disagreed
that they were separate, juxtaposed events happening like links in a chain. He
developed the idea that there is a coordination by which the stimulation is enriched by the
results of previous experiences . The response is modulated by sensorial experience.
Education and teacher education
Dewey’s educational theories were presented in My Pedagogic Creed (1897), The
School and Society (1900), The Child and the Curriculum” (1902), Democracy and
Education (1916) and Experience and Education (1938). Several themes repeat
throughout these writings. Dewey recurrently claims that education and learning are
social and interactive processes, and thus the school itself is a social institution through
which social reform can and should take place. In addition, he believed that students
thrive in an environment where they are allowed to experience and interact with the
curriculum, and all students should have the opportunity to take part in their own
The ideas of democracy and social reform are continually discussed in Dewey’s
writings on education. Dewey makes a strong case for the importance of education not
only as a place to gain content knowledge, but also as a place to learn how to live.
In his opinion, the main purpose of education should not revolve around the
acquisition of a pre-determined set of skills, but rather the realization of one’s full
potential and the ability to use those skills for the greater good.
He notes that:
“…to prepare him for the future life means to give him command of himself; it means so
to train him that he will have the full and ready use of all his capacities”
(My pedagogic creed, Dewey, 1897)
Kandan Talebi –
JOHN DEWEY, PHILOSOPHER AND EDUCATIONAL REFORMER
European Journal of Education Studies – Volume 1 │ Issue 1 │ 2015 5
In addition to helping students realize their full potential, Dewey goes on to
acknowledge that education and schooling are instrumental in creating social change
He notes that:
“…education is a regulation of the process of coming to share in the social consciousness;
and that the adjustment of individual activity on the basis of this social consciousness is
the only sure method of social reconstruction”.
In addition to his ideas regarding what education is and what effect it should have on
society, Dewey had specific notions regarding how education should take place within
the classroom. In The Child and the Curriculum (1902), Dewey discusses two major
conflicting schools of thought regarding educational pedagogy. The first is centered on
the curriculum and focuses almost solely on the subject matter to be taught. Dewey
argues that the major flaw in this methodology is the inactivity of the student; within
this particular framework, “the child is simply the immature being who is to be matured; he is
the superficial being who is to be deepened” (1902, p. 13). He argues that in order for
education to be most effective, content must be presented in a way that allows the
student to relate the information to prior experiences, thus deepening the connection
with this new knowledge.
At the same time, Dewey was alarmed by many of the “child-centered” excesses of
educational-school pedagogues who claimed to be his followers, and he argued that too
much reliance on the child could be equally detrimental to the learning process. In this
second school of thought,
“…we must take our stand with the child and our departure from him. It is he and not
the subject-matter which determines both quality and quantity of learning”
(Dewey, 1902, p. 13 14)
According to Dewey, the potential flaw in this line of thinking is that it minimizes the
importance of the content as well as the role of the teacher.
In order to rectify this dilemma, Dewey encouraged for an educational
framework that strikes a balance between distributing knowledge while also
considering the interests and experiences of the student.
He notes that:
“…the child and the curriculum are simply two limits which define a single process. Just
as two points define a straight line, so the present standpoint of the child and the facts
and truths of studies define instruction”
(Dewey, 1902, p. 16)
Kandan Talebi –
JOHN DEWEY, PHILOSOPHER AND EDUCATIONAL REFORMER
European Journal of Education Studies – Volume 1 │ Issue 1 │ 2015 6
It is through this reasoning that Dewey became one of the most famous proponents of
hands-on learning or experiential education, which is related to, but not synonymous
with experiential learning.
He argued that:
“…if knowledge comes from the impressions made upon us by natural objects, it is
impossible to procure knowledge without the use of objects which impress the mind”
(Dewey, 1916/2009, pp. 217 218)
Dewey’s ideas went on to influence many other influential experiential models and
advocates. Problem-Based Learning (PBL), for example, a method used widely in
education today, incorporates Dewey’s ideas pertaining to learning through active
Dewey not only re-imagined the way that the learning process should take place,
but also the role that the teacher should play within that process. Throughout the
history of “merican schooling, education’s purpose has been to train students for work
by providing the student with a limited set of skills and information to do a particular
job. The works of John Dewey provide the most prolific examples of how this limited
vocational view of education has been applied to both the K-12 public education system
and to the teacher training schools who attempted to quickly produce proficient and
practical teachers with a limited set of instructional and discipline-specific skills needed
to meet the needs of the employer and demands of the workforce.
In The School and Society (Dewey, 1976) and Democracy of Education (Dewey,
1980), Dewey claims that rather than preparing citizens for ethical participation in
society, schools cultivate passive pupils via insistence upon mastery of facts and
disciplining of bodies. Rather than preparing students to be reflective, autonomous and
ethical beings capable of arriving at social truths through critical and intersubjective
discourse, schools prepare students for docile compliance with authoritarian work and
political structures, discourage the pursuit of individual and communal inquiry, and
perceive higher learning as a monopoly of the institution of education (Dewey, 1976;
For Dewey and his philosophical followers, education stifles individual
autonomy when learners are taught that knowledge is transmitted in one direction,
from the expert to the learner. Dewey not only re-imagined the way that the learning
process should take place, but also the role that the teacher should play within that
The thing needful is improvement of education, not simply by turning out teachers who
can do better the things that are not necessary to do, but rather by changing the
conception of what constitutes education
(Dewey, 1904, p. 18)
Kandan Talebi –
JOHN DEWEY, PHILOSOPHER AND EDUCATIONAL REFORMER
European Journal of Education Studies – Volume 1 │ Issue 1 │ 2015 7
Dewey’s qualifications for teaching a natural love for working with young children, a
natural propensity to inquire about the subjects, methods and other social issues related
to the profession, and a desire to share this acquired knowledge with others are not a
set of outwardly displayed mechanical skills. Rather, they may be viewed as
internalized principles or habits which work automatically, unconsciously (Dewey, 1904,
Turning to Dewey’s essays and public addresses regarding the teaching
profession, followed by his analysis of the teacher as a person and a professional, as
well as his beliefs regarding the responsibilities of teacher education programs to
cultivate the attributes addressed, teacher educators can begin to reimagine the
successful classroom teacher Dewey envisioned.
Professionalization of teaching as a social service
For many, education’s purpose is to train students for work by providing the student
with a limited set of skills and information to do a particular job. As Dewey notes, this
limited vocational view is also applied to teacher training schools who attempt to
quickly produce proficient and practical teachers with a limited set of instructional and
discipline skills needed to meet the needs of the employer and demands of the
workforce (Dewey, 1904). For Dewey, the school and the classroom teacher, as a
workforce and provider of a social service, have a unique responsibility to produce
psychological and social goods that will lead to both present and future social progress.
As Dewey notes:
“The business of the teacher is to produce a higher standard of intelligence in the
community, and the object of the public school system is to make as large as possible the
number of those who possess this intelligence. Skill, ability to act wisely and effectively in
a great variety of occupations and situations, is a sign and a criterion of the degree of
civilization that a society has reached. It is the business of teachers to help in producing
the many kinds of skill needed in contemporary life. If teachers are up to their work, they
also aid in production of character”
(Dewey, TAP, 2010, p.p.241-242)
According to Dewey, the emphasis is placed on producing these attributes in children
for use in their contemporary life because it is:
…impossible to foretell definitely just what civilization will be twenty years from now
(Dewey, MPC, 2010, p. 25)
However, although Dewey is steadfast in his beliefs that education serves an immediate
purpose (Dewey, DRT, 2010; Dewey, MPC, 2010; Dewey, TTP, 2010), he is not ignorant
Kandan Talebi –
JOHN DEWEY, PHILOSOPHER AND EDUCATIONAL REFORMER
European Journal of Education Studies – Volume 1 │ Issue 1 │ 2015 8
of the impact imparting these qualities of intelligence, skill and character on young
children in their present life will have on the future society. While addressing the state
of educative and economic affairs during a 1935 radio broadcast, Dewey linked the
ensuing economic depression to a lack of sufficient production of intelligence, skill and
character Dewey, T“P, , p. 4 of the nation’s workforce.
As Dewey notes, there is a lack of these goods in the present society and teachers
have a responsibility to create them in their students, who, we can assume, will grow
into the adults who will ultimately go on to participate in whatever industrial or
economical civilization awaits them. According to Dewey, the profession of the
classroom teacher is to produce the intelligence, skill and character within each student
so that the democratic community is composed of citizens who can think, do and act
intelligently and morally.
A teacher’s knowledge
Dewey believed that the successful classroom teacher possesses a passion for
knowledge and an intellectual curiosity in the materials and methods they teach. For
Dewey, this propensity is an inherent curiosity and love for learning that differs from
one’s ability to acquire, recite and reproduce textbook knowledge.
“No one, can be really successful in performing the duties and meeting these demands [of
teaching] who does not retain [her] intellectual curiosity intact throughout [her] entire
(Dewey, APT, 2010, p. 34)
According to Dewey, it is not that:
…the teacher ought to strive to be a high-class scholar in all the subjects he or she has to
teach, rather, a teacher ought to have an unusual love and aptitude in some one subject:
history, mathematics, literature, science, a fine art, or whatever
(Dewey, APT, 2010, p. 35)
The classroom teacher does not have to be a scholar in all subjects; rather, a genuine
love in one will elicit a feel for genuine information and insight in all subjects taught.
In addition to this propensity for study into the subjects taught, the classroom
…is possessed by a recognition of the responsibility for the constant study of school
room work, the constant study of children, of methods, of subject matter in its various
adaptations to pupils
(Dewey, PST, 2010, p. 37)
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JOHN DEWEY, PHILOSOPHER AND EDUCATIONAL REFORMER
European Journal of Education Studies – Volume 1 │ Issue 1 │ 2015 9
For Dewey, this desire for the lifelong pursuit of learning is inherent in other
professions (e.g. the architectural, legal and medical fields; Dewey, 1904 & Dewey, PST,
2010), and has particular importance for the field of teaching.
As Dewey notes:
…this further study is not a side line but something which fits directly into the
demands and opportunities of the vocation
(Dewey, APT, 2010, p. 34)
According to Dewey, this propensity and passion for intellectual growth in the
profession must be accompanied by a natural desire to communicate one’s knowledge
There are scholars who have [the knowledge] in a marked degree but who lack
enthusiasm for imparting it. To the natural born teacher learning is incomplete unless
it is shared
(Dewey, APT, 2010, p. 35)
For Dewey, it is not enough for the classroom teacher to be a lifelong learner of the
techniques and subject-matter of education; she must aspire to share what she knows
with others in her learning community.
A teacher’s skill
The best indicator of teacher quality, according to Dewey, is the ability to watch and
respond to the movement of the mind with keen awareness of the signs and quality of
the responses her students exhibit with regard to the subject-matter presented (Dewey,
APT, 2010; Dewey, 1904).
As Dewey notes:
“I have often been asked how it was that some teachers who have never studied the art of
teaching are still extraordinarily good teachers. The explanation is simple. They have a
quick, sure and unflagging sympathy with the operations and process of the minds they
are in contact with. Their own minds move in harmony with those of others, appreciating
their difficulties, entering into their problems, sharing their intellectual victories”
(Dewey, APT, 2010, p. 36)
Such a teacher is genuinely aware of the complexities of this mind to mind transfer, and
she has the intellectual fortitude to identify the successes and failures of this process, as
well as how to appropriately reproduce or correct it in the future.
Kandan Talebi –
JOHN DEWEY, PHILOSOPHER AND EDUCATIONAL REFORMER
European Journal of Education Studies – Volume 1 │ Issue 1 │ 2015 10
A teacher’s disposition
As a result of the direct influence teachers have in shaping the mental, moral and
spiritual lives of children during their most formative years, Dewey holds the
profession of teaching in high esteem, often equating its social value to that of the
ministry and to parenting (Dewey, APT, 2010; Dewey, DRT, 2010; Dewey, MPC, 2010;
Dewey, PST, 2010; Dewey, TTC, 2010; Dewey, TTP, 2010). Perhaps the most important
attributes, according to Dewey, are those personal inherent qualities which the teacher
brings to the classroom. As Dewey notes, “no amount of learning or even of acquired
pedagogical skill makes up for the deficiency” (Dewey, TLS, p. 25) of the personal traits
needed to be most successful in the profession.
According to Dewey, the successful classroom teacher occupies an indispensable
passion for promoting the intellectual growth of young children. In addition, she knows
that her career, in comparison to other professions, entails stressful situations, long
hours and limited financial reward; all of which have the potential to overcome her
genuine love and sympathy for her students.
“One of the most depressing phases of the vocation is the number of care worn teachers
one sees, with anxiety depicted on the lines of their faces, reflected in their strained high
pitched voices and sharp manners. While contact with the young is a privilege for some
temperaments, it is a tax on others, and a tax which they do not bear up under very well.
And in some schools, there are too many pupils to a teacher, too many subjects to teach,
and adjustments to pupils are made in a mechanical rather than a human way. Human
nature reacts against such unnatural conditions”
(Dewey, APT, 2101, p. 35)
It is essential, according to Dewey, that the classroom teacher has the mental propensity
to overcome the demands and stressors placed on her because the students can sense
when their teacher is not genuinely invested in promoting their learning (Dewey, PST,
2010). Such negative demeanors, according to Dewey, prevent children from pursuing
their own propensities for learning and intellectual growth. It can therefore be assumed
that if teachers want their students to engage with the educational process and employ
their natural curiosities for knowledge, teachers must be aware of how their reactions to
young children and the stresses of teaching influence this process.
The role of teacher education to cultivate the professional classroom teacher
Dewey’s passions for teaching a natural love for working with young children, a
natural propensity to inquire about the subjects, methods and other social issues related
to the profession, and a desire to share this acquired knowledge with others are not a
set of outwardly displayed mechanical skills. Rather, they may be viewed as
internalized principles or habits which work automatically, unconsciously (Dewey, 1904,
Kandan Talebi –
JOHN DEWEY, PHILOSOPHER AND EDUCATIONAL REFORMER
European Journal of Education Studies – Volume 1 │ Issue 1 │ 2015 11
According to Dewey, teacher education programs must turn away from focusing
on producing proficient practitioners because such practical skills related to instruction
and discipline (e.g. creating and delivering lesson plans, classroom management,
implementation of an assortment of content-specific methods) can be learned over time
during their everyday school work with their students (Dewey, PST, 2010).
As Dewey notes:
“The teacher who leaves the professional school with power in managing a class of
children may appear to superior advantage the first day, the first week, the first month, or
even the first year, as compared with some other teacher who has a much more vital
command of the psychology, logic and ethics of development. But later progress may
with such consist only in perfecting and refining skill already possessed. Such persons
seem to know how to teach, but they are not students of teaching. Even though they go on
studying books of pedagogy, reading teachers journals, attending teachers institutes,
etc., yet the root of the matter is not in them, unless they continue to be students of
subject-matter, and students of mind-activity. Unless a teacher is such a student, he may
continue to improve in the mechanics of school management, but he cannot grow as a
teacher, an inspirer and director of soul-life”
(Dewey, 1904, p. 15)
For Dewey, teacher education should focus not on producing persons who know how
to teach as soon as they leave the program; rather, teacher education should be
concerned with producing professional students of education who have the propensity
to inquire about the subjects they teach, the methods used, and the activity of the mind
as it gives and receives knowledge. According to Dewey, such a student is not
superficially engaging with these materials, rather, the professional student of
education has a genuine passion to inquire about the subjects of education, knowing
that doing so ultimately leads to acquisitions of the skills related to teaching. Such
students of education aspire for the intellectual growth within the profession that can
only be achieved by immersing one’s self in the lifelong pursuit of the intelligence, skills
and character Dewey linked to the profession.
As Dewey notes, other professional fields, such as law and medicine cultivate a
professional spirit in their fields to constantly study their work, their methods of their
work, and a perpetual need for intellectual growth and concern for issues related to
their profession. Teacher education, as a profession, has these same obligations (Dewey,
1904; Dewey, PST, 2010).
As Dewey notes:
“An intellectual responsibility has got to be distributed to every human being who is
concerned in carrying out the work in question, and to attempt to concentrate intellectual
responsibility for a work that has to be done, with their brains and their hearts, by
Kandan Talebi –
JOHN DEWEY, PHILOSOPHER AND EDUCATIONAL REFORMER
European Journal of Education Studies – Volume 1 │ Issue 1 │ 2015 12
hundreds or thousands of people in a dozen or so at the top, no matter how wise and
skillful they are, is not to concentrate responsibility–it is to diffuse irresponsibility”
(Dewey, PST, 2010, p. 39)
For Dewey, the professional spirit of teacher education requires of its students a
constant study of school room work, constant study of children, of methods, of subject
matter in its various adaptations to pupils. Such study will lead to professional
enlightenment with regard to the daily operations of classroom teaching.
As well as his very active and direct involvement in setting up educational
institutions such as the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools (1896) and The New
School for Social Research (1919), many of Dewey’s ideas influenced the founding of
Bennington College and Goddard College in Vermont, where he served on the Board of
Dewey’s works and philosophy also held great influence in the creation of the
short-lived Black Mountain College in North Carolina, an experimental college focused
on interdisciplinary study, and whose faculty included Buckminster Fuller, Willem de
Kooning, Charles Olson, Franz Kline, Robert Duncan, Robert Creeley, and Paul
Goodman, among others. Black Mountain College was the locus of the “Black Mountain
Poets” a group of avant-garde poets closely linked with the Beat Generation and the San
1. John Dewey, How we think (1910)
2. Haggbloom, Steven J.; Warnick, Jason E.; Jones, Vinessa K.; Yarbrough, Gary L.;
Russell, Tenea M.; Borecky, Chris M.; McGahhey, Reagan; et al. (2002). “The 100
most eminent psychologists of the 20th century”. Review of General Psychology
6 (2): 139 152. doi:10.1037/1089-26126.96.36.199.
3. Alan Ryan, John Dewey and the High Tide of American Liberalism, (1995) p 32
4. Violas, Paul C.; Tozer, Steven; Senese, Guy B. School and Society: Historical and
Contemporary Perspectives. McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social
Sciences/Languages. p. 121. ISBN 0-07-298556-9.
5. Bio of Dewey from Bowling Green State University
6. Louis Menand, The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in the United States.
New York: Farrar, Staus and Giroux, 2002.
7. Hilda M. Neatby, So Little for the Mind (Toronto: Clarke Irwin & Co. Ltd., 1953),
8. John Dewey, Harriet Alice Chipman Dewey Letters from China and Japan. New
York,: E.P Dutton, 1920; rpr. Project Guttenberg
Kandan Talebi –
JOHN DEWEY, PHILOSOPHER AND EDUCATIONAL REFORMER
European Journal of Education Studies – Volume 1 │ Issue 1 │ 2015 13
9. Field, Richard. John Dewey in The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Northwest Missouri State University UTM.edu The University of Tennessee at
Martin Retrieved 29 August 2008.
10. Dewey, John (1938). Logic: The theory of Inquiry. NY: Holt, Rinehart, and
Winston. p. iv.
11. John Dewey, Arthur Bentley, (1949). Knowing and the Known. Beacon Press,
12. John Dewey, Arthur Bentley, (1949). Knowing and the Known. Beacon Press,
13. John Dewey, Arthur Bentley, (1949). Knowing and the Known. Beacon Press,
14. “The Problem of Logical Subject Matter”, in Logic: The Theory of Inquiry 1938
15. Louis Menand. The Metaphysical Club p. 313
16. Dewey, J. (1902). The child and the curriculum. Retrieved from
17. Dewey, J. (2009). Democracy and education: An introduction to the philosophy
of education. New York: WLC Books. (Original work published 1916)
18. Savery, J. R. (2006). Overview of Problem-based Learning: Definitions and
Distinctions. Journal of Problem-based Learning, 1(1).
19. Dewey, J. 1927. The Public and its Problems. Henry Holt & Co., New York. pp
20. Jump up ^ John Corcoran. Conditions and Consequences. American Philosophy:
an Encyclopedia. 2007. Eds. John Lachs and Robert Talisse. New York:
Routledge. Pages 124 7.
21. The Cambridge Companion to Dewey, edited by Molly Cochran. Cambridge
University Press, 2010. Page xvii.
22. “Dewey’s Political Philosophy” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
23. F. M. Alexander Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual, E. P. Dutton
& Co., 1923 ISBN 0-913111-11-2
24. Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Dewey
Journal of Education and Educational Development
Vol. 2 No. 2 (December 2015) 191 – 201
John Dewey and His Philosophy of Education
Institute of Business Management
This review paper on John Dewey, the pioneering educationist of
the 20th century, discusses his educational thoughts, and writings,
which gave a new direction to education at the turn of the century.
Dewey’s contributions are immense and overwhelming in the fields
of education, politics, humanism, logic, and aesthetics. This discussion
will focus on Dewey and his philosophy related to educational approaches,
pedagogical issues, and the linkages that he made between education,
democracy, experience, and society. At the heart of his educational
thought is the child. Dewey’s idea on humanism springs from his
democratic bent and his quest for freedom, equity, and the value of
Keywords: Dewey, educational approaches, humanism,
This discussion is based on John Dewey’s (1859-1952)
contribution to education and educational philosophy. He remains
the most influential American philosopher and educationist of the
20th Century, who gave a new direction to educational thought and
processes. With his firm democratic belief in civil societies and
education, Dewey rejected authoritarian structures and subsequently
the traditional teaching methods in schools. He believed in progressive
education and advocated for reforms in pedagogical aspects of
teaching and school curricula; most importantly, Dewey believed
that at the centre of the whole academia was the child, and Dewey’s
educational philosophy and reforms were concerned primarily with
the child. Today, Dewey’s philosophy of education and its relation to
Sikandar John Dewey and His Philosophy of Education
experience, democracy, humanism, and pragmatism have largely
affected the modern system of education all over the world.
This discussion will look at three areas of contribution of this
great educationist’s philosophy of education. These aspects are, in
different sections united by a thread of continuity to his great philosophy
1. Dewey’s philosophy of education
2. Dewey’s philosophy of education and experience
3. The role of the teacher and the child
Dewey’s philosophy of education
Dewey’s ideas mirror the affects of new the industrialized
colonized society, fraught with the problems and aftermaths of two
World Wars. Dewey was largely inspired by Marx’s theory of social
struggle and conflict between classes. Marx’s theory of conflict is
that the society is stratified and layered with different strata and
there is a competition within these different classes. Marx stresses
that social analysis should focus on class structure and relations.
Dewey had an inspiration from Habermas’s thoughts, which are in
the traditions of Kant, and emphasize the role of education to transform
the world into a more humane, just, and egalitarian society.
His writings on democracy and education express his philosophy of
education as a way of social reform. He saw education as a means of
serving the democratic process through making corrections in the economic
evils and by obtaining political ends that would lead to progression of a
society. Hence, education for Dewey is the culmination of his political
ideas. The shaping of a society in which the common goods, among
which are the knowledge and social intelligence, are distributed fairly
among all who participate in that society (Berding, 1997).
Establishment of progressive schools in the 18th century was an
effort to liberate traditional schools’ system of education, and mainly
to facilitate the intellectual growth of a child. However, Dewey was
critical about these progressive schools on the premise that freedom
Vol. 2 No. 2 (December 2015) 192
alone was no solution; learning needs, a structure and order must be
based on a clear theory of experience, not simply the whim of teachers or
students. On the other hand, Rousseau, and later Pestalozzi, Froebel
and other educational theorists believed that a child was like a seed
and if they were left to nourish and nurture naturally, they would
naturally bear flowers and fruits.
In Democracy and Education (1916), Dewey clearly states that the
methodology of teaching leads to the purpose of teaching. As teaching
and learning is pedagogical; therefore, the subject matter should be planned
in effective ways. He clearly states, “The subject matter of the learner
is not … identical with the formulated, the crystallized, and systematized
subject matter of the adult” (p. 190). The subject matter alone is not a
guarantee of learning and development; rather, the teacher should plan
and connect the subject matter to the students, keeping in consideration
the needs, desires, interests, and cognitive development of the
students, as he shows in ‘How We Think’.
Dewey’s main concern was a disparity between the experiences of
child and the kind of concepts imposed upon him. He believed that
this gap curbs a child’s natural experiences and abilities, forcing him
to follow the dictates of a formal education. Dewey is equally critical
of the progressive education which imposes concepts, such as the
right of free expression or free activity as these tenets of education also
impose ideas upon a child. Dewey was deeply inspired by the vision
of a liberal free society and realized the pressing need of freedom
and equality, emancipation from social bounds to liberate individual
and society from the structures of power.
Dewey’s philosophy of education and experience
In Dewey’s philosophy of education, we see a close link between a
child’s life and his experiences as a continuous process, which he regards
as the aim of education. In this way, education has the scope of
equipping a child with social competence. Unless this link is made,
education is useless. Dewey sees a strong correlation between
interaction and continuity of experiences. It is through interaction
that a child brings in experiences from society. Because of such
Vol. 2 No. 2 (December 2015) 193
John Dewey and His Philosophy of Education
continuous interactions, environments are created. These
environments are the fields in which situations and conditions interact
with personal needs and purposes, and create life-long experiences.
These experiences are given value and direction by the teachers;
therefore, there should be order and direction of a child’s experiences,
which will give him a composed and integrated personality. He gives
example of the games children play, in which they follow rules of
the game willingly to continue the game. Similarly, students are
involved in class activities in groups and the moving force is to get
the activity done. This learning process allows students the freedom of
thought, judgment, and power to execute decisions. These learning
experiences should have a clear purpose, an understanding of the
surrounding conditions, knowledge of what occurred before, so
that it could allow reflection and analysis of issues and experiences.
Such structured interactions turn an impulse into a plan of action.
This brings forth Dewey’s philosophy of humanism. As a child
discovers by doing, the child is explicitly realized as the main actor
of the entire learning process. The child’s role is no longer vulnerable or
a subject of imposition. Rather, a child is a free individual with his
aptitude and interests. As he is actively involved in the learning
process, the child is an active social actor who participates in social
An experience for him involves a dual process of understanding
and influencing the world around us, as well as being influenced
and changed by that experience. Therefore, education should be
concerned about the child’s experiences in school and in natural
environments outside the school. Particular experiences should
be assessed to the degree that they contribute to the growth or to
getting more experience. “Growth in Dewey’s context means that the
individual is gaining the ability to understand the relationships and
interconnections between various experiences between one learning
experience and another” (Gutek, 1997, p.105). According to Dewey
(1934), “Experience occurs continuously, because the interaction of
live creature and environing conditions is involved in the very process
of living” (p. 1). Dewey’s method of teaching was based on his
Vol. 2 No. 2 (December 2015) 194
pragmatic philosophy-the Pragmatism, and he is of the opinion that
direct experience is the basis of all methods. Any relevant knowledge
or information is in some sense experiential as it relates directly to
the lived experience of the individuals concerned (Dewey 1916).
For him, knowledge takes place in concrete and meaningful situations,
through spontaneous activities of children. Dewey’s methods of
teaching were based on the principles of learning by doing activities in
connection with life of a child. Such approaches to teaching and learning
follow strategies like project based or problem based method of learning.
Curriculum, Dewey demanded was not imposed upon the students,
rather it had the capacity to allow individual differences among the
students and value their experiences. Dewey’s curriculum theory is
based on anthropological, psychological, and social-philosophical
(political) perspectives that hold a child to be like an organism and
this organism is searching for stimuli in order to grow (Berding,
Dewey strongly supported experiential learning, as it offers
students a hands-on, collaborative learning experience, which helps
them to “fully learn new skills and knowledge” (Haynes, Sakai,
Rees, Gilbert, Frith & Passingham, 2007). Eyler and Giles (1999)
asserted that Dewey described service-learning as experiential learning
and that such learning has a “continual spiral of events starting with
direct experience, followed by periods of reflection where hypotheses
are generated about immediate and future meaning, and then tested
through experiences and actions” (p. 184). Toulmin (1984) argues,
that Dewey in his work was able to dismantle the epistemological
tradition and was able to display farsightedness and originality,
which was at his time could not be recognized. To Dewey (1916),
“Development means transformation,… that reconstruction
or reorganization of experience which adds to the meaning of experience,
and which increases ability to direct the course of subsequent
experience” (p. 76). Such experiences raise the child’s curiosity and
hope, and gives him a purpose to carry out school activities. This
participation moulds his views and perceptions about the world,
education, and also his attitude about participation in school activities.
Dewey’s philosophy of pragmatism is his premise on education as a
Vol. 2 No. 2 (December 2015) 195
Sikandar John Dewey and His Philosophy of Education
lived-experience, that is, a person experiences learning with others.
This approach of learning combines theory and experience into mutual
accommodation and adaptation. Dewey used both philosophical and
psychological perspectives to build his theory of education (McDermott,
1981). He saw that education’s purpose is to make students’ imagination
strong and he regarded it an important goal of education (Cunningham,
1994). The role of the teacher is to guide students, especially adolescents
on the verge of adulthood, “To make choices among desirable alternatives,
is vitally important in the building of character” (Cunningham, 1994,
However, as one studies Dewey’s educational philosophy, there
appears to be a gap in the operational plan of learning through
experiences. Firstly, in Dewey’s work, we do not find any objectives
or criteria based experiences. We do not get to know how to evaluate the
experiences that help a child grow, so that in accordance, the growth
of child could be geared in measurable terms. Also, how do we know
that the child is getting more knowledgeable, mature or intellectual
through the experiences given by the school? What the learning
objectives are and where the learners are expected to reach at the
end of experiential learning. For this, the teachers would find
themselves without direction. If the learning is heavily dependent
upon experiences, then how many experiences are to be planned in
a term? How would teachers handle various responses, reactions,
feedback on a similar experience? I guess it can very soon lead to
the teacher burnout. We do not find any pilot study of experiential
learning or how are the experiences of a child then incorporated into
the objectives of learning. Next, no guidelines are given on
the processes of application in a structured manner; who are the
agents of change: school management, teachers, parents, curriculum
designers or association of schools? In this whole process of
democratization of education, what would be the role of community
or the society? What would be the role of the parents? Dewey has
not given any clear guidelines for these aspects.
The role of the teacher and the child
Dewey stresses the sensitivity of educationists towards learners’
Vol. 2 No. 2 (December 2015) 196
needs and their individual differences. For Dewey, teachers should
realize that there is no one-for-all concept of teaching and learning.
Learning processes should be planned considering the aptitude, learners’
former experiences, and their present experiences. The teacher
should observe the interest of the students, observe the directions they
naturally take, and then help them develop problem-solving skills. A
teachers’ primary purpose is to increase freedom of the children to
enable them to explore their environments. He believed in an
interdisciplinary curriculum, or a curriculum that focuses on connecting
multiple subjects, where students are allowed to freely move in and
out of classrooms, as they pursue their interests and construct their
own paths for acquiring and applying knowledge. A teacher is engaged
with the learners through interaction, which is a social process.
Teachers are members of the community of learning, and play a
major role in selecting experiences and to give a proper direction to
these educative experiences.
Dewey argues that the centre of gravity needs to shift whereby he
[the learner] is at the center (Dewey, 1910). Dewey is often referred
to as a child-centered educationist (Bantock, 1963; Darling ,1994;
Entwhistle, 1970; Pring, 2007; Woods & Barrow, 2006). Dewey
(1987) suggests, “Indeed the starting point should be the internal
condition-the child’s own instincts and powers furnish the material
and give the starting point for all education” (p. 44). His conviction was
that the child must not be authoritatively told beforehand what is good
or evil, but should discover these opposite realities for himself.
Dewey was most concerned about the development of the
individuality of child. The child’s voice was nowhere heard, as
curriculum, subject matter, and concepts were imposed on him in
the school. That is why Dewey regarded a child as the most vulnerable
member of the society, who is directly affected by the practices and
attitudes of the members of the academia- those who impose policies
on him, and control him. Dewey was specifically concerned about
the rights of child as an individual, his right to exercise his decisions,
choices in learning and education, and his participation in a democratic
learning process. A child is by nature curious, social, and constructive,
and possesses inherently the raw material to be developed by experienced
Vol. 2 No. 2 (December 2015) 197
Sikandar John Dewey and His Philosophy of Education
guide and mentor. It is therefore responsibility of the teacher to plan
positive and constructive environment for the students so as to create
positive educative experiences for them. Such environments are built
in the joint partnership of teachers and students, where together they
try out effective techniques of teaching and learning. The objective is
to make students more self-reliant. In this way, Dewey considered
his school a community where the students become active members.
Although Dewey’s innumerable works and contributions are in
education, politics, humanism, logic, and aesthetics, given the limited
scope of this paper the focus has been Dewey’s educational
philosophy related to experience and democracy, for the growth and
development of a child. Summing up the salient works and concepts
of John Dewey was a very challenging task. In his long satisfying career
in education, Dewey brought about revolutionary reformations in
educational philosophy, approaches, and pedagogies. Essentially,
with the child as the centre of education, Dewey’s philosophical
creed focuses on the development of child who is a valuable member
of society; a society which believes in equity and freedom, practices
democratic qualities and ideals.
There have been pedagogical and practical challenges faced
by the practitioners in applying Dewey’ approach to education. The
most important criticism is his lack of clarity as to how to set up
systems that can see through the inception of ideas to the conclusion
of the experiences, to gauge the growth and development, and to design,
and plan curriculum clearly. However, given all these objections it
cannot be denied that John Dewey remains one of the pioneering
figures of contemporary educationists, who left a rich trail of
researchers and educationists, who continually study the methods
and theories of education presented by him and add invaluably to his body
Likewise, there are various operational challenges experienced
in a developing country like Pakistan. In the implementation of
Vol. 2 No. 2 (December 2015) 198
Dewey’s system of education, the administration is usually found
reluctant to set up such a system, as the physical set up is for passive
learners, traditional teaching, and limited financial resources. Another
challenge is the gap in teacher education to make the academia understand
the philosophy, objectives, and methods of offering such educational
systems. Because of this, partners in education such as, the parents,
teachers, administrators, and the child himself usually become critical
of such systems.
The role of teachers in Pakistan is also perceived in a different light.
A teacher is one who is knowledgeable and authoritative. What
would happen if students in such systems find the teacher asking
questions, or asking them to take lead? Students would naturally try
to take advantage of such teachers, and least of all, they would take
teachers less seriously. In Pakistan, students especially of professional
colleges or business schools, are highly geared towards grades and are
marks-oriented. They would be lesser adherent to the process and
would like to find out the end-product. Such system would also put
teachers under a lot of pressure to motivate and involve passive and
shy learners in projects or problem solving discussions.
Vol. 2 No. 2 (December 2015) 199
Sikandar John Dewey and His Philosophy of Education
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Molly Y. Zhou
Educational Learning Theories
Molly Y. Zhou
Dalton State College
Dalton State College
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Chapter 1 Behaviorism
New World Encyclopedia. (2016, May 26). Behaviorism. Retrieved from http://web.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Behaviorism
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Chapter 2 Stages of Cognitive Development
Wood, K. C., Smith, H., & Grossniklaus, D. (2001). Piaget’s stages of cognitive development. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning,
teaching, and technology. Retrieved from http://epltt.coe.uga.edu/index.php?title=Piaget%27s_Stages
Chapter 3 Social Cognitive Theory
Kelland, M. (n.d.). Social learning theory and personality development. Retrieve from https://cnx.org/contents/[email protected]/Social-Learning-Theory-and-
Social cognitive theory. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_cognitive_theory
Social learning theory. (2017, June 14). Retrieved from http://hlwiki.slais.ubc.ca/index.php/Social_learning_theory
Social-cognitive perspectives on personality. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-psychology/chapter/social-cognitive-
Chapter 4 Sociocultural Theory
Alpay, E. (n.d.). The contribution of Vygotsky’s theory to our understanding of the relation between the social world and cognitive development. Retrieved
McLeod, S. A. (2014). Lev Vygotsky. Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org/vygotsky.html
Lev Vygotsky. (2017, June 2). Retrieved from http://hlwiki.slais.ubc.ca/index.php/Lev_Vygotsky#Criticism
Chapter 5 Theory of Moral Development
Absolute astronomy. (n.d.). Kohlberg’s stages of moral development. Retrieved from
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Kline, J. T. (2017). Morality, cheating, and the purpose of public education. Retrieved from
Nucci, L. P. (2009). Nice is not enough: Facilitating moral development. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill/Prentice Hall.
Chapter 6 Experiential Learning Theory
Oxendine, C., Robinson, J., & Willson, G. (2004). Experiential learning. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology.
Retrieved from http://epltt.coe.uga.edu/index.php?title=Experiential_Learning
Chapter 7 Bioecological Model of Human Development
Integrated ecological systems and framework. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://sites.google.com/site/humandevelopmentlearning/integrated-framework
Lundberg, M., & Alice Wuermli, A. (Eds.). (2012). Children and youth in crisis: Protecting and promoting human development in times of economic
shocks. Washington, D.C.: World Bank. doi: 10.1596/978-0-8213-9547-9. Retrieved from
Chapter 8 Psychosocial Theory of Identity Development
Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development. (2017, October 8). Retrieved from
Erik Erikson. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://erikerikson.wikispaces.com/Classroom+Examples
Chapter 9 Theory of Multiple Intelligences
Criticism to MI theory. Retrieved from https://appsychtextbk.wikispaces.com/Criticism+to+MI+Theory
Giles, E., Pitre, S., & Womack, S. (2003). Multiple intelligences and learning styles. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and
technology. Retrieved from http://epltt.coe.uga.edu/index.php?title=Multiple_Intelligences_and_Learning_Styles
Chapter 10 Bloom’s Taxonomy
Bloom’s taxonomy. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloom%27s_taxonomy#Criticism_of_the_taxonomy
Clark, D. R. (2015, January 12). Bloom’s taxonomy of learning domains. Retrieved from http://nwlink.com/~donclark/hrd/bloom.html#three_domains
Clark, D. R. (2015, January 12). Bloom’s taxonomy of learning domains. Retrieved from http://nwlink.com/~donclark/hrd/bloom.html#three_domains
Clark, D. R. (2015a, January 12). Bloom’s Taxonomy: The original cognitive domain. Retrieved from
Clark, D. R. (2015b, January 12). Bloom’s taxonomy: The psychomotor domain. Retrieved from
Clark, D. R. (2015c, January 12). Bloom’s taxonomy: The affective domain. Retrieved from http://nwlink.com/~donclark/hrd/Bloom/affective_domain.html
Clark, D. R. (2015d, January 12). Learning strategies or instructional strategies. Retrieved from http://nwlink.com/~donclark/hrd/strategy.html
Chapter 11 Theory of Human Motivation
Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50, 370-396. Retrieved from
McLeod, S. A. (2017). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html
Chapter 12 Information Processing Theory
Baker, A. (2016, June 22). Informational processing theory for the classroom. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.oercommons.org/authoring/14326-
Information processing theory. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://psysc613.wikispaces.com/Information+Processing+Theory
Leonard, M. (n.d.). Information processing theory. Retrieved from https://theoriesincareertech.wikispaces.com/Information+Processing+Theory
Orey, M. (2001). Information processing. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from
A “big thank you” to EDUC 2130 Teaching and Learning class students who provided feedback on the
textbook development and gave permission to use their artwork for this book.
Table of Contents
CHAPTER 01 Behaviorism …….……………………………….……………………………….………….……….…..6-12
CHAPTER 02 Stages of Cognitive Development ……………….…….………….………………….….……13-18
CHAPTER 03 Social Cognitive Theory ……..……….…………………………………………………………….19-31
CHAPTER 04 Sociocultural Theory ………….……………………………………………………………………..32-38
CHAPTER 05 Theory of Moral Development……….……………….……………………………..…..…….39-51
CHAPTER 06 Experiential Learning Theory……………………………….………………………………..…..52-59
CHAPTER 07 Bioecological Model of Human Development……………………………………….……60-68
CHAPTER 08 Psychosocial Theory of Identity Development………………..….…………..….……69-78
CHAPTER 09 Theory of Multiple Intelligences……………………………….………………………………..79-88
CHAPTER 10 Bloom’s Taxonomy ……………………….…………………………………………………….…..89-102
CHAPTER 11 Theory of Human Motivation…………….…………………………………………….……103-116
CHAPTER 12 Information Processing Theory…………………….…………………………….………….117-127
Behaviorism is primarily concerned with observable and measurable aspects of human behavior. In defining behavior,
behaviorist learning theories emphasize changes in behavior that result from stimulus-response associations made by the
learner. John B. Watson (1878-1958) and B. F. Skinner (1904-1990) are the two principal originators of behaviorist
approaches to learning. Watson believed that human behavior resulted from specific stimuli that elicited certain responses.
Watson’s basic premise was that conclusions about human development should be based on observation of overt behavior
rather than speculation about subconscious motives or latent cognitive processes (Shaffer, 2000). Watson’s view of learning
was based in part on the studies of Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936). Pavlov was well known for his research on a learning process
called classical conditioning. Classical conditioning refers to learning that occurs when a neutral stimulus becomes
associated with a stimulus that naturally produces a behavior. Skinner believed that that seemingly spontaneous action is
regulated through rewards and punishment. Skinner believed that people don’t shape the world, but instead, the world shapes
them. Skinner also believed that human behavior is predictable, just like a chemical reaction. He is also well known for his
“Skinner box,” a tool to demonstrate his theory that rewarded behavior is repeated.
What is Behaviorism?
Behaviorism is primarily concerned with observable and measurable aspects of human behavior. In defining behavior,
behaviorist learning theories emphasize changes in behavior that result from stimulus-response associations made by the
learner. Behavior is directed by stimuli. An individual selects one response instead of another because of prior conditioning
and psychological drives existing at the moment of the action (Parkay & Hass, 2000).
Behaviorists assert that the only behaviors worthy of study are those that can be directly observed; thus, it is actions, rather
than thoughts or emotions, which are the legitimate object of study. Behaviorist theory does not explain abnormal behavior
in terms of the brain or its inner workings. Rather, it posits that all behavior is learned habits, and attempts to account for
how these habits are formed.
In assuming that human behavior is learned, behaviorists also hold that all behaviors can also be unlearned, and replaced by
new behaviors; that is, when a behavior becomes unacceptable, it can be replaced by an acceptable one. A key element to
this theory of learning is the rewarded response. The desired response must be rewarded in order for learning to take place
(Parkay & Hass, 2000).
In education, advocates of behaviorism have effectively adopted this system of rewards and punishments in their classrooms
by rewarding desired behaviors and punishing inappropriate ones. Rewards vary, but must be important to the learner in
some way. For example, if a teacher wishes to teach the behavior of remaining seated during the class period, the successful
student’s reward might be checking the teacher’s mailbox, running an errand, or being allowed to go to the library to do
homework at the end of the class period. As with all teaching methods, success depends on each student’s stimulus and
response, and on associations made by each learner.
John B. Watson (1878-1958) and B. F. Skinner (1904-1990) are the two principal originators of behaviorist approaches to
learning. Watson believed that human behavior resulted from specific stimuli that elicited certain responses. Watson’s basic
premise was that conclusions about human development should be based on observation of overt behavior rather than
speculation about subconscious motives or latent cognitive processes (Shaffer, 2000). Watson’s view of learning was based
in part on the studies of Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936). Pavlov was studying the digestive process and the interaction of salivation
and stomach function when he realized that reflexes in the autonomic nervous system closely linked these phenomena. To
determine whether external stimuli had an affect on this process, Pavlov rang a bell when he gave food to the experimental
dogs. He noticed that the dogs salivated shortly before they were given food. He discovered that when the bell was rung at
repeated feedings, the sound of the bell alone (a conditioned stimulus) would cause the dogs to salivate (a conditioned
response). Pavlov also found that the conditioned reflex was repressed if the stimulus proved “wrong” too frequently; if the
bell rang and no food appeared, the dog eventually ceased to salivate at the sound of the bell (Figure 1.1).
Figure 1.1 Classical Conditioning (Ivan Pavlov: 1849-1936)
Figure 1.1. This illustration shows the steps of Classical Conditioning.
1. Food = salivation
2. Food + Stimulus = salivation (conditioned stimulus)
3. Bell alone produces salivation (conditioned response)
Expanding on Watson’s basic stimulus-response model, Skinner developed a more comprehensive view of conditioning,
known as operant conditioning. His model was based on the premise that satisfying responses are conditioned, while
unsatisfying ones are not. Operant conditioning is the rewarding of part of a desired behavior or a random act that approaches
it (Figure 1.2). Skinner remarked that “the things we call pleasant have an energizing or strengthening effect on our behavior”
(Skinner, 1972, p. 74). Through Skinner’s research on animals, he concluded that both animals and humans would repeat
acts that led to favorable outcomes, and suppress those that produced unfavorable results (Shaffer, 2000). If a rat presses a
bar and receives a food pellet, he will be likely to press it again. Skinner defined the bar-pressing response as operant, and
the food pellet as a reinforcer. Punishers, on the other hand, are consequences that suppress a response and decrease the
likelihood that it will occur in the future. If the rat had been shocked every time, it pressed the bar that behavior would
cease. Skinner believed the habits that each of us develops result from our unique operant learning experiences (Shaffer,
Figure 1.2 Operant Conditioning (B. F. Skinner: 1904-1990)
Figure 1.2. This illustration illustrates Operant Conditioning. The mouse pushes the lever and receives a food
reward. Therefore, he will push the lever repeatedly in order to get the treat.
Behaviorist techniques have long been employed in education to promote behavior that is desirable and discourage that
which is not. Among the methods derived from behaviorist theory for practical classroom application are contracts,
consequences, reinforcement, extinction, and behavior modification.
Contracts, Consequences, Reinforcement, and Extinction
Simple contracts can be effective in helping children focus on behavior change. The relevant behavior should be identified,
and the child and counselor should decide the terms of the contract. Behavioral contracts can be used in school as well as at
home. It is helpful if teachers and parents work together with the student to ensure that the contract is being fulfilled. Two
examples of behavior contracts are listed below:
A student is not completing homework assignments. The teacher and the student design a contract providing
that the student will stay for extra help, ask parents for help, and complete assigned work on time. The teacher
will be available after school, and during free periods for additional assistance.
A student is misbehaving in class. The teacher and student devise a behavioral contract to minimize distractions.
Provisions include that the student will be punctual, will sit in front of the teacher, will raise hand with
questions/comments, and will not leave his seat without permission.
Consequences occur immediately after a behavior (Figure 1.3). Consequences may be positive or negative, expected or
unexpected, immediate or long-term, extrinsic or intrinsic, material or symbolic (a failing grade), emotional/interpersonal
or even unconscious. Consequences occur after the “target” behavior occurs, when either positive or negative reinforcement
may be given. Positive reinforcement is presentation of a stimulus that increases the probability of a response. This type of
reinforcement occurs frequently in the classroom. Teachers may provide positive reinforcement by:
Smiling at students after a correct response;
Commending students for their work;
Selecting them for a special project; and
Praising students’ ability to parents.
Negative reinforcement increases the probability of a response that removes or prevents an adverse condition. Many
classroom teachers mistakenly believe that negative reinforcement is punishment administered to suppress behavior;
however, negative reinforcement increases the likelihood of a behavior, as does positive reinforcement. Negative implies
removing a consequence that a student finds unpleasant. Negative reinforcement might include:
Obtaining a score of 80% or higher makes the final exam optional;
Submitting all assignments on time results in the lowest grade being dropped; and
Perfect attendance is rewarded with a “homework pass.”
Punishment involves presenting a strong stimulus that decreases the frequency of a particular response. Punishment is
effective in quickly eliminating undesirable behaviors. Examples of punishment include:
Students who fight are immediately referred to the principal;
Late assignments are given a grade of “0;”
Three tardies to class results in a call to the parents; and
Failure to do homework results in after-school detention (privilege of going home is removed).
Figure 1.3 Reinforcement and Punishment Comparison
REINFORCEMENT (Behavior Increases) REINFORCEMENT (Behavior Increases)
Something is added to increase desired
Ex: Smile and compliment student on good
Something is added to decrease undesired
Ex: Give student detention for failing to follow
the class rules.
Something is removed to increase desired
Ex: Give a free homework pass for turning in
Something is removed to decrease undesired
Ex: Make student miss their time in recess for
not following the class rules.
Extinction decreases the probability of a response by contingent withdrawal of a previously reinforced stimulus. Examples
of extinction are:
A student has developed the habit of saying the punctuation marks when reading aloud. Classmates reinforce
the behavior by laughing when he does so. The teacher tells the students not to laugh, thus extinguishing the
A teacher gives partial credit for late assignments; other teachers think this is unfair; the teacher decides to then
give zeros for the late work.
Students are frequently late for class, and the teacher does not require a late pass, contrary to school policy. The
rule is subsequently enforced, and the students arrive on time.
Modeling, Shaping, and Cueing
Modeling is also known as observational learning. Albert Bandura has suggested that modeling is the basis for a variety of
child behavior. Children acquire many favorable and unfavorable responses by observing those around them. A child who
kicks another child after seeing this on the playground, or a student who is always late for class because his friends are late
is displaying the results of observational learning.
Figure 1.4 Modeling
“Of the many cues that influence behavior, at any point in time, none is more common than the actions of others.”
(Bandura, 1986, p. 45)
Figure 1.4. In this picture, the child is modeling the behavior of the adult. Children watch and imitate the adults
around them; the result may be favorable or unfavorable behavior!
Shaping is the process of gradually changing the quality of a response. The desired behavior is broken down into discrete,
concrete units, or positive movements, each of which is reinforced as it progresses towards the overall behavioral goal. In
the following scenario, the classroom teacher employs shaping to change student behavior: the class enters the room and
sits down, but continue to talk after the bell rings. The teacher gives the class one point for improvement, in that all students
are seated. Subsequently, the students must be seated and quiet to earn points, which may be accumulated and redeemed for
Cueing may be as simple as providing a child with a verbal or non-verbal cue as to the appropriateness of a behavior. For
example, to teach a child to remember to perform an action at a specific time, the teacher might arrange for him to receive
a cue immediately before the action is expected rather than after it has been performed incorrectly. For example, if the
teacher is working with a student that habitually answers aloud instead of raising his hand, the teacher should discuss a cue
such as hand-raising at the end of a question posed to the class.
Behavior modification is a method of eliciting better classroom performance from reluctant students. It has six basic
1. Specification of the desired outcome (What must be changed and how it will be evaluated?) One example of a
desired outcome is increased student participation in class discussions.
2. Development of a positive, nurturing environment (by removing negative stimuli from the learning
environment). In the above example, this would involve a student-teacher conference with a review of the
relevant material, and calling on the student when it is evident that she knows the answer to the question
3. Identification and use of appropriate reinforcers (intrinsic and extrinsic rewards). A student receives an intrinsic
reinforcer by correctly answering in the presence of peers, thus increasing self-esteem and confidence.
4. Reinforcement of behavior patterns develop until the student has established a pattern of success in engaging
in class discussions.
5. Reduction in the frequency of rewards-a gradual decrease the amount of one-on-one review with the student
before class discussion.
6. Evaluation and assessment of the effectiveness of the approach based on teacher expectations and student
results. Compare the frequency of student responses in class discussions to the amount of support provided, and
determine whether the student is independently engaging in class discussions. (Brewer, Campbell, & Petty,
Further suggestions for modifying behavior can be found at the mentalhealth.net web site. These include changing the
environment, using models for learning new behavior, recording behavior, substituting new behavior to break bad habits,
developing positive expectations, and increasing intrinsic satisfaction.
Criticisms of Behaviorism
Behaviorism can be critiqued as an overly deterministic view of human behavior by ignoring the internal psychological and
mental processes; behaviorism oversimplifies the complexity of human behavior. Some would even argue that the strict
nature of radical behaviorism essentially defines human beings as mechanisms without free will. The behaviorist approach
has also been criticized for its inability to account for learning or changes in behavior that occur in the absence of
environmental input; such occurrences signal the presence of an internal psychological or mental process. Finally, research
by ethologists has shown that the principles of conditioning are not universal, countering the behaviorist claim of
equipotentiality across conditioning principles. Behaviorism was developed as a counter to the introspective approach that
relied primarily, if not entirely, on internal, self-reflection on conscious, mental activity. While radical behaviorism may be
quite limited in its explanatory power, it served an important role in allowing psychology to develop a scientific pursuit of
knowledge about human nature and behavior. Nevertheless, the link between stimulus and response is not just a simple,
direct, cause and effect relationship. Factors beyond the stimulus are involved in determining the response. Actions occur
based on purpose, and purpose is determined by the mind of the subject. Thus, a more complete understanding of human
behavior would need to include both the external actions of the body and the inner life of the mind.
Using behaviorist theory in the classroom can be rewarding for both students and teachers. Behavioral change occurs for a
reason; students work for things that bring them positive feelings, and for approval from people they admire. They change
behaviors to satisfy the desires they have learned to value. They generally avoid behaviors they associate with
unpleasantness and develop habitual behaviors from those that are repeated often (Parkay & Hass, 2000). The entire
rationale of behavior modification is that most behavior is learned. If behaviors can be learned, then they can also be
unlearned or relearned. A behavior that goes unrewarded will be extinguished. Consistently ignoring an undesirable
behavior will go far toward eliminating it. When the teacher does not respond angrily, the problem is forced back to its
source-the student. Other successful classroom strategies are contracts, consequences, punishment and others that have been
described in detail earlier. Behaviorist learning theory is not only important in achieving desired behavior in mainstream
education. Special education teachers have classroom behavior modification plans to implement for their students. These
plans assure success for these students in and out of school.
Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundation of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice
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Shaffer, D. (2000). Social and personality development (4th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thompson Learning.
Skinner, B. (1972). Utopia through the control of human behavior. In John Martin Rich (Ed.), Readings in the philosophy
of education. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
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Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles
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Books in Dalton State College Library
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Skinner, B. F. (1974). About behaviorism (1st ed.). New York, NY: Random House. Retrieved from
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Stages of Cognitive Development
Jean Piaget (1896-1980), a Swiss psychologist, is best known for his pioneering work on the development of intelligence in
children. His studies have had a major impact on the fields of psychology and education. Piaget was born August 9, 1896,
in Neuchâtel. He was educated at the University of Neuchâtel and received his doctorate in biology at age 22. Piaget became
interested in psychology and he studied and carried out research first in Zürich, Switzerland, and then at the Sorbonne in
Paris, where he began his studies on the development of cognitive abilities. He taught at various European universities while
he continued his research and writing. In 1955, he became the director of the International Center for Epistemology at the
University of Geneva, and later he was the co-director of the International Bureau of Education. He died in Geneva, on
September 17, 1980.
In his work Piaget identified the child’s four stages of mental growth. In the Sensorimotor Stage, occurring from birth to
age 2, the child is concerned with gaining motor control and learning about physical objects. In the Preoperational Stage,
from ages 2 to 7, the child is preoccupied with verbal skills. At this point the child can name objects and reason intuitively.
In the Concrete Operational Stage, from ages 7 to 11, the child begins to deal with abstract concepts such as numbers and
relationships. Finally, in the Formal Operational Stage, ages from adolescence to adulthood, the child begins to reason
logically and systematically. Among Piaget’s many books are The Language and Thought of the Child (1926), Judgment
and Reasoning in the Child (1928), The Origin of Intelligence in Children (1954), The Early Growth of Logic in the Child
(1964), and Science of Education and the Psychology of the Child (1970).
From his observation of children, Piaget understood that children were creating ideas. They were not limited to receiving
knowledge from parents or teachers; they actively constructed their own knowledge. Piaget’s work provides the foundation
on which constructionist theories are based. Constructionists believe that knowledge is constructed and learning occurs
when children create products or artifacts. They assert that learners are more likely to be engaged in learning when these
artifacts are personally relevant and meaningful (Constructivism, n.d.).
In studying the cognitive development of children and adolescents, Piaget identified four major stages: sensorimotor,
preoperational, concrete operational and formal operational (Figure 2.1). Piaget believed all children pass through these
phases to advance to the next level of cognitive development. In each stage, children demonstrate new intellectual abilities
and increasingly complex understanding of the world. Stages cannot be “skipped;” intellectual development always follows
this sequence. The ages at which children progress through the stages are averages-they vary with the environment and
background of individual children. At any given time, a child may exhibit behaviors characteristic of more than one stage.
The first stage, sensorimotor, begins at birth and lasts until 18 months-2 years of age. This stage involves the use of motor
activity without the use of symbols. Knowledge is limited in this stage, because it is based on physical interactions and
experiences. Infants cannot predict reaction, and therefore must constantly experiment and learn through trial and error.
Such exploration might include shaking a rattle or putting objects in the mouth. As they become more mobile, infants’ ability
to develop cognitively increases. Early language development begins during this stage. Object permanence occurs at 7-9
months, demonstrating that memory is developing. Infants realize that an object exists after it can no longer be seen.
Figure 2.1 Stages of Cognitive Development
Figure 2.1. The inspiration web above illustrates Piaget’s four cognitive development stages: sensorimotor (birth-2
years), preoperational (2-7 years), concrete operational (7-11 years), and formal operational (adolescence-
adulthood). Illustrated by Tiffany Davis, Meghann Hummel, and Kay Sauers (2006).
The preoperational stage usually occurs during the period between toddlerhood (18-24months) and early childhood (7
years). During this stage children begin to use language; memory and imagination also develop. In the preoperational stage,
children engage in make believe and can understand and express relationships between the past and the future. More
complex concepts, such as cause and effect relationships, have not been learned. Intelligence is egocentric and intuitive, not
The concrete operational stage typically develops between the ages of 7-11 years. Intellectual development in this stage is
demonstrated through the use of logical and systematic manipulation of symbols, which are related to concrete objects.
Thinking becomes less egocentric with increased awareness of external events, and involves concrete references.
The period from adolescence through adulthood is the formal operational stage. Adolescents and adults use symbols related
to abstract concepts. Adolescents can think about multiple variables in systematic ways, can formulate hypotheses, and
think about abstract relationships and concepts.
Piaget believed that intellectual development was a lifelong process, but that when formal operational thought was attained,
no new structures were needed. Intellectual development in adults involves developing more complex schema through the
addition of knowledge.
Criticisms of Piaget’s Cognitive Development Theory
Researchers during the 1960’s and 1970’s identified shortcomings in Piaget’s theory. First, critics argue that by describing
tasks with confusing abstract terms and using overly difficult tasks, Piaget under estimated children’s abilities. Researchers
have found that young children can succeed on simpler forms of tasks requiring the same skills. Second, Piaget’s theory
predicts that thinking within a particular stage would be similar across tasks. In other words, preschool children should
perform at the preoperational level in all cognitive tasks. Research has shown diversity in children’s thinking across
cognitive tasks. Third, according to Piaget, efforts to teach children developmentally advanced concepts would be
unsuccessful. Researchers have found that in some instances, children often learn more advanced concepts with relatively
brief instruction. Researchers now believe that children may be more competent than Piaget originally thought, especially
in their practical knowledge. See below the illustration (the animation was created by Daurice Grossniklaus and Bob Rodes,
2002; the images below were created based on the video “Illustration of Schema, Assimilation, & Accommodation” by
Department of Educational Psychology and Instructional Technology University of Georgia, 2012), which
demonstrates a child developing a schema for a dog (Figure 2.2) by assimilating information about the dog (Figure 2.3).
The child then sees a cat, using accommodation, and compares existing knowledge of a dog to form a schema of a cat
Figure 2.2 Schema
Figure 2.3 Assimilation Process
In Figure 2.3 when the parent reads to the child about dogs, the child constructs a schema about dogs. Later, the child sees
a dog in the park; through the process of assimilation the child expands his/her understanding of what a dog is. When the
dog barks, the child experiences disequilibria because the child’s schema did not include barking. Then the child discovers
the dog is furry, and it licks the child’s hand. Again, the child experiences disequilibria. By adding the newly discovered
information to the existing schema the child is actively constructing meaning. At this point the child seeks reinforcement
from the parent. The parent affirms and reinforces the new information. Through assimilation of the new information the
child returns to a state of equilibrium.
Figure 2.4. Accommodation Process
In Figure 2.4. the process of accommodation occurs when the child sees a cat in the park. A new schema must be formed,
because the cat has many traits of the dog, but because the cat meows and then climbs a tree the child begins to actively
construct new meaning. Again, the parent reinforces that this is a cat to resolve the child’s disequilibria. A new schema
about cats is then formed and the child returns to a state of equilibrium.
An important implication of Piaget’s theory is adaptation of instruction to the learner’s developmental level. The content of
instruction needs to be consistent with the developmental level of the learner. The teacher’s role is to facilitate learning by
providing a variety of experiences. “Discovery Learning” provides opportunities for learners to explore and experiment,
thereby encouraging new understandings (Kafia & Resnick, 1996). Opportunities that allow students of differing cognitive
levels to work together often encourage less mature students to advance to a more mature understanding. One further
implication for instruction is the use of concrete “hands on” experiences to help children learn. Additional suggestions
Provide concrete props and visual aids, such as models and/or time line;
Use familiar examples to facilitate learning more complex ideas, such as story problems in math;
Allow opportunities to classify and group information with increasing complexity; use outlines and hierarchies
to facilitate assimilating new information with previous knowledge; and
Present problems that require logical analytic thinking; the use of tools such as “brain teasers” is encouraged.
Huitt and Hummel (1998) asserted that only 35% of high school graduates in industrialized countries obtain formal
operations and many people do not think formally during adulthood. This is significant in terms of developing instruction
and performance support tools for students who are chronologically adults, but may be limited in their understanding of
abstract concepts. For both adolescent and adult learners, it is important to use these instructional strategies:
Use visual aids and models;
Provide opportunities to discuss social, political, and cultural issues; and
Teach broad concepts rather than facts, and to situate these in a context meaningful and relevant to the
Constructivism. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.edwebproject.org/constructivism.html
Department of Educational Psychology and Instructional Technology University of Georgia. (2012, September 25).
Illustration of Schema, Assimilation, & Accommodation [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/3-A9SgbAK5I
Huitt, W., & Hummel, J. (1998). Cognitive development. Retrieved from
Kafia, Y. B., & Resnick, M. (1996). Introduction. In Y. Kafai & M. Resnick. (Eds.), Construction in practice designing,
thinking and learning in a digital world. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associated Publisher.
Credible Articles on the Internet
Atherton, J. S. (2013). Learning and teaching: Piaget’s developmental theory. Retrieved from
Campbell, R. (2006). Jean Piaget’s genetic epistemology: Appreciation and critique. Retrieved from
Cole, M., & Wertsch, J. (1996). Beyond the individual-social antimony in discussions of Piaget and Vygotsky. Retrieved
Huitt, W. (2004). Observational (social) learning: An overview. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA:
Valdosta State University. Retrieved from http://www.edpsycinteractive.org/topics/soccog/soclrn.html
Huitt, W., & Hummel, J. (2003). Piaget’s theory of cognitive development. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta,
GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved from http://www.edpsycinteractive.org/topics/cognition/piaget.html
McLeod, S. A. (2009). Jean Piaget. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/piaget.html
Piaget, J. (1964). Part I: Cognitive development in children: Piaget development and learning. Journal of Research in
Science Teaching, 2, 176-186. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/tea.3660020306/pdf
Presnell, F. (1999). Muskingum university department of psychology. Retrieved from
Wood, K. C., Smith, H., & Grossniklaus, D. (2001). Piaget’s stages of cognitive development. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging
perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from
Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles
Asokan, S., Surendran, S., Asokan, S., & Nuvvula, S. (2014). Relevance of Piaget’s cognitive principles among 4-7 years
old children: A descriptive cross-sectional study. Journal of the Indian Society of Pedodontics and Preventive Dentistry,
Brizuela, B. M. (1997). The essential Piaget: An interpretive reference and guide. Harvard Educational Review, 67(4),
Ewing, J. C., Foster, D. D., & Whittington, M. S. (2011). Explaining student cognition during class sessions in the
context: Piaget’s theory of cognitive development. NACTA Journal, 55(1), 68-75.
Murray, L. A. (1996). Cognitive development today: Piaget and his critics. British Journal of Psychology, 87, 166.
Piaget, J. (1972). Intellectual evolution from adolescence to adulthood. Human Development, 51(1), 40-47.
Vidal, F. (1997). Towards re-reading Jean Piaget. Human Development, 40(2), 124-126.
Books at Dalton State College Library
Ginsburg, H., & Opper, S. J. A. (1979). Piaget’s theory of intellectual development (2nd ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ:
Piaget, J., Gruber, H. E., & Vonèche, J. J. (1977). The essential Piaget. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Wadsworth, B. J. (1978). Piaget for the classroom teacher. New York, NY: Longman.
Interactive Tutorials and Videos
Carlsen, M. (2009). Piaget’s concrete operational stage. Retrieved from
Cognitive development. (1995). Retrieved from Films on Demand Database.
McQuillen, M. (2009). Stages 3 and 4 of Piaget’s 4 stages of cognitive development. Retrieved from
Piaget’s developmental theory: An overview. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://youtu.be/QX6JxLwMJeQ
Social Cognitive Theory
Albert Bandura (1925- ) was born in Mundare, Alberta in 1925. He was the youngest of six children. Both of his parents
were immigrants from Eastern Europe. Bandura’s father worked as a track layer for the Trans-Canada railroad while his
mother worked in a general store before they were able to buy some land and become farmers. Though times were often
hard growing up, Bandura’s parents placed great emphasis on celebrating life and more importantly family. They were also
very keen on their children doing well in school. Mundare had only one school at the time so Bandura did all of his schooling
in one place.
After spending a summer working in Alaska after finishing high school, Bandura went to the University of British Columbia.
He graduated three years later in 1949 with the Bolocan Award in psychology. Bandura went to the University of Iowa to
complete his graduate work. At the time the University of Iowa was central to psychological study, especially in the area of
social learning theory. Bandura completed his Master’s in 1951 followed by a Ph.D. in clinical psychology in 1952. After
completing his doctorate, Bandura went onto a postdoctoral position at the Wichita Guidance Center before accepting a
position as a faculty member at Stanford University in 1953. Bandura has studied many different topics over the years,
including aggression in adolescents (more specifically he was interested in aggression in boys who came from intact middle-
class families), children’s abilities to self-regulate and self-reflect, and of course self-efficacy (a person’s perception and
beliefs about their ability to produce effects, or influence events that concern their lives).
Bandura is perhaps most famous for his Bobo Doll experiments in the 1960s. At the time there was a popular belief that
learning was a result of reinforcement. In the Bobo Doll experiments, Bandura presented children with social models of
novel (new) violent behavior or non-violent behavior towards the inflatable redounding Bobo Doll. Children who viewed
the violent behavior were in turn violent towards the doll; the control group was rarely violent towards the doll. That became
Bandura’s social learning theory in the 1960s. Social learning theory focuses on what people learn from observing and
interacting with other people. It is often called a bridge between behaviorist and cognitive learning theories because it
encompasses attention, memory, and motivation. Bandura and his colleagues Dorrie and Sheila Ross continued to show that
social modeling is a very effective way of learning. Bandura went on to expand motivational and cognitive processes on
social learning theory. In 1986, Bandura published his second book Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A Social
Cognitive Theory, in which he renamed his original social learning theory to be social cognitive theory. Social cognitive
theory claims that learning occurs in a social context with a dynamic and reciprocal interaction of the person, environment,
and behavior. Social cognitive theory posits that people are not simply shaped by that environment; they are active
participants in their environment. Bandura is highly recognized for his work on social learning theory and social cognitive
The Origin of Social Cognitive Theory: Social Learning Theory
In 1961 and 1963 along with his students and colleagues, Bandura conducted a series of studies known as the Bobo doll
experiments to find out why and when children display aggressive behaviors. These studies demonstrated the value of
modeling for acquiring novel behaviors. These studies helped Bandura publish his seminal article and book in 1977 that
expanded on the idea of how behavior is acquired (Evans & Bandura, 1989), thus social learning theory. In his article
Bandura (1977a) claimed that Social Learning Theory shows a direct correlation between a person’s perceived self-efficacy
and behavioral change. Self-efficacy comes from four sources: “performance accomplishments, vicarious experience, verbal
persuasion, and physiological states” (Bandura, 1977a, p. 195).
Social learning is also commonly referred to as observational learning, because it comes about as a result of observing
models. Bandura became interested in social aspects of learning at the beginning of his career. Early theories considered
behavior to be a function of the person and their environment, or a function of the interaction between the person and their
environment. Bandura believed that behavior itself influences both the person and the environment, each of which in turn
affects behavior and each other. The result is a complex interplay of factors known as reciprocal determinism. Social
learning theory emphasizes that behavior, personal factors, and environmental factors are all equal, interlocking
determinants of each other (Bandura, 1973, 1977a; Figure 3.1).
Figure 3.1 Reciprocal Determinism
Figure 3.1. Bandura proposed the idea of reciprocal determinism, in which our behavior, Personal factors, and
environmental factors all influence each other.
Reciprocal determinism can be seen in everyday observations, such as those made by Bandura and others during their studies
of aggression. For example, approximately 75 percent of the time, hostile behavior results in unfriendly responses, whereas
friendly acts seldom result in such consequences. With little effort, it becomes easy to recognize individuals who create
negative social climates (Bandura, 1973). Thus, while it may still be true that changing environmental contingencies changes
behavior, it is also true that changing behavior alters the environmental contingencies. This results in a unique perspective
on freedom vs. determinism. Usually we think of determinism as something that eliminates or restricts our freedom.
However, Bandura believed that individuals can intentionally act as agents of change within their environment, thus altering
the factors that determine their behavior. In other words, we have the freedom to influence factors that which determine our
…Given the same environmental constraints, individuals who have many behavioral options and are adept at
regulating their own behavior will experience greater freedom than will individuals whose personal resources are
limited. (Bandura, 1977a, p. 203)
It is important to note that learning can occur without a change in behavior. According to Ormrod’s (2008) general principles
of social learning, while a visible change in behavior is the most common proof of learning, it is not absolutely necessary.
Social learning theorists say that because people can learn through observation alone, their learning may not necessarily be
shown in their performance.
Overview of Social Cognitive Theory
In 1986, Bandura published his second book Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory, which
expanded and renamed his original theory. He called the new theory Social Cognitive Theory (SCT). Bandura changed the
name social learning theory to social cognitive theory to emphasize the major role cognition plays in encoding and
performing behaviors. In this book, Bandura (1986) argued that human behavior is caused by personal, behavioral, and
environmental influences. Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) holds that portions of an individual’s knowledge acquisition can
be directly related to observing others within the context of social interactions, experiences, and outside media influences.
The theory states that when people observe a model performing a behavior and the consequences of that behavior, they
remember the sequence of events and use this information to guide subsequent behaviors. Observing a model can also
prompt the viewer to engage in behavior they already learned (Bandura, 1986, 2002). In other words, people do not learn
new behaviors solely by trying them and either succeeding or failing, but rather, the survival of humanity is dependent upon
the replication of the actions of others. Depending on whether people are rewarded or punished for their behavior and the
outcome of the behavior, the observer may choose to replicate behavior modeled. Media provides models for a vast array
of people in many different environmental settings.
Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) is a learning theory based on the idea that people learn by observing others. These learned
behaviors can be central to one’s personality. While social psychologists agree that the environment one grows up in
contributes to behavior, the individual person (and therefore cognition) is just as important. People learn by observing others,
with the environment, behavior, and cognition all as the chief factors in influencing development in a reciprocal triadic
relationship. For example, each behavior witnessed can change a person’s way of thinking (cognition). Similarly, the
environment one is raised in may influence later behaviors, just as a father’s mindset (also cognition) determines the
environment in which his children are raised. The reciprocal determinism was explained in the schematization of triadic
reciprocal causation (Bandura, 2002). The schema shows how the reproduction of an observed behavior is influenced by
the interaction of the following three determinants:
1. Personal: Whether the individual has high or low self-efficacy toward the behavior (i.e. Get the learner to believe
in his or her personal abilities to correctly complete a behavior).
2. Behavioral: The response an individual receives after they perform a behavior (i.e. Provide chances for the learner
to experience successful learning as a result of performing the behavior correctly).
3. Environmental: Aspects of the environment or setting that influence the individual’s ability to successfully complete
a behavior (i.e. Make environmental conditions conducive for improved self-efficacy by providing appropriate
support and materials). (Bandura, 2002)
Social Cognitive Theory is proposed in an agentic perspective (Bandura, 1986), which suggested that, instead of being just
shaped by environments or inner forces, individuals are self-developing, self-regulating, self-reflecting and proactive:
…Social cognitive theory rejects a duality of human agency and a disembodied social structure. Social systems are
the product of human activity, and social systems, in turn, help to organize, guide, and regulate human affairs.
However, in the dynamic interplay within the societal rule structures, there is considerable personal variation in the
interpretation of, adoption of, enforcement of, circumvention of, and opposition to societal prescriptions and
sanctions…freedom is conceived not just passively as the absence of constraints, but also proactively as the exercise
of self-influence…(Bandura, 2006, p. 165).
Specifically, human agency operates within three modes:
Individual Agency: A person’s own influence on the environment;
Proxy Agency: Another person’s effort on securing the individual’s interests;
Collective Agency: A group of people work together to achieve the common benefits. (Pajares, Prestin, Chen, &
Human agency has four core properties:
Intentionality: Individuals’ active decision on engaging in certain activities;
Forethought: Individuals’ ability to anticipate the outcome of certain actions;
Self-reactiveness: Individuals’ ability to construct and regulate appropriate behaviors;
Self-reflectiveness: Individuals’ ability to reflect and evaluate the soundness of their cognitions and behaviors.
(Pajares, Prestin, Chen, & Nabi, 2009)
Evolving over time, human beings are featured with advanced neutral systems, which enable individuals to acquire
knowledge and skills by both direct and symbolic terms (Bandura, 2002). Four primary capabilities are addressed as
important foundations of social cognitive theory: symbolizing capability, self-regulation capability, self-reflective
capability, and vicarious capability:
1. Symbolizing Capability: People are affected not only by direct experience but also indirect events. Instead of merely
learning through laborious trial-and-error process, human beings are able to symbolically perceive events conveyed
in messages, construct possible solutions, and evaluate the anticipated outcomes.
2. Self-regulation Capability: Individuals can regulate their own intentions and behaviors by themselves. Self-
regulation lies on both negative and positive feedback systems, in which discrepancy reduction and discrepancy
production are involved. That is, individuals proactively motivate and guide their actions by setting challenging
goals and then making effort to fulfill them. In doing so, individuals gain skills, resources, self-efficacy and beyond.
3. Self-reflective Capability: Human beings can evaluate their thoughts and actions by themselves, which is identified
as another distinct feature of human beings. By verifying the adequacy and soundness of their thoughts through
enactive, various, social, or logical manner, individuals can generate new ideas, adjust their thoughts, and take
4. Vicarious Capability: One critical ability human beings featured is to adopt skills and knowledge from information
communicated through a wide array of mediums. By vicariously observing others’ actions and their consequences,
individuals can gain insights into their own activities. Vicarious capability is of great value to human beings’
cognitive development in nowadays, in which most of our information encountered in our lives derives from the
mass media than trial-and-error process. (Bandura, 2002)
Core Concepts of Social Cognitive Theory
Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) revolves around the process of knowledge acquisition or learning directly correlated to the
observation of models. The models can be those of an interpersonal imitation or media sources. Effective modeling teaches
general rules and strategies for dealing with different situations (Bandura, 1988). Modeling is the term that best describes
and, therefore, is used to characterize the psychological processes that underlie matching behavior (Bandura, 1986):
Learning would be exceedingly laborious, not to mention hazardous, if people had to rely solely on the effects of their
own actions to inform them what to do. Fortunately, most human behavior is learned observationally through
modeling: from observing others one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this
coded information serves as a guide for action. (Bandura, 1977b, p. 22)
Individuals differ in the degree to which they can be influenced by models, and not all models are equally effective.
According to Bandura, three factors are most influential in terms of the effectiveness of modeling situations: the
characteristics of the model, the attributes of the observers, and the consequences of the model’s actions. The most relevant
characteristics of an influential model are high status, competence, and power. When observers are unsure about a situation,
they rely on cues to indicate what they perceive as evidence of past success by the model. Such cues include general
appearance, symbols of socioeconomic success (e.g., a fancy sports car), and signs of expertise (e.g., a doctor’s lab coat).
Since those models appear to have been successful themselves, it seems logical that observers might want to imitate their
behavior. Individuals who are low in self-esteem, dependent, and who lack confidence are not necessarily more likely to be
influenced by models. Bandura proposed that when modeling is used to explicitly develop new competencies, the ones who
will benefit most from the situation are those who are more talented and more venturesome (Bandura, 1977b).
Despite the potential influence of models, the entire process of observational learning in a social learning environment
would probably not be successful if not for four important component processes: attentional processes, retention processes,
production (or reproduction) processes, and motivational processes (Bandura, 1977b, 1986). The fact that an observer must
pay attention to a model might seem obvious, but some models are more likely to attract attention. Individuals are more
likely to pay attention to models with whom they associate, even if the association is more cognitive than personal. It is also
well-known that people who are admired, such as those who are physically attractive or popular athletes, make for attention-
getting models. There are also certain types of media that are very good at getting people’s attention, such as television
advertisements (Bandura, 1977b, 1986). It is a curious cultural phenomenon that the television advertisements presented
during the National Football League’s Super Bowl have become almost as much of the excitement as the game itself (and
even more exciting for those who are not football fans)!
The retention processes involve primarily an observer’s memory for the modeled behavior. The most important memory
processes, according to Bandura (1977b), are visual imagery and verbal coding, with visual imagery being particularly
important early in development when verbal skills are limited. Once modeled behavior has been transformed into visual
and/or verbal codes, these memories can serve to guide the performance of the behavior at appropriate times. When the
modeled behavior is produced by the observer, the so-called production process, the re-enactment can be broken down into
the cognitive organization of the responses, their initiation, subsequent monitoring, and finally the refinement of the
behavior based on informative feedback. Producing complex modeled behaviors is not always an easy task:
…A common problem in learning complex skills, such as golf or swimming, is that performers cannot fully observe
their responses, and must therefore rely upon vague kinesthetic cues or verbal reports of onlookers. It is difficult to
guide actions that are only partially observable or to identify the corrections needed to achieve a close match between
representation and performance. (Bandura, 1977b, p. 28)
Finally, motivational processes determine whether the observer is inclined to match the modeled behavior in the first place.
Individuals are most likely to model behaviors that result in an outcome they value, and if the behavior seems to be effective
for the models who demonstrated the behavior. Given the complexity of the relationships between models, observers, the
perceived effectiveness of modeled behavior, and the subjective value of rewards, even using prominent models does not
guarantee that they will be able to create similar behavior in observers (Bandura, 1977b, 1986).
In short, for modeling /observational learning to occur, four processes exist:
Attention: Observers selectively give attention to specific social behavior depending on accessibility, relevance,
complexity, functional value of the behavior or some observer’s personal attributes such as cognitive capability,
value preference, preconceptions.
Retention: Observe a behavior and subsequent consequences, then convert that observation to a symbol that can be
accessed for future reenactments of the behavior. Note: When a positive behavior is shown a positive reinforcement
should follow, this parallel is similar for negative behavior.
Production: refers to the symbolic representation of the original behavior being translated into action through
reproduction of the observed behavior in seemingly appropriate contexts. During reproduction of the behavior, a
person receives feedback from others and can adjust their representation for future references.
Motivation: reenacts a behavior depending on responses and consequences the observer receives when reenacting
that behavior. (Bandura, 1986, 2002)
A common misconception regarding modeling is that it only leads to learning the behaviors that have been modeled.
However, modeling can lead to innovative behavior patterns. Observers typically see a given behavior performed by
multiple models; even in early childhood one often gets to see both parents model a given behavior. When the behavior is
then matched, the observer will typically select elements from the different models, relying on only certain aspects of the
behavior performed by each, and then create a unique pattern that accomplishes the final behavior. Thus, partial departures
from the originally modeled behavior can be a source of new directions, especially in creative endeavors (such as composing
music or creating a sculpture). In contrast, however, when simple routines prove useful, modeling can actually stifle
innovation. So, the most innovative individuals appear to be those who have been exposed to innovative models, provided
that the models are not so innovative as to create an unreasonably difficult challenge in modeling their creativity and
innovation (Bandura, 1977b, 1986; Bandura, Ross, & Ross, 1963).
Moreover, modeling does not limit to only live demonstrations but also verbal and written behavior can act as indirect forms
of modeling. Modeling not only allows students to learn behavior that they should repeat but also to inhibit certain behaviors.
For instance, if a teacher glares at one student who is talking out of turn, other students may suppress this behavior to avoid
a similar reaction. Teachers model both material objectives and underlying curriculum of virtuous living. Teachers should
also be dedicated to the building of high self-efficacy levels in their students by recognizing their accomplishments.
To learn a particular behavior, people must understand what the potential outcome is if they repeat that behavior. The
observer does not expect the actual rewards or punishments incurred by the model, but anticipates similar outcomes when
imitating the behavior (called outcome expectancies), which is why modeling impacts cognition and behavior. These
expectancies are heavily influenced by the environment that the observer grows up in; for example, the expected
consequences for a DUI in the United States of America are a fine, with possible jail time, whereas the same charge in
another country might lead to the infliction of the death penalty. For example, in the case of a student, the instructions the
teacher provides help students see what outcome a particular behavior leads to. It is the duty of the teacher to teach a student
that when a behavior is successfully learned, the outcomes are meaningful and valuable to the students.
Social Cognitive Theory posits that learning most likely occurs if there is a close identification between the observer and
the model and if the observer also has a good deal of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is the extent to which an individual believes
that they can master a particular skill. Self-efficacy beliefs function as an important set of proximal determinants of human
motivation, affect, and action-which operate on action through motivational, cognitive, and affective intervening processes
According to Bandura (1995), self-efficacy is “the belief in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action
required to manage prospective situations” (p. 2). Bandura and other researchers have found an individual’s self-efficacy
plays a major role in how goals, tasks, and challenges are approached. Individuals with high self-efficacy are more likely to
believe they can master challenging problems and they can recover quickly from setbacks and disappointments. Individuals
with low self-efficacy tend to be less confident and don’t believe they can perform well, which leads them to avoid
challenging tasks. Therefore, self-efficacy plays a central role in behavior performance. Observers who have high level of
self-efficacy are more likely to adopt observational learning behaviors. Self-efficacy can be developed or increased by:
Mastery experience: which is a process that helps an individual achieve simple tasks that lead to more complex
Social modeling: provides an identifiable model that shows the processes that accomplish a behavior.
Improving physical and emotional states: refers to ensuring a person is rested and relaxed prior to attempting a new
behavior. The less relaxed, the less patient, the more likely they won’t attain the goal behavior.
Verbal persuasion: is providing encouragement for a person to complete a task or achieve a certain behavior.
(McAlister, Perry, & Parcel, 2008)
For example, students become more effortful, active, pay attention, highly motivated and better learners when they perceive
that they have mastered a particular task (Bandura, 1993). It is the duty of the teacher to allow student to develop and
perceive their efficacy by providing feedback to understand their level of proficiency. Teachers should ensure that the
students have the knowledge and strategies they need to complete the tasks. Self-efficacy development is an exploring
human agency and human capability process. Young children have little understanding of what they can and cannot do, so
the development of realistic self-efficacy is a very important process:
…Very young children lack knowledge of their own capabilities and the demands and potential hazards of different
courses of action. They would repeatedly get themselves into dangerous predicaments were it not for the guidance of
others. They can climb to high places, wander into rivers or deep pools, and wield sharp knives before they develop
the necessary skills for managing such situations safely…Adult watchfulness and guidance see young children through
this early formative period until they gain sufficient knowledge of what they can do and what different situations
require in the way of skills. (Bandura, 1986, p. 414)
During infancy, the development of perceived causal efficacy, in other words the perception that one has affected the world
by one’s own actions, appears to be an important aspect of developing a sense of self. As the infant interacts with its
environment, the infant is able to cause predictable events, such as the sound that accompanies shaking a rattle. The
understanding that one’s own actions can influence the environment is something Bandura refers to as personal agency, the
ability to act as an agent of change in one’s own world. The infant also begins to experience that certain events affect models
differently than the child. For example, if a model touches a hot stove it does not hurt the infant, so the infant begins to
recognize their uniqueness, their actual existence as an individual. During this period, interactions with the physical
environment may be more important than social interactions, since the physical environment is more predictable, and
therefore easier to learn about (Bandura, 1986, 1997). Quickly, however, social interaction becomes highly influential.
Not only does the child learn a great deal from the family, but as they grow peers become increasingly important. As the
child’s world expands, peers bring with them a broadening of self-efficacy experiences. This can have both positive and
negative consequences. Peers who are most experienced and competent can become important models of behavior.
However, if a child perceives themselves as socially inefficacious, but does develop self-efficacy in coercive, aggressive
behavior, then that child is likely to become a bully. In the midst of this effort to learn socially acceptable behavior, most
children also begin attending school, where the primary focus is on the development of cognitive efficacy. For many
children, unfortunately, the academic environment of school is a challenge. Children quickly learn to rank themselves
(grades help, both good and bad), and children who do poorly can lose the sense of self-efficacy that is necessary for
continued effort at school. According to Bandura, it is important that educational practices focus not only on the content
they provide, but also on what they do to children’s beliefs about their abilities (Bandura, 1986, 1997).
As children continue through adolescence toward adulthood, they need to assume responsibility for themselves in all aspects
of life. They must master many new skills, and a sense of confidence in working toward the future is dependent on a
developing sense of self-efficacy supported by past experiences of mastery. In adulthood, a healthy and realistic sense of
self-efficacy provides the motivation necessary to pursue success in one’s life. Poorly equipped adults, wracked with self-
doubt, often find life stressful and depressing. Even psychologically healthy adults must eventually face the realities of
aging, and the inevitable decline in physical status. There is little evidence, however, for significant declines in mental states
until very advanced old age. In cultures that admire youth, there may well be a tendency for the aged to lose their sense of
self-efficacy and begin an inexorable decline toward death. But in societies that promote self-growth throughout life, and
who admire elders for their wisdom and experience, there is potential for aged individuals to continue living productive and
self-fulfilling lives (Bandura, 1986, 1997).
In summary, as we learned more about our world and how it works, we also learned that we can have a significant impact
on it. Most importantly, we can have a direct effect on our immediate personal environment, especially with regard to
personal relationships, behaviors, and goals. What motivates us to try influencing our environment is specific ways in which
we believe, indeed, we can make a difference in a direction we want in life. Thus, research has focused largely on what
people think about their efficacy, rather than on their actual ability to achieve their goals (Bandura, 1997).
Self-regulation and self-efficacy are two elements of Bandura’s theory that rely heavily on cognitive processes. They
represent an individual’s ability to control their behavior through internal reward or punishment in the case of self-
regulation, and their beliefs in their ability to achieve desired goals as a result of their own actions, in the case of self-
efficacy. Bandura never rejects the influence of external rewards or punishments, but he proposes that including internal,
self-reinforcement and self-punishment expands the potential for learning:
…Theories that explain human behavior as solely the product of external rewards and punishments present a truncated
image of people because they possess self-reactive capacities that enable them to exercise some control over their own
feelings, thoughts, and actions. Behavior is therefore regulated by the interplay of self-generated and external sources
of influence…(Bandura, 1977b, p. 129).
Self-regulation is a general term that includes both self-reinforcement and self-punishment. Self-reinforcement works
primarily through its motivational effects. When an individual sets a standard of performance for themselves, they judge
their behavior and determine whether or not it meets the self-determined criteria for reward. Since many activities do not
have absolute measures of success, the individual often sets their standards in relative ways. For example, a weight-lifter
might keep track of how much total weight they lift in each training session, and then monitor their improvement over time
or as each competition arrives. Although competitions offer the potential for external reward, the individual might still set
a personal standard for success, such as being satisfied only if they win at least one of the individual lifts. The standards
that individuals set for themselves can be learned through modeling. This can create problems when models are highly
competent, much more so than the observer is capable of performing (such as learning the standards of a world-class athlete).
Children, however, seem to be more inclined to model the standards of low-achieving or moderately competent models,
setting standards that are reasonably within their own reach (Bandura, 1977b). According to Bandura, the cumulative effect
of setting standards and regulating one’s own performance in terms of those standards can lead to judgments about one’s
self. Within a social learning context, negative self-concepts arise when one is prone to devalue oneself, whereas positive
self-concepts arise from a tendency to judge oneself favorably (Bandura, 1977b). Overall, the complexity of this process
makes predicting the behavior of an individual rather difficult, and behavior often deviates from social norms in ways that
would not ordinarily be expected. However, this appears to be the case in a variety of cultures, suggesting that it is indeed
a natural process for people (Bandura & Walters, 1963).
Impact of Social Cognitive Theory
Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) has influenced many areas of inquiry including media, health education, and morality. Social
cognitive theory is often applied as a theoretical framework of studies pertained to media representation regarding race,
gender, age and beyond (Aubrey, 2004; Mastro & Stern, 2003; Raman, Harwood, Weis, Anderson, & Miller, 2008). Social
cognitive theory suggested heavily repeated images presented in mass media can be potentially processed and encoded by
the viewers (Bandura, 2011). Media content analytic studies examine the substratum of media messages that viewers are
exposed to, which could provide an opportunity to uncover the social values attached to these media representations (Raman,
Harwood, Weis, Anderson, & Miller, 2008). Although media contents studies cannot directly test the cognitive process,
findings can offer an avenue to predict potential media effects from modeling certain contents, which provides evidence
and guidelines for designing subsequent empirical work (Nabi & Clark, 2008; Raman, Harwood, Weis, Anderson, & Miller,
2008). Social cognitive theory is pervasively employed in studies examining attitude or behavior changes triggered by the
mass media. As Bandura suggested, people can learn how to perform behaviors through media modeling (Bandura, 2002).
Social Cognitive theory has been widely applied in media studies pertained to sports, health, education and beyond. For
instance, Hardin and Greer (2009) examined the gender-typing of sports within the theoretical framework of social cognitive
theory, suggesting that sports media consumption and gender-role socialization significantly related with gender perception
of sports in American college students. In series TV programming, according to social cognitive theory, the awarded
behaviors of liked characters are supposed to be followed by viewers, while punished behaviors are supposed to be avoided
by media consumers. However, in most cases, protagonists in TV shows are less likely to experience the long-term suffering
and negative consequences caused by their risky behaviors, which could potentially undermine the punishments conveyed
by the media, leading to a modeling of the risky behaviors. Nabi and Clark (2008) conducted experiments about individual’s
attitudes and intentions consuming various portrayals of one-night stand sex-unsafe and risky sexual behavior, finding that
individuals who had not previously experience one-night stand sex, consuming media portrayals of this behavior could
significantly increase their expectations of having a one-night stand sex in the future, although negative outcomes were
represented in TV shows.
In health communication, Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) has been applied in research related to smoking quit, HIV
prevention, safe sex behaviors, and so on (Bandura 1994, 2004). For example, Martino, Collins, Kanouse, Elliott, and Berry
(2005) examined the relationship between the exposure to television’s sexual content and adolescents’ sexual behavior
through the lens of social cognitive theory, confirming the significant relationship between the two variables among white
and African American groups; however, no significant correlation was found between the two variables in the ethic group
of Hispanics, indicating that peer norm could possibly serve as a mediator of the two examined variables.
In public health, Miller’s (2005) study found that choosing the proper gender, age, and ethnicity for models ensured the
success of an AIDS campaign to inner city teenagers. This occurred because participants could identify with a recognizable
peer, have a greater sense of self-efficacy, and then imitate the actions to learn the proper preventions and actions. A study
by Ahmed (2009) looked to see if there would be an increase in breastfeeding by mothers of preterm infants when exposed
to a breastfeeding educational program guided by SCT. Sixty mothers were randomly assigned to either participate in the
program or they were given routine care. The program consisted of SCT strategies that touched on all three SCT
determinants: personal-showing models performing breastfeeding correctly to improve self-efficacy, behavioral -weekly
check-ins for three months reinforced participants’ skills, environmental-mothers were given an observational checklist to
make sure they successfully completed the behavior. The author found that mothers exposed to the program showed
significant improvement in their breastfeeding skills, were more likely to exclusively breastfeed, and had fewer problems
then the mothers who were not exposed to the educational program.
In morality development, Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) emphasizes a large difference between an individual’s ability to
be morally competent and morally performing. Moral competence involves having the ability to perform a moral behavior,
whereas moral performance indicates actually following one’s idea of moral behavior in a specific situation (Santrock,
2008). Moral competencies include:
what an individual is capable of
what an individual knows
what an individual’s skills are
an individual’s awareness of moral rules and regulations
an individual’s cognitive ability to construct behaviors
As far as an individual’s development is concerned, moral competence is the growth of cognitive-sensory processes; simply
put, being aware of what is considered right and wrong. By comparison, moral performance is influenced by the possible
rewards and incentives to act a certain way (Santrock, 2008). For example, a person’s moral competence might tell them
that stealing is wrong and frowned upon by society; however, if the reward for stealing is a substantial sum, their moral
performance might indicate a different line of thought. Therein lies the core of social cognitive theory.
For the most part, social cognitive theory remains the same for various cultures. Since the concepts of moral behavior did
not vary much between cultures (as crimes like murder, theft, and unwarranted violence are illegal in virtually every society),
there is not much room for people to have different views on what is morally right or wrong. The main reason that social
cognitive theory applies to all nations is because it does not say what is moral and immoral; it simply states that we can
acknowledge these two concepts. Our actions in real-life scenarios are based on whether we believe the action is moral and
whether the reward for violating our morals is significant enough, and nothing else (Santrock, 2008).
Continued Impact of Social Cognitive Theory
Bandura is still influencing the world with expansions of Social Cognitive Theory (SCT). SCT has been applied to many
areas of human functioning such as career choice and organizational behavior as well as in understanding classroom
motivation, learning, and achievement (Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 1994). Bandura (2001) brought SCT to mass
communication in his journal article that stated the theory could be used to analyze how “symbolic communication
influences human thought, affect and action” (p. 3). The theory shows how new behavior diffuses through society by
psychosocial factors governing acquisition and adoption of the behavior. Bandura’s (2011) book chapter “The Social and
Policy Impact of Social Cognitive Theory” to extend SCT’s application in health promotion and urgent global issues, which
provides insight into addressing global problems through a macro social lens, aiming at improving equality of individuals’
lives under the umbrellas of SCT. This work focuses on how SCT impacts areas of both health and population effects in
relation to climate change. He proposes that these problems could be solved through television serial dramas that show
models similar to viewers performing the desired behavior. On health, Bandura (2011) writes that currently there is little
incentive for doctors to write prescriptions for healthy behavior, but he believes the cost of fixing health problems start to
outweigh the benefits of being healthy. Bandura argues that we are on the cusp of moving from a disease model (focusing
on people with problems) to a health model (focusing on people being healthy) and SCT is the theory that should be used
to further a healthy society. On Population, Bandura (2011) states population growth is a global crisis because of its
correlation with depletion and degradation of our planet’s resources. Bandura argues that SCT should be used to get people
to use birth control, reduce gender inequality through education, and to model environmental conservation to improve the
state of the planet. Green and Peil (2009) reported he has tried to use cognitive theory to solve a number of global problems
such as environmental conservation, poverty, soaring population growth, etc.
Criticism of Social Cognitive Theory
One of the main criticisms of the social cognitive theory is that it is not a unified theory. This means that the different aspects
of the theory may not be connected. For example, researchers currently cannot find a connection between observational
learning and self-efficacy within the social-cognitive perspective. The theory is so broad that not all of its component parts
are fully understood and integrated into a single explanation of learning. The findings associated with this theory are still,
for the most part, preliminary. The theory is limited in that not all social learning can be directly observed. Because of this,
it can be difficult to quantify the effect that social cognition has on development. Finally, this theory tends to ignore
maturation throughout the lifespan. Because of this, the understanding of how a child learns through observation and how
an adult learns through observation are not differentiated, and factors of development are not included.
Educational Implications of Social Cognitive Theory
An important assumption of Social Cognitive Theory is that personal determinants, such as self-reflection and self-
regulation, do not have to reside unconsciously within individuals. People can consciously change and develop their
cognitive functioning. This is important to the proposition that self-efficacy too can be changed, or enhanced. From this
perspective, people are capable of influencing their own motivation and performance according to the model of triadic
reciprocality in which personal determinants (such as self-efficacy), environmental conditions (such as treatment
conditions), and action (such as practice) are mutually interactive influences. Improving performance, therefore, depends
on changing some of these influences. In teaching and learning, the challenge upfront is to 1) get the learner to believe in
his or her personal capabilities to successfully perform a designated task; 2) provide environmental conditions, such as
instructional strategies and appropriate technology, that improve the strategies and self-efficacy of the learner; and 3)
provide opportunities for the learner to experience successful learning as a result of appropriate action (Self-efficacy Theory,
n.d.). Accordingly, the theory itself has numerous implications in classroom teaching and learning practices:
1. Students learn a great deal simply by observing others;
2. Describing the consequences of behavior increases appropriate behaviors, decreasing inappropriate ones; this
includes discussing the rewards of various positive behaviors in the classroom;
3. Modeling provides an alternative to teaching new behaviors. To promote effective modeling, teachers must ensure
the four essential conditions exist: attention, retention, production, and motivation (reinforcement and punishment);
4. Instead of using shaping, an operant conditioning strategy, teachers will find modeling is a faster and more
efficient means of teaching new knowledge, skills, and dispositions;
5. Teachers must model appropriate behaviors and they do not model inappropriate behaviors;
6. Teachers should expose students to a variety of models including peers and other adult models; this is important to
break down stereotypes;
7. Modeling also includes modeling of interest, thinking process, attitudes, instructional materials, media (TV and
advertisement), academic work achievement and progress, encouragement, emotions, etc. in the physical, mental
and emotional aspects of development.
8. Students must believe that they are capable of accomplishing a task; it is important for students to develop a sense
of self-efficacy. Teachers can promote such self-efficacy by having students receive confidence-building messages,
watch others be successful, and experience success on themselves;
9. Teachers should help students set realistic expectations ensuring that expectations are realistically challenging.
Sometimes a task is beyond a student’s ability;
10. Self-regulation techniques provide an effective method for improving student behaviors.
Ahmed, A. (2009, July). Effect of breastfeeding educational program based of Bandura social cognitive theory on
breastfeeding outcomes among mothers of preterm infants. Poster presented at the ILCA Conference, Orlando, FL.
Aubrey, J. S. (2004). Sex and punishment: An examination of sexual consequences and the sexual double standard in teen
programming. Sex Roles, 50(7-8), 505-514.
Bandura, A. (1973). Aggression: A social learning analysis. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Bandura, A. (1977a). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84(2), 191-
Bandura, A. (1977b). Social learning theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought & action: A social cognitive theory. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-
Bandura, A. (1988). Organizational application of social cognitive theory. Australian Journal of Management, 13(2), 275-
Bandura, A. (1989). Human agency in social cognitive theory. American Psychologist, 44(9), 1175-1184.
Bandura, A. (1993). Perceived self-efficacy in cognitive development and functioning. Educational Psychologist,28(2),
Bandura, A. (1994). Social cognitive theory and exercise of control over HIV infection. Preventing AIDS, 25-59.
Bandura, A. (1995). Self-efficacy in changing societies. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York, NY: W. H. Freeman and Company.
Bandura, A. (2001). Social cognitive theory of mass communication. Media Psychology, 3(3), 265-299.
Bandura, A. (2002). Social cognitive theory of mass communication. In J. Bryant & M. B. Oliver (Eds.), Media effects:
Advances in theory and research (pp. 94-124). New York, NY: Routledge.
Bandura, A. (2004). Health promotion by social cognitive means. Health Education & Behavior, 31(2), 143-164.
Bandura, A. (2006). Toward a psychology of human agency. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1, 164-180.
Bandura, A. (2011). The social and policy impact of social cognitive theory. In M. Mark, S. Donaldson, & B. Campbell
(Eds.), Social psychology and evaluation (pp. 33-70). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Bandura, A., & Walters, R. H. (1963). Social learning and personality development. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart and
Bandura, A., Ross, D., & Ross, S. A. (1963). A comparative test of the status envy, social power, and secondary
reinforcement theories of identificatory learning. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 67, 527-534.
Evans, R. I., & Bandura, A. (1989). Albert Bandura, the man and his ideas: A dialogue. New York, NY: Praeger.
Green, M., & Peil, J. A. (2009). Theories of human development: A comparative approach (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River,
NJ: Prentice Hall Inc.
Hardin, M., & Greer, J. D. (2009). The influence of gender-role socialization, media use and sports participation on
perceptions of gender-appropriate sports. Journal of Sport Behavior, 32(2), 207-226.
Lent, R., Brown, S. D., & Hackett, G. (1994, August). Toward a unifying social cognitive theory of career and academic
interest, choice, and performance. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 45(1), 79-122.
Martino, S. C., Collins, R. L., Kanouse, D. E., Elliott, M., & Berry, S. H. (2005). Social cognitive processes mediating the
relationship between exposure to television’s sexual content and adolescents’ sexual behavior. Journal of Personality and
Social Psychology, 89(6), 914.
Mastro, D. E, & Stern, S. R. (2003). Representations of race in television commercials: A content analysis of prime-time
advertising. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 47(4), 638-647.
McAlister, A. L., Perry, C. L., & Parcel, G. S. (2008). How individuals, environments, and health behaviors interact:
Social cognitive theory. In K. Glanz, B. K. Rimer, & K. Viswanath (Eds.), Health behavior and health education: Theory,
research, and practice (4th ed., pp. 169-188). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Miller, K. (2005). Communication theories: Perspectives, processes, and contexts (2nd ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-
Nabi, R. L., & Clark, S. (2008). Exploring the limits of social cognitive theory: Why negatively reinforced behaviors on
TV may be modeled anyway. Journal of Communication, 58(3), 407-427.
Ormrod, J. (2008). Human learning (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.
Pajares, F., Prestin, A., Chen, J., & Nabi, R. L. (2009). Social cognitive theory and media effects. In R. L. Nabi, & M. B.
Oliver (Eds.), The sage handbook of media processes and effects (pp. 283-297). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications,
Raman, P., Harwood, J., Weis, D., Anderson, J. L., & Miller, G. (2008). Portrayals of older adults in US and Indian
magazine advertisements: A cross-cultural comparison. The Howard Journal of Communications,19(3), 221-240.
Santrock, J. W. (2008). A topical approach to lifespan development. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Inc.
Self-efficacy theory. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://edutechwiki.unige.ch/en/Self-efficacy_theory
Credible Articles on the Internet
Bandura, A. (1989). Human agency in social cognitive theory. The American Psychologist, 44, 1175-1184. Retrieved
Bandura, A. (1989). Social cognitive theory. In R. Vasta (Ed.), Annals of child development (pp. 1-60). Greenwich, CT:
JAI Press. Retrieved from http://www.des.emory.edu/mfp/Bandura1989ACD.pdf
Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human behavior (pp. 71-81). New York,
NY: Academic Press. Retrieved from http://www.uky.edu/~eushe2/Bandura/Bandura1994EHB.pdf
Bandura, A. (1999). A social cognitive theory of personality. In L. Pervin, & O. John (Eds.), Handbook of personality,
(2nd ed., pp. 154-196). New York, NY: Guilford Publications. Retrieved from
Bandura, A. (2001). Social cognitive theory of self-regulation. Retrieved from
Bandura, A. (2002). Social cognitive theory in cultural context. Journal of Applied Psychology: An International Review,
51, 269-290. Retrieved from http://www.uky.edu/~eushe2/Bandura/Bandura2002AP.pdf
Beck, H. P. (2001). Social learning theory. Retrieved from http://www1.appstate.edu/~beckhp/aggsociallearning.htm
Boeree, C. (2009). Personality theories: Albert Bandura. Retrieved from http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/bandura.html
Green, C. (1999). Transmission of aggression through imitation of aggressive models. Retrieved from
McLeod, S. (2016). Bandura: Social learning theory. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/bandura.html
Moore, A. (1999). Albert Bandura. Retrieved from http://www.muskingum.edu/~psych/psycweb/history/bandura.htm
Pajares, F. (2002). Overview of social cognitive theory and of self-efficacy. Retrieved from
Social learning theory. Retrieved from https://sites.google.com/a/nau.edu/educationallearningtheories/home/social-
Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles
Grusec, J. E. (1992). Social learning theory and developmental psychology: The legacies of Robert Sears and Albert
Bandura. Developmental Psychology, 28(5), 776-786.
Ponton, M. K., & Rhea, N. E. (2006). Autonomous learning from social cognitive perspective. New Horizons in Adult
Education & Human Resource Development, 20(2), 38-49.
Books in Dalton State College Library
Bandura, A., & Walters, R. H. (1959). Adolescent aggression: A study of the influence of child-training practices and
family interrelationships. New York, NY: Ronald Press Co.
Bandura, A., & Walters, R. H. (1963). Social learning and personality development. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart, and
Videos and Tutorials
Bandura’s Bobo doll experiment. (2012). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dmBqwWlJg8U
Films Media Group. (2003). Bandura’s social cognitive theory: An introduction. Retrieved from Films on Demand
Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky (1896-1934) was born in Russia in 1896. He graduated with a law degree from Moscow
University. Vygotsky’s first big research project was in 1925 with a focus on psychology of art. A few years later, he pursued
a career as a psychologist working with Alexander Luria and Alexei Leontiev. Together, they began the Vygotskian
approach to psychology. Despite receiving no formal training in psychology, Vygotsky was fascinated by it. After his death
of tuberculosis in 1934, his ideas were repudiated by the government. However, his ideas were kept alive by his students.
When the Cold War ended in 1960s, Vygotsky’s works were introduced to the English-speaking world. Vygotsky has written
several articles and books on his theories and psychology, including Thought and Language, a widely recognized classic
foundational work of cognitive science, published in 1934, the same year after his death.
Vygotsky is best known for being an educational psychologist with a sociocultural theory. This theory suggests that social
interaction leads to continuous step-by-step changes in children’s thought and behavior that can vary greatly from culture to
culture (Woolfolk, 1998). Basically, Vygotsky’s theory suggests that development depends on interaction with people and
the tools that the culture provides to help form their own view of the world. There are three ways a cultural tool can be
passed from one individual to another. The first one is imitative learning, where one person tries to imitate or copy another.
The second way is by instructed learning which involves remembering the instructions of the teacher and then using these
instructions to self-regulate. The final way that cultural tools are passed on to others is through collaborative learning, which
involves a group of peers who strive to understand each other and work together to learn a specific skill (Tomasello, Kruger,
& Ratner, 1993).
Discussion is given on the contribution of Vygotsky’s ideas to the understanding of the relation between the social world
and cognitive development. Particular attention is given to the significance of culture, the role of language, and the student’s
relationship with and development within this social world. In doing so, some similarities and contrasts between other
learning theorists, specifically Piaget, are briefly discussed. Vygotsky’s views of the integrated and dynamic social nature
of learning are described, and the notion of a zone of proximal development, which utilizes such ideas, is introduced.
Vygotsky’s ideas on cognitive development are shown to lead to student-centered and a co-constructivist basis of learning,
in which the student potential within the social context is accommodated.
The relationship between the social world and cognitive development has been considered by several investigators, such as
Piaget (1959), Vygotsky (1978), Bandura (1977), Rogoff (1990), and Wood (1998). A commonality of the various theories
is that student learning is not viewed as a simple process of information transfer from a source (teacher, parent, computer),
but often involves an active social interaction in which, for example, a student constructs knowledge through discovery and
experiment (Piaget), learns through imitation or observation (Bandura), or relies upon teacher support which is congruent
with the student’s immediate (proximal) potential for learning (Vygotsky). The work of Vygotsky gives particular attention
to the inter-relationships between macro-social (i.e. cultural-historical) and micro-social (i.e. interpersonal) influences on
cognitive development, and thus social influences on learning in a broad sense. External social forces are viewed as important
in the learner’s development, in which the learner is considered an apprentice (see also Rogoff, 1990) requiring the guidance,
facilitation and support of teachers. This view is often contrasted with that of Piaget’s theory, in which the main forces
driving cognitive development of a student are seen as within the individual (i.e. the student as a scientist), constrained to
some extent by developmental stages (Lefrancois, 1999).
In the following sections, attention will be given to the ideas of Vygotsky on the relationship between the social world and
cognitive development. In particular, the influences of culture, history and language on development will be considered, and
a proposed mechanism of cognitive development through notions of student potential described. The specific implications
of these ideas for educators will then be considered.
Cognitive Development and the Social World
As indicated above, the social world as defined by Vygotsky considers not only the interpersonal interactions between, say,
a student and teacher, or student and peer, but also the broader sociocultural and historical influences on learning and the
learning environment. The underlying themes of Vygotsky’s theory on cognitive development have thus often been
summarized as: (i) the significance of culture, (ii) the role of a principal proponent of culture: language, and (iii) the student’s
relationship with and development within this sociocultural world. In this context, culture is viewed as socially accepted
behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs, and is constructed through human societal products such as institutions, symbol systems,
and tools such as language. Culture in this sense is a dynamic outcome of historical events and developments, and thus
products of human development. However, as emphasized by Vygotsky, at any particular historical time, culture itself will
influence human mental functioning and behavior, and thus a complex integrated relationship between the cultural
environment and personal development. In other words, humans are not only producing culture, but are also products of
The cultural influences on childhood development can be exemplified through the elementary and higher mental notions of
Vygotsky. The former describes innate functions or characteristics of a young child such as responding to a mother’s voice
and crying for a need. In the course of development, perhaps through operant conditioning, imitation, perception or some
limited cognitive evaluation, elementary functions are gradually transformed into higher mental functions such as problem
solving, logic, and propositional and hypothetical thinking. Vygotsky believed that this transformation is strongly influenced
by culture. For example, culture results in language and other symbolism which perhaps define non-primitive consciousness
(see below), and create the social processes and pressures (motives) for adopting the patterns of behavior and attitudes which
are characteristic of that culture.
Vygotsky believed that language makes thought possible and is thus the basis of consciousness. Without language his view
was that human development could not exceed that of primitive sense and perception functions, characteristic of lower forms
of mammalian life. Language was also seen as the tool of culture which enables social interaction, and thus the direction of
behavior and attitudes, and indeed the propagation and development of culture itself. The specific and early relationship of
language and cognition can be identified through three key stages in the development of speech: social, egocentric, and inner
speech (Vygotsky, 1986). Social or external speech dominates the first stage of language development, and is a means by
which young children (typically up to the age of 3) express emotions or simple thoughts. The speech is principally used for
control of behavior of others, but also acts as a means of conveying early social influences such as parental tolerances of
behavior. Such influences inevitably lead to the restructuring of thoughts, and thus cognition. Egocentric speech occurs
between the ages of 3 and 7 and describes an intermediate stage of language development between external speech and inner
thoughts (see below). In this stage, the child will often talk to him or herself in an effort to control their own behavior or
justify actions or approaches to a task. With maturity, egocentric speech becomes inner speech (self-talk), which has also
been referred to as the stream of consciousness by James (1890). Vygotsky believed that inner speech enables individuals
to direct and organize thought, and thus an important proponent of higher mental functioning. Hence, the set of arbitrary and
conventional symbols which are used to convey meaning, but which are culturally determined in form and interpretation,
become a part of the individual’s cognitive being.
Closely related to the formation of inner speech is the concept of internalization. This involves the internal acceptance
(perhaps with individual modification or interpretation) of social (external) values, beliefs, attitudes or standards, as one’s
own. In this sense, the psychological make-up of the individual is altered through internalization, and provides a dynamic
mechanism by with the inter-social becomes the intra-social. However, such a mental adoption processes should not be
confused with processes such as introjection or socialization. The former describes internalization in which there is little
active participation by the individual; c.f. operant learning, and indeed some forms of hypnosis. In contrast, socialization
describes a pseudo-internalization process in which apparent beliefs arise from a need to conform to society rather than any
actual commitment. Internalization as viewed by Vygotsky therefore, represents a genuine, participative, and constructed
process, but nevertheless determined by sociocultural influences. As indicated above, the outcome of internalization is that
interpersonal or personal-cultural influences, become transformed into intrapersonal characteristics. Thus, every function in
the child’s cognitive development, such as attention, logic or concept formation, appears twice: first on the social level and
then on the individual level (Vygotsky, 1978).
An important implication of the above ideas is that there is much opportunity through the school system to influence the
cognitive development of children. For example, through language, the presentation and interpretation of history and current
affairs, and the attitudes, beliefs and values of teachers (or significant others), the thought patterns and beliefs of students
may be shaped. Unlike Piaget, who believed that children construct their own ideas of the world, Vygotsky’s ideas suggest
that student-teacher and student-peer relationships are of prime importance of generating and facilitating new ideas,
perspectives, and cognitive strategies. Furthermore, the student apprentice can be seen to be active within their learning
environments, attempting to construct understanding where possible, and possibly contribute to or affirm with the adopted
culture. In turn, this aspect of human development inevitably has influence on the environment itself, and thus a dialectic
process in which learning and development is affected by the social world, and the social world changed through learning
and development (Tudge & Winterhoff, 1993). In a similar way, Vygotsky has argued that natural (i.e. biological) and
cultural development coincide and merge to form a dynamic and integrated sociobiological influence on personality
A second important implication of Vygotsky’s views is that rather than deriving explanations of a student’s psychological
activity (e.g. intelligence and motivation) from the student’s characteristics, attention should be given to student behavior
and performance when engaged in a social situation. Vygotsky in specific postulated the notion of a zone of proximal
development (ZPD) which defines the difference between the child’s independent learning accomplishments, and
accomplishments under the guidance of a person who is more competent at the specific task at hand. Vygotsky particularly
viewed adults, rather than peers, as key in this relationship, perhaps because adults are more likely to be truly competent in
the task, and thus less likely to cause regression rather than progression in the collaboration (Tudge & Winterhoff, 1993).
The maximization of potential was then viewed as a social process, which challenges the traditional notions of intelligence
testing with psychometric tests. For example, emphasis is given to the potential of the student and its social contextualization,
rather than current cognitive abilities measured independent of a social context. However, this notion of potential does not
necessarily imply an intelligence level, since the ZPD is a dynamic assessment which may be complicated through the
various student-specific influences of the social learning environment. Past experiences (prior knowledge), personality
attributes, locus of control, and self-esteem for example, may all have possible influences on the efficacy of learning through
the social interaction. Likewise, as a further complexity, the ZPD is not a well-defined space, but created in the course of
the social interaction (Tudge & Winterhoff, 1993). Nevertheless, the notion of the ZPD gives importance to the student-
centered basis of education, and suggests that the individual progression towards an overall learning outcome will be dictated
by the guided and subjective accomplishments of intermediate (proximal) outcomes.
Although the social influences on cognitive development have been considered by other researchers, such as Piaget and
Bandura, Vygotsky emphasized that individual development is inherently integrated with cultural, historical, and inter-
personal factors. Furthermore, Vygotsky viewed the individual in the social context as the unit of analysis in development,
rather than the sole individual. In other words, whilst the internalization of thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs have been widely
accepted to be socially influenced, further higher mental development is postulated by Vygotsky to be inseparably dependent
upon social interactions, and indeed new understanding is not necessarily viewed as an external feature to be adopted by the
student, but something which is created in the process of the social (teaching) interactions (Tudge & Winterhoff, 1993).
Some general implications of Vygotsky’s ideas on the social influences on cognitive development have been mentioned
above, and can be summarized as:
the central role of the teacher-student relationship in learning;
the inherent cultural and immediate-social influences upon the student’s attitudes and beliefs towards, for
example, learning, schooling, and the education philosophy;
the importance and power of language as a primary tool for the transference of sociocultural influences upon the
the benefits of student-centered teaching, whereby the student can efficiently progress within their potential
towards a learning outcome; i.e. constructing knowledge through social interaction or co-constructivism. (Tudge
& Winterhoff, 1993)
Further specific educational implications of the above points arise when considering practical teaching within schools. For
example, given a child with particular personality traits and temperament, how should a teacher instigate a teaching objective
which is congruent with Vygotskian ideas? The ZPD describes what a student can accomplish with the help of competent
support, therefore it describes the actual task that can be effectively supported by the teacher. Although this may seem a
rather circular argument, the implication here is that teachers need to continuously evaluate how effectively a student is
progressing in a learning activity and respond accordingly with modified tasks or intermediary learning objectives.
In other words, students should be given frequent opportunities to express understanding, and learning tasks fine-tuned by
the teacher to address individual capabilities. Such teacher support, which is graduated and task-apportioned based on student
needs, has been commonly referred to as scaffolding, which symbolizes strong initial teacher support which is gradually
reduced as the student approaches the desired learning outcome. In specific, scaffolding may range from very detailed and
explicit tuition, such as the explanation of procedures and demonstrations, to the facilitation or organization of activities for
student self-tuition. Scaffolding has also been interpreted as a mechanism by which sequential ZPD’s are used to achieve a
learning outcome beyond a child’s immediate (starting) potential, and thus the specific learning activities change as the
student competence towards the ultimate task grows (Biggs & Moore, 1993). The notion of ZPD also suggests that effective
teaching should not only be within the proximate potential of the individual, but should perhaps be at the upper-level of the
ZPD so as to maintain the student interest in the activity.
But how are the above teaching implications of ZPD different from what experienced teachers naturally do? As stated earlier,
the social interaction aspect is a key emphasis in the learning process, and therefore the student needs to be active in the
learning interaction, and in collaboration with the teacher. Where teaching logistics dictate large classes, small group work
should be encouraged whereby peer-support and improved teacher interaction can be maintained. However, as mentioned
earlier, overt reliance on peer-support could cause regression in some cases, and requires careful evaluation and support by
the teacher. Furthermore, in an educational context, a teacher is likely to prove the best role model, i.e. the best conveyer of
culturally esteemed factors pertaining to education; see also the discussions of Biggs and Moore (1993) on modelling in
The use of language related activities in the school environment are also indicated to be of importance to cognitive
development. For example, the development of communication skills may influence the clarity and breadth of inner speech,
and thus thought patterns. However, care is needed in the degree of literal interpretation of such influences, which may
incorrectly suggest, for example, that students with difficulties in expressing themselves, or grasping subtle meanings in
language, are necessarily poor in cognitive ability. Furthermore, certain abilities such as bodily-kinesthetic and musical
skills, may not necessarily be best represented through language-based thought. However, at an early school age, the
development of language is likely to be an enabling tool towards other educational abilities, which in our current cultural
setting have a cognitive bias.
Finally, an interesting issue which arises through consideration of Vygotskian views is the specific role and advantages of
computer-based learning. Here, in one sense, social interaction is removed, but in another, may be replaced by an interactive
and responding interface, which could perhaps evaluate and respond to the user’s ZPD. Such sophisticated computation
would inevitably rely on expert-systems type technologies, such that there is an intelligent (e.g. humanly adaptive like)
response to user queries and misunderstandings. The relatively unsophisticated nature of many current educational software,
even those which are stated to be interactive, may explain the current mixed results of such software.
The influence of the social world on cognitive development has been considered through the views of Vygotsky. The
dynamic relationships between culture, history, interpersonal interactions and psychological development have been
described, and the important role of language as a common and conducting medium discussed. One specific educational
application of such ideas is through the ZPD, which emphasizes the importance of the social aspect of learning, and
particularly the student-centered and co-constructivist basis of learning in which the individual’s potential within the social
context is addressed. Such ideas have had impact on the school system by challenging teacher-directed (as opposed to
student-centered) learning programs, and perhaps emphasize the care needed in, for example, computer-based and distance
learning teaching initiatives.
Criticisms of Sociocultural Theory
The writings of Vygotsky have been widely-criticized both during his lifetime and after his death. Vygotsky did not do
empirical work to validate his findings instead relying on observation and testing. Social interaction is central to Vygotsky.
However, he did not say what types of social interaction are best for learning.
One criticism is Vygotsky’s view of active construction of knowledge. Some critics suggest that learning is not always a
result of active construction. Rather, learning can occur passively or osmotically. Some children, regardless of how much
help is given by others, may still develop at a slower rate cognitively. This suggests that there are other factors involved
such as genetics.
Vygotsky’s theory of language is not well-developed. Vygotsky, of course, died at age 37 and may have gone on to elucidate
his theories had he survived. His theories rely a lot on cultural influences, for it is culture that helps to develop learners’
language acquisition and cognitive development. Vygotsky states that little language acquisition and cognitive development
come from biological factors. However, some psychologists dismiss the idea that cultural influences play a dominant role
in development of language. Some children take years to learn basic skills despite plenty of social support. In some cases,
children are unable to grasp certain concepts until they reach a level of maturity. This lends credence to Piaget’s view of
cognitive development occurring in stages and children not being unable to learn some concepts until they reach a certain
Perhaps the main criticism of Vygotsky’s work concerns the assumption that it is relevant to all cultures. Rogoff (1990)
dismisses the idea that Vygotsky’s ideas are culturally universal and instead states the concept of scaffolding-which is
heavily dependent on verbal instruction-may not be equally useful in all cultures for all types of learning. Indeed, in some
instances, observation and practice may be more effective ways of learning certain skills.
In addition, Vygotsky was criticized for the concept of the “zone of proximal development,” referred to as “one of the most
used and least understood constructs to appear in contemporary educational literature” (Palinscar, 1998, p. 370) and “used
as little more than a fashionable alternative to Piagetian terminology or the concept of IQ for describing individual
differences in attainment or potential” (Faukner, Littleton, & Woodhead, 2013, p. 114).
Vygotsky’s work has not received the same level of intense scrutiny that Piaget’s has, partly due to the time-consuming
process of translating Vygotsky’s work from Russian. Also, Vygotsky’s sociocultural perspective does not provide as many
specific hypotheses to test as did Piaget’s theory, making refutation difficult, if not impossible.
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Biggs, J. B., & Moore, P. J. (1993). Process of learning (3rd ed.). London: Prentice Hall.
Faukner, D., Littleton, K., & Woodhead, M. (Eds.). (2013). Learning relationships in the classroom. New York, NY:
James, W., (1950, originally published 1890). The principles of psychology. New York, NY: Dover.
Lefrancois, G. R. (1999). Psychology for teaching (10th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Thomson Learning.
Palinscar, A. S. (1998). Keeping the metaphor of scaffolding fresh: A response to C. Addison Stone’s The metaphor of
scaffolding: Its utility for the field of learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 31, 370-373.
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Tudge, J. R. H., & Winterhoff, P. A. (1993). Vygotsky, Piaget, and Bandura: Perspectives on the relations between the social
world and cognitive development. Human Development, 36, 61.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1986, edited and translated by A. Kozulin). Thought and language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Wood, D. (1998). How children think and learn (2nd ed.). London, UK: Blackwell.
Credible Articles on the Internet
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Cole, M., & Wertsch, J. (1996). Beyond the individual-social antimony in discussions of Piaget and Vygotsky. Retrieved
Dahms, M., Geonnotti, K., Passalacqua, D., Schilk, J. N., Wetzel, A., & Zulkowsky, M. (2008). The educational theory of
Lev Vygotsky: An analysis. In G. Clabaugh (Ed.), The educational theory of Lev Vygotsky:
A multidimensional analysis. Retrieved from http://www.newfoundations.com/GALLERY/Vygotsky.html
Gallagher, C. (1999). Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky. Retrieved from:
McCloud, S. (2009). Lev Vygotsky. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/vygotsky.html
Offord, L. (2005). The Mozart of psychology: Lev Semenovich Vygotsky. Retrieved from http://vygotsky.afraid.org/
Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory. (2016). Retrieved from:
Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles
Abdi, A. A. (2000). Dialogic inquiry: Towards a sociocultural practice and theory of education. McGill Journal of
Education, 35(1), 91-94.
Byrnes, H., Lantolf, J. P., & Thorne, S. L. T. (2008). Sociocultural theory and the genesis of second language
development. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 30(3), 394-396.
De León, L. (2012). Model of models: Preservice teachers in a Vygotskian scaffold. The Educational Forum, 76(2), 144-
Gindis, B. (1999). Vygotsky’s vision: Reshaping the practice of special education for the 21st century. Remedial and
Special Education, 20(6), 333.
Jaramillo, J. A. (1996). Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory and contributions to the development of constructivist curricula.
Education, 117(1), 133-140.
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Mahn, H. (1999). Vygotsky’s methodological contribution to sociocultural theory. Remedial and Special Education, 20(6),
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teachers’ professional development. English Language Teaching, 3(4), 237-248.
Books at Dalton State College Library
Dixon-Krauss, L. (1996). Vygotsky in the classroom: Mediated literacy instruction and assessment. [Washington, DC]:
U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, Education Resources Information
Kozulin, A. (1990). Vygotsky’s psychology: A biography of ideas. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
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Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
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Videos and Tutorials
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Theory of Moral Development
Lawrence Kohlberg (1927-1987) was a 20th century psychologist known primarily for his research into moral psychology
and development. Lawrence Kohlberg was born in Bronxville, New York on October 25, 1927. He received his Ph.D. in
psychology from the University of Chicago in 1958. His dissertation was based on his research into the moral choices of
adolescent boys and led to a life devoted to the exploration of moral and ethical development in young people. In 1962, he
returned to the University of Chicago as an assistant professor. Kohlberg died of an apparent suicide in 1987, after a long
battle with depression coupled with painful symptoms from a tropical parasite he had contracted in Belize in 1971.
Kohlberg’s stages of moral development were influenced by the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget’s stage-based theory of
cognitive development. Kohlberg expanded on Piaget’s cognitive development stages to form the six stages of moral
development. He argued that correct moral reasoning was the most significant factor in moral decision-making, and that
correct moral reasoning would lead to ethical behavior. Kohlberg believed that individuals progress through stages of moral
development just as they progress through stages of cognitive development. Kohlberg’s theory of moral development
included three levels and six stages. To determine which stage of moral development his subjects were in, Kohlberg
presented them with invented moral dilemmas, such as the case of a man who stole medicine for his sick wife. According
to Kohlberg, few people reach stages five and six; most tend to stay at stage four. Kohlberg purported that women were
often at a lower stage of moral development than men, but psychologist Carol Gilligan questioned his findings. Gilligan
claims that women place a stronger emphasis on caring and empathy, rather than justice. She developed an alternative
scale, heavily influenced by Kohlberg’s scale, which showed that both men and women could reach advanced stages of
Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development constitute an adaptation of a psychological theory originally conceived
of by the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget. Kohlberg began work on this topic while a psychology postgraduate student at
the University of Chicago in 1985, and expanded and developed this theory throughout his life.
The theory holds that moral reasoning, the basis for ethical behavior, has six identifiable developmental stages, each more
adequate at responding to moral dilemmas than its predecessor. Kohlberg followed the development of moral judgment far
beyond the ages studied earlier by Piaget, who also claimed that logic and morality develop through constructive stages.
Expanding on Piaget’s work, Kohlberg determined that the process of moral development was principally concerned with
justice, and that it continued throughout the individual’s lifetime, a notion that spawned dialogue on the philosophical
implications of such research.
Kohlberg relied for his studies on stories such as the Heinz dilemma, and was interested in how individuals would justify
their actions if placed in similar moral dilemmas. He then analyzed the form of moral reasoning displayed, rather than its
conclusion, and classified it as belonging to one of six distinct stages.
There have been critiques of the theory from several perspectives. Arguments include that it emphasizes justice to the
exclusion of other moral values, such as caring; that there is such an overlap between stages that they should more properly
be regarded as separate domains; or that evaluations of the reasons for moral choices are mostly post hoc rationalizations
(by both decision makers and psychologists studying them) of essentially intuitive decisions.
Nevertheless, an entirely new field within psychology was created as a direct result of Kohlberg’s theory, and according to
Haggbloom et al.’s (2002) study of the most eminent psychologists of the 20th century, Kohlberg was the 16th most
frequently cited psychologist in introductory psychology textbooks throughout the century, as well as the 30th most eminent
Kohlberg’s scale is about how people justify behaviors and his stages are not a method of ranking how moral someone’s
behavior is. There should however be a correlation between how someone scores on the scale and how they behave, and the
general hypothesis is that moral behavior is more responsible, consistent and predictable from people at higher levels.
Three Levels and Six Stages
Kohlberg’s six stages (Figure 5.1) can be more generally grouped into three levels of two stages each: pre-conventional,
conventional and post-conventional. Following Piaget’s constructivist requirements for a stage model, as described in his
theory of cognitive development, it is extremely rare to regress in stages-to lose the use of higher stage abilities. Stages
cannot be skipped; each provides a new and necessary perspective, more comprehensive and differentiated than its
predecessors but integrated with them.
Figure 5.1 Levels and Stages of Moral Development
Level 1 Pre-Conventional
1. Obedience and punishment orientation
(How can I avoid punishment?)
2. Self-interest orientation
(What’s in it for me?)
(Paying for a benefit)
Level 2 Conventional
3. Interpersonal accord and conformity
(The good boy/good girl attitude)
4. Authority and social order maintaining orientation
(Law and order morality)
Level 3 Post-Conventional
5. Social contract orientation
6. Universal ethical principles
The pre-conventional level of moral reasoning is especially common in children, although adults can also exhibit this level
of reasoning. Reasoners at this level judge the morality of an action by its direct consequences. The pre-conventional level
consists of the first and second stages of moral development, and is solely concerned with the self in an egocentric manner.
A child with pre-conventional morality has not yet adopted or internalized society’s conventions regarding what is right or
wrong, but instead focuses largely on external consequences that certain actions may bring.
In Stage One (obedience and punishment driven), individuals focus on the direct consequences of their actions on
themselves. For example, an action is perceived as morally wrong because the perpetrator is punished. “The last time I did
that I got spanked so I will not do it again.” The worse the punishment for the act is, the more “bad” the act is perceived to
be. This can give rise to an inference that even innocent victims are guilty in proportion to their suffering. It is “egocentric,”
lacking recognition that others’ points of view are different from one’s own.
There is “deference to superior power or prestige.”
Stage Two (self-interest driven) espouses the “what’s in it for me” position, in which right behavior is defined by whatever
is in the individual’s best interest. Stage two reasoning shows a limited interest in the needs of others, but only to a point
where it might further the individual’s own interests. As a result, concern for others is not based on loyalty or
intrinsic respect, but rather a “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” mentality. The lack of a societal perspective in
the pre-conventional level is quite different from the social contract (Stage Five), as all actions have the purpose of serving
the individual’s own needs or interests. For the stage two theorists, the world’s perspective is often seen as morally relative.
The conventional level of moral reasoning is typical of adolescents and adults. Those who reason in a conventional way
judge the morality of actions by comparing them to society’s views and expectations. The conventional level consists of the
third and fourth stages of moral development. Conventional morality is characterized by an acceptance of society’s
conventions concerning right and wrong. At this level an individual obeys rules and follows society’s norms even when
there are no consequences for obedience or disobedience. Adherence to rules and conventions is somewhat rigid, however,
and a rule’s appropriateness or fairness is seldom questioned.
In Stage Three (interpersonal accord and conformity driven), the self enters society by filling social roles. Individuals are
receptive to approval or disapproval from others as it reflects society’s accordance with the perceived role. They try to be a
“good boy” or “good girl” to live up to these expectations, having learned that there is inherent value in doing so. Stage
three reasoning may judge the morality of an action by evaluating its consequences in terms of a person’s relationships,
which now begin to include things like respect, gratitude, and the “golden rule.” “I want to be liked and thought well of;
apparently, not being naughty makes people like me.” Desire to maintain rules and authority exists only to further support
these social roles. The intentions of actions play a more significant role in reasoning at this stage; “they mean well …”
In Stage Four (authority and social order obedience driven), it is important to obey laws, dictums and social conventions
because of their importance in maintaining a functioning society. Moral reasoning in stage four is thus beyond the need for
individual approval exhibited in stage three; society must learn to transcend individual needs. A central ideal or ideals often
prescribe what is right and wrong, such as in the case of fundamentalism. If one person violates a law, perhaps everyone
would-thus there is an obligation and a duty to uphold laws and rules. When someone does violate a law, it is morally
wrong; culpability is thus a significant factor in this stage as it separates the bad domains from the good ones. Most active
members of society remain at stage four, where morality is still predominantly dictated by an outside force.
The post-conventional level, also known as the principled level, consists of stages five and six of moral development. There
is a growing realization that individuals are separate entities from society, and that the individual’s own perspective may
take precedence over society’s view; they may disobey rules inconsistent with their own principles. These people live by
their own abstract principles about right and wrong principles that typically include such basic human rights as life, liberty,
and justice. Because of this level’s “nature of self before others,” the behavior of post-conventional individuals, especially
those at stage six, can be confused with that of
those at the pre-conventional level.
People who exhibit post-conventional morality view rules as useful but changeable mechanisms ideally rules can maintain
the general social order and protect human rights. Rules are not absolute dictates that must be obeyed without question.
Contemporary theorists often speculate that many people may never reach this level of abstract moral reasoning.
In Stage Five (social contract driven), the world is viewed as holding different opinions, rights and values. Such perspectives
should be mutually respected as unique to each person or community. Laws are regarded as social contracts rather than rigid
edicts. Those that do not promote the general welfare should be changed when necessary to meet “the greatest good for the
greatest number of people.” This is achieved through majority decision, and inevitable compromise. Democratic
government is ostensibly based on stage five reasoning.
In Stage Six (universal ethical principles driven), moral reasoning is based on abstract reasoning using universal ethical
principles. Laws are valid only insofar as they are grounded in justice, and a commitment to justice carries with it an
obligation to disobey unjust laws. Legal rights are unnecessary, as social contracts are not essential for deontic moral action.
Decisions are not reached hypothetically in a conditional way but rather categorically in an absolute way, as in the
philosophy of Immanuel Kant. This involves an individual imagining what they would do in another’s shoes, if they believed
what that other person imagines to be true. The resulting consensus is the action taken. In this way action is never a means
but always an end in itself; the individual acts because it is right, and not because it is instrumental, expected, legal, or
previously agreed upon. Although Kohlberg insisted that stage six exists, he found it difficult to identify individuals who
consistently operated at that level.
In Kohlberg’s empirical studies of individuals throughout their life Kohlberg observed that some had apparently undergone
moral stage regression. This could be resolved either by allowing for moral regression or by extending the theory. Kohlberg
chose the latter, postulating the existence of sub-stages in which the emerging stage has not yet been fully integrated into
the personality. In particular Kohlberg noted a stage 4½ or 4+, a transition from stage four to stage five, which shared
characteristics of both. In this stage the individual is disaffected with the arbitrary nature of law and order reasoning;
culpability is frequently turned from being defined by society to viewing society itself as culpable. This stage is often
mistaken for the moral relativism of stage two, as the individual views those interests of society that conflict with their own
as being relatively and morally wrong. Kohlberg noted that this was often observed in students entering college.
Kohlberg suggested that there may be a seventh stage-Transcendental Morality, or Morality of Cosmic Orientation-which
linked religion with moral reasoning. Kohlberg’s difficulties in obtaining empirical evidence for even a sixth stage, however,
led him to emphasize the speculative nature of his seventh stage.
Theoretical Assumptions (Philosophy)
The picture of human nature Kohlberg begins with is that humans are inherently communicative and capable of reason.
They also possess a desire to understand others and the world around them. The stages of Kohlberg’s model relate to the
qualitative moral reasonings adopted by individuals, and so do not translate directly into praise or blame of any individual’s
actions or character. Arguing that his theory measures moral reasoning and not particular moral conclusions, Kohlberg
insists that the form and structure of moral arguments is independent of the content of those arguments, a position he calls
“formalism” (Figure 5.2).
Figure 5.2 Formal Elements
Stages Views of Persons Social Perspective Level
6 Sees how human fallibility and frailty are impacted by
Mutual respect as a universal principle
5 Recognize that contracts will allow persons to increase welfare
4 Able to see abstract normative systems Social systems perspective
3 Recognize good and bad intentions Social relationships perspective
2 Sees that a) others have goals and preferences; b) either to
conform or to deviate from norms
1 No VOP: only self and norm are recognized Blind egoism
Kohlberg’s theory centers on the notion that justice is the essential characteristic of moral reasoning. Justice itself relies
heavily upon the notion of sound reasoning based on principles. Despite being a justice-centered theory of morality,
Kohlberg considered it to be compatible with plausible formulations of deontology and eudaimonia.
Kohlberg’s theory understands values as a critical component of the right. Whatever the right is, for Kohlberg, it must be
universally valid across societies (a position known as “moral universalism”); there can be no relativism. Moreover, morals
are not natural features of the world; they are prescriptive. Nevertheless, moral judgments can be evaluated in logical terms
of truth and falsity.
According to Kohlberg, someone progressing to a higher stage of moral reasoning cannot skip stages. For example, an
individual cannot jump from being concerned mostly with peer judgments (stage three) to being a proponent of social
contracts (stage five). On encountering a moral dilemma and finding their current level of moral reasoning unsatisfactory,
however, an individual will look to the next level. Realizing the limitations of the current stage of thinking is the driving
force behind moral development, as each progressive stage is more adequate than the last. The process is therefore
considered to be constructive, as it is initiated by the conscious construction of the individual, and is not in any meaningful
sense a component of the individual’s innate dispositions, or a result of past inductions.
Progress through Kohlberg’s stages happens as a result of the individual’s increasing competence, both psychologically and
in balancing conflicting social-value claims. The process of resolving conflicting claims to reach an equilibrium is called
“justice operation.” Kohlberg identifies two of these justice operations: “equality,” which involves an impartial regard for
persons, and “reciprocity,” which means a regard for the role of personal merit. For Kohlberg, the most adequate result of
both operations is “reversibility,” in which a moral or dutiful act within a particular situation is evaluated in terms of whether
or not the act would be satisfactory even if particular persons were to switch roles within that situation (also known
colloquially as “moral musical chairs”).
Knowledge and learning contribute to moral development. Specifically important are the individual’s “view of persons” and
their “social perspective level,” each of which becomes more complex and mature with each advancing stage. The “view of
persons” can be understood as the individual’s grasp of the psychology of other persons; it may be pictured as a spectrum,
with stage one having no view of other persons at all, and stage six being entirely socio-centric. Similarly, the social
perspective level involves the understanding of the social universe, differing from the view of persons in that it involves an
appreciation of social norms.
Examples of Applied Moral Dilemmas
Kohlberg established the Moral Judgement Interview in his original 1958 dissertation. During the roughly 45-minute tape
recorded semi-structured interview, the interviewer uses moral dilemmas to determine which stage of moral reasoning a
person uses. The dilemmas are fictional short stories that describe situations in which a person has to make a moral decision.
The participant is asked a systemic series of open-ended questions, like what they think the right course of action is, as well
as justifications as to why certain actions are right or wrong. The form and structure of these replies are scored and not the
content; over a set of multiple moral dilemmas an overall score is derived.
A dilemma that Kohlberg used in his original research was the druggist’s dilemma: Heinz Steals the Drug in Europe. From
a theoretical point of view, it is not important what the participant thinks that Heinz should do. Kohlberg’s theory holds that
the justification the participant offers is what is significant, the form of their response. Below are some of many examples
of possible arguments that belong to the six stages:
Stage One (obedience): Heinz should not steal the medicine because he would consequently be put in prison, which would
mean he is a bad person. Or: Heinz should steal the medicine because it is only worth $200, not how much the druggist
wanted for it. Heinz had even offered to pay for it and was not stealing anything else.
Stage Two (self-interest): Heinz should steal the medicine because he will be much happier if he saves his wife, even if he
will have to serve a prison sentence. Or: Heinz should not steal the medicine because prison is an awful place, and he would
probably experience anguish over a jail cell more than his wife’s death.
Stage Three (conformity): Heinz should steal the medicine because his wife expects it; he wants to be a good husband. Or:
Heinz should not steal the drug because stealing is bad and he is not a criminal; he tried to do everything he could without
breaking the law, you cannot blame him.
Stage Four (law-and-order): Heinz should not steal the medicine because the law prohibits stealing, making it illegal. Or:
Heinz should steal the drug for his wife but also take the prescribed punishment for the crime as well as paying the druggist
what he is owed. Criminals cannot just run around without regard for the law; actions have consequences.
Stage Five (human rights): Heinz should steal the medicine because everyone has a right to choose life, regardless of the
law. Or: Heinz should not steal the medicine because the scientist has a right to fair compensation. Even if his wife is sick,
it does not make his actions right.
Stage Six (universal human ethics): Heinz should steal the medicine, because saving a human life is a more fundamental
value than the property rights of another person. Or: Heinz should not steal the medicine, because others may need the
medicine just as badly, and their lives are equally significant.
Criticisms of the Theory of Moral Development
One criticism of Kohlberg’s theory is that it emphasizes justice to the exclusion of other values, and so may not adequately
address the arguments of those who value other moral aspects of actions. In addition, Kohlberg’s theory was initially
developed based on empirical research using only male participants. Carol Gilligan, a former student of Kohlberg, argued
that Kohlberg’s theory is overly androcentric and did not adequately describe the concerns of women although research has
generally found no significant pattern of differences in moral development between sexes.
Next, Kohlberg’s stages are not culturally neutral, as demonstrated by its application to a number of different cultures.
Although they progress through the stages in the same order, individuals in different cultures seem to do so at different
rates. Kohlberg has responded by saying that although different cultures do indeed inculcate different beliefs, his stages
correspond to underlying modes of reasoning, rather than to those beliefs.
Lastly, other psychologists have questioned the assumption that moral action is primarily a result of formal reasoning. Social
intuitionists such as Jonathan Haidt, for example, argue that individuals often make moral judgments without weighing
concerns such as fairness, law, human rights, or abstract ethical values. Thus the arguments analyzed by Kohlberg and other
rationalist psychologists could be considered post hoc rationalizations of intuitive decisions; moral reasoning may be less
relevant to moral action than Kohlberg’s theory suggests.
Moral and Character Development in Education (Huitt, 2004)
In assisting students with moral and character development, it is acknowledged that morals and character traits/attributes
come into play within a rapidly changing context. Teachers cannot teach students all the specific knowledge, values, or
behaviors that will lead to success in all aspects of their lives. Teachers must, therefore, acknowledge that some values are
relative and teach students to develop their own views accordingly. At the same time, teachers must acknowledge that there
are some absolutes with respect to morality and character that are accepted as commonalties among members of specific
communities, major world religions, and moral philosophers. Teachers have an obligation to teach or support these morals
and character development in the classroom, in the family, in religious organizations, and communities at large.
Moral and character development is integral to the development of self (Ashton & Huitt, 1980), and is as much the
responsibility of early caregivers as it is of later educators. Nucci (1989) showed that “children’s moral understandings were
independent of specific religious concepts” and that both secular and religious children focus “on the same set of
fundamental interpersonal issues: those pertaining to justice and compassion” (p. 195). In sum, parents, educators, affiliates
of religious organizations, and community members have an obligation to provide young people with training appropriate
to their age level that would assist them in holding to the absolutes that are common across philosophies and beliefs of the
major religious traditions, while at the same time helping them develop and defend own acquired values.
Wynne (1989) reports that the quality of relationships among faculty (and between the faculty and adults in authority) is a
major factor in the development of student character. An atmosphere of adult harmony is vitally important. According to
Wynne, schools effectively assisting pupil character development are:
1. directed by adults who exercise their authority toward faculty and students in a firm, sensitive, and imaginative
manner, and who are committed to both academics and pupil character development;
2. staffed by dedicated faculty who make vigorous demands on pupils and each other;
3. structured so that pupils are surrounded by a variety of opportunities for them to practice helping (prosocial)
4. managed to provide pupils-both individually and collectively-with many forms of recognition for good conduct;
5. oriented toward maintaining systems of symbols, slogans, ceremonies, and songs that heighten pupils’ collective
6. dedicated to maintaining pupil discipline, via clear, widely disseminated discipline codes that are vigorously
enforced and backed up with vital consequences;
7. committed to academic instruction and assigned pupils significant homework and otherwise stressed appropriate
8. sensitive to the need to develop collective pupil loyalties to particular classes, clubs, athletic groups, and other sub-
entities in the school;
9. sympathetic to the values of the external adult society, and perceive it as largely supportive and concerned with the
problems of the young;
10. always able to use more money to improve their programs, but rarely regard lack of money as an excuse for serious
11. open to enlisting the help, counsel, and support of parents and other external adults, but willing to propose important
constructive changes in the face of (sometimes) ill-informed parent resistance;
12. disposed to define “good character” in relatively immediate and traditional terms.
In teaching moral and characters, it was not a failure of the economic or material aspect of society, in many cases, but rather
a failure of the human, social, political, or spiritual aspects. The educational system must prepare individuals to progress in
each of these arenas of life. Therefore, character development must be seen as an organic process in the development of the
material/physical, human/psychological, and spiritual/transcendental aspects of human being.
The need for moral and character development in education led to the character education movement in the US. By the early
2000s, character education had become the fastest growing school reform movement (Kline, 2017). According to the US
Department of Education (n.d.) website, character education is defined as a learning process that enables students and adults
in a school community to understand, care about and act on core ethical values such as respect, justice, civic virtue and
citizenship, and responsibility for self and others. Thus a set of morally desirable traits exists and these traits should be
purposefully taught in schools (Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, 2004; McClellan, 1999; Prestwich, 2004).
Huitt (2004) identified a list of moral and character attributes/traits as the focus for K-12 schools (Figure 5.3) based on data
results collected in south GA. Those attributes/traits can be integrated into the curriculum to assist young people strive for
excellence in both character and competencies. Lesson Plan examples from Figure 5.4 to Figure 5.8) are just a few.
Figure 5.3 Attributes/Character Traits for Moral and Character Development
Ability to See Another’s Perspective
Ability to Work in Teams
Dependable & Reliable
Freedom from Prejudice
Love of Learning
Positive, Encouraging Attitude
Prompt & Punctual
Respect & Accept Authority
Respect for Physical Health
Respect for Self & Own Rights
Respect for the Creator
Respect for the Natural Environment
Respect the Rights of Others
Searches for Meaning
Strives for Excellence
The Lesson Plan is a great place for teachers to start teaching and supporting moral and character development in the
classroom. Below are several examples of teaching and supporting moral and character development in a variety of subject
areas across various grade levels:
Figure 5.4 Teaching Trait Honesty in Language Arts
Grade Level: 1st Content Area: Language Arts
Learning Objective(s) Predict outcomes, oral speaking, following 2-3 step directions.
Moral/Character Trait(s) Honesty
Lesson Title Too Many Tamales
Lesson Summary After reading the story Too Many Tamales about a girl who loses her mother’s ring,
discuss how Maria solved the problem. Discuss other implications of the story. Divide
the class into five groups. Allow the groups to choose from five questions related to
honesty. After 10 minutes of planning together, each group acts out the honest way to
handle the situation they were given.
Figure 5.5 Teaching Trait Integrity in Social Studies/Health
Grade Level: 7-12 Content Area: Social Studies/Health
Learning Objective(s) Define integrity and relate what is has to do with your character.
Moral/Character Trait(s) Integrity
Lesson Title Are You a Person of Integrity?
Lesson Summary Discussion questions about integrity for use either with or without a video.
Figure 5.6 Teaching Traits Cooperation and Determination in Science/Health
Grade Level: 5-12 Content Area: Science/Health
Learning Objective(s) Students will be better able to solve problems in a group team experience, strengthen
group cohesion through team building and communication, and reinforce individual
Moral/Character Trait(s) Cooperation; Determination
Lesson Title Group Rope Squares
Lesson Summary This activity reinforces group cohesion and communication skills as well as problem
solving and cooperation. Groups are formed and students have to work together to
make a square out of coiled rope.
Figure 5.7 Teaching Traits Self-Discipline and Responsibility in Music
Grade Level: 7-8 Content Area: Music
Learning Objective(s) National Music Standards Learning Objectives: Singing, alone and with others, a
varied repertoire of music Performing on instruments, alone and with others, a varied
repertoire of music. Understanding music in relation to history and culture.
Moral/Character Trait(s) Self-discipline; Responsibility
Lesson Title Choral Concert
Lesson Summary Students perform song using correct posture, singing voice, and rhythm. Students
perform accompaniment on non-pitched percussion instruments with appropriate
technique and rhythm. Students discuss social and cultural context of the song lyrics.
Figure 5.8 Teaching Traits Respect for Self and Respect for Others in Reading/Language Arts, Health, and Mathematics
Grade Level: 6 Content Area: Reading/Language Arts, Health, Mathematics
Learning Objective(s) Reading/Language Arts
gather information from reference works: books… periodicals… dictionaries…
thesauruses… encyclopedia… atlases and almanacs
present information through reports… demonstrations and projects
explain the personal responsibility of individuals and community members
for maintaining public safety
display data using tables and graphs
read… analyze and interpret tables and graphs
Moral/Character Trait(s) Respect for Self, Respect for Others
Lesson Title Smoke ‘Em Out
Lesson Summary Students develop and use a questionnaire to survey others on their awareness of the
danger of second hand smoke, then graph the data collected, relate their findings to at
least two character qualities/traits and present to the class.
Moral Development and Classroom Management (Nucci, 2009)
Schools and classrooms contribute to students’ moral development through the nature of the overall social and emotional
climate. This includes the way in which teachers and schools address behavioral issues through classroom management and
discipline. Paying attention to the emotional climate of classrooms is important because children incorporate emotional
experiences within their social cognitive schemes.
Variations in the emotional experiences of children can affect their moral orientations. The development of morality in
children is supported by experiences of emotional warmth and fairness. Children who grow up in such environments tend
to construct a view of the world based on goodwill. A child who maintains an orientation of goodwill feels emotionally
secure and expects the world to operate according to basic moral standards of fairness. Children who maintain this
orientation are more likely to engage in prosocial behavior. A moral classroom climate is one that fosters this tendency
toward goodwill. The elements of a moral classroom climate address the following four needs: autonomy, belonging,
competence, and fairness.
In early childhood it is especially important to construct a classroom climate characterized by positive emotion. In middle
childhood students are less dependent on adults. However, they become more susceptible to social comparison and peer
exclusion. A positive moral climate reduces competition and increases opportunities for peer collaborative learning and
social problem solving. In adolescence the challenge is to offset the negative impact of student cliques and tendencies toward
alienation. Large high schools pose special challenges for the creation of moral community. The Just Community School
and the Small Schools movement are efforts to address this challenge through “schools within schools.
A positive moral atmosphere is complemented by behavioral management in the form of developmental discipline. In
addition to the goals of control and efficiency common to all approaches to behavioral management, developmental
discipline includes the additional goal of fostering students’ social and moral competence. Developmental discipline
engages students’ intrinsic motivation to do what is right for their own reasons. Developmental discipline deemphasizes the
use of external rewards and punishments to shape behavior. Conflicts and misbehavior are addressed primarily through
social problem solving. Teacher discourse provides suggestions and scaffolding to support students’ efforts to resolve
disputes and arrive at fair solutions.
Teacher feedback in support of positive behavior avoids the use of external rewards such as gold stars or certificates of
recognition for good conduct or character because such external rewards reduce intrinsic moral motivation. Moral action
and compliance with school conventions is aided by teachers’ judicious use of positive feedback in the form of validations
that use moderate language referring to specific behavior and not the characteristics of the student. Responses to misbehavior
should minimize the use of consequences when alternative problem-solving methods are available. When consequences are
to be employed they should be “light” and in the form of logical consequences that are connected in a meaningful way to
the nature of the transgression.
Moral Development and Cheating in the Classroom
Cheating is a violation of social norms (Kline, 2017). Williams (2012) categorized cheating into five dimensions: total
cheating, serious cheating, social cheating, plagiarism, and student identified serious cheating. Academic Dishonesty (n.d.)
breaks cheating into two dimensions: individual characteristics, such as gender and GPA, and institutional environment. To
cheat or not, on the surface, it would seem that a student’s level of moral development would be the central factor for
deciding whether or not to cheat (Kline, 2017). According to Thoma and Dong (2014) moral reasoning generally increases
as the level of education increases. According to Kohlberg’s theory, higher stages of moral development would result in
clearer moral thinking and thus produce better moral actions and behaviors.
However, in the case of cheating in the classroom, it is found that moral behavior is situation specific regardless of moral
development levels or stages (Harthshorne & May, 1928-1930; Kline, 2017; Leming, 2008) Honesty or dishonesty in one
situation does not predict the behavior of a child in another situation; no significant difference was found on cheating
between students who used religious or moral focused programs and those who did not (Clouse, 2001; Harthshorne & May,
1930; Leming, 1993). Research has shown low levels of significance for factors such as level of education, GPA, a little or
no significance for grade level, and cheating is equally prevalent across academic levels and demographic variables such as
ethnicity or gender, but it does decrease with age at the college level (Geddes, 2011; Kline, 2017; McCabe & Trevino, 1993;
Cheating has always been a concern for educators and it is more prevalent than ever despite all of the focus and efforts on
moral education (Kline, 2017; Schab, 1991). A general decrease in aversion toward dishonesty and an increase in the
willingness to engage in dishonest behavior over a 30-year period was reported by Schab (1991). There is a disconnect
between perceptions of cheating and cheating behaviors (Honz, Kiewra, & Yang, 2010; Williams, 2012). Giving answers
or homework to another student is viewed more lightly than receiving or stealing answers or homework from another
student; cheating within the classroom was viewed as a greater offense than cheating outside the classroom (Honz, Kiewra,
& Yang, 2010). A significant relationship between cheating incidences and perceptions of cheating was also found that the
less serious the cheating was perceived to be, the greater the number of cheating incidences was, meaning that the more
seriously the behavior was perceived, the less frequently it occurred (Kline, 2017; Williams 2012). Remarkably, there
was no large discrepancy in cheating perceptions across grade level and academic level (Kline, 2017).
What does this all mean for teachers? In responding to cheating, preventive measures are among the first strategies in the
classroom (Santrock, 2018). It is the teachers’ responsibility to help students understand the purpose of learning and goals
of education. Teachers should foster intrinsic motivation for learning in the classroom. Learning is not to get a high grade.
To improve students’ self-efficacy for tests, teachers can help students understand the learning materials, and provide help
for students. Study guides and additional assistance can help better prepare students not to cheat. Woolfolk (2015) also
suggested the use of a variety of assessment measures in testing students’ learning, in order to reduce testing pressure and
cheating and to promote intrinsic learning, such as the use of group project, research project, open-book exam, and take-
home test, to name a few. Teachers can emphasize the importance of moral behavior and character integrity in the classroom.
To help shape students’ perceptions on cheating, parents, peers, and others can also help influence students as to what
behavior is acceptable and what is not in terms of cheating (Thoma & Dong, 2014). It is important to teach students to be
responsible, disciplined, moral individuals (Sandtrock, 2018).
In addition to clarifying goals and purpose of education for intrinsic motivation for learning, providing assistance for testing
preparation, instilling character traits, and shaping perceptions on cheating, and the use of a variety of forms of testing
learning as mentioned above, it is necessary to help students form proper expectations of testing and cheating culture. Rules
of testing and consequences of cheating must to be clearly announced to students in the classroom. Students’ questions
related to testing procedures need to be addressed before testing. During testing, teachers need to closely monitor students’
progress so that no opportunities are created for students to cheat. Cheating incidences should be handled immediately to
stop continuous violations. To reduce cheating incidences, testing pressure, and cheating temptations during testing, teachers
can help create a low-pressure testing atmosphere, for examples, classical music may be used as background music. Cheating
should be dealt promptly, properly, and consistently according to the established rules and policies to reduce and stop
cheating offences. This again helps create a culture of not cheating, form an intrinsically motivated learning atmosphere,
and shape students’ perceptions of what is acceptable and what is not in terms of cheating behaviors.
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& D. Narváez (Eds.), Handbook of moral and character education (pp. 134-157). New York, NY: Routledge.
McCabe, D. L., & Trevino, L. K. (1993). Academic dishonesty: Honor codes and other contextual influences. The Journal
of Higher Education, 64(5), 522-538.
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Credible Articles on the Internet
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Kohlberg’s stages of moral development. (2009). Retrieved from
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in moral education. Educational Theory, 51(3), 259.
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Experiential Learning Theory
David Allen Kolb (1939- ), American “organizational” sociologist and educational theorist, is best known for his research
into experiential learning and learning styles. Kolb received his Bachelor of Arts from Knox College in 1961, his Master of
Arts from Harvard in 1964 and his Ph.D. in sociology from Harvard University in 1967. His research has its roots in the
works of John Dewey, Kurt Lewin and Jean Piaget and the more recent work of Jack Mezirow, Paulo Freire and other
theorists, focusing on how humans process experience. As part of that tradition, Kolb states that experiential learning is a
process where knowledge results from making meaning as a result of direct experience, i.e., or simply “learning from
experience.” His experiential learning theory is a holistic or “meta-view” of learning that is a combination of experience,
perception, cognition, and behavior. To explore and continue research on the experiential learning theory, David Kolb,
along with his wife Alice Kolb, founded Experience Based Learning Systems (EBLS) in 1981. In addition to experiential
learning, Kolb is also known for contributions in important research into organizational behavior, individual and social
change, and career development and professional education. Kolb is an emeritus professor of organizational behavior at
Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.
Experiential learning is a cyclical process that capitalizes on the participants’ experiences for acquisition of knowledge. This
process involves setting goals, thinking, planning, experimentation, reflection, observation, and review. By engaging in
these activities, learners construct meaning in a way unique to themselves, incorporating the cognitive, emotional, and
physical aspects of learning.
“Tell me, and I will forget. Show me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I will understand.”
(Confucius Circa 450 BC)
The Experiential Learning Theory
Experiential Learning Theory “provides a holistic model of the learning process and a multi-linear model of adult
development” (Baker, Jensen, & Kolb, 2002, p. 51). In other words, this is an inclusive model of adult learning that intends
to explain the complexities of and differences between adult learners within a single framework. The focus of this theory is
experience, which serves as the main driving force in learning, as knowledge is constructed through the transformative
reflection on one’s experience (Baker, Jensen, & Kolb, 2002).
The learning model outlined by the Experiential Learning Theory (ELT) contains two distinct modes of gaining experience
that are related to each other on a continuum: concrete experience (apprehension) and abstract conceptualization
(comprehension). In addition, there are also two distinct modes of transforming the experience so that learning is achieved:
reflective observation (intension) and active experimentation (extension) (Baker, Jensen, & Kolb, 2002). When these four
modes are viewed together, they constitute a four-stage learning cycle that learners go through during the experiential
learning process (Figure 6.1). The learners begin with a concrete experience, which then leads them to observe and reflect
on their experience. After this period of reflective observation, the learners then piece their thoughts together to create
abstract concepts about what occurred, which will serve as guides for future actions. With these guides in place, the learners
actively test what they have constructed leading to new experiences and the renewing of the learning cycle (Baker, Jensen,
Figure 6.1 Experiential Learning Cycle
Figure 6.1. The graphic above is a representation of the Experiential Learning Cycle, which includes the
components of experience, critical reflection, abstract conceptualization, active experimentation, and more critical
reflection. Real experiences help the individual learn advanced abstract concepts. The experiences might result in
paths, which allow the individual to actively collect information to learn and become a member of the community of
practice. Perhaps critical thinking and reflection may refine ideas or lead the individual to consider alternate
possibilities. Each phase potentially leads to another and builds upon the former (LaBanca, 2008).
The ELT model for learning can be viewed as a cycle consisting of two distinct continuums, apprehension-comprehension
and intension-extension. However, these dialectical entities must be integrated in order for learning to occur. Apprehension-
comprehension involves the perception of experience, while intension-extension involves the transformation of the
experience. One without the other is not an effective means for acquiring knowledge (Baker, Jensen, & Kolb, 2002). Another
way to view this idea is summarized as follows, “perception alone is not sufficient for learning; something must be done
with it” and “transformation alone cannot represent learning, for there must be something to be transformed” (Baker, Jensen,
& Kolb, pp. 56-67).
The ELT model attempts to explain why learners approach learning experiences in such different manners but are still able
to flourish. Indeed, some individuals develop greater proficiencies in some areas of learning when compared to others
(Laschinger, 1990). The ELT model shows that during the learning process, learners must continually choose which abilities
to use in a given learning situation and resolve learning abilities that are on opposite ends of a continuum (Baker, Jensen,
& Kolb, 2002). Indeed, learners approach the tasks of grasping experience and transforming experience from different points
within a continuum of approaches. However, it is important that they also resolve the discomfort with the opposite approach
on the continuum in order for effective learning to occur. Thus, if a learner is more comfortable perceiving new information
in a concrete manner and actively experimenting during the processing of the experience, the learner must also undergo
some abstract conceptualization and reflective observation in order to complete the cycle and lead to effective learning.
Thus, a learner who experiments with models and manipulates them in the process of learning must also be able to
conceptualize and form observations based on what s/he experiences. This must occur, even if the learners do not consider
themselves strong in these areas (Baker, Jensen, & Kolb). This is at the heart of the ELT model and Kolb’s view of the adult
Applications of Experiential Learning Theory
There are currently many applications of Experiential Learning Theory within educational systems, especially on college
campuses. These examples include field courses, study abroad, and mentor-based internships (Millenbah, Campa, &
Winterstein, 2000). Additional examples of well-established experiential learning applications include cooperative
education, internships and service learning. There are also numerous examples of computer-based interventions based on
Cooperative Education (Co-Op)
Cooperative Education (Co-Op) is a structured educational strategy integrating classroom studies with work-based learning
related to a student’s academic or career goals. It provides field-based experiences that integrate theory and practice. Co-Op
is a partnership among students, educational institutions, and work sites which include business, government, and non-profit
community organizations. Students typically earn credit and a grade for their co-op experience while working in a paid or
unpaid capacity. College and university professional and career-technical programs such as engineering, media arts and
business often require cooperative education courses for their degrees. The National Commission for Cooperative Education
(http://www.co-op.edu/) supports the development of quality work-integrated learning programs.
Closely related to cooperative education are internships. An internship is typically a temporary position, which may be paid
or unpaid, with an emphasis on on-the-job training, making it similar to an apprenticeship. Interns are usually college or
university students, but they can also be high school students or post graduate adults seeking skills for a new career. Student
internships provide opportunities for students to gain experience in their field, determine if they have an interest in a
particular career, create a network of contacts, and, in some circumstances, gain school credit.
Service learning is a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and
reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities with the emphasis on
meeting community needs. Because of its connection to content acquisition and student development, service-learning is
often linked to school and college courses. Service-learning can also be organized and offered by community organizations.
Learn and Serve America (http://www.servicelearning.org/) supports the service-learning community in education,
community-based initiatives and tribal programs, as well as all others interested in strengthening schools and communities
using service-learning techniques and methodologies.
Field Course Scenario
A university offers a field-based campus course in wildlife and research management that requires students to actively
participate in activities other than those normally encountered during a lecture or recitation section of class. These students
are introduced to various vegetation sampling techniques in the one-hour lecture period, but application and use of the
techniques occurs when students must describe the vegetation’s structural differences between two woodlots on campus.
Students are provided with a general goal statement requiring them to differentiate between the two areas based on structure
but are not told how to determine these differences or how detailed the description of structure must be (e.g., vertical cover
or vertical cover broken out by height strata). Students must first determine the objectives of the project before proceeding.
Once these have been agreed on with all members of the group, methods for collecting the data are determined. Students
may work with others in the class or with the instructor to determine the most appropriate sampling design. After selecting
an appropriate sampling design, students are required to collect the data, and thus learn about the technique(s) through
experience with it (concrete experience). By doing so, students learn how to use the technique and are able to more readily
decide if the technique is suitable under different sampling regimes (reflection and generalization).
During this process, students gain a broader understanding of the technique and its applicability; much of this may never be
addressed or presented in a classroom setting. Based on the prerequisites for the course, the instructor worked from the
assumption that students have an understanding of ecological concepts and basic statistics. Having these prerequisites
facilitates students putting the techniques to use in the environment being studied. An additional benefit of allowing students
to experiment with techniques is that unexpected events may occur e.g., it rains halfway through sampling. These
unstructured events can further increase a student’s confidence, excitement, and familiarity with a technique requiring the
student to make decisions about how to proceed or when to stop (active experimentation). These types of events are difficult
to model in a classroom, and even if possible, many students do not know how to deal with unexpected circumstances when
their only training has been through discussion. Feeling adequately trained to handle these circumstances will require
students to have firsthand knowledge and experience with real-world situations.
Another popular use of experiential learning which has been around for a long time is role play. It has been used for
educational and training purposes, for military strategic and tactical analysis and simply as games. We role play in
childhood-imitating our parents, playing with dolls and cars, building sand castles and pretending we are princes and
warriors-with the result that learning takes place, preparing us for life.
Role Play Scenario
The subject of this lesson is a controversy that has deep roots in American History, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Using the PBS documentary video In The Light Of Reverence, the teacher has the students closely examine the struggles
of the Lakota Sioux to maintain their sacred site at Mato Tipila (Lakota for Bear’s Lodge) at Devils Rock in Wyoming.
Although the site at Devil’s Rock was never ceded by treaty to the U.S. government, it is now under the administration of
the National Park Service. Rock climbers claim any U.S. citizen should have complete access to the site because it is on
federal land. In deference to the religious practices of the Lakota, the National Park Service asks that people do not climb
there during the entire month of June. The case has been litigated up to the Supreme Court.
After watching the video and discussing various aspects of the controversy, students role-play members of four teams: the
Lakota, rock climbers, National Park Service, and the courts. Using extensive online resources linked to the lesson, students
research the issues and evaluate the sources. The first three teams present their demands in a hearing. The court tries to help
them reach a compromise and then adjudicates any unresolved issues. The lesson continues as students compare the plight
of the Lakota to that of the Hopi and Wintu, who also struggle to maintain their sacred lands. The students will understand
the concept of “rights in conflict” arising under the First Amendment (freedom of religion), interpret a current conflict from
multiple perspectives, learn to advocate for a point of view, and learn to resolve a conflict through a conflict resolution
Simulations and Gaming
Simulations and gaming within instruction also involve direct experience and thus are valid examples of experiential
learning. Within game interactions, there are often several cycles presented to the participant. These cycles generally consist
of participation by the user, decision making, and a period of analysis. This process coincides greatly with the Experiential
Learning Cycle outlined above (Marcus, 1997). In addition, it has been found that simulations which shorten the debriefing
period at the end of the game session can diminish their own effectiveness. This means that games which do not allow for
appropriate reflection are not as effective as if proper reflection occurs. Thus, it is apparent that the reflective observation
and abstract conceptualization portions of simulations and games are vital to learning, which has also been established by
the Experiential Learning Theory (Ulrich, 1997).
Yet another application of experiential learning is in the field of e-learning. Specifically, there has been an effort to utilize
this model to increase the effectiveness of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) e-learning courses. It was found
that many of these courses did not allow for concrete experience and active experimentation due to the fact that the learning
processes were based on more traditional learning methods and not capitalizing on the self-directed nature of the learners
(Friedman, Watts, Croston, & Durkin, 2002). However, with the use of different technologies such as multimedia resources,
web-based discussions, online planners, and creative tasks, e-learning courses could be improved in a manner that would
strengthen the entire experiential learning cycle for the learner (Frank, Reich, & Humphreys, 2003).
Steps to Integrating Experiential Learning in the Classroom
1. Set up the experience by introducing learners to the topic and covering basic material that the learner must
know beforehand (the video scenario as well as discussion).
2. Engage the learner in a realistic experience that provides intrigue as well as depth of involvement (mock
3. Allow for discussion of the experience including the happenings that occurred and how the individuals
involved felt (discussion afterwards).
4. The learner will then begin to formulate concepts and hypotheses concerning the experience through
discussion as well as individual reflection (discussion afterwards, but also could be done with journaling).
5. Allow the learners to experiment with their newly formed concepts and experiences (interpreting current
conflict and conflict resolution scenario).
6. Further reflection on experimentation (discussion, but could also be done through journaling).
Criticisms of Experiential Learning Theory
Since Kolb created the Experiential Learning Theory and the accompanying learning model, his work has been met with
various criticisms about its worth and effectiveness. One of the criticisms of this model is that the concrete experience part
of the learning cycle is not appropriately explained in the theory and remains largely unexplored. Herron (as cited in Yorks
& Kasl, 2002, pp. 180-181) believes that “the notion of feeling is nowhere defined or elaborated, thus concrete experience
is not properly explored. The model is really about reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active
experimentation.” Another common criticism of the theory that exposes a weakness is that the idea of immediate and
concrete experience is problematic and unrealistic (Miettinen, 2000).
Other criticisms of the ELT are that the concepts outlined by Kolb are too ill-defined and open to various interpretations
and that the ideas he presents are an eclectic blend of ideas from various theorists that do not fit logically together. Another,
perhaps more biting criticism of Kolb’s work is that his ELT model is only an attempt to explain the societal benefit of his
Learning Styles Inventory and thus may actually be a well derived marketing ploy (Miettinen, 2000). Also, it is believed
that the phases in the ELT learning model remain separate and do not connect to each other in any manner (Miettinen).
However, the most tangible weaknesses of the ELT and the ELT learning model are the vast differences between it and the
ideas established by John Dewey, whose beliefs are largely attributed to the establishment of the ELT. Dewey believed that
non-reflective experience borne out of habit was the dominant form of experience and that reflective experience only
occurred when there were contradictions of the habitual experience. But, in a glaring weakness of the ELT, Kolb does not
adequately discuss the role of non-reflective experience in the process of learning (Miettinen, 2000). In addition, Dewey
believed that observations of reality and nature were the starting point of knowledge acquisition. Kolb, however, believes
that the experience is the starting point of knowledge acquisition and disregards the observations concerning the subjective
reality of the learner, another blatant weakness (Miettinen). A final weakness in the ELT that was noticed is its lack of
discussion concerning the social aspect of experience. The ELT learning model focused on the learning process for a single
learner and failed to mention how the individual fit into a social group during this process and what role this group may
play. Also, there was no discussion on how a social group may gain knowledge through a common experience.
Revised Experiential Learning Cycle
With all of the criticisms of the Experiential Learning Theory, it may be too easy to overlook its merits in the field of adult
education. Each adult has his/her own unique set of experiences and set of learning abilities that he/she feels comfortable
utilizing. Kolb’s theory accounts for this fact and shows how the learner can utilize his/her experiences and learning strengths
in the process of constructing knowledge. Kolb also did a good job of integrating the two dialectical entities into the model
to create a complete learning cycle in which the entire learning process can be traced. In addition, Kolb did a great job of
showing how the learner can be effective utilizing his/her learning strengths, while at the same time using skills that are
underdeveloped to complete the learning cycle.
However, due to the weaknesses of the ELT model as created by Kolb, it is necessary to construct another model, which
includes Kolb’s beliefs and at the same time confronts the weaknesses that have been found. Below (Figure 6.2) is a
representation of a model that could be used for this purpose. The idea behind this model was to include the observations
of the learners’ own subjective reality as a starting point for experience. Then, a disruptive experience occurs, which
challenges the habitual patterns of the learner. Once the experience has been encountered learners enter a stage of emotion
inventory in which they become cognizant of their emotions in reaction to the experience. These emotions then play a role
in the next step, which is a stage of reflective observation similar to that outlined by Kolb in his model. After this stage,
learners enter a stage of conceptualization and hypothesis formation in which they attempt to piece the information gathered
thus far concerning the experience into logical chunks. Once this occurs, learners address the experience in some manner.
This may include active experimentation to test a hypothesis. Or, it may also include higher order planning which requires
even more in-depth examination of the experience. This stage can lead to two different types of experiences, expected and
disruptive, both of which lead to repetition of the learning cycle. The expected experiences include those which can be
predicted by the concepts and hypothesis that were established in the learning cycle. Disruptive experiences, on the other
hand, include those that conflict with the concepts that were formulated in the experiential process. It is also readily evident
in the model that the experiential learning cycle can occur individually or within a social group.
Figure 6.2 Revised Experiential Learning Cycle
Figure 6.2. The graphic depicts the revised experiential learning cycle. It includes the encompassing circle of the
environment as well as cycle of events in the learning process that can occur individually or in a group. The different
elements are explained below in the order that they appear on the cycle.
Subjective Stimuli: Observations about an individual’s surrounding environment and nature made by the
individual, as well as more affective and temporal judgments about things not really seen but that are definitely
felt. It is possible that individuals can learn from this activity and not enter the cycle depicted below.
Can Occur Individually or In a Social Group
Disruptive Experience: Experience that is a disruption of the habitual manner in which an individual
experiences things. This is in contrast to a non-reflective experience borne out of habit.
Emotion Inventory: Inventory of emotions that are created by the disruptive experience.
Reflective Observation: Observations concerning the experience and reflection upon the event including causes,
possible effects, etc.
Conceptualization/Hypothesizing: Further processing of the experience; creating concepts to explain the
experience and construction of explanatory hypotheses.
Addressing: The concepts and hypotheses that have been constructed are formulated and the experience is
addressed in some manner. There is an attempt to predict future experience. This may involve planning, active
experimentation, or cautious testing.
The encompassing circle of the environment depicts how all of the activities take place in the context of a certain
environment and are affected somehow by the environment.
Experiential Learning Theory outlines the manner in which learners gain knowledge and understanding through experiences.
Though some may debate which steps are present in experiential learning, there is no debate about the worth of experience
in learning. Through experience, learners are able to construct firsthand a sense of understanding of the events going on
around them. Educators have begun to harness the power of experience in study abroad courses, field studies, role plays,
and numerous computer-based interventions. The future could bring even more applications of this theory, a possibility as
exciting for the learner as much as it is the facilitator.
Baker, A., Jensen, P., & Kolb, D. (2002). Conversational learning: An approach to knowledge creation. Wesport, CT:
Frank, M., Reich, N., & Humphreys, K. (2003). Respecting the human needs of students in development of e-learning.
Computers & Education, 40, 57-70.
Friedman, A., Watts, D., Croston, J., & Durkin, C. (2002). Evaluating online CPD using educational criteria derived from
the experiential learning cycle. British Journal of Educational Technology, 33, 367-378.
LaBanca, F. (2008). Impact of problem finding on the quality of authentic open inquiry science research projects.
Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Danbury, CT: Western Connecticut State University.
Laschinger, H. (1990). Review of experiential learning theory research in the nursing profession. Journal of Advanced
Nursing, 15, 985-993.
Miettinen, R. (2000). The concept of experiential learning and John Dewey’s theory of reflective thought and action.
International Journal of Lifelong Education, 19(1), 54-72.
Millenbah, K. F., Campa, H. III, & Winterstein, S. R. (2000). Models for the infusing experimental learning in the
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resource education (pp. 44-49). Retrieved from
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the role of affect. Adult Education Quarterly, 52(3), 176-192.
Credible Articles on the Internet
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7(2), 127-133. Retrieved from
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Dewey, J. (1902). The school as social center. Proceedings of the National Education Association, 373-383. Retrieved
Experiential Learning. (2009). Retrieved from:
Field, R. (1998). Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from http://www.iep.utm.edu/dewey/
Greenaway, R. (n.d.). Experiential learning articles and critiques of David Kolb’s theory. Retrieved from
Neill, J. (2005). John Dewey the modern father of experiential education. Retrieved from:
Neill, J. (2005). Summary of Dewey’s Experience and Education.
Oxendine, C., Robinson, J., & Willson, G. (2004). Experiential learning. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on
learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from http://epltt.coe.uga.edu/index.php?title=Experiential_Learning
Kayes, D. (2002). Experiential learning and its critics: Preserving the role of experience in management learning and
education. Academy Of Management Learning & Education, 1(2), 137-149.
Kirschner, P., Sweller, J., & Clark, R. (2006). Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work: An analysis of the
failure of constructivist, discovery, problem-based, experiential, and inquiry-based teaching. Educational Psychologist,
41(2), 75-86. Retrieved from
Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ:
Roberts, T. G. (2003). An interpretation of Dewey’s experiential learning theory. Retrieved from ERIC database.
Schmidt, M. (2010). Learning from teaching experience: Dewey’s theory and preservice teachers’ learning. Journal of
Research in Music Education, 58(2), 131-146.
Dalton State College Books
Boisvert, R. D. (1998). John Dewey: Rethinking our time. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Campbell, H. M. (1971). John Dewey. New York, NY: Twayne.
Hook, S. (1971). John Dewey: An intellectual portrait. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
Videos and Tutorials
John Dewey: An introduction to his life and work. (2003). Retrieved from Films on Demand database.
Bioecological Model of Human Development
Urie Bronfenbrenner (1917- ), a Russian American psychologist, was born on April 29, 1917 to Dr. Alexander
Bronfenbrenner and Kamenetski Bronfenbrenner. At the age of 6, his family relocated to United States. For a short period
of time, they settled at Letchworth village in Pittsburgh where his father worked as a research director and clinical
psychologist. Bronfenbrenner attended Cornell University after his graduation from Haverstraw High School. In 1938, he
completed his double major in psychology and music. After that he completed his M.A. at Harvard University. In 1942, he
completed his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. Shortly after that, he was hired as a psychologist in the army doing
many assignments for the Office of Strategic Services and the Army Air Corps. In the administration and research, he
worked as an assistant chief psychologist before he accepted the offer from the University of Michigan to work as an
assistant professor in Psychology. In 1948, he accepted an offer from Cornell University as a professor in Human
development, family studies and psychology. He also served as a faculty member on the Board of Trustees in the late 1960’s
and 1970’s. Urie is admired all over the world to develop the innate relationship between research and policy on child
development. He holds the view that child development is better applicable when institutional policies motivate studies in
a natural environment and theory is best suited in a practical application when it is relevant.
The literature from the human developmental sciences provides more comprehensive conceptual and operational definitions
of human development than the economic literature typically does (Gottlieb, Wahlsten, & Lickliter, 1998; Lerner, 1998;
Baltes, Lindenberger, & Staudinger, 1998). In essence, according to Thelen and Smith (1998), “The theory of development
is based on very general and content-independent principles that describe the behavior of complex physical and biological
systems” (p. 258). Thus, development can only be understood as (1) “the multiple, mutual, and continuous interaction of all
the levels of the development system, from the molecular to the cultural”; and (2) “as nested processes that unfold over
many time scales, from milliseconds to years” (Thelen & Smith, 1998, p. 258). In other words, human development refers
to change over time, and time is typically characterized as chronological age. Age is not the cause of development; it is just
a frame of reference. More specifically, development comprises interactions among various levels of functioning, from the
genetic, physiological, and neurological to the behavioral, social, and environmental. Human development is a permanent
exchange among these levels. And the more mature the person, the more influence and control the person has over the
organization of these interactions.
Human developmental science attributes the driving force of development to so-called proximal processes: stimulating,
regular face-to-face interactions over extended periods with people, objects, or symbols, which promote the realization of
the genetic potential for effective biological, psychological, and social development. For example, parents influence and
shape their children through parenting behaviors, role modeling, and encouraging certain behaviors and activities for their
Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological model (Figure 7.1) is well suited to illustrate some important dimensions of these human
developmental processes, as it captures the complexity of human development as an intricate web of interrelated systems
and processes. A basic tenet of the bioecological systems’ theories of development (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 2006) is that
child and youth development is influenced by many different “contexts,” “settings,” or “ecologies” (for example, family,
peers, schools, communities, sociocultural belief systems, policy regimes, and, of course, the economy). The model is able
to account for multiple face-to-face environments, or settings, within the microsystem of a person (for example, family,
school, peers); how relations between settings (mesosystem) can affect what happens within them (for example, interactions
between school and family); and how settings within which the individuals have no direct presence (exo- and macrosystem)
can affect settings in their microsystems (for example, how parents’ experiences at their workplace affect their relationships
within the family) (Bronfenbrenner, 1979). Thus, this model allows the analysis of the lives of people, “living organisms
whose biopsychological characteristics, both as a species and as individuals, have as much to do with their development as
do the environments in which they live their lives” (Bronfenbrenner, 1995, p. 8).
Figure 7.1 Bioecological Model of Human Development
Figure 7.1. Source: Visual adaptation of Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological model of child development
(Bronfenbrenner, 1979). Note: SES = socioeconomic status.
A central question in scientific research on how ecologies influence development is how macrosystem contexts and events
(for example, aggregate economic shocks) influence intermediate (exo- and mesosystem) contexts, which in turn influence
the settings or contexts within the developing person’s microsystem, settings within which the person has face-to-face
interactions or proximal processes. Aggregate economic shocks are thought to affect the ecology of human development by
hitting the macrosystem, as depicted in Figure 7.1.
This model is integrative and interdisciplinary, drawing on and relating concepts and hypotheses from disciplines as diverse
as biology, behavioral genetics and neurobiology, psychology, sociology, cultural anthropology, history, and economics-
focusing on and highlighting processes and links that shape human development through the life course (Bronfenbrenner,
1995). In particular, this model relates to the economic model of human capital investments outlined earlier in many, but
not all, respects. It provides a complementary framework for understanding how shocks affect human development
understood as complex systems of interactive processes between developing individuals and their surroundings. As such,
bioecological developmental models have the potential to enrich or expand the standard economic approach to human
In what follows we will expound on human developmental processes and how these are nested within a complex set of
systems and settings. “Domains,” “processes,” and “context” provide a convenient organizational structure for discussing
the complex topic of human development.
It is widely understood that human development has many distinct and important dimensions, or domains (Alkire, 2002).
Fundamental domains of development are not generally hierarchical (one is not more important than others), irreducible
(fundamental dimensions cannot be reduced to other dimensions), or incommensurable (they cannot be adequately compared
to each other). Nonetheless, in the practical world of science, programs, and policies, some domains receive more attention
than others. In the scientific study of child and youth development, three domains-physical, biological, and neuroanatomical
development; cognitive, language, and academic development; and social, emotional, and behavioral development-have
received much more attention than have moral, spiritual, and religious development or artistic and aesthetic development.
The program and policy world parallels the scientific world in placing greater emphasis on children’s physical, cognitive,
and social-emotional development, roughly aligned with the domains of health, education, and social-emotional or
Each of these three fundamental domains is a complex system of complex subsystems. These systems emerge and evolve
over the course of human development and are complexly interrelated to other domains of human developmental systems
and subsystems. The “organizational systems” perspective on human development focuses on these fundamental domains
and strives to account for how advances or lags in one domain affect and are affected by advances or lags in other domains.
For example, the evidence reveals that nutrients by themselves do not suffice to bring about even purely physical, biological,
or neuroanatomical development and thus that development can be significantly delayed and even irreversibly compromised
in the absence of other factors crucial to development, such as a secure attachment relationship and other proximal processes
(Corrales & Utter, 2005). The bioecological systems’ perspective on human development examines how different contexts,
settings, experiences, and events affect different domains of child and youth development.
The implications of multiple and interrelated domains of development are clear. Examining the impacts both within the
physical (health), cognitive (educational), and social-emotional (psychosocial wellbeing) domains and across these domains
will likely enrich efforts to understand child and youth development.
Put very simply, children’s development is the result of proximal processes; of participating in increasingly complex
reciprocal interactions with people, objects, and symbols in their immediate environments (their microsystem contexts) over
extended periods of time (represented by the chronosystem) (Bronfenbrenner, 1994a). Thus, according to Bronfenbrenner’s
definition, “a microsystem is a pattern of activities, social roles, and interpersonal relations experienced by the developing
person in a given face-to-face setting with particular physical, social, and symbolic features that invite, permit, or inhibit
engagement in sustained, progressively more complex interaction with, and activity in, the immediate environment”
(Bronfenbrenner, 1994b, p. 39). Examples of settings within the microsystem are families, neighborhoods, day care centers,
schools, playgrounds, and so on within which activities, roles, and interpersonal relations set the stage for proximal processes
as crucial mechanisms for human development.
The heterogeneity in individual outcomes thus stems from systematic variation in individuals’ characteristics and
environments and in the nature of the developmental outcomes under scrutiny, which jointly determine form, power, content,
and direction of proximal processes (Bronfenbrenner, 1994a). Thus, proximal processes determine the capacities of
individuals to (1) differentiate perception and response; (2) direct and control their own behaviors; (3) cope successfully
under stress; (4) acquire knowledge and skills; (5) establish and maintain mutually rewarding relationships; and (6) modify
and construct their own physical, social, and symbolic environments (Bronfenbrenner, 1994a). Proximal processes are
thought to be the most important influences on children’s development.
Of course, not only do microcontexts affect children and youth, but also children and youth affect their microcontexts.
Children, youth, and the mircocontexts transact (see Sameroff, 2009, for a transactional model). Insecurely attached children
are more emotionally demanding for stressed parents to care for, and children slowed in language development stimulate
less verbal exchange with adults. Economic shocks are likely to have an impact on these transactional, bidirectional systems
of influences between children or youth and their immediate environments. This view of human development as
transactional places heavy design and data demands on studies of the underlying mechanisms or pathways of influence,
including studies of the influence of economic shocks on child and youth development.
Context and the Interplay of Systems and Settings
In the bioecological model, contextual effects are manifested in a complex interplay of the micro-, meso-, exo-, and
macrosystems. The ways these systems interact and influence each other can contribute to an understanding of how shocks
to the macrosystem, such as a financial crisis, can disrupt the developmental process as it is transmitted to various settings
in a child’s microsystem. Household socioeconomic status, neighborhood characteristics, and school environments, just to
mention a few, will determine the quality, frequency, and intensity of proximal processes. For instance, there is a significant
body of literature that looks at how household poverty and hardship affect child development (see, for example, Duncan &
Brooks-Gunn, 1997). Neighborhood and community contexts and their influence on children have also been studied
extensively (see, for example, Brooks-Gunn, Duncan, & Aber, 1997). For instance, although family socioeconomic status
is correlated with well-being and human development, it is not clear if socioeconomic status causes variations in health and
well-being or if personal characteristics and dispositions of individuals influence both their socioeconomic status and their
future socioemotional well-being and behavior (Conger, Conger, & Martin, 2010, p. 687; Mayer, 1997). In addition, studies
have started to unravel the pathways through which poverty affects child and youth development, ranging from the
availability of quality prenatal and perinatal care, exposure to environmental toxins such as lead, less cognitive stimulation
at home, harsh and inconsistent parenting, to lower teacher quality (McLoyd, 1998). Furthermore, various studies have
compared the implications of temporary versus chronic deprivation and how the impact differs according to life stage of the
developing person (see, for accounts, Elder, 1999; McLoyd, 1998; McLoyd et al., 2009). In other words, a temporary drop
in socioeconomic status during a crisis may have markedly different long-term implications depending on the age of the
A mesosystem, according to Bronfenbrenner, “comprises the linkages and processes taking place between two or more
settings containing the developing person” (1994b, p. 40), such as the relations between home and school He notes that “it
is formed or extended whenever the developing person moves into a new setting” (1979, p. 25). The main distinction
between the meso- and the microsystem is that in the microsystem activities, social roles, and interpersonal relations are
confined to one setting, whereas the mesosystem incorporates the interactions across the boundaries of at least two settings
(Bronfenbrenner, 1979, p. 209). The mesosystem is structured by institutions that have taken-for-granted rules for interaction
and that shape expected behaviors with the help of shared norms. Institutions may be mutually reinforcing or in tensions
with one another, as when the implicit rules for gaining status among peers are at odds with standards of behavior valued
by schools and with rules facilitating educational achievement (Carter, 2007; Warikoo, 2010).
Settings in the mesosystem can enhance (or diminish) people’s developmental potential when (1) a transition is made
together with a group of others that they have engaged with in previous settings (versus alone) (for example, transition with
a group of peers from kindergarten to school); (2) when roles and activities between two settings are compatible (or
incompatible) and encourage (or discourage) trust, positive orientation, and consensus on goals, as well as a balance of
power in favor of the developing person; (3) when the number of structurally different settings is increased (or decreased)
and others are more (or less) mature or experienced; and (4) when cultural or subcultural contexts differ from each other
(Bronfenbrenner, 1979, pp. 209-223).
An exosystem refers to “the linkages and processes taking place between two or more settings, at least one of which does
not contain the developing person, but in which events occur that indirectly influence processes within the immediate setting
in which the developing person lives” (Bronfenbrenner, 1994b, p. 40). An example of such an exosystem setting would be
the parent’s workplace, in which the child does not interact directly, but which could indirectly, through parental stress, job
loss, or the like, influence family dynamics and thus the developing child. Consequently, a causal sequence of at least two
steps is required to qualify as an exosystem. The first step is to establish a connection between events in the external setting,
or exosystem, which does not include the developing person, to processes in the microsystem, which does include the person,
and, second, to link these processes to developmental changes in the developing person (Bronfenbrenner, 1979). Important
to note in this context is the ability of the child to influence parents just as much as parents influence the child, and this
influence can reach far beyond the family into settings of the child’s exosystem (Bronfenbrenner, 1979).
Research to date has focused on three prominent exosystems that are particularly likely to influence the developmental
processes of children and youth through their influence on the family, school, and peers: parents’ workplaces, family social
networks, and neighborhood-community contexts (Bronfenbrenner, 1994b). To illustrate, Kohn’s research (see, for
example, Pearlin & Kohn, 2009) demonstrated that the beliefs, standards, and expectations parents face at work, for example
concerning their autonomy or dependency, is what they bring home and essentially expect the same from their children. As
a result, parents who were always subdued at work have a tendency to subdue their children. This factor may help explain
intergenerational transmission of values. Economic shocks can have a tremendous effect on exosystems, affecting not only
the workplaces of parents but also the situations of those who do not have work. Several functions of work-such as
organization of the day, income, and social status, among others-can be affected.
The macrosystem captures “the overarching pattern of micro-, meso-, and exosystems characteristic of a given culture or
subculture, with particular reference to the belief systems, bodies of knowledge, material resources, customs, lifestyles,
opportunity structures, hazards, and lifecourse options that are embedded in each of these broader systems”
(Bronfenbrenner, 1994b, p. 40). These include the laws and regulations, political economy, economic markets, and public
policies of the societies within which the developing person is embedded. Incorporating the macrosystem takes the analysis
beyond the identification of class, ethnic, and cultural differences in child-rearing practices and outcomes and incorporates
the phenomena of aggregate economic shocks. Of particular interest are dynamic aspects of “ecological transitions,” such
as investigations of how social and economic changes affect children and youths’ development and how they adapt to such
changes in the macrosystem.
While Bronfenbrenner refers mainly to cultural aspects of the macrosystem, a society’s cultural frameworks, politics, and
institutions are all closely interrelated and mutually reinforcing. Thus, the process of change can be induced through several
channels or entities, the result of which will be a “complicated set of interlocking physical and social relations, patterns, and
processes” (Martin, McCann, & Purcell, 2003, p. 114). Put another way, the macrosystem can be interpreted as “space” that
Lefebvre (1991) defined as an “unavoidably social product created from a mix of legal, political, economic, and social
practices and structures” (p. 190). Individuals draw on these cultural tools that their environment puts at their disposal, or
that they choose to make sense of challenges and imagine effective solutions. They also find strategies for action by
observing the behaviors of those around them and the consequences of their actions.
The bioecological model is flexible enough to accommodate cross-national variations in the weight given to various aspects
of human development influenced by the local culture (for instance, the greater emphasis on self-esteem, self-actualization,
and individualization characteristic of the American upper-middle class; see Markus, 2004). It also takes into consideration
meso- and macrolevel conditions for collective human development, including shared myths and narratives that buttress the
individual sense of self and capabilities (see, for example, Hall & Lamont, 2009).
Similarly, the bioecological model is capable of capturing “experiences.” Proximal processes and other interactions are
“experienced by the developing person,” which is meant to indicate, “that the scientifically relevant features of any
environment include not only its objective properties but also the way in which these properties are perceived by the persons
in that environment” (Bronfenbrenner, 1979, p. 22). Experiences in this sense are individual (and collective) constructs of
the “objective,” which determines an individual’s (and a group’s) capacity for making meaning and for self-representation
(Hall & Lamont, 2009). Experiences, while in part determined by the individual’s personality, are embedded in local culture
and customs; thus, understanding the cultural frameworks and narratives that shape the relationships and processes within
and between settings and systems is crucial to recognizing factors that enhance or weaken the resilience of a developing
One example of the cultural or contextual variability in the meaning of experience comes from the empirical literature on
the influence of parenting styles on the development of children’s academic and social-emotional competencies. Early
research indicated that authoritative parenting (which combines warmth with firm control) promoted greater child
competence than did authoritarian (low warmth, very high control) or laissez-faire (low warmth, low control) parenting (for
reviews, see Baumrind, 1989, 1991). But subsequent research observed race, ethnic, and neighborhood differences in the
influence of parenting styles on child competence. In a sample of African American and Latino-American parents living in
dangerous inner-city neighborhoods, authoritarian parenting behaviors were associated with less adolescent delinquency
than authoritative parenting behaviors (Florsheim, Tolan, & Gorman-Smith, 1996). This pattern of findings has led child
developmentalists to believe that “high control” parenting has greater adaptive value in more dangerous neighborhoods and
may be “experienced” by children in a different way in those contexts (Furstenberg et al., 1999; Garcia-Coll et al., 1996;
McLoyd, 1990; Rodriguez & Walden, 2010).
Finally, only recently have the theory, measures, and mathematical models been available to enable the rigorous empirical
study of child and youth development in context. As pointed out previously, children and youth are embedded in and transact
with each other in and across contexts. Consequently, the study of peer and other spillover effects in human developmental
science has grown, as it has in the social sciences, although many of these studies do not convincingly control for what
determines the individuals with whom one interacts. These advances are directly relevant to improving our understanding
of the impact of economic shocks on child and youth development.
To reiterate, the human developmental process consequently depends on more than the available resources, prices, policies,
and parental preferences for investments in their children. From a human development perspective, if we are to fully
understand the effects of economic shocks on child and youth development, we must track the influence of economic
(macro) shocks on exo- and mesosystems and in turn on children’s microsystem contexts and the proximal processes-that
is, the reciprocal interactions between children and immediate contexts-that are the drivers of human development.
The Bioecological Model by Bronfenbrenner looked at patterns of development across time as well as the interactions
between the development of the child and the environment. The implications of the Model include the social and political
policies and practices affecting children, families, and parenting. The Bioecological Model as depicted in Figure 7.1 serve
as a visual organizer to both summarize and unpack key concepts and themes as they related to individual development,
teaching and learning, and educational practices. As teachers and educators strive to become evidence-based practitioners,
the goal of learning this Model is to understand the theoretical and research foundations that inform the work in supporting
students’ well-being, teaching and learning and identify and use other factors/resources such as parents, family, peers, to
provide positive influence on students’ learning and development.
In that regard, Bronfenbrenner‘s Bioecological Model encourages much consideration of what constitutes supportive
interactions in fostering development. It goes beyond identifying what might influence development, and, more importantly,
assists in considering how and why it influences development. Furthermore, Bronfenbrenner’s theory also assists in
considering how an interaction might be added or taken away or improved to foster development and, especially, how a
face-to-face interaction between a developing individual and an agent within his or her environment might be changed.
Although Bronfenbrenner’s multi-system model has value in identifying the resources that influence development, it is
likely of most value in assisting consideration of how the resource might be used. Inherent within this idea is the emphasis
Bronfenbrenner places on proximal processes, those interactions nearest to the individual have the greatest influence on the
development of the individual.
Criticisms of the Bioecological Model
A criticism of Bronfenbrenner has been that the model focuses too much on the biological and cognitive aspects of human
development, but not much on socioemotional aspect of human development. A more comprehensive view of human
development with the 3 domains of human development in the center is suggested (Integrated Ecological Systems and
Framework, n.d.). This ecological model is called the Integrated Ecological Systems Framework (Figure 7.2).
Figure 7.2 Integrated Ecological Systems Framework
Figure 7.2. Source: Integrated Ecological Systems and Framework (n.d.). The picture above illustrated Integrated
Systems Framework with 3 domains of human development in the center: Biological Domain, Cognitive Domain, and
Developmentalists often refer to the three domains as overlapping circles that represent the intricately interwoven
relationship between each of the following aspects of an individual’s experience (Figure 7.3). Biological Processes: the
physical changes in an individual’s body. Cognitive Processes: the changes in an individual’s thinking and intelligence.
Socioemotional Processes: the changes in an individual’s relationship with other people in emotions, in personality and in
the role of social contexts in development.
Figure 7.3 Processes of Human Development
Figure 7.3. Source: Integrated Ecological Systems and Framework. (n.d.). The picture above illustrated the three
domains of processes: Biological Processes, Cognitive Processes, and Socioemotional Processes.
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(Eds.), Handbook of child psychology: Theoretical models of human development (6th ed., Vol. 1, pp. 793-828). New
York, NY: Wiley.
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among African American and Hispanic boys. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 64 (6), 1222-1230.
Furstenburg, F. F., Cook, T., Eccles, J., Elder, G. H., & Sameroff, A. (1999). Managing to make it: Urban families in
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perspectives on urban politics and policy. Journal of Urban Affairs, 25(2), 113-121.
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parenting, and socioemotional development. Child Development, 61(2), 311-346.
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Credible Articles on the Internet
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Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles
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Youth, 15(3), 162-166.
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530. Retrieved from http://www2.humboldt.edu/cdblog/CD350-Hansen/wp-
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level early development instrument. Social Indicators Research, 103(2), 193-217.
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Rosa, E. M., & Tudge, J. (2013). Urie Bronfenbrenner’s theory of human development: Its evolution from ecology to
bioecology. Journal of Family Theory & Review, 5(4), 243-258.
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bioecological model. Families in Society, 84(1), 39-50.
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Books at Dalton State College Library
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Harvard University Press.
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Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Videos and Tutorials
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Psychosocial Theory of Identity Development
Erik H. Erikson (1902-1994), born in Germany in 1902, was a world-renowned scholar of the behavioral sciences. His
contributions ranged from psychology to anthropology. Moreover, his two biographies, one of Ghandi, the other a Pulitzer-
Prize study of Martin Luther, earned him distinction in literature. Curiously, however, he was not a hero in his own house.
Serious students of personality theory underscored his seminal contribution: linking individual development to external
forces (structured as the “Life Cycle,” the stages ranging from infancy to adulthood). Rather than the negations of pathology,
Erikson welcomed the affirmation of human strength, stressing always the potential of constructive societal input in
personality development. Erikson’s dual concepts of an (individual) ego and group identity have become an integral part of
group psychology, with terms such as adolescent “identity diffusion,” or adolescent “moratorium,” having been
mainstreamed into everyday language.
In 1933, when the Nazi power was gaining power in Germany, Erikson and his wife and young son left for the US. The
Eriksons settled first in Boston. Erikson began teaching at Harvard’s medical school, in addition to his work under Henry
A. Murray at the university’s Psychology Clinic. It was here he met Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson, Ruth Benedict as
well as Kurt Lewin. In 1936, Erikson moved to Yale University where he was attached to both the medical school and to
the Yale Institute of Human Relations. His first field study of the Sioux Indians in South Dakota was launched from New
Haven. The subsequent work with the Yurok Indians, commenced after he had gone to the University of California in 1939
to join Jean MacFarlane’s longitudinal study of personality development. During World War II, Erikson did research for the
U.S. Government, including an original study of “Submarine Psychology.” In 1950, the same year in which Childhood and
Society, his most steady-selling book was published, Erikson resigned from the University of California. Though not a
Communist, he refused to sign the loyalty contract stating, that “…my conscience did not permit me,” to collaborate with
witch hunters. He returned to Harvard in the 1960s as a professor of human development and remained there until his
retirement in 1970. In 1973 the National Endowment for the Humanities selected Erikson for the Jefferson Lecture, the
United States’ highest honor for achievement in the humanities.
Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development, as articulated by Erik Erikson, in collaboration with Joan Erikson (Thomas,
1997), is a comprehensive psychoanalytic theory that identifies a series of eight stages, in which a healthy developing
individual should pass through from infancy to late adulthood. All stages are present at birth but only begin to unfold
according to both a natural scheme and one’s ecological and cultural upbringing. In each stage, the person confronts, and
hopefully masters, new challenges. Each stage builds upon the successful completion of earlier stages. The challenges of
stages not successfully completed may be expected to reappear as problems in the future.
However, mastery of a stage is not required to advance to the next stage. The outcome of one stage is not permanent and
can be modified by later experiences. Erikson’s stage theory characterizes an individual advancing through the eight life
stages as a function of negotiating his or her biological forces and sociocultural forces. Each stage is characterized by a
psychosocial crisis of these two conflicting forces (Figure 8.1). If an individual does indeed successfully reconcile these
forces (favoring the first mentioned attribute in the crisis), he or she emerges from the stage with the corresponding virtue
(Figure 8.1). For example, if an infant enters into the toddler stage (autonomy vs. shame and doubt) with more trust than
mistrust, he or she carries the virtue of hope into the remaining life stages (Crain, 2011).
Figure 8.1 Psychosocial Identity Development Stages, Virtues, and Crisis
Virtues Psychosocial Crisis
Existential Question Examples
Mother Can I trust the world?
Shame and Doubt
Parents Is it okay to be me?
Purpose Initiative vs. Guilt Family
Is it okay for me to do,
move, and act?
Tools or Making
Can I make it in the
world of people and
Who am I?
Who can I be?
Can I love?
Can I make my life
Is it okay to have been
Reflection on Life
Figure 8.1. The figure above was adapted from the website Introduction to Erikson’s 8 Stages (n.d.), and Macnow’s
(2014) book MCAT Behavioral Science Review (p. 220).
Stages of Psychosocial Identity Development
Hope: Trust vs. Mistrust (Infancy, 0-2 years)
Existential Question: Can I Trust the World?
The first stage of Erik Erikson’s theory centers around the infant’s basic needs being met by the parents and this interaction
leading to trust or mistrust. Trust as defined by Erikson is an essential trustfulness of others as well as a fundamental sense
of one’s own trustworthiness (Sharkey, 1997). The infant depends on the parents, especially the mother, for sustenance and
comfort. The child’s relative understanding of world and society come from the parents and their interaction with the child.
A child’s first trust is always with the parent or caregiver; whomever that might be; however, even the caregiver is secondary
whereas the parents are primary in the eyes of the child. If the parents expose the child to warmth, regularity, and dependable
affection, the infant’s view of the world will be one of trust. Should the parents fail to provide a secure environment and to
meet the child’s basic needs; a sense of mistrust will result (Bee & Boyd, 2009). Development of mistrust can lead to feelings
of frustration, suspicion, withdrawal, and a lack of confidence (Sharkey, 1997).
According to Erik Erikson, the major developmental task in infancy is to learn whether or not other people, especially
primary caregivers, regularly satisfy basic needs. If caregivers are consistent sources of food, comfort, and affection, an
infant learns trust-that others are dependable and reliable. If they are neglectful, or perhaps even abusive, the infant instead
learns mistrust-that the world is an undependable, unpredictable, and possibly a dangerous place. While negative, having
some experience with mistrust allows the infant to gain an understanding of what constitutes dangerous situations later in
life; yet being at the stage of infant or toddler, it is a good idea not to put them in situations of mistrust: the child’s number
one needs are to feel safe, comforted, and well cared for (Bee & Boyd, 2009).
Will: Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt (Early Childhood, 2-4 years)
Existential Question: Is It Okay to Be Me?
As the child gains control over eliminative functions and motor abilities, they begin to explore their surroundings. The
parents still provide a strong base of security from which the child can venture out to assert their will. The parents’ patience
and encouragement helps foster autonomy in the child. Children at this age like to explore the world around them and they
are constantly learning about their environment. Caution must be taken at this age while children may explore things that
are dangerous to their health and safety.
At this age children develop their first interests. For example, a child who enjoys music may like to play with the radio.
Children who enjoy the outdoors may be interested in animals and plants. Highly restrictive parents, however, are more
likely to instill in the child a sense of doubt, and reluctance to attempt new challenges. As they gain increased muscular
coordination and mobility, toddlers become capable of satisfying some of their own needs. They begin to feed themselves,
wash and dress themselves, and use the bathroom.
If caregivers encourage self-sufficient behavior, toddlers develop a sense of autonomy-a sense of being able to handle many
problems on their own. But if caregivers demand too much too soon, refuse to let children perform tasks of which they are
capable, or ridicule early attempts at self-sufficiency, children may instead develop shame and doubt about their ability to
Purpose: Initiative vs. Guilt (Preschool, 4-5 years)
Existential Question: Is it Okay for Me to Do, Move, and Act?
Initiative adds to autonomy the quality of undertaking, planning and attacking a task for the sake of just being active and on
the move. The child is learning to master the world around them, learning basic skills and principles of physics. Things fall
down, not up. Round things roll. They learn how to zip and tie, count and speak with ease. At this stage, the child wants to
begin and complete their own actions for a purpose. Guilt is a confusing new emotion. They may feel guilty over things that
logically should not cause guilt. They may feel guilt when this initiative does not produce desired results.
The development of courage and independence are what set preschoolers, ages three to six years of age, apart from other
age groups. Young children in this category face the challenge of initiative versus guilt. As described in Bee and Boyd
(2009), the child during this stage faces the complexities of planning and developing a sense of judgment. During this stage,
the child learns to take initiative and prepare for leadership and goal achievement roles. Activities sought out by a child in
this stage may include risk-taking behaviors, such as crossing a street alone or riding a bike without a helmet; both these
examples involve self-limits.
Within instances requiring initiative, the child may also develop negative behaviors. These behaviors are a result of the
child developing a sense of frustration for not being able to achieve a goal as planned and may engage in behaviors that
seem aggressive, ruthless, and overly assertive to parents. Aggressive behaviors, such as throwing objects, hitting, or yelling,
are examples of observable behaviors during this stage.
Preschoolers are increasingly able to accomplish tasks on their own, and can start new things. With this growing
independence comes many choices about activities to be pursued. Sometimes children take on projects they can readily
accomplish, but at other times they undertake projects that are beyond their capabilities or that interfere with other people’s
plans and activities. If parents and preschool teachers encourage and support children’s efforts, while also helping them
make realistic and appropriate choices, children develop initiative-independence in planning and undertaking activities. But
if, instead, adults discourage the pursuit of independent activities or dismiss them as silly and bothersome, children develop
guilt about their needs and desires (Rao, 2012).
Competence: Industry vs. Inferiority (School Age, 5-12 Years)
Existential Question: Can I Make it in the World of People and Things?
The aim to bring a productive situation to completion gradually supersedes the whims and wishes of play. The fundamentals
of technology are developed. The failure to master trust, autonomy, and industrious skills may cause the child to doubt his
or her future, leading to shame, guilt, and the experience of defeat and inferiority (Erik Erikson’s Stages of Social-Emotional
Development, n.d.). The child must deal with demands to learn new skills or risk a sense of inferiority, failure, and
Children at this age are becoming more aware of themselves as “individuals.” They work hard at “being responsible, being
good and doing it right.” They are now more reasonable to share and cooperate. Allen and Marotz (2003) also list some
perceptual cognitive developmental traits specific for this age group. Children grasp the concepts of space and time in more
logical, practical ways. They gain a better understanding of cause and effect, and of calendar time. At this stage, children
are eager to learn and accomplish more complex skills: reading, writing, telling time. They also get to form moral values,
recognize cultural and individual differences and are able to manage most of their personal needs and grooming with
minimal assistance (Allen & Marotz, 2003). At this stage, children might express their independence by talking back and
being disobedient and rebellious.
Erikson viewed the elementary school years as critical for the development of self-confidence. Ideally, elementary school
provides many opportunities to achieve the recognition of teachers, parents and peers by producing things-drawing pictures,
solving addition problems, writing sentences, and so on. If children are encouraged to make and do things and are then
praised for their accomplishments, they begin to demonstrate industry by being diligent, persevering at tasks until
completed, and putting work before pleasure. If children are instead ridiculed or punished for their efforts or if they find
they are incapable of meeting their teachers’ and parents’ expectations, they develop feelings of inferiority about their
capabilities (Crain, 2011).
At this age, children start recognizing their special talents and continue to discover interests as their education improves.
They may begin to choose to do more activities to pursue that interest, such as joining a sport if they know they have athletic
ability, or joining the band if they are good at music. If not allowed to discover their own talents in their own time, they will
develop a sense of lack of motivation, low self-esteem, and lethargy. They may become “couch potatoes” if they are not
allowed to develop interests.
Fidelity: Identity vs. Role Confusion (Adolescence, 13-19 Years)
Existential Question: Who Am I and What Can I Be?
The adolescent is newly concerned with how they appear to others. Superego identity is the accrued confidence that the
outer sameness and continuity prepared in the future are matched by the sameness and continuity of one’s meaning for
oneself, as evidenced in the promise of a career. The ability to settle on a school or occupational identity is pleasant. In later
stages of adolescence, the child develops a sense of sexual identity. As they make the transition from childhood to adulthood,
adolescents ponder the roles they will play in the adult world. Initially, they are apt to experience some role confusion-
mixed ideas and feelings about the specific ways in which they will fit into society-and may experiment with a variety of
behaviors and activities (e.g. tinkering with cars, baby-sitting for neighbors, affiliating with certain political or religious
groups). Eventually, Erikson proposed, most adolescents achieve a sense of identity regarding who they are and where their
lives are headed. The teenager must achieve identity in occupation, gender roles, politics, and, in some cultures, religion.
Erikson is credited with coining the term “identity crisis” (Gross, 1987, p. 47). Each stage that came before and that follows
has its own “crisis” but even more so now, for this marks the transition from childhood to adulthood. This passage is
necessary because “Throughout infancy and childhood, a person forms many identifications. But the need for identity in
youth is not met by these” (Wright, 1982, p. 73). This turning point in human development seems to be the reconciliation
between “the person one has come to be” and “the person society expects one to become.” This emerging sense of self will
be established by “forging” past experiences with anticipations of the future. In relation to the eight life stages as a whole,
the fifth stage corresponds to the crossroads.
What is unique about the stage of Identity is that it is a special sort of synthesis of earlier stages and a special sort of
anticipation of later ones. Youth has a certain unique quality in a person’s life; it is a bridge between childhood and
adulthood. Youth is a time of radical change-the great body changes accompanying puberty, the ability of the mind to search
one’s own intentions and the intentions of others, the suddenly sharpened awareness of the roles society has offered for later
Adolescents “are confronted by the need to re-establish [boundaries] for themselves and to do this in the face of an often
potentially hostile world” (Stevens, 1983, pp. 48-50). This is often challenging since commitments are being asked for
before particular identity roles have formed. At this point, one is in a state of “identity confusion” but society normally
makes allowances for youth to “find themselves” and this state is called “the moratorium.”
The problem of adolescence is one of role confusion-a reluctance to commit which may haunt a person into his mature
years. Given the right conditions-and Erikson believes these are essentially having enough space and time, a psychosocial
moratorium, when a person can freely experiment and explore-what may emerge is a firm sense of identity, an emotional
and deep awareness of who he or she is (Stevens, 1983, pp. 48-50).
As in other stages, bio-psycho-social forces are at work. No matter how one has been raised, one’s personal ideologies are
now chosen for oneself. Often, this leads to conflict with adults over religious and political orientations. Another area where
teenagers are deciding for themselves is their career choice, and often parents want to have a decisive say in that role. If
society is too insistent, the teenager will acquiesce to external wishes, effectively forcing him or her to ‘foreclose’ on
experimentation and, therefore, true self-discovery. Once someone settles on a worldview and vocation, will he or she be
able to integrate this aspect of self-definition into a diverse society? According to Erikson, when an adolescent has balanced
both perspectives of “What have I got?” and “What am I going to do with it?” he or she has established their identity (Gross,
1987). Dependent on this stage is the ego quality of fidelity-the ability to sustain loyalties freely pledged in spite of the
inevitable contradictions and confusions of value systems (Stevens, 1983).
Given that the next stage (Intimacy) is often characterized by marriage, many are tempted to cap off the fifth stage at 20
years of age. However, these age ranges are actually quite fluid, especially for the achievement of identity, since it may take
many years to become grounded, to identify the object of one’s fidelity, to feel that one has “come of age”. In the biographies
Young Man Luther and Gandhi’s Truth, Erikson determined that their crises ended at ages 25 and 30, respectively.
Erikson does note that the time of Identity crisis for persons of genius is frequently prolonged. He further notes that in our
industrial society, identity formation tends to be long, because it takes us so long to gain the skills needed for adulthood’s
tasks in our technological world. So… we do not have an exact time span in which to find ourselves. It doesn’t happen
automatically at eighteen or at twenty-one. A very approximate rule of thumb for our society would put the end somewhere
in one’s twenties (Gross, 1987).
Love: Intimacy vs. Isolation (Early Adulthood, 20-39 years)
Existential Question: Can I Love?
The Intimacy vs. Isolation conflict is emphasized around the age of 30. At the start of this stage, identity vs. role confusion
is coming to an end, though it still lingers at the foundation of the stage (Erikson, 1950). Young adults are still eager to
blend their identities with friends. They want to fit in. Erikson believes we are sometimes isolated due to intimacy. We are
afraid of rejections such as being turned down or our partners breaking up with us. We are familiar with pain and to some
of us rejection is so painful that our egos cannot bear it. Erikson also argues that “Intimacy has a counterpart: Distantiation:
the readiness to isolate and if necessary, to destroy those forces and people whose essence seems dangerous to our own, and
whose territory seems to encroach on the extent of one’s intimate relations” (Erikson, 1950, p. 237).
Once people have established their identities, they are ready to make long-term commitments to others. They become
capable of forming intimate, reciprocal relationships (e.g. through close friendships or marriage) and willingly make the
sacrifices and compromises that such relationships require. If people cannot form these intimate relationships-perhaps
because of their own needs-a sense of isolation may result; arousing feelings of darkness and angst.
Care: Generativity vs. Stagnation (Adulthood, 40-64 years)
Existential Question: Can I Make My Life Count?
Generativity is the concern of guiding the next generation. Socially-valued work and disciplines are expressions of
generativity. The adult stage of generativity has broad application to family, relationships, work, and society. “Generativity,
then is primarily the concern in establishing and guiding the next generation… the concept is meant to include… productivity
and creativity” (Erikson, 1950, p. 240).
During middle age the primary developmental task is one of contributing to society and helping to guide future generations.
When a person makes a contribution during this period, perhaps by raising a family or working toward the betterment of
society, a sense of generativity-a sense of productivity and accomplishment-results. In contrast, a person who is self-centered
and unable or unwilling to help society move forward develops a feeling of stagnation-a dissatisfaction with the relative
lack of productivity. Central tasks of middle adulthood are to:
Express love through more than sexual contacts.
Maintain healthy life patterns.
Develop a sense of unity with mate.
Help growing and grown children to be responsible adults.
Relinquish central role in lives of grown children.
Accept children’s mates and friends.
Create a comfortable home.
Be proud of accomplishments of self and mate/spouse.
Reverse roles with aging parents.
Achieve mature, civic and social responsibility.
Adjust to physical changes of middle age.
Use leisure time creatively.
Wisdom: Ego Integrity vs. Despair (Maturity, 65-Death)
Existential Question: Is it Okay to Have Been Me?
As we grow older and become senior citizens we tend to slow down our productivity and explore life as a retired person. It
is during this time that we contemplate our accomplishments and are able to develop integrity if we see ourselves as leading
a successful life. If we see our life as unproductive, or feel that we did not accomplish our life goals, we become dissatisfied
with life and develop despair, often leading to depression and hopelessness.
The final developmental task is retrospection: people look back on their lives and accomplishments. They develop feelings
of contentment and integrity if they believe that they have led a happy, productive life. They may instead develop a sense
of despair if they look back on a life of disappointments and unachieved goals. This stage can occur out of the sequence
when an individual feels they are near the end of their life (such as when receiving a terminal disease diagnosis).
Joan M. Erikson, who married and collaborated with Erik Erikson, added a ninth stage in The Life Cycle Completed:
Extended Version (Erikson & Erikson, 1998). Living in the ninth stage, she wrote, “old age in one’s eighties and nineties
brings with it new demands, reevaluations, and daily difficulties” (Erikson & Erikson, 1998, p. 4). Addressing these new
challenges requires “designating a new ninth stage”. Erikson was ninety-three years old when she wrote about the ninth
stage (Erikson & Erikson, 1998, p. 105).
Joan Erikson showed that all the eight stages “are relevant and recurring in the ninth stage” (Mooney, 2007, p. 78). In the
ninth stage, the psychosocial crises of the eight stages are faced again, but with the quotient order reversed. For example, in
the first stage (infancy), the psychosocial crisis was “Trust vs. Mistrust” with Trust being the “syntonic quotient” and
Mistrust being the “diatonic” (Erikson & Erikson, 1998, p. 106). Joan Erikson applies the earlier psychosocial crises to the
ninth stage as follows:
Basic Mistrust vs. Trust: Hope
In the ninth stage, “elders are forced to mistrust their own capabilities” because one’s “body inevitably weakens.”
Yet, Joan Erikson asserts that “while there is light, there is “hope” for a “bright light and revelation” (Erikson &
Erikson, 1998, pp. 106-107).
Shame and Doubt vs. Autonomy: Will
Ninth stage elders face the “shame of lost control” and doubt “their autonomy over their own bodies.” So it is that
“shame and doubt challenge cherished autonomy” (Erikson & Erikson, 1998, pp. 107-108).
Inferiority vs. Industry: Competence
Industry as a “driving force” that elders once had is gone in the ninth stage. Being incompetent “because of aging
is belittling” and makes elders “like unhappy small children of great age” (Erikson & Erikson, 1998, p. 109).
Identity Confusion vs. Identity: Fidelity
Elders experience confusion about their “existential identity” in the ninth stage and “a real uncertainty about status
and role” (Erikson & Erikson, 1998, pp. 109-110).
Isolation vs. Intimacy: Love
In the ninth stage, the “years of intimacy and love” are often replaced by “isolation and deprivation.” Relationships
become “overshadowed by new incapacities and dependencies” (Erikson & Erikson, 1998, pp. 110-111).
Stagnation vs. Generativity: Care
The generativity in the seventh stage of “work and family relationships” if it goes satisfactorily, is “a wonderful
time to be alive.” In one’s eighties and nineties, there is less energy for generativity or caretaking. Thus, “a sense of
stagnation may well take over” (Erikson & Erikson, 1998, pp. 111-112).
Despair and Disgust vs. Integrity: Wisdom
Integrity imposes “a serious demand on the senses of elders.” Wisdom requires capacities that ninth stage elders
“do not usually have.” The eighth stage includes retrospection that can evoke a “degree of disgust and despair.” In
the ninth stage, introspection is replaced by the attention demanded to one’s “loss of capacities and disintegration”
(Erikson & Erikson, 1998, pp. 112-113).
Living in the ninth stage, Joan Erikson expressed confidence that the psychosocial crisis of the ninth stage can be met as in
the first stage with the “basic trust” with which “we are blessed” (Erikson & Erikson, 1998, pp. 112-113). Erikson saw a
dynamic at work throughout life, one that did not stop at adolescence. He also viewed the life stages as a cycle: the end of
one generation was the beginning of the next. Seen in its social context, the life stages were linear for an individual but
circular for societal development (Erikson, 1950). Erik Erikson believed that development continues throughout life.
Erikson took the foundation laid by Freud and extended it through adulthood and into late life (Kail & Cavanaugh, 2004).
Criticism of the Psychosocial Theory of Identity Development
Erikson’s theory may be questioned as to whether his stages must be regarded as sequential, and only occurring within the
age ranges he suggests. There is debate as to whether people only search for identity during the adolescent years or if one
stage needs to happen before other stages can be completed. However, Erikson states that each of these processes occur
throughout the lifetime in one form or another, and he emphasizes these “phases” only because it is at these times that the
conflicts become most prominent (Erikson, 1956).
Most empirical research into Erikson has related to his views on adolescence and attempts to establish identity. His
theoretical approach was studied and supported, particularly regarding adolescence, by James E. Marcia. Marcia’s work
(1966) has distinguished different forms of identity, and there is some empirical evidence that those people who form the
most coherent self-concept in adolescence are those who are most able to make intimate attachments in early adulthood.
This supports Eriksonian theory in that it suggests that those best equipped to resolve the crisis of early adulthood are those
who have most successfully resolved the crisis of adolescence.
Teachers who apply psychosocial development in the classroom create an environment where each child feels appreciated
and is comfortable with learning new things and building relationships with peers without fear (Hooser, 2010). Teaching
Erikson’s theory at the different grade levels is important to ensure that students will attain mastery of each stage in Erikson’s
theory without conflict. There are specific classroom activities that teachers can incorporate into their classroom during the
three stages that include school age children. The activities listed below are just a few suggested examples that apply
At the preschool level, teachers want to focus on developing a hardy personality. Classroom examples that can be
incorporated at the Preschool Level are as follows:
1. Find out what students are interested in and create projects that incorporate their area of interest.
2. Let the children be in charge of the learning process when participating in a classroom project. This will exhibit
teacher appreciation for the areas of interest of the students as well as confidence in their ability.
3. Make sure to point out and praise students for good choices.
4. Offer continuous feedback on work that has been completed.
5. Do not ridicule or criticize students openly. Find a private place to talk with a child about a poor choice or
behavior. Help students formulate their own alternate choices by guiding them to a positive solution and
6. When children experiment, they should not be punished for trying something that may turn out differently than
the teacher planned.
7. Utilize physical activity to teach fairness and sportsmanship (Bianca, 2010).
Teachers should focus on achievement and peer relationships at the Elementary Level. Classroom examples that can be
incorporated at the Elementary Level are as follows:
1. Create a list of classroom duties that needed to be completed on a scheduled basis. Ask students for their input
when creating the list as well as who will be in charge of what.
2. Discuss and post classroom rules. Make sure to include students in the decision-making process when
3. Encourage students to think outside of their day-to-day routine by role playing different situations.
4. Let students know that striving for perfection is not as important as learning from mistakes. Teach them to hold
their head high and move forward.
5. Encourage children to help students who may be having trouble socially and/or academically. Never allow any
child to make fun of or bully another child.
6. Build confidence by recognizing success in what children do best.
7. Provide a variety of choices when making an assignment so that students can express themselves with a focus
on their strengths.
8. Utilize physical activity to build social development and to help students appreciate their own abilities as well
as the abilities of others (Bianca, 2010).
During the middle and high school years, building identity and self-esteem should be part of a teacher’s focus. Classroom
examples that can be incorporated at the Middle School and High School Level are as follows:
1. Treat all students equally. Do not show favoratism to a certain group of students based on gender, race, academic
ability or socioeconimic status.
2. Incorporate guest speakers and curriculum activities from as many areas as possible so as to expose students to
many career choices.
3. Encourage students to focus on their strengths and acknowledge them when they exhibit work that incorporates
4. Encourage students to develop confidence by trying different approaches to solving problems.
5. Incorporate life skills into lesson planning to increase confidence and self-sufficiency.
6. Utilize physical activity to help relieve stress, negative feelings and improve moods (Bianca, 2010).
Allen, E., & Marotz, L. (2003). Developmental profiles pre-Birth through twelve (4th ed.). Albany, NY: Thomson Delmar
Bee, H., & Boyd, D. (2009, March). The developing child (12th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.
Bianca, A. (2010, June 4). Psychosocial development in physical activity. Retrieved from
Crain, W. (2011). Theories of development: Concepts and applications (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson
Erik Erikson’s stages of social-emotional development. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://childdevelopmentinfo.com/child-
Erik Erikson’s 8 stages of psychosocial development. (n.d.). Retrieved from
Erikson, E. H. (1950). Childhood and society. New York, NY: W.W. Norton.
Erikson, E. H. (1956). The problem of ego identity. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 4, 56-121.
Erikson, E. H., & Erikson, J. M. (1998). The life cycle completed: Extended version. New York, NY: W.W. Norton.
Gross, F. L. (1987). Introducing Erik Erikson: An invitation to his thinking. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.
Hooser, T. C. V. (2010, November 28). How to apply psychosocial development in the classroom. Retrieved from
Kail, R. V., & Cavanaugh, J. C. (2004). Human development: A life-span view (3rd ed.). Belmont, CA:
Macnow, A. S. (Ed.). (2014). MCAT behavioral science review. New York, NY: Kaplan Publishing.
Marcia, J. E. (1966). Development and validation of ego identity status. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 3,
Mooney, J. (2007). Erik Erikson. In Joe L. Kincheloe & Raymond A. Horn (Eds.), The praeger handbook of education
and psychology (Vol. 1, p. 78). Retrieved from
Rao, A. (Ed.). (2012, July). Principles and practice of pedodontics (3rd ed.). Retrieved from
Sharkey, W. (1997, May). Erik Erikson. Retrieved from http://www.muskingum.edu/~psych/psycweb/history/erikson.htm
Stevens, R. (1983). Erik Erikson: An introduction. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.
Thomas, R. M. (1997, August 8). Joan Erikson is dead at 95: Shaped thought on life cycles. New York Times. Retrieved
Wright, J. E. (1982). Erikson: Identity and religion. New York, NY: Seabury Press.
Credible Articles on the Internet
Davis, D., & Clifton, A. (1999). Psychosocial theory: Erikson. Retrieved from
Erikson, R. (2010). ULM Classroom Management. Retrieved from
Krebs-Carter, M. (2008). Ages in stages: An exploration of the life cycle based on Erik Erikson’s eight stages of human
development. Retrieved from http://www.yale.edu/ynhti/curriculum/units/1980/1/80.01.04.x.html
McLeod. S. (2017). Erik Erikson. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/Erik-Erikson.html
Ramkumar, S. (2002). Erik Erikson’s theory of development: A teacher’s observations. Retrieved from
Sharkey, W. (1997). Erik Erikson. Retrieved from http://www.muskingum.edu/~psych/psycweb/history/erikson.htm
Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles
Capps, D. (2004). The decades of life: Relocating Erikson’s stages. Pastoral Psychology, 53(1), 3-32.
Christiansen, S. L., & Palkovitz, R. (1998). Exploring Erikson’s psychosocial theory of development: Generativity and its
relationship to paternal identity, intimacy, and involvement in childcare. Journal of Men’s Studies, 7(1), 133-156.
Coughlan, F., & Welsh-Breetzke, A. (2002). The circle of courage and Erikson’s psychosocial stages. Reclaiming
Children and Youth, 10(4), 222-226.
Domino, G., & Affonso, D. D. (1990). A personality measure of Erikson’s life stages: The inventory of psychosocial
balance. Journal of Personality Assessment, 54, (3&4), 576-588.
Kidwell, J. S., Dunham, R. M., Bacho, R. A., Pastorino, E., & Portes, P. R. (1995). Adolescent identity exploration: A test
of Erikson’s theory of transitional crisis. Adolescence, 30(120), 785-793.
Books in Dalton State College Library
Sheehy, N. (2004). Fifty key thinkers in psychology. New York, NY: Routledge.
Videos and Tutorials
Khan Academy. (n.d.) Erikson’s psychosocial development. Retrieved from https://www.khanacademy.org/test-
Theory of Multiple Intelligences
Howard Gardner (1943- ) currently serves as the John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs Professor of Cognition of Education at
the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He also holds positions as Adjunct Professor of Psychology at Harvard
University and Senior Director of Harvard Project Zero. Among numerous honors, Gardner received a MacArthur Prize
Fellowship in 1981 and the University of Louisville’s Grawemeyer Award in Education in 2000. He has received honorary
degrees from twenty-nine colleges and universities, including institutions in Bulgaria, Chile, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy,
South Korea and Spain. He has twice been selected by Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines as one of the 100 most
influential public intellectuals in the world. In 2011, Gardner received the Prince of Asturias Award for Social Sciences.
Gardner is best known in educational for his theory of multiple intelligences, a critique of the notion that there exists but a
single human intelligence that can be adequately assessed by standard psychometric instruments.
Multiple Intelligences Scenario
Ms. Cunningham, a seventh grade American History teacher, is preparing a unit on the American Civil Rights Movement
of the 1950’s and 1960’s. The teacher has created a succession of lessons to be completed over a two-week period to enhance
her students’ understanding of the events, organizations, and individuals that were crucial to the movement. When the unit
is over, Ms. Cunningham wants her students to have a complete picture of the historical period. She designs a variety of
activities that give the students the opportunity to explore historical and cultural aspects of the 1950’s and 1960’s, and to
fully identify with those who were involved in the Movement. In order to reach her instructional goals, the students will
read selected excerpts from the textbook and listen to various lecturers about the Movement. In addition to the
aforementioned, the students will complete several exploratory tasks about the Civil Rights Movement as well.
To begin the unit the teacher uses a KWL chart on the overhead to spur discussion and start the students’ “juices” flowing.
A KWL chart is a visual representation of what students already know, what they want to know, and what they learned at
the end of a lesson. This activity is completed as a class. The students take turns sharing the tidbits of information that they
already know about the Civil Rights movement. This information is on major figures, events and places involved in the
Civil Rights movement. Upon establishing what basic prior knowledge the students possess, it is now time to begin
discovering new information and confirming previously held information about the Civil Rights movement. Ms.
Cunningham then lectures on the basic events, people, and places involved in the majority of the Civil Rights movement in
order to provide students some framework within which to begin placing their new information.
She closes the first lesson by asking the students to create a timeline using the dates of events she has provided. This will
be a working outline to be used throughout the unit. During a subsequent lesson, students are asked to share their outlines
with their classmates in small groups. They should make corrections and comments on the outlines as needed. Ms.
Cunningham gains class consensus of the proper order for their working outline as she places an enlarged version on the
The culmination of this unit will be a final project in which students create a portfolio containing work on three mini-
projects. All students will listen to the same guest lecturers, view the same video-taped footage and participate in the same
class discussions during the first half of each class. The remainder of each class period will be reserved for work on personal
exploration pertaining to their portfolio pieces. Ms. Cunningham has provided a list of possible activities and a rubric for
each suggested activity in order to support and to guide the student’s work. She has also arranged her room so that “art”
materials are in a central location. Mapping and graphing information is grouped together and there is a section with reading
and research materials.
Mrs. Cunningham’s students will have many options for creating something chat can be included in their portfolios. Students
will have the option to write letters to members of the community who were teenagers during the Civil Rights Movement,
asking them to share their memories and experiences about life during the time period. Students may work in teams to
prepare speeches based on period issues for their fellow classmates. Students may consult with the school’s Media Specialist
or more knowledgeable other to find resources for the class, including popular music from the time period. They may also
learn and share dances that were popular during the 1950’s and 1960’s. If they choose, students may include music in the
plays they write and act out for their classmates. With the assistance of the Art instructor, students may opt to work together
to create a mural that represents key figures of the Civil Rights Movement such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.,
with accompanying biographical information about each leader. Students may also create a map representing key events.
Students may also work in groups to prepare short plays to enact for the class based on the readings and what they learn
from the guest speakers. Afterwards, Mrs. Cunningham will moderate discussion sessions about the plays. All students will
keep a record of their thoughts and feelings about the mini-lessons they completed. This journaling process will provide a
synthesis of the materials with which they dealt. As one final measure, students present their portfolios to their classmates.
James, a student whose proclivities lean towards creative visual projects expresses interest in working on the mural of Civil
Rights leaders. Mrs. Cunningham feels that James needs to shift gears and concentrate on other activities in the classroom.
The teacher suggests that James work on creating the map and/or timeline. At the teacher’s encouragement, James begins to
work on the other projects, but his attention continues to drift towards the students painting the mural. He contributes some
excellent ideas and shows so much interest in the details and creation of the mural, that the teacher allows him to shift his
focus back towards the visual project.
In another seventh grade classroom, Mr. Smith taught a unit on the Civil Rights Movement by assigning textbook readings
and lecturing the students on the historical events surrounding the Movement. Students were given sentence completion pop
quizzes throughout the course of the lesson. The teacher showed videotaped programs to the class and each student wrote a
short research paper about a Civil Rights leader or prominent figure. At the end of the unit, students were given a multiple
choice and essay test.
What Is the Theory of Multiple Intelligences?
Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences utilizes aspects of cognitive and developmental psychology,
anthropology, and sociology to explain the human intellect. Although Gardner had been working towards the concept of
Multiple Intelligences for many years prior, the theory was not introduced until his book Gardner (1983) Frames of Mind
was published. Gardner’s research consisted of brain research and interviews with stroke victims, prodigies, and individuals
with autism. Based on his findings, Gardner established eight criteria for identifying the seven separate intelligences. The
eight criteria used by Gardner to identify the intelligences are listed below:
Isolation by brain damage/neurological evidence;
The existence of prodigies, idiot savants, and exceptional individuals;
Distinguishable set of core operations;
Developmental stages with an expert end state;
Evolutionary history and plausibility;
Susceptibility to encoding in a symbol system;
Support from experimental psychological tasks; and
Support from psychometric research
Originally, the theory accounted for seven separate intelligences. Subsequently, with the publishing of Gardner’s (1999)
book Intelligence Reframed, two more intelligences were added to the list. The nine intelligences are Verbal/Linguistic,
Logical/Mathematical, Visual/Spatial, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Musical, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, Naturalistic, and
Existential. Gardner’s theory challenges traditional, narrower views of intelligence. Previously accepted ideas of human
intellectual capacity contend that an individual’s intelligence is a fixed entity throughout his lifetime and that intelligence
can be measured through an individual’s logical and language abilities. According to Gardner’s theory, an intelligence
encompasses the ability to create and solve problems, create products or provide services that are valued within a culture or
society. Listed below are key points of Gardner’s theory:
All human beings possess all nine intelligences in varying degrees.
Each individual has a different intelligence profile.
Education can be improved by assessment of students’ intelligence profiles and designing activities
Each intelligence occupies a different area of the brain.
The nine intelligences may operate in consort or independently from one another.
These nine intelligences may define the human species.
The Nine Multiple Intelligences
Verbal/Linguistic. Verbal/Linguistic intelligence refers to an individual’s ability to understand and manipulate words and
languages. Everyone is thought to possess this intelligence at some level. This includes reading, writing, speaking, and other
forms of verbal and written communication. Teachers can enhance their students’ verbal/linguistic intelligence by having
them keep journals, play word games, and by encouraging discussion. People with strong rhetorical and oratory skills such
as poets, authors, and attorneys exhibit strong linguistic intelligence. Some examples are T.S. Elliot, Maya Angelou, and
Martin Luther King Jr. Traditionally, linguistic intelligence and logical/mathematical intelligence have been highly valued
in education and learning environments.
Logical/Mathematical. Logical/Mathematical intelligence refers to an individual’s ability to do things with data: collect,
and organize, analyze and interpret, conclude and predict. Individuals strong in this intelligence see patterns and
relationships. These individuals are oriented toward thinking: inductive and deductive logic, numeration, and abstract
patterns. They would be a contemplative problem solver-one who likes to play strategy games and to solve mathematical
problems. Being strong in this intelligence often implies great scientific ability. This is the kind of intelligence studied and
documented by Piaget. Teachers can strengthen this intelligence by encouraging the use of computer programming
languages, critical-thinking activities, linear outlining, Piagetian cognitive stretching exercises, science-fiction scenarios,
logic puzzles, and through the use of logical/sequential presentation of subject matter. Some real life examples people who
are gifted with this intelligence are Albert Einstein, Niehls Bohr, and John Dewey.
Visual/Spatial. Visual/Spatial intelligence refers to the ability to form and manipulate a mental model. Individuals with
strength in this area depend on visual thinking and are very imaginative. People with this kind of intelligence tend to learn
most readily from visual presentations such as movies, pictures, videos, and demonstrations using models and props. They
like to draw, paint, or sculpt their ideas and often express their feelings and moods through art. These individuals often
daydream, imagine and pretend. They are good at reading diagrams and maps and enjoy solving mazes and jigsaw puzzles.
Teachers can foster this intelligence by utilizing charts, graphs, diagrams, graphic organizers, videotapes, color, art
activities, doodling, microscopes and computer graphics software. It could be characterized as right-brain activity. Pablo
Picasso, Bobby Fischer, and Georgia O’Keefe are some examples of people gifted with this intelligence.
Bodily/Kinesthetic. Bodily/Kinesthetic intelligence refers to people who process information through the sensations they
feel in their bodies. These people like to move around, touch the people they are talking to and act things out. They are good
at small and large muscle skills; they enjoy all types of sports and physical activities. They often express themselves through
dance. Teachers may encourage growth in this area of intelligence through the use of touching, feeling, movement,
improvisation, “hands-on” activities, permission to squirm and wiggle, facial expressions and physical relaxation exercises.
Some examples of people who are gifted with this intelligence are Michael Jordan, Martina Navratilova, and Jim Carrey.
Musical. Musical intelligence refers to the ability to understand, create, and interpret musical pitches, timbre, rhythm, and
tones and the capability to compose music. Teachers can integrate activities into their lessons that encourage students’
musical intelligence by playing music for the class and assigning tasks that involve students creating lyrics about the material
being taught. Composers and instrumentalists are individuals with strength in this area. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and
Louis Armstrong are examples.
Interpersonal. Although Gardner classifies interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences separately, there is a lot of interplay
between the two and they are often grouped together. Interpersonal intelligence is the ability to interpret and respond to the
moods, emotions, motivations, and actions of others. Interpersonal intelligence also requires good communication and
interaction skills, and the ability show empathy towards the feelings of other individuals. Teachers can encourage the growth
of interpersonal intelligence by designing lessons that include group work and by planning cooperative learning activities.
Counselors and social workers are professions that require strength in this area. Some examples of people with this
intelligence include Gandhi, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton.
Intrapersonal. Intrapersonal intelligence, simply put, is the ability to know oneself. It is an internalized version of
Interpersonal Intelligence. To exhibit strength in Intrapersonal Intelligence, an individual must be able to understand their
own emotions, motivations, and be aware of their own strengths and weaknesses. Teachers can assign reflective activities,
such as journaling to awaken students’ intrapersonal intelligence. It’s important to note that this intelligence involves the
use of all others. An individual should tap into their other intelligences to completely express their intrapersonal intelligence.
Those who are often associated with this intelligence are Sigmund Freud, Plato, or Virginia Woolf.
Figure 9.1 Summary of the Eight Accepted Multiple Intelligences
Intelligence Strengths Preferences Learns Best Through Needs
thinking in words, telling
Write, read, tell
memorize, work at
Hearing and seeing
discussing and debating
Books, tapes, paper diaries,
writing tools, dialogue,
discussion, debated, stories,
Math, logic, problem-
with the abstract
Things to think about and
explore, science materials,
manipulative, trips to the
planetarium and science
Maps, reading charts,
drawing, mazes, puzzles,
daydream, look at
Working with pictures
and colors, visualizing,
using the mind’s eye,
LEGOs, video, movies,
slides, art, imagination games,
mazes, puzzles, illustrated
book, trips to art museums,
Athletics, dancing, crafts,
using tools, acting
touch and talk,
Role-play, drama, things to
build, movement, sports and
physical games, tactile
Picking up sounds,
Sing, play an
to music, hum
melody, listening to
music and melodies
Sing-along time, trips to
concerts, music playing at
home and school, musical
Talk to people,
have friends, join
Friends, group games, social
events, clubs, mentors/
and weaknesses, setting
goals, understanding self
Working alone, having
space, reflecting, doing
Secret places, time alone,
self-paced projects, choices,
identifying flora and
Be involved with
Working in nature,
exploring living things,
learning about plants
and natural events
connections to real life and
science issues, patterns
Figure 9.1. The figure above summarizes the strengths, learning preferences, and needs that correspond to the
Naturalistic. Naturalistic intelligence is seen in someone who recognizes and classifies plants, animals, and minerals
including a mastery of taxonomies. They are holistic thinkers who recognize specimens and value the unusual. They are
aware of species such as the flora and fauna around them. They notice natural and artificial taxonomies such as dinosaurs
to algae and cars to clothes. Teachers can best foster this intelligence by using relationships among systems of species, and
classification activities. Encourage the study of relationships such as patterns and order, and compare-and-contrast sets of
groups or look at connections to real life and science issues. Charles Darwin and John Muir are examples of people gifted
in this way.
Existential Intelligence. There is a ninth intelligence that has yet to experience full acceptance by educators in the
classroom. That is existential intelligence, which encompasses the ability to pose and ponder questions regarding the
existence-including life and death. This would be in the domain of philosophers and religious leaders.
Although the theory was not originally designed for use in a classroom application, it has been widely embraced by educators
and enjoyed numerous adaptations in a variety of educational settings. Teachers have always known that students had
different strengths and weaknesses in the classroom. Gardner’s research was able to articulate that and provide direction as
to how to improve a student’s ability in any given intelligence. Teachers were encouraged to begin to think of lesson planning
in terms of meeting the needs of a variety of the intelligences. From this new thinking, schools such the Ross School in New
York, an independent educational institution, and the Key Learning Community, a public magnet school in Indianapolis
emerged to try teaching using a Multiple Intelligences curriculum. The focus of this part of the chapter will be on lesson
design using the theory of Multiple Intelligences, and providing various resources that educators may use to implement the
theory into their classroom activities.
Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom
There are many ways to incorporate Multiple Intelligences theory into the curriculum, and there is no set method by which
to incorporate the theory. Some teachers set up learning centers with resources and materials that promote involving the
different intelligences. For example, in the above scenario, Ms. Cunningham creates an area with art supplies in her
classroom. Other instructors design simulations that immerse students into real life situations. Careful planning during the
lesson design process will help to ensure quality instruction and valuable student experiences in the classroom.
Other instructional models, such as project-based and collaborative learning may be easily integrated into lessons with
Multiple Intelligences. Collaborative learning allows students to explore their interpersonal intelligence, while project-based
learning may help structure activities designed to cultivate the nine intelligences. For instance, Ms. Cunningham uses aspects
of project-based learning in her classroom by allowing students to plan, create, and process (through reflection) information
throughout the Civil Rights unit, while also integrating activities that teach to the intelligences. This particular instructional
model allows students to work together to explore a topic and to create something as the end product. This works well with
Multiple Intelligences theory, which places value on the ability to create products. By collaborating with the Media
Specialist to give students the opportunity to choose from a variety of resources to complete their assignments, Ms.
Cunningham uses aspects of resource-based learning, an instructional model that places the ultimate responsibility of
choosing resources on the student. It is important for teachers to carefully select activities that not only teach to the
intelligences, but also realistically mesh with the subject matter of the lesson or unit. Multiple Intelligences theory should
enhance, not detract from what is being taught.
Disney’s website entitled Tapping into Multiple Intelligences suggests two approaches for implementing Multiple
Intelligences theory in the classroom. One is a teacher-centered approach, in which the instructor incorporates materials,
resources, and activities into the lesson that teach to the different intelligences. The other is a student-centered approach in
which students actually create a variety of different materials that demonstrate their understanding of the subject matter.
The student-centered approach allows students to actively use their varied forms of intelligence. In a teacher-centered lesson,
the number of intelligences explored should be limited to two or three. To teach less than two is nearly impossible since the
use of speech will always require the use of one’s verbal/linguistic intelligence. In a student-centered lesson, the instructor
may incorporate aspects of project-based learning, collaborative learning, or other inquiry-based models. In such a case,
activities involving all nine intelligences may be presented as options for the class, but each student participates in only one
or two of the tasks.
Ms. Cunningham incorporates both student-centered and teacher-centered activities into her unit on the Civil Rights
Movement. The teacher-led lecture is a standard example of a teacher-centered activity. The lecture teaches to students’
verbal/linguistic intelligence. The viewing of the videotape is another example of a teacher-centered activity. This activity
incorporates visual/spatial intelligence into how the unit is learned. It is important to note that many activities, although
designed to target a particular intelligence, may also utilize other intelligences as well. For example, in Ms. Cunningham’s
classroom the students may work together on creating a mural of Civil Rights leaders. This is a student-centered activity
that directly involves visual/spatial intelligence, but also gives students a chance to exercise their Interpersonal intelligence.
The journal assignment, also a student-centered activity, is designed to enhance students’ Intrapersonal intelligence by
prompting them to reflect on their feelings and experiences in relation to the Civil Rights Movement.
This activity also taps into verbal/linguistic intelligence. The timeline and map assignments are student-centered activities
that are designed to enhance students’ logical/mathematical intelligence, but they also delve into Visual/Spatial intelligence.
Students must collect and organize information for both the timeline and the map therefore using their logical/mathematical
intelligence. In creating these items, students must think visually as well. By incorporating dance into one lesson, Ms.
Cunningham is able to promote awareness of her students’ bodily-kinesthetic intelligence. By showing videos of popular
dances from the time period, or inviting an expert from the community to talk about the social aspects of dance, Ms.
Cunningham might incorporate a teacher-centered activity. Having students learn and perform dances is a student-centered
way of teaching through bodily-kinesthetic intelligence. The short plays that students prepare involve bodily-kinesthetic
intelligence, as well as interpersonal and verbal/linguistic intelligences. Class discussions provide an opportunity for
students to exercise both areas of their personal intelligences, as well as to reinforce the subject matter.
Planning and Implementing Student-Centered Lessons
This type of lesson revolves around student created materials. The types of activities and assignments that support student-
centered lessons can be easily designed in concert with many of the inquiry-based models. One of the most important aspects
of student-centered lessons is allowing students to make choices (Figure 9.2). Teachers should encourage students to
exercise their weaker intelligences, but allow them to explore their stronger areas as well. In Ms. Cunningham’s class, the
student named James is very strong in visual/spatial intelligence and always leans towards this type of project. The teacher
encourages James to participate in other activities, but when it is obvious that his interest lies in working on the mural, Ms.
Cunningham allows him to work on the project. Listed below are steps to implement a student-centered lesson or unit:
Carefully identify instructional goals, objectives, and instructional outcomes.
Consider activities that you can integrate into the lesson or unit that teach to the different intelligences. Teachers
need not incorporate all nine intelligences into one lesson.
When gathering resources and materials, consider those which will allow students to explore their multiple
Specify a timeframe for the lesson or unit.
Allow for considerable element of student choice when designing activities and tasks for the intelligences.
Design activities that are student-centered, using inquiry-based models of instruction.
Provide a rubric for student activities. You might consider having students help create rubrics.
Incorporate assessment into the learning process.
In an effort to maximize students’ interest in both the subject matter and their own learning proclivities, teachers may wish
to teach their students a little bit about Multiple Intelligences. Teachers can brief the class about each type of intelligence
and then follow up with a self-assessment for each student. In this way, students will be able to capitalize on their strengths
and work on their weaker areas. Disney’s Tapping Into Multiple Intelligences website includes a self-assessment.
Planning and Implementing a Teacher-Centered Lesson
Structured, teacher-centered activities provide an opportunity for teachers to introduce material and establish prior
knowledge and student conceptions. Teachers may lecture students, show informational videos and posters, perform drills,
pose problem-solving exercises, arrange museum visits, and plan outings to concerts. There are all examples of teacher-
centered activities. All of these activities integrate the Multiple Intelligences into the subject matter being taught. Teacher-
centered lessons should be limited to a few activities that provide a foundation for students to later complete more
exploratory tasks in which they can demonstrate understanding of the material. A teacher may choose to start an instructional
unit or lesson with teacher-centered activities and then follow up with subsequent student-centered lessons (Figure 9.2).
Figure 9.2 Teacher-Centered and Student-Centered Classroom Activities
Intelligence Teacher-Centered Student-Centered
Present content verbally
Ask questions aloud and look for
Student presents material
Students read content and prepare a
presentation for his/her classmates
Students debate over an issue
Provide brain teasers or challenging
questions to begin lessons.
Make logical connections between the
subject matter and authentic situations
to answer the question “why?”
Students categorize information in
logical sequences for organization
Students create graphs or charts to
explain written info
Students participate in webquests
associated with the content
Use props during lecture
Provide tangible items pertaining to
content for students to examine
Review using sports related examples
(throw a ball to someone to answer a
Students use computers to research
Students create props of their own
explaining subject matter (shadow
boxes, mobiles, etc…)
Students create review games
When presenting the information, use
visuals to explain content
PowerPoint slides, charts, graphs,
cartoons, videos, overheads,
Have students work individually or in
groups to create visuals pertaining to
Posters, timelines, models, PowerPoint
slides, maps, illustrations, charts,
Play music in the classroom during
Show examples or create musical
rhythms for students to remember
Create a song or melody with the
content embedded for memory
Use well known songs to memorize
formulas, skills, or test content
Be aware of body language and facial
Offer assistance whenever needed
Encourage classroom discussion
Encourage collaboration among peers
Group work strengthens interpersonal
Peer feedback and peer tutoring
Students present to the class
Encourage group editing
Encourage journaling as a positive
outlet for expression
Introduce web logging (blogs)
Make individual questions welcome
Create a positive environment
Individual research on content
Students create personal portfolios of
Take students outside to enjoy nature
while in learning process (lecture)
Compare authentic subject matter to
Relate subject matter to stages that
occur in nature (plants, weather, etc.)
Students organize thoughts using
Students make relationships among
content and the natural environment
(how has nature had an impact?)
Students perform community service
Figure 9.2. The figure above was added by Brandy Bellamy and Camille Baker (2005).
Teachers may follow these steps when designing and implementing a teacher-centered lesson:
Identify instructional goals and objectives.
Consider teacher-centered activities that teach to students’ Multiple Intelligences. In a teacher-centered lesson,
limit the number of activities to two or three.
Consider what resources and materials you will need to implement the lesson. For example, will you need to
schedule a museum visit or to consult the Media Specialist for videos or other media?
Specify a timeframe for the lesson or unit.
Provide an opportunity for reflection by students.
Provide a rubric to scaffold student activities.
Integrate assessment into the learning process.
Assessment is one of the biggest challenges in incorporating Multiple Intelligences in the classroom. Ms. Cunningham’s
students are given the option of working on several mini-projects during the course of the Civil Rights unit. At the end of
the unit, their performance is assessed through a portfolio that represents their work on these projects. It is very important
for assessment to be integrated into the learning process. Assessment should give students the opportunity to demonstrate
their understanding of the subject matter. One of the main goals of acknowledging and using Multiple Intelligences in the
classroom is to increase student understanding of material by allowing them to demonstrate the ways in which they
understand the material. Teachers need to make their expectations clear, and may do so in the form of a detailed rubric.
Benefits of Using Multiple Intelligences Theory in the Classroom
Using Multiple Intelligences theory in the classroom has many benefits:
As a teacher and learner you realize that there are many ways to be “smart.”
All forms of intelligence are equally celebrated.
By having students create work that is displayed to parents and other members of the community, your school
could see more parent and community involvement.
A sense of increased self-worth may be seen as students build on their strengths and work towards becoming
an expert in certain areas.
Students may develop strong problem-solving skills that they can use in real life situations.
Criticisms of Theory of Multiple Intelligences
One of the most widely held criticisms is that there is little, if any, empirical evidence to support it. Most of these critics are
of the psychometric testing community (Armstrong, 2009). They argue that rather than eight unique and autonomous
intelligences, there is really only one intelligence that you can test for, the “Spearman g-factor,” or one’s general intelligence.
According to Linda Gottfredson (2004) of the University of Delaware, “The g factor was discovered by the first mental
testers, who found that people who scored well on one type of mental test tended to score well on all of them. This common
factor, g, can be distilled from scores on any broad set of cognitive tests, and it takes the same form among individuals of
every age, race, sex, and nation yet studied” (p. 35). As a matter of fact, three scientists put together a comprehensive, 16-
part test, 2-test relating to each of the 8 intelligences, and found that people generally scored about the same on each of
them. Gardner counters this by saying that he agrees that there is a g-factor, but sees the g-factor as a mere manifestation of
the mathematical logical intelligence. Furthermore, MI Theory, Gardner argues, is solidly grounded in research showing
the existence of savants and how brain damage can affect an isolated skill set, or intelligence.
A second common criticism is that MI Theory is a pc mind frame, a way to simply tell “dumb” children’s parents that there
is hope for their kid. They argue that it is simply used to make everyone feel good about him or herself. However, there is
nothing in MI Theory stating that anyone has to be good at a particular intelligence, let alone all of them. There are humans
who for whatever reason are not capable or learning or understanding or being intelligent in the way that other people are.
MI does not deny their existence; it only gives psychology and education a different lens to view intelligence and smarts to
get a fuller picture of each person’s abilities. Below are some quotes from MI critics:
To date there have been no published studies that offer evidence of the validity of the multiple intelligences. In 1994,
Sternberg (1994) reported finding no empirical studies. In 2000, Allix (2000) reported finding no empirical validating
studies, and at that time Gardner and Connell (2000) conceded that there was “little hard evidence for MI theory” (p.
292). In 2004, Sternberg and Grigerenko (2004) stated that there were no validating studies for multiple intelligences,
and in 2004, Gardner (2004) asserted that he would be “delighted were such evidence to accrue” (p. 214), and he
admitted that “MI theory has few enthusiasts among psychometricians or others of a traditional psychological
background” because they require “psychometric or experimental evidence that allows one to prove the existence of
the several intelligences” (p. 214). (Waterhouse, 2006, p. 208)
The human brain is unlikely to function via Gardner’s multiple intelligences. Taken together the evidence for the
intercorrelations of subskills of IQ measures, the evidence for a shared set of genes associated with mathematics,
reading, and g, and the evidence for shared and overlapping “what is it?” and “where is it?” neural processing
pathways, and shared neural pathways for language, music, motor skills, and emotions suggest that it is unlikely that
that each of Gardner’s intelligences could operate “via a different set of neural mechanisms” (Gardner, 1999, p. 99).
Equally important, the evidence for the “what is it?” and “where is it?” processing pathways, for Kahneman’s two
decision-making systems, and for adapted cognition modules suggests that these cognitive brain specializations have
evolved to address very specific problems in our environment. Because Gardner claimed that that the intelligences are
innate potentialities related to a general content area, MI theory lacks a rationale for the phylogenetic emergence of
the intelligences. (Waterhouse, 2006, p. 213)
Allix, N. M. (2000). The theory of multiple intelligences: A case of missing cognitive matter. Australian Journal of
Education, 44(3), 272-293.
Armstrong, T. (2009). Multiple intelligences in the classroom (3rd ed.). Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Gardner, H. (1999). Intelligence reframed: Multiple Intelligences for the 21st century. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Gardner, H. (2004). Changing minds. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
Gardner, H., & Connell, M. (2000). Response to Nicholas Allix. Australian Journal of Education, 44, 288-292.
Gottfredson, L. (2004). Schools and the g factor. Wilson Quarterly (Summer), 4, 35-45. Retrieved from
Sternberg, R. J. (1994). Thinking styles: Theory and assessment at the interface between intelligence and personality. In
R. J. Sternberg & P. Ruzgis (Eds.), Personality and intelligence (pp. 105-127). New York, NY: Cambridge University
Sternberg, R. J., & Grigorenko, E. L. (2004). Intelligence and culture: How culture shapes what intelligence means, and
the implications for a science of well-being. Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences, 359(1449), 1427-1434. doi:
Waterhouse, L. (2006). Multiple intelligences, the Mozart effect, and emotional intelligence: A critical review.
Educational Psychologist, 41(4), 247-255. doi:10.1207/s15326985ep4104_1
Credible Articles on the Internet
Big thinkers: Howard Gardner on multiple intelligences. (2009, April). Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/multiple-
Bixler, B. (n.d.). A multiple intelligences primer. Retrieved from http://www.personal.psu.edu/staff/b/x/bxb11/MI/
Concept to classroom: Tapping into multiple intelligences. (n.d.). Retrieved from
Gardner’s eight criteria for identifying multiple intelligences. (n.d.). Retrieved from
Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. (n.d.). Retrieved from
Huitt, W. (2002). Intelligence. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved
Multiple intelligences. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.tecweb.org/styles/gardner.html
Multiple intelligences: A theory for everyone. (n.d.). Retrieved from
Wilson, L. (1998). What’s the big attraction? Why teachers are drawn to using multiple intelligence theory in their
classrooms. Retrieved from
Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles
Brualdi, A. (1998). Gardner’s theory. Teacher Librarian, 26(2), 26-28.
Gardner, H. (1999). Multiple intelligences. Atlantic Monthly, 11, 5-99.
Henshon, S. E. (2006). An evolving field: The evolution of creativity, giftedness, and multiple intelligences: An interview
with Ellen winner and Howard Gardner. Roeper Review, 28(4), 191-194.
Klein, P. (1997). Multiplying the problems of intelligence by eight: A critique of Gardner’s theory. Canadian Journal of
Education, 22(4), 377.
Takahashi, J. (2013). Multiple intelligence theory can help promote inclusive education for children with intellectual
disabilities and developmental disorders: Historical reviews of intelligence theory, measurement methods, and suggestions
for inclusive education. Creative Education, 4(9), 605-610.
Vardin, P. A. (2003). Montessori and Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. Montessori Life, 15(1), 40.
Books at Dalton State College
Gardner, H. (1999). Intelligence reframed: Multiple intelligences for the 21st century. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Gardner, H. (2000). The disciplined mind: Beyond facts and standardized tests, the K-12 education that every child
deserves (New ed.). New York, NY: Penguin Books.
Gardner, H. (2007). Five minds for the future. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
Videos and Tutorials
EQ and the Emotional Curriculum. (2000). Retrieved from Films on Demand database.
Benjamin Samuel Bloom (1913-1999) was born on February 21, 1913 in Lansford, Pennsylvania. Bloom received both a
bachelor’s and master’s degree from Pennsylvania State University in 1935. He went on to earn a doctorate’s degree from
the University of Chicago in 1942, where he acted as first a staff member of the Board of Examinations (1940-1943), then
a University Examiner (1943-1959), as well as an instructor in the Department of Education, beginning in 1944.
Bloom’s most recognized and highly regarded initial work spawned from his collaboration with his mentor and fellow
examiner Ralph W. Tyler and came to be known as Bloom’s Taxonomy. These ideas are highlighted in his third publication,
Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: Handbook I, The Cognitive Domain. He later wrote a second handbook for the
taxonomy in 1964, which focuses on the affective domain. Bloom’s research in early childhood education, published in his
1964 Stability and Change in Human Characteristics sparked widespread interest in children and learning and eventually
and directly led to the formation of the Head Start program in America. Aside from his scholarly contributions to the field
of education, Benjamin Bloom was an international activist and educational consultant. In 1957, he traveled to India to
conduct workshops on evaluation, which led to great changes in the Indian educational system. He helped create the
International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, the IEA, and organized the International Seminar
for Advanced Training in Curriculum Development. He developed the Measurement, Evaluation, and Statistical Analysis
(MESA) program at the University of Chicago. Benjamin Bloom died in his home in Chicago on September 13, 1999.
Bloom’s Taxonomy was created in 1956 under the leadership of educational psychologist Dr. Benjamin Bloom in order to
promote higher forms of thinking in education, such as analyzing and evaluating concepts, processes, procedures, and
principles, rather than just remembering facts (rote learning). It is most often used when designing lesson objectives, learning
goals, and instructional activities. Bloom et al. (1956) identified three domains of educational activities or learning:
Cognitive Domain: mental skills (knowledge)
Psychomotor Domain: manual or physical skills (skills)
Affective Domain: growth in feelings or emotional areas (attitude)
Since the work was produced by higher education, the words tend to be a little bigger than what would be normally used.
Domains may be thought of as categories. Instructional designers, trainers, and educators often refer to these three categories
as KSA (Knowledge [cognitive], Skills [psychomotor], and Attitudes [affective]). This taxonomy of learning behaviors may
be thought of as “the goals of the learning process.” That is, after a learning episode, the learner should have acquired a new
skill, knowledge, and/or attitude.
While Bloom et al. (1956) produced an elaborate compilation for the cognitive and affective domains, they omitted the
psychomotor domain. Their explanation for this oversight was that they have little experience in teaching manual skills
within the college level. However, there have been at least three psychomotor models created by other researchers. Their
compilation divides the three domains into subdivisions, starting from the simplest cognitive process or behavior to the most
complex. The divisions outlined are not absolutes and there are other systems or hierarchies that have been devised, such as
the Structure of Observed Learning Outcome (SOLO). However, Bloom’s Taxonomy is easily understood and is probably
the most widely applied one in use today.
The Cognitive Domain (Clarka, 2015a)
The cognitive domain involves knowledge and the development of intellectual skills (Bloom, 1956). This includes the recall
or recognition of specific facts, procedural patterns, and concepts that serve in the development of intellectual abilities and
skills. There are six major levels of cognitive processes, starting from the simplest to the most complex: Knowledge,
Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation. The levels can be thought of as degrees of difficulties.
That is, the first ones must normally be mastered before the next one can take place.
Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy
Lorin Anderson, a former student of Bloom, and David Krathwohl revisited the cognitive domain in the mid-nineties and
made some changes, with perhaps the three most prominent ones being:
Changing the names in the six levels from noun to verb forms;
Rearranging them as shown in Figure 10.1 and Figure 10.2; and
Creating a cognitive processes and knowledge dimension matrix (Anderson et al., 2000; Figure 10.5, Figure 10.6,
& Figure 10.7).
Figure 10.1 Revised Cognitive Domain
Figure 10.2 Original and Revised Cognitive Domain
Figure 10.2. The chart shown above compares the original taxonomy with the revised one.
This new taxonomy reflects a more active form of thinking and is perhaps more accurate. The new version of Bloom’s
Taxonomy with examples and keywords is shown in Figure 10.3.
Figure 10.3 Levels of Original and Revised Cognitive Domain with Examples and Key Words
Old (Original) Cognitive Domain
New (Revised) Cognitive Domain
Examples, Key Words (Verbs),
and Learning Activities and
Examples, Key Words (Verbs), and
Learning Activities and
data or information.
Examples: Recite a policy. Quote
prices from memory to a
customer. Know the safety rules.
Define a term.
Key Words: arranges, defines,
describes, identifies, knows,
labels, lists, matches, names,
outlines, recalls, recognizes,
reproduces, selects, states
flash cards, Internet search,
Recall or retrieve
Examples: Recite a policy. Quote
prices from memory to a customer.
Recite the safety rules.
Key Words: defines, describes,
identifies, knows, labels, lists,
matches, names, outlines, recalls,
recognizes, reproduces, selects, states
Technologies: book marking, flash
cards, rote learning based on
problems. State a
problem in one’s
Examples: Rewrites the
principles of test writing. Explain
in one’s own words the steps for
performing a complex task.
Translates an equation into a
Key Words: comprehends,
converts, diagrams, defends,
distinguishes, estimates, explains,
extends, generalizes, gives an
example, infers, interprets,
paraphrases, predicts, rewrites,
Technologies: create an analogy,
participating in cooperative
learning, taking notes, story
problems. State a
problem in one’s
Examples: Rewrite the principles of
test writing. Explain in one’s own
words the steps for performing a
complex task. Translate an equation
into a computer spreadsheet.
Key Words: comprehends, converts,
defends, distinguishes, estimates,
explains, extends, generalizes, gives
an example, infers, interprets,
paraphrases, predicts, rewrites,
Technologies: create an analogy,
participating in cooperative learning,
taking notes, storytelling, Internet
Application: Use a
concept in a new
unprompted use of
Apply what was
learned in the
classroom into novel
situations in the
Examples: Use a manual to
calculate an employee’s vacation
time. Apply laws of statistics to
evaluate the reliability of a
Key Words: applies, changes,
manipulates, modifies, operates,
predicts, prepares, produces,
relates, shows, solves, uses
learning, create a process, blog,
Applying: Use a
concept in a new
unprompted use of
Apply what was
learned in the
novel situations in
the work place.
Examples: Use a manual to calculate
an employee’s vacation time. Apply
laws of statistics to evaluate the
reliability of a written test.
Key Words: applies, changes,
computes, constructs, demonstrates,
discovers, manipulates, modifies,
operates, predicts, prepares, produces,
relates, shows, solves, uses
Technologies: collaborative learning,
create a process, blog, practice
material or concepts
parts so that its
structure may be
facts and inferences.
Examples: Troubleshoot a piece
of equipment by using logical
deduction. Recognize logical
fallacies in reasoning. Gathers
information from a department
and selects the required tasks for
Key Words: analyzes, breaks
contrasts, diagrams, deconstructs,
illustrates, infers, outlines, relates,
debating, questioning what
happened, run a test
or concepts into
so that its
structure may be
between facts and
Examples: Troubleshoot a piece of
equipment by using logical deduction.
Recognize logical fallacies in
reasoning. Gathers information from a
department and selects the required
tasks for training.
Key Words: analyzes, breaks down,
compares, contrasts, diagrams,
identifies, illustrates, infers, outlines,
relates, selects, separates
Technologies: fishbowls, debating,
questioning what happened, run a test
Synthesis: Build a
structure or pattern
elements. Put parts
together to form a
creating a new
Examples: Write a company
operations or process manual.
Design a machine to perform a
specific task. Integrates training
from several sources to solve a
problem. Revises and process to
improve the outcome.
Key Words: categorizes,
combines, compiles, composes,
creates, devises, designs,
explains, generates, modifies,
organizes, plans, rearranges,
reconstructs, relates, reorganizes,
revises, rewrites, summarizes,
Technologies: essay, networking
the value of ideas
Examples: Select the most effective
solution. Hire the most qualified
candidate. Explain and justify a new
Key Words: appraises, compares,
concludes, contrasts, criticizes,
critiques, defends, describes,
discriminates, evaluates, explains,
interprets, justifies, relates,
Technologies: survey, blogging
judgments about the
value of ideas or
Examples: Select the most
effective solution. Hire the most
qualified candidate. Explain and
justify a new budget.
Key Words: appraises, compares,
concludes, contrasts, criticizes,
critiques, defends, describes,
discriminates, evaluates, explains,
interprets, justifies, relates,
Technologies: survey, blogging
Creating: Build a
structure or pattern
elements. Put parts
together to form a
creating a new
Examples: Write a company
operations or process manual. Design
a machine to perform a specific task.
Integrate training from several
sources to solve a problem. Revise
and process to improve the outcome.
Key Words: categorizes, combines,
compiles, composes, creates, devises,
designs, explains, generates, modifies,
organizes, plans, rearranges,
reconstructs, relates, reorganizes,
revises, rewrites, summarizes, tells,
Technologies: create a new model,
write an essay, network with others
Cognitive Processes and Levels of Knowledge Matrix
Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy not only improved the usability of it by using action words, but added a Cognitive Process
Dimension and Knowledge Dimension Matrix (Figure 10.4). While Bloom’s original cognitive taxonomy did mention three
levels of knowledge or products that could be processed, they were not discussed very much and remained one-dimensional:
Factual: The basic elements students must know to be acquainted with a discipline or solve problems.
Conceptual: The interrelationships among the basic elements within a larger structure that enable them to
Procedural: How to do something, methods of inquiry, and criteria for using skills, algorithms, techniques, and
In Krathwohl and Anderson’s (2001) revised version, the authors combine the cognitive processes with the above three
levels of knowledge to form a matrix. In addition, they added another level of knowledge-metacognition:
Metacognitive: Knowledge of cognition in general, as well as awareness and knowledge of one’s own cognition.
When the cognitive and knowledge dimensions are arranged in a matrix, as shown below, it makes a nice performance aid
for creating performance objectives (Figure 10.4).
Figure 10.4 Cognitive Process Dimension and Knowledge Dimension Matrix
The Cognitive Process Dimension
The Knowledge Dimension Remember Understand Apply Analyze Evaluate Create
However, others have also identified five contents or artifacts (Clark & Chopeta, 2004; Clark & Mayer, 2007) for the
knowledge dimension (Figure 10.5):
Facts: Specific and unique data or instance.
Concepts: A class of items, words, or ideas that are known by a common name, includes multiple specific examples,
shares common features. There are two types of concepts: concrete and abstract.
Processes: A flow of events or activities that describe how things work rather than how to do things. There are
normally two types: business processes that describe work flows and technical processes that describe how things
work in equipment or nature. They may be thought of as the big picture, of how something works.
Procedures: A series of step-by-step actions and decisions that result in the achievement of a task. There are two
types of actions: linear and branched.
Principles: Guidelines, rules, and parameters that govern. It includes not only what should be done, but also what
should not be done. Principles allow one to make predictions and draw implications. Given an effect, one can infer
the cause of a phenomena. Principles are the basic building blocks of causal models or theoretical models (theories).
Thus, the new Cognitive Process Dimension and Knowledge Dimension Matrix would look as shown in Figure 10.5.
Figure 10.5 Revised Cognitive Process Dimension and Knowledge Dimension Matrix
The Cognitive Process Dimension
The Knowledge Dimension Remember Understand Apply Analyze Evaluate Create
An example matrix that has been filled in will look like Figure 10.6:
Figure 10.6 Filled in Cognitive Process Dimension and Knowledge Dimension Matrix
The Cognitive Process Dimension
The Knowledge Dimension Remember Understand Apply Analyze Evaluate Create
Facts list paraphrase classify outline rank categorize
Concepts recall explain show contrast criticize modify
Processes outline estimate produce diagram defend design
Procedures reproduce give an example relate identify critique plan
Principles state convert solve differentiate conclude revise
Metacognitive proper use interpret discover infer predict actualize
The Psychomotor Domain (Clark, 2015b)
The psychomotor domain (Simpson, 1972) (Figure 10.7) includes physical movement, coordination, and use of the motor-
skill areas. Development of these skills requires practice and is measured in terms of speed, precision, distance, procedures,
or techniques in execution. Thus, psychomotor skills rage from manual tasks, such as digging a ditch or washing a car, to
more complex tasks, such as operating a complex piece of machinery or dancing.
Figure 10.7 Levels of Psychomotor Domain
Complex Overt Response
The seven major levels (Figure 10.8) are listed from the simplest behavior to the most complex (Simpson, 1972):
Figure 10.8 Levels of Psychomotor Domain with Examples and Key Words by Simpson (1972)
Levels Examples and Key Words (Verbs)
Perception (awareness): The ability to use
sensory cues to guide motor activity. This ranges
from sensory stimulation, through cue selection,
Examples: Detect non-verbal communication cues. Estimate where
a ball will land after it is thrown and then moving to the correct
location to catch the ball. Adjust heat of stove to correct
temperature by smell and taste of food. Adjust the height of the
forks on a forklift by comparing where the forks are in relation to
Key Words: chooses, describes, detects, differentiates,
distinguishes, identifies, isolates, relates, selects
Set: Readiness to act. It includes mental, physical,
and emotional sets. These three sets are
dispositions that predetermine a person’s response
to different situations (sometimes called
Examples: Know and act upon a sequence of steps in a
manufacturing process. Recognize one’s abilities and limitations.
Show desire to learn a new process (motivation). NOTE: This
subdivision of Psychomotor is closely related with the “Responding
to phenomena” subdivision of the Affective domain.
Key Words: begins, displays, explains, moves, proceeds, reacts,
shows, states, volunteers
Guided Response: The early stages in learning a
complex skill that include imitation, trial, and
error. Adequacy of performance is achieved by
Examples: Perform a mathematical equation as demonstrated.
Follow instructions to build a model. Respond hand-signals of
instructor while learning to operate a forklift.
Key Words: copies, traces, follows, reacts, reproduces, responds
Mechanism (basic proficiency): This is the
intermediate stage in learning a complex
skill. Learned responses have become habitual
and the movements can be performed with some
confidence and proficiency.
Examples: Use a personal computer. Repair a leaking faucet. Drive
Key Words: assembles, calibrates, constructs, dismantles, displays,
fastens, fixes, grinds, heats, manipulates, measures, mends, mixes,
Complex Overt Response (Expert): The skillful
performance of motor acts that involve complex
movement patterns. Proficiency is indicated by a
quick, accurate, and highly coordinated
performance, requiring a minimum of
energy. This category includes performing
without hesitation, and automatic
performance. For example, players are often utter
sounds of satisfaction as soon as they hit a tennis
ball or throw a football, because they can tell by
the feel of the act what the result will produce.
Examples: Maneuver a car into a tight parallel parking spot.
Operate a computer quickly and accurately. Display competence
while playing the piano.
Key Words: assembles, builds, calibrates, constructs, dismantles,
displays, fastens, fixes, grinds, heats, manipulates, measures,
mends, mixes, organizes, sketches
NOTE: The Key Words are the same as Mechanism, but will have
adverbs or adjectives that indicate that the performance is quicker,
better, more accurate, etc.
Adaptation: Skills are well-developed and the
individual can modify movement patterns to fit
Examples: Respond effectively to unexpected experiences. Modify
instruction to meet the needs of the learners. Perform a task with a
machine, which was not originally intended to do (machine is not
damaged and there is no danger in performing the new task).
Key Words: adapts, alters, changes, rearranges, reorganizes,
Origination: The creating of new movement
patterns to fit a particular situation or specific
problem. Learning outcomes emphasize creativity
based upon highly developed skills.
Examples: Construct a new theory. Develop a new and
comprehensive training programming. Create a new gymnastic
Key Words: arranges, builds, combines, composes, constructs,
creates, designs, initiate, makes, originates
Other Psychomotor Domain Taxonomies
Bloom et al. (1956) did not produce a compilation for the psychomotor domain model, but others have. The one discussed
above is by Simpson (1972) (Figure 10.8). There are two other popular versions by Dave (1970) (Figure 10.9) and Harrow
(1972) (Figure 10.10):
Figure 10.9 Levels of Psychomotor Domain with Examples and Key Words by Dave (1970)
Levels Examples and Key Words (Verbs)
Imitation: Observing and patterning behavior
after someone else. Performance may be of low
Examples: Copying a work of art. Performing a skill while
observing a demonstrator.
Key Words: copy, follow, mimic, repeat, replicate, reproduce,
Manipulation: Being able to perform certain
actions by memory or following instructions.
Examples: Being able to perform a skill on one’s own after taking
lessons or reading about it. Following instructions to build a
Key Words: act, build, execute, perform
Precision: Refining, becoming more exact.
Performing a skill within a high degree of
Examples: Working and reworking something, so it will be “just
right.” Performing a skill or task without assistance.
Demonstrating a task to a beginner.
Key Words: calibrate, demonstrate, master, perfection
Articulation: Coordinating and adapting a series
of actions to achieve harmony and internal
Examples: Combining a series of skills to produce a video that
involves music, drama, color, sound, etc. Combining a series of
skills or activities to meet a novel requirement.
Key Words: adapt, constructs, combine, creates, customize,
Naturalization: Mastering a high level of
performance until it become second-nature or
natural, without needing to think much about it.
Examples: Maneuvering a car into a tight parallel parking spot.
Operating a computer quickly and accurately. Displaying
competence while playing the piano. Michael Jordan playing
basketball or Nancy Lopez hitting a golf ball.
Key Words: create, design, develop, invent, manage, naturally
Figure 10.10 Levels of Psychomotor Domain with Examples and Key Words by Harrow (1972)
Levels Examples and Key Words (Verbs)
Reflex Movements: Reactions that are not
learned, such as an involuntary reaction.
Examples: instinctive response
Key Words: react, respond
Fundamental Movements: Basic movements
such as walking, or grasping.
Examples: performing a simple task
Key Words: grasp an object, throw a ball, walk
Perceptual Abilities: Response to stimuli such as
visual, auditory, kinesthetic, or tactile
Examples: tracking a moving object, recognizing a pattern
Key Words: catch a ball, draw or write
Physical Abilities (fitness): Stamina that must be
developed for further development such as
strength and agility.
Examples: gaining strength, running a marathon
Key Words: agility, endurance, strength
Skilled Movements: Advanced learned
movements as one would find in sports or acting.
Examples: Using an advanced series of integrated movements,
performing a role in a stage play or play in a set of series in a sports
Key Words: adapt, constructs, creates, modifies
Non-discursive Communication: Effective use
body language, such as gestures and facial
Examples: Expressing one’s self by using movements and gestures
Key Words: arrange, compose, interpretation
The Affective Domain (Clark, 2015c)
The affective domain is one of three domains in Bloom’s Taxonomy, with the other two being the cognitive and psychomotor
(Bloom, et al., 1956). The affective domain (Krathwohl, Bloom, & Masia, 1973) includes the manner in which we deal
with things emotionally, such as feelings, values, appreciation, enthusiasms, motivations, and attitudes. The five major
levels are listed from the simplest behavior to the most complex (Figure 10.11 & Figure 10.12):
Figure 10.11 Levels of Affective Domain
Figure 10.12 Levels of Affective Domain with Examples and Key Words
Levels Examples and Key Words (Verbs)
Receiving Phenomena: Awareness, willingness
to hear, selected attention.
Examples: Listen to others with respect. Listen for and remember
the name of newly introduced people.
Key Words: acknowledges, asks, follows, gives, listens,
Responding to Phenomena: Active participation
on the part of the learners. Attend and react to a
particular phenomenon. Learning outcomes may
emphasize compliance in responding, willingness
to respond, or satisfaction in responding
Examples: Participate in class discussions. Give a presentation.
Question new ideals, concepts, models, etc. in order to fully
understand them. Know the safety rules and practice them.
Key Words: answers, assists, aids, complies, conforms, discusses,
greets, helps, labels, performs, presents, tells
Valuing: The worth or value a person attaches to
a particular object, phenomenon, or behavior. This
ranges from simple acceptance to the more
complex state of commitment. Valuing is based
on the internalization of a set of specified values,
while clues to these values are expressed in the
learner’s overt behavior and are often identifiable.
Examples: Demonstrate belief in the democratic process. Is
sensitive towards individual and cultural differences (value
diversity). Show the ability to solve problems. Propose a plan to
social improvement and follows through with commitment. Inform
management on matters that one feels strongly about.
Key Words: appreciates, cherishes, treasures, demonstrates,
initiates, invites, joins, justifies, proposes, respects, shares
Organizing: The organizing of values into
priorities by contrasting different values,
resolving conflicts between them, and creating a
unique value system. The emphasis is on
comparing, relating, and synthesizing values.
Examples: Recognize the need for balance between freedom and
responsible behavior. Explain the role of systematic planning in
solving problems. Accept professional ethical standards. Create a
life plan in harmony with abilities, interests, and beliefs. Prioritize
time effectively to meet the needs of the organization, family, and
Key Words: compares, relates, synthesizes
Responding to Phenomena
Internalizing Values (characterization): Having a
value system that controls their behavior. The
behavior is pervasive, consistent, predictable, and
most important characteristic of the learner.
Instructional objectives are concerned with the
student’s general patterns of adjustment (personal,
Examples: Show self-reliance when working independently.
Cooperate in group activities (display teamwork). Use an objective
approach in problem solving. Display a professional commitment
to ethical practice on a daily basis. Revise judgments and change
behavior in light of new evidence. Value people for what they are,
not how they look.
Key Words: acts, discriminates, displays, influences, modifies,
performs, qualifies, questions, revises, serves, solves, verifies
Educational Implications (Clark, 2015d)
Learning or instructional strategies determine the approach for achieving the learning objectives and are included in the pre-
instructional activities, information presentation, learner activities, testing, and follow-through. The strategies are usually
tied to the needs and interests of students to enhance learning and are based on many types of learning styles (Ekwensi,
Moranski, &Townsend-Sweet, 2006). Thus the learning objectives point you towards the instructional strategies, while the
instructional strategies will point you to the medium that will deliver or assist the delivery of the instruction, such as
elearning, self-study, classroom learning and instructional activities, etc.
The Instructional Strategy Selection Chart (Figure 10.13) shown below is a general guideline for selecting the teaching and
learning strategy. It is based on Bloom’s Taxonomy (Learning Domains). The matrix generally runs from the passive
learning methods (top rows) to the more active participation methods (bottom rows). Bloom’s Taxonomy (the right three
columns) runs from top to bottom, with the lower level behaviors being on top and the higher behaviors being on the bottom.
That is, there is a direct correlation in learning:
Lower levels of performance can normally be taught using the more passive learning methods.
Higher levels of performance usually require some sort of action or involvement by the learners.
Figure 10.13 Instructional Strategy Selection Chart
& Masia, 1973)
Lecture, reading, audio/visual,
demonstration, or guided observations,
question and answer period.
Discussions, multimedia, Socratic
didactic method, reflection. Activities
such as surveys, role playing, case
studies, fishbowls, etc.
3. Guided Response
2. Responding to
Practice by doing (some direction or
coaching is required), to simulated
5. Complex Response 3. Valuing
Use in real situations. May use several
6. Adaptation 4. Organizing Values
Normally developed on own (informal
learning) through self-study or learning
through mistakes, but mentoring and
coaching can speed the process.
7. Origination 5. Internalizing Values
Figure 10.13. The chart above does not cover all possibilities, but most activities should fit in. For example, self-study
could fall under reading, audio visual, and/or activities, depending upon the type of learning environment and activities
Criticisms of Bloom’s Taxonomy
As Morshead (1965) pointed out on the publication of the second volume, the classification was not a properly constructed
taxonomy, as it lacked a systemic rationale of construction. This was subsequently acknowledged in the discussion of the
original taxonomy in its 2000 revision (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001), and the taxonomy was reestablished on more
systematic lines. It is generally considered that the role the taxonomy played in systematizing a field was more important
than any perceived lack of rigor in its construction.
Some critiques of the taxonomy’s cognitive domain admit the existence of six categories of cognitive domain but question
the existence of a sequential, hierarchical link (Paul, 1993). Often, educators view the taxonomy as a hierarchy and may
mistakenly dismiss the lowest levels as unworthy of teaching (Flannery, 2007; Lawler, 2016). The learning of the lower
levels enables the building of skills in the higher levels of the taxonomy, and in some fields, the most important skills are
in the lower levels, such as identification of species of plants and animals in the field of natural history (Flannery, 2007;
Lawler, 2016). Instructional scaffolding of higher-level skills from lower-level skills is an application of Vygotskian
constructivism (Keene, Colvin, & Sissons, 2010; Vygotsky, 1978).
Some consider the three lowest levels as hierarchically ordered, but the three higher levels as parallel (Anderson &
Krathwohl, 2001). Others say that it is sometimes better to move to Application before introducing concepts (Tomei, 2010,
p.66). The idea is to create a learning environment where the real world context comes first and the theory second to promote
the student’s grasp of the phenomenon, concept or event. This thinking would seem to relate to the method of problem-
Furthermore, the distinction between the categories can be seen as artificial since any given cognitive task may entail a
number of processes. It could even be argued that any attempt to nicely categorize cognitive processes into clean, cut-and-
dried classifications undermines the holistic, highly connective and interrelated nature of cognition (Fadul, 2009). This is a
criticism that can be directed at taxonomies of mental processes in general.
Anderson, L. W., & Krathwohl, D. R. (Eds.). (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of
Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Anderson, L. W., Krathwohl, D. R., Airasian, P. W., Cruikshank, K. A., Mayer, R. E., Pintrich, P. R., … Wittrock, M. C.
(2000). A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives.
New York, NY: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc.
Bloom, B. S. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives, Handbook I: The cognitive domain. New York, NY: David
McKay Co Inc.
Bloom, B.S. (Ed.). Engelhart, M. D., Furst, E. J., Hill, W. H., & Krathwohl, D. R. (1956). Taxonomy of educational
objectives, Handbook I: The cognitive domain. New York, NY: David McKay Co., Inc.
Clark, D. R. (2015, January 12). Bloom’s taxonomy of learning domains. Retrieved from
Clark, D. R. (2015a, January 12). Bloom’s Taxonomy: The original cognitive domain. Retrieved from
Clark, D. R. (2015b, January 12). Bloom’s taxonomy: The psychomotor domain. Retrieved from
Clark, D. R. (2015c, January 12). Bloom’s taxonomy: The affective domain. Retrieved from
Clark, D. R. (2015d, January 12). Learning strategies or instructional strategies. Retrieved from
Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2007). E-Learning and the science of instruction: Proven guidelines for consumers and
designers of multimedia learning (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Clark, R., & Chopeta, L. (2004). Graphics for learning: Proven guidelines for planning, designing, and evaluating visuals
in training materials. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer.
Dave, R. H. (1970). Psychomotor levels. In R. J. Armstrong (Ed.), Developing and writing behavioral objectives (pp. 20-
21). Tucson, AZ: Educational Innovators Press.
Ekwensi, F., Moranski, J., & Townsend-Sweet, M., (2006). E-Learning concepts and techniques. Bloomsburg University
of Pennsylvania’s Department of Instructional Technology. Retrieved from
Fadul, J. A. (2009). Collective learning: Applying distributed cognition for collective intelligence. The International
Journal of Learning, 16(4), 211-220.
Flannery, M. C. (2007, November). Observations on biology. The American Biology Teacher, 69(9), 561-564.
Harrow, A. (1972). A taxonomy of psychomotor domain: A guide for developing behavioral objectives. New York, NY:
David McKay Co., Inc.
Keene, J., Colvin, J., & Sissons, J. (2010, June). Mapping student information literacy activity against Bloom’s taxonomy
of cognitive skills. Journal of Information Literacy, 4(1), 6-21. doi:10.11645/4.1.189
Krathwohl, D. R., Bloom, B. S., & Masia, B. B. (1973). Taxonomy of educational objectives, the classification of
educational goals. Handbook II: Affective domain. New York, NY: David McKay Co., Inc.
Lawler, S. (2016, February 26). Identification of animals and plants is an essential skill set. Retrieved from
Morshead, R. W. (1965). On Taxonomy of educational objectives Handbook II: Affective domain. Studies in Philosophy
and Education, 4(1), 164-170. doi:10.1007/bf00373956
Paul, R. (1993). Critical thinking: What every person needs to survive in a rapidly changing world (3rd ed.). Rohnert
Park, CA: Sonoma State University Press.
Simpson, E. J. (1972). The classification of educational objectives in the psychomotor domain. Washington, DC: Gryphon
Tomei, L. A. (2010). Designing instruction for the traditional, adult, and distance learner: A new engine for technology-
based learning. Hershey, PA: IGI Global.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard
Credible Articles on the Internet
Armstrong, P. (n.d.). Bloom’s taxonomy. Retrieved from http://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/blooms-taxonomy/
Bloom’s taxonomy of education objectives. (2016). Retrieved from
Bloom’s taxonomy revised: A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing. (2016). Retrieved from
Eisner, E. W. (2000). Benjamin Bloom. Prospects: The quarterly review of comparative education, xxx (3). Retrieved
Eisner, E. W. (2002). Benjamin Bloom 1913-99. Retrieved from
Forehand, M. (2005). Bloom’s taxonomy: Original and revised. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning,
teaching, and technology. Athens, GA: University of Georgia. Retrieved from
Hess, K. K., Jones, B. S., Carlock, D., & Walkup, J. R. (2009). Cognitive rigor: Blending the strengths of Bloom’s
taxonomy and webb’s depth of knowledge to enhance classroom-level processes. Retrieved from
Honan, W. H. (1999). Benjamin Bloom, 86, a leader in the creation of head start. Retrieved from
Huitt, W. (2004). Bloom et al.’s taxonomy of the cognitive domain. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA:
Valdosta State University. Retrieved from http://www.edpsycinteractive.org/topics/cognition/bloom.html
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Shabatura, J. (2013). Using Bloom’s taxonomy to write effective learning objectives.
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as a learning tool. Journal of Management Education, 27(5), 533-555.
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Books from Dalton State College Library
Anderson, L. W., & Krathwohl, D. R. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s
taxonomy of educational objectives (Complete ed.). New York, NY: Longman.
Bloom, B. S. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals (1st ed.). New York,
NY: Longmans & Green.
Videos and Tutorials
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Theory of Human Motivation
Abraham Harold Maslow (1908-1970) was born on April 1, 1908, in Brooklyn, New York. His parents were Jewish
immigrants from Russia who were rather uneducated. Maslow was the sole Jewish boy in his neighborhood; therefore, he
was unhappy and lonesome throughout the majority of his childhood. Maslow also had problems within his home. His father
continually degraded him and pushed him to excel in areas that were of no interest to him. His mother also treated him
poorly. Because of this Maslow wanted no interaction with his parents. Maslow perceived his mother as being entirely
insensitive and unloving.
After a difficulty childhood, Maslow was able to obtain a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin in 1934. After he received
his Ph.D. in 1934, he continued to teach at the University of Wisconsin. Maslow theorized that humans have several inborn
needs that were the basis for his theory of motivation on the hierarchy of needs. Furthermore, he believed that the needs are
ranked in terms of a hierarchy. Nonhumans can possess the lower, more basic needs also, but only humans may possess the
higher needs. First, physiological needs are related to survival. These necessities include food, water, elimination, sex, and
sleep. If one of these needs is not achieved, it will rule the individual’s life. Maslow believed that most humans achieve
these needs easily. After one need is met, the individual moves onto the next level. However, Maslow stressed that a person
can experience periodic times of hunger or thirst and still move onto higher levels, but the individual’s life cannot be
dominated by just one need.
Safety needs appear when physiological needs are fulfilled. These are the needs for structure, order, security, and
predictability. Reducing uncertainty is the chief objective at this stage. Individuals are free from danger, fear, and chaos
when the safety needs are adequately met. Affiliation is the next level after the physiological and safety needs are attained.
This level includes the need for friends, family, identification with a group, and a personally intimate relationship. A person
may experience feelings of solitude and emptiness if these needs are not quenched. The esteem needs will follow only if
one has achieved the physiological, safety, and belongingness needs. In this stage, approval must come from earned respect
and not from fame or social status. Acceptance and self-esteem originate from engaging in activities that are deemed as
being socially constructive. An individual may possess feelings of inferiority if the esteem needs are not reached.
If the previous needs are sufficiently met, a person now has the opportunity to become self-actualized. However, self-
actualization is an exceptional feat since it so rarely occurs. A person who reaches this stage strives for growth and self-
improvement. According to Maslow, the majority of people advance through the hierarchy of needs from the bottom up, in
an orderly fashion.
In Maslow (1943a), various propositions were presented which would have to be included in any theory of human
motivation that could lay claim to being definitive. These conclusions may be briefly summarized as follows:
1. The integrated wholeness of the organism must be one of the foundation stones of motivation theory.
2. The hunger drive (or any other physiological drive) was rejected as a centering point or model for a definitive
theory of motivation. Any drive that is somatically based and localizable was shown to be atypical rather than
typical in human motivation.
3. Such a theory should stress and center itself upon ultimate or basic goals rather than partial or superficial ones,
upon ends rather than means to these ends. Such a stress would imply a more central place for unconscious than
for conscious motivations.
4. There are usually available various cultural paths to the same goal. Therefore conscious, specific, local-cultural
desires are not as fundamental in motivation theory as the more basic, unconscious goals.
5. Any motivated behavior, either preparatory or consummatory, must be understood to be a channel through
which many basic needs may be simultaneously expressed or satisfied. Typically, an act has more than one
6. Practically all organismic states are to be understood as motivated and as motivating.
7. Human needs arrange themselves in hierarchies of pre-potency. That is to say, the appearance of one need
usually rests on the prior satisfaction of another, more pre-potent need. Man is a perpetually wanting animal.
Also no need or drive can be treated as if it were isolated or discrete; every drive is related to the state of
satisfaction or dissatisfaction of other drives.
8. Lists of drives will get us nowhere for various theoretical and practical reasons. Furthermore any classification
of motivations must deal with the problem of levels of specificity or generalization the motives to be classified.
9. Classifications of motivations must be based upon goals rather than upon instigating drives or motivated
10. Motivation theory should be human-centered rather than animal-centered.
11. The situation or the field in which the organism reacts must be taken into account but the field alone can rarely
serve as an exclusive explanation for behavior. Furthermore the field itself must be interpreted in terms of the
organism. Field theory cannot be a substitute for motivation theory.
12. Not only the integration of the organism must be taken into account, but also the possibility of isolated, specific,
partial or segmental reactions. It has since become necessary to add to these another affirmation.
13. Motivation theory is not synonymous with behavior theory. The motivations are only one class of determinants
of behavior. While behavior is almost always motivated, it is also almost always biologically, culturally and
situationally determined as well.
This paper is an attempt to formulate a positive theory of motivation which will satisfy these theoretical demands and at the
same time conform to the known facts, clinical and observational as well as experimental. It derives most directly, however,
from clinical experience. This theory is, I think, in the functionalist tradition of James and Dewey, and is fused with the
holism of Wertheimer (n.d.), Goldstein (1939), and Gestalt Psychology, and with the dynamicism of Freud (1933) and Adler
(1938). This fusion or synthesis may arbitrarily be called a ‘general-dynamic’ theory.
It is far easier to perceive and to criticize the aspects in motivation theory than to remedy them. Mostly this is because of
the very serious lack of sound data in this area. I conceive this lack of sound facts to be due primarily to the absence of a
valid theory of motivation. The present theory then must be considered to be a suggested program or framework for future
research and must stand or fall, not so much on facts available or evidence presented, as upon researches to be done, research
suggested perhaps, by the questions raised in this paper.
The Basic Needs
The ‘physiological’ needs. The needs that are usually taken as the starting point for motivation theory are the so-called
physiological drives. Two recent lines of research make it necessary to revise our customary notions about these needs, first,
the development of the concept of homeostasis, and second, the finding that appetites (preferential choices among foods)
are a fairly efficient indication of actual needs or lacks in the body.
Homeostasis refers to the body’s automatic efforts to maintain a constant, normal state of the blood stream. Cannon (1932)
has described this process for (1) the water content of the blood, (2) salt content, (3) sugar content, (4) protein content, (5)
fat content, (6) calcium content, (7) oxygen content, (8) constant hydrogen-ion level (acid-base balance) and (9) constant
temperature of the blood. Obviously this list can be extended to include other minerals, the hormones, vitamins, etc.
Young (1936) in a recent article has summarized the work on appetite in its relation to body needs. If the body lacks some
chemical, the individual will tend to develop a specific appetite or partial hunger for that food element.
Thus it seems impossible as well as useless to make any list of fundamental physiological needs for they can come to almost
any number one might wish, depending on the degree of specificity of description. We cannot identify all physiological
needs as homeostatic. That sexual desire, sleepiness, sheer activity and maternal behavior in animals, are homeostatic, has
not yet been demonstrated. Furthermore, this list would not include the various sensory pleasures (tastes, smells, tickling,
stroking) which are probably physiological and which may become the goals of motivated behavior.
In a previous paper (Maslow, 1943a), it has been pointed out that these physiological drives or needs are to be considered
unusual rather than typical because they are isolable, and because they are localizable somatically. That is to say, they are
relatively independent of each other, of other motivations and of the organism as a whole, and secondly, in many cases, it
is possible to demonstrate a localized, underlying somatic base for the drive. This is true less generally than has been thought
(exceptions are fatigue, sleepiness, maternal responses) but it is still true in the classic instances of hunger, sex, and thirst.
It should be pointed out again that any of the physiological needs and the consummatory behavior involved with them serve
as channels for all sorts of other needs as well. That is to say, the person who thinks he is hungry may actually be seeking
more for comfort, or dependence, than for vitamins or proteins. Conversely, it is possible to satisfy the hunger need in part
by other activities such as drinking water or smoking cigarettes. In other words, relatively isolable as these physiological
needs are, they are not completely so.
Undoubtedly these physiological needs are the most pre-potent of all needs. What this means specifically is, that in the
human being who is missing everything in life in an extreme fashion, it is most likely that the major motivation would be
the physiological needs rather than any others. A person who is lacking food, safety, love, and esteem would most probably
hunger for food more strongly than for anything else.
If all the needs are unsatisfied, and the organism is then dominated by the physiological needs, all other needs may become
simply non-existent or be pushed into the background. It is then fair to characterize the whole organism by saying simply
that it is hungry, for consciousness is almost completely preempted by hunger. All capacities are put into the service of
hunger-satisfaction, and the organization of these capacities is almost entirely determined by the one purpose of satisfying
hunger. The receptors and effectors, the intelligence, memory, habits, all may now be defined simply as hunger-gratifying
tools. Capacities that are not useful for this purpose lie dormant, or are pushed into the background. The urge to write poetry,
the desire to acquire an automobile, the interest in American history, the desire for a new pair of shoes are, in the extreme
case, forgotten or become of secondary importance. For the man who is extremely and dangerously hungry, no other
interests exist but food. He dreams food, he remembers food, he thinks about food, he emotes only about food, he perceives
only food, and he wants only food. The more subtle determinants that ordinarily fuse with the physiological drives in
organizing even feeding, drinking or sexual behavior, may now be so completely overwhelmed as to allow us to speak at
this time (but only at this time) of pure hunger drive and behavior, with the one unqualified aim of relief.
Another peculiar characteristic of the human organism when it is dominated by a certain need is that the whole philosophy
of the future tends also to change. For our chronically and extremely hungry man, Utopia can be defined very simply as a
place where there is plenty of food. He tends to think that, if only he is guaranteed food for the rest of his life, he will be
perfectly happy and will never want anything more. Life itself tends to be defined in terms of eating. Anything else will be
defined as unimportant. Freedom, love, community feeling, respect, philosophy, may all be waved aside as fripperies which
are useless since they fail to fill the stomach. Such a man may fairly be said to live by bread alone.
It cannot possibly be denied that such things are true but their generality can be denied. Emergency conditions are, almost
by definition, rare in the normally functioning peaceful society. That this truism can be forgotten is due mainly to two
reasons. First, rats have few motivations other than physiological ones, and since so much of the research upon motivation
has been made with these animals, it is easy to carry the rat-picture over to the human being. Secondly, it is too often not
realized that culture itself is an adaptive tool, one of whose main functions is to make the physiological emergencies come
less and less often. In most of the known societies, chronic extreme hunger of the emergency type is rare, rather than
common. In any case, this is still true in the United States. The average American citizen is experiencing appetite rather
than hunger when he says “I am hungry.” He is apt to experience sheer life-and-death hunger only by accident and then only
a few times through his entire life.
Obviously a good way to obscure the ‘higher’ motivations, and to get a lopsided view of human capacities and human nature,
is to make the organism extremely and chronically hungry or thirsty. Anyone who attempts to make an emergency picture
into a typical one, and who will measure all of man’s goals and desires by his behavior during extreme physiological
deprivation is certainly being blind to many things. It is quite true that man lives by bread alone-when there is no bread. But
what happens to man’s desires when there is plenty of bread and when his belly is chronically filled?
At once other (and ‘higher’) needs emerge and these, rather than physiological hungers, dominate the organism. And when
these in turn are satisfied, again new (and still ‘higher’) needs emerge and so on. This is what we mean by saying that the
basic human needs are organized into a hierarchy of relative prepotency.
One main implication of this phrasing is that gratification becomes as important a concept as deprivation in motivation
theory, for it releases the organism from the domination of a relatively more physiological need, permitting thereby the
emergence of other more social goals. The physiological needs, along with their partial goals, when chronically gratified
cease to exist as active determinants or organizers of behavior. They now exist only in a potential fashion in the sense that
they may emerge again to dominate the organism if they are thwarted. But a want that is satisfied is no longer a want. The
organism is dominated and its behavior organized only by unsatisfied needs. If hunger is satisfied, it becomes unimportant
in the current dynamics of the individual.
This statement is somewhat qualified by a hypothesis to be discussed more fully later, namely that it is precisely those
individuals in whom a certain need has always been satisfied who are best equipped to tolerate deprivation of that need in
the future, and that furthermore, those who have been deprived in the past will react differently to current satisfactions than
the one who has never been deprived.
The safety needs. If the physiological needs are relatively well gratified, there then emerges a new set of needs, which we
may categorize roughly as the safety needs. All that has been said of the physiological needs is equally true, although in
lesser degree, of these desires. The organism may equally well be wholly dominated by them. They may serve as the almost
exclusive organizers of behavior, recruiting all the capacities of the organism in their service, and we may then fairly
describe the whole organism as a safety-seeking mechanism. Again, we may say of the receptors, the effectors, of the
intellect and the other capacities that they are primarily safety-seeking tools. Again, as in the hungry man, we find that the
dominating goal is a strong determinant not only of his current world-outlook and philosophy but also of his philosophy of
the future. Practically everything looks less important than safety, (even sometimes the physiological needs which being
satisfied, are now underestimated). A man, in this state, if it is extreme enough and chronic enough, may be characterized
as living almost for safety alone.
Although in this paper we are interested primarily in the needs of the adult, we can approach an understanding of his safety
needs perhaps more efficiently by observation of infants and children, in whom these needs are much more simple and
obvious. One reason for the clearer appearance of the threat or danger reaction in infants, is that they do not inhibit this
reaction at all, whereas adults in our society have been taught to inhibit it at all costs. Thus even when adults do feel their
safety to be threatened we may not be able to see this on the surface. Infants will react in a total fashion and as if they were
endangered, if they are disturbed or dropped suddenly, startled by loud noises, flashing light, or other unusual sensory
stimulation, by rough handling, by general loss of support in the mother’s arms, or by inadequate support.
In infants we can also see a much more direct reaction to bodily illnesses of various kinds. Sometimes these illnesses seem
to be immediately and per se threatening and seem to make the child feel unsafe. For instance, vomiting, colic or other sharp
pains seem to make the child look at the whole world in a different way. At such a moment of pain, it may be postulated
that, for the child, the appearance of the whole world suddenly changes from sunniness to darkness, so to speak, and becomes
a place in which anything at all might happen, in which previously stable things have suddenly become unstable. Thus a
child who because of some bad food is taken ill may, for a day or two, develop fear, nightmares, and a need for protection
and reassurance never seen in him before his illness.
Another indication of the child’s need for safety is his preference for some kind of undisrupted routine or rhythm. He seems
to want a predictable, orderly world. For instance, injustice, unfairness, or inconsistency in the parents seems to make a
child feel anxious and unsafe. This attitude may be not so much because of the injustice per se or any particular pains
involved, but rather because this treatment threatens to make the world look unreliable, or unsafe, or unpredictable. Young
children seem to thrive better under a system which has at least a skeletal outline of rigidity, in which there is a schedule of
a kind, some sort of routine, something that can be counted upon, not only for the present but also far into the future. Perhaps
one could express this more accurately by saying that the child needs an organized world rather than an unorganized or
The central role of the parents and the normal family setup are indisputable. Quarreling, physical assault, separation, divorce
or death within the family may be particularly terrifying. Also parental outbursts of rage or threats of punishment directed
to the child, calling him names, speaking to him harshly, shaking him, handling him roughly, or actual physical punishment
sometimes elicit such total panic and terror in the child that we must assume more is involved than the physical pain alone.
While it is true that in some children this terror may represent also a fear of loss of parental love, it can also occur in
completely rejected children, who seem to cling to the hating parents more for sheer safety and protection than because of
hope of love.
Confronting the average child with new, unfamiliar, strange, unmanageable stimuli or situations will too frequently elicit
the danger or terror reaction, as for example, getting lost or even being separated from the parents for a short time, being
confronted with new faces, new situations or new tasks, the sight of strange, unfamiliar or uncontrollable objects, illness or
death. Particularly at such times, the child’s frantic clinging to his parents is eloquent testimony to their role as protectors
(quite apart from their roles as food-givers and love-givers).
From these and similar observations, we may generalize and say that the average child in our society generally prefers a
safe, orderly, predictable, organized world, which he can count, on, and in which unexpected, unmanageable or other
dangerous things do not happen, and in which, in any case, he has all-powerful parents who protect and shield him from
That these reactions may so easily be observed in children is in a way a proof of the fact that children in our society, feel
too unsafe (or, in a word, are badly brought up). Children who are reared in an unthreatening, loving family do not ordinarily
react as we have described above (Shirley, 1942). In such children the danger reactions are apt to come mostly to objects or
situations that adults too would consider dangerous.
The healthy, normal, fortunate adult in our culture is largely satisfied in his safety needs. The peaceful, smoothly running,
‘good’ society ordinarily makes its members feel safe enough from wild animals, extremes of temperature, criminals, assault
and murder, tyranny, etc. Therefore, in a very real sense, he no longer has any safety needs as active motivators. Just as a
sated man no longer feels hungry, a safe man no longer feels endangered. If we wish to see these needs directly and clearly
we must turn to neurotic or near-neurotic individuals, and to the economic and social underdogs. In between these extremes,
we can perceive the expressions of safety needs only in such phenomena as, for instance, the common preference for a job
with tenure and protection, the desire for a savings account, and for insurance of various kinds (medical, dental,
unemployment, disability, old age).
Other broader aspects of the attempt to seek safety and stability in the world are seen in the very common preference for
familiar rather than unfamiliar things, or for the known rather than the unknown. The tendency to have some religion or
world-philosophy that organizes the universe and the men in it into some sort of satisfactorily coherent, meaningful whole
is also in part motivated by safety-seeking. Here too we may list science and philosophy in general as partially motivated
by the safety needs (we shall see later that there are also other motivations to scientific, philosophical or religious endeavor).
Otherwise the need for safety is seen as an active and dominant mobilizer of the organism’s resources only in emergencies,
e.g. war, disease, natural catastrophes, crime waves, societal disorganization, neurosis, brain injury, chronically bad
Some neurotic adults in our society are, in many ways, like the unsafe child in their desire for safety, although in the former
it takes on a somewhat special appearance. Their reaction is often to unknown, psychological dangers in a world that is
perceived to be hostile, overwhelming and threatening. Such a person behaves as if a great catastrophe were almost always
impending, i.e., he is usually responding as if to an emergency. His safety needs often find specific expression in a search
for a protector, or a stronger person on whom he may depend, or perhaps, a Fuehrer.
The neurotic individual may be described in a slightly different way with some usefulness as a grown-up person who retains
his childish attitudes toward the world. That is to say, a neurotic adult may be said to behave ‘as if’ he were actually afraid
of a spanking, or of his mother’s disapproval, or of being abandoned by his parents, or having his food taken away from
him. It is as if his childish attitudes of fear and threat reaction to a dangerous world had gone underground, and untouched
by the growing up and learning processes, were now ready to be called out by any stimulus that would make a child feel
endangered and threatened.
The neurosis in which the search for safety takes its dearest form is in the compulsive-obsessive neurosis. Compulsive-
obsessives try frantically to order and stabilize the world so that no unmanageable, unexpected or unfamiliar dangers will
ever appear (Maslow & Mittelemann, 1941); they hedge themselves about with all sorts of ceremonials, rules and formulas
so that every possible contingency may be provided for and so that no new contingencies may appear. They are much like
the brain injured cases, described by Goldstein (1939), who manage to maintain their equilibrium by avoiding everything
unfamiliar and strange and by ordering their restricted world in such a neat, disciplined, orderly fashion that everything in
the world can be counted upon. They try to arrange the world so that anything unexpected (dangers) cannot possibly occur.
If, through no fault of their own, something unexpected does occur, they go into a panic reaction as if this unexpected
occurrence constituted a grave danger. What we can see only as a none-too-strong preference in the healthy person, e.g.,
preference for the familiar, becomes a life-and-death necessity in abnormal cases.
The love needs. If both the physiological and the safety needs are fairly well gratified, then there will emerge the love and
affection and belongingness needs, and the whole cycle already described will repeat itself with this new center. Now the
person will feel keenly, as never before, the absence of friends, or a sweetheart, or a wife, or children. He will hunger for
affectionate relations with people in general, namely, for a place in his group, and he will strive with great intensity to
achieve this goal. He will want to attain such a place more than anything else in the world and may even forget that once,
when he was hungry, he sneered at love.
In our society the thwarting of these needs is the most commonly found core in cases of maladjustment and more severe
psychopathology. Love and affection, as well as their possible expression in sexuality, are generally looked upon with
ambivalence and are customarily hedged about with many restrictions and inhibitions. Practically all theorists of
psychopathology have stressed thwarting of the love needs as basic in the picture of maladjustment. Many clinical studies
have therefore been made of this need and we know more about it perhaps than any of the other needs except the
physiological ones (Maslow & Mittelemann, 1941).
One thing that must be stressed at this point is that love is not synonymous with sex. Sex may be studied as a purely
physiological need. Ordinarily sexual behavior is multi-determined, that is to say, determined not only by sexual but also
by other needs, chief among which are the love and affection needs. Also not to be overlooked is the fact that the love needs
involve both giving and receiving love (Maslow, 1942; Plant, 1937).
The esteem needs. All people in our society (with a few pathological exceptions) have a need or desire for a stable, firmly
based, (usually) high evaluation of themselves, for self-respect, or self-esteem, and for the esteem of others. By firmly based
self-esteem, we mean that which is soundly based upon real capacity, achievement and respect from others. These needs
may be classified into two subsidiary sets. These are, first, the desire for strength, for achievement, for adequacy, for
confidence in the face of the world, and for independence and freedom (Fromm, 1941) Secondly, we have what we may
call the desire for reputation or prestige (defining it as respect or esteem from other people), recognition, attention,
importance or appreciation. These needs have been relatively stressed by Alfred Adler and his followers, and have been
relatively neglected by Freud and the psychoanalysts. More and more today however there is appearing widespread
appreciation of their central importance.
Satisfaction of the self-esteem need leads to feelings of self-confidence, worth, strength, capability and adequacy of being
useful and necessary in the world. But thwarting of these needs produces feelings of inferiority, of weakness and of
helplessness. These feelings in turn give rise to either basic discouragement or else compensatory or neurotic trends. An
appreciation of the necessity of basic self-confidence and an understanding of how helpless people are without it, can be
easily gained from a study of severe traumatic neurosis (Kardiner, 1941; Maslow, 1939).
The need for self-actualization. Even if all these needs are satisfied, we may still often (if not always) expect that a new
discontent and restlessness will soon develop, unless the individual is doing what he is fitted for. A musician must make
music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately happy. What a man can be, he must be. This need we
may call self-actualization.
This term, first coined by Kurt Goldstein, is being used in this paper in a much more specific and limited fashion. It refers
to the desire for self-fulfillment, namely, to the tendency for him to become actualized in what he is potentially. This
tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of
becoming. The specific form that these needs will take will of course vary greatly from person to person. In one individual
it may take the form of the desire to be an ideal mother, in another it may be expressed athletically, and in still another it
may be expressed in painting pictures or in inventions. It is not necessarily a creative urge although in people who have any
capacities for creation it will take this form.
The clear emergence of these needs rests upon prior satisfaction of the physiological, safety, love and esteem needs. We
shall call people who are satisfied in these needs, basically satisfied people, and it is from these that we may expect the
fullest (and healthiest) creativenes. Since, in our society, basically satisfied people are the exception, we do not know much
about self-actualization, either experimentally or clinically. It remains a challenging problem for research.
The preconditions for the basic need satisfactions. There are certain conditions which are immediate prerequisites for the
basic need satisfactions. Danger to these is reacted to almost as if it were a direct danger to the basic needs themselves. Such
conditions as freedom to speak, freedom to do what one wishes so long as no harm is done to others, freedom to express
one’s self, freedom to investigate and seek for information, freedom to defend one’s self, justice, fairness, honesty,
orderliness in the group are examples of such preconditions for basic need satisfactions. Thwarting in these freedoms will
be reacted to with a threat or emergency response. These conditions are not ends in themselves but they are almost so since
they are so closely related to the basic needs, which are apparently the only ends in themselves. These conditions are
defended because without them the basic satisfactions are quite impossible, or at least, very severely endangered.
If we remember that the cognitive capacities (perceptual, intellectual, learning) are a set of adjustive tools, which have,
among other functions, that of satisfaction of our basic needs, then it is clear that any danger to them, any deprivation or
blocking of their free use, must also be indirectly threatening to the basic needs themselves. Such a statement is a partial
solution of the general problems of curiosity, the search for knowledge, truth and wisdom, and the ever-persistent urge to
solve the cosmic mysteries.
We must therefore introduce another hypothesis and speak of degrees of closeness to the basic needs, for we have already
pointed out that any conscious desires (partial goals) are more or less important as they are more or less close to the basic
needs. The same statement may be made for various behavior acts. An act is psychologically important if it contributes
directly to satisfaction of basic needs. The less directly it so contributes, or the weaker this contribution is, the less important
this act must be conceived to be from the point of view of dynamic psychology. A similar statement may be made for the
various defense or coping mechanisms. Some are very directly related to the protection or attainment of the basic needs,
others are only weakly and distantly related. Indeed if we wished, we could speak of more basic and less basic defense
mechanisms, and then affirm that danger to the more basic defenses is more threatening than danger to less basic defenses
(always remembering that this is so only because of their relationship to the basic needs).
The desires to know and to understand. So far, we have mentioned the cognitive needs only in passing. Acquiring knowledge
and systematizing the universe have been considered as, in part, techniques for the achievement of basic safety in the world,
or, for the intelligent man, expressions of self-actualization. Also freedom of inquiry and expression has been discussed as
preconditions of satisfactions of the basic needs. True though these formulations may be, they do not constitute definitive
answers to the question as to the motivation role of curiosity, learning, philosophizing, experimenting, etc. They are, at best,
no more than partial answers.
This question is especially difficult because we know so little about the facts. Curiosity, exploration, desire for the facts,
desire to know may certainly be observed easily enough. The fact that they often are pursued even at great cost to the
individual’s safety is an earnest of the partial character of our previous discussion. In addition, the writer must admit that,
though he has sufficient clinical evidence to postulate the desire to know as a very strong drive in intelligent people, no data
are available for unintelligent people. It may then be largely a function of relatively high intelligence. Rather tentatively,
then, and largely in the hope of stimulating discussion and research, we shall postulate a basic desire to know, to be aware
of reality, to get the facts, to satisfy curiosity, or as Wertheimer phrases it, to see rather than to be blind.
This postulation, however, is not enough. Even after we know, we are impelled to know more and more minutely and
microscopically on the one hand, and on the other, more and more extensively in the direction of a world philosophy,
religion, etc. The facts that we acquire, if they are isolated or atomistic, inevitably get theorized about, and either analyzed
or organized or both. This process has been phrased by some as the search for ‘meaning.’ We shall then postulate a desire to
understand, to systematize, to organize, to analyze, to look for relations and meanings.
Once these desires are accepted for discussion, we see that they too form themselves into a small hierarchy in which the
desire to know is prepotent over the desire to understand. All the characteristics of a hierarchy of prepotency that we have
described above, seem to hold for this one as well.
We must guard ourselves against the too easy tendency to separate these desires from the basic needs we have discussed
above, i.e., to make a sharp dichotomy between ‘cognitive’ and ‘conative’ needs. The desire to know and to understand are
themselves conative, i.e., have a striving character, and are as much personality needs as the ‘basic needs’ we have already
discussed (Wertheimer, n.d., p. 386).
Future Characteristics of the Basic Needs
The degree of fixity of the hierarchy of basic needs. We have spoken so far as if this hierarchy were a fixed order but actually
it is not nearly as rigid as we may have implied. It is true that most of the people with whom we have worked have seemed
to have these basic needs in about the order that has been indicated. However, there have been a number of exceptions:
1. There are some people in whom, for instance, self-esteem seems to be more important than love. This most
common reversal in the hierarchy is usually due to the development of the notion that the person who is most
likely to be loved is a strong or powerful person, one who inspires respect or fear, and who is self-confident or
aggressive. Therefore such people who lack love and seek it, may try hard to put on a front of aggressive,
confident behavior. But essentially they seek high self-esteem and its behavior expressions more as a means-
to-an-end than for its own sake; they seek self-assertion for the sake of love rather than for self-esteem itself.
2. There are other, apparently innately creative people in whom the drive to creativeness seems to be more
important than any other counter-determinant. Their creativeness might appear not as self-actualization released
by basic satisfaction, but in spite of lack of basic satisfaction.
3. In certain people the level of aspiration may be permanently deadened or lowered. That is to say, the less pre-
potent goals may simply be lost, and may disappear forever, so that the person who has experienced life at a
very low level, i.e., chronic unemployment, may continue to be satisfied for the rest of his life if only he can
get enough food.
4. The so-called ‘psychopathic personality’ is another example of permanent loss of the love needs. These are
people who, according to the best data available (Levy, 1937), have been starved for love in the earliest months
of their lives and have simply lost forever the desire and the ability to give and to receive affection (as animals
lose sucking or pecking reflexes that are not exercised soon enough after birth).
5. Another cause of reversal of the hierarchy is that when a need has been satisfied for a long time, this need may
be under-evaluated. People who have never experienced chronic hunger are apt to underestimate its effects and
to look upon food as a rather unimportant thing. If they are dominated by a higher need, this higher need will
seem to be the most important of all. It then becomes possible, and indeed does actually happen, that they may,
for the sake of this higher need, put themselves into the position of being deprived in a more basic need. We
may expect that after a long-time deprivation of the more basic need there will be a tendency to reevaluate both
needs so that the more pre-potent need will actually become consciously prepotent for the individual who may
have given it up very lightly. Thus, a man who has given up his job rather than lose his self-respect, and who
then starves for six months or so, may be willing to take his job back even at the price of losing his self-respect.
6. Another partial explanation of apparent reversals is seen in the fact that we have been talking about the hierarchy
of prepotency in terms of consciously felt wants or desires rather than of behavior. Looking at behavior itself
may give us the wrong impression. What we have claimed is that the person will want the more basic of two
needs when deprived in both. There is no necessary implication here that he will act upon his desires. Let us
say again that there are many determinants of behavior other than the needs and desires.
7. Perhaps more important than all these exceptions are the ones that involve ideals, high social standards, high
values and the like. With such values people become martyrs; they give up everything for the sake of a particular
ideal, or value. These people may be understood, at least in part, by reference to one basic concept (or
hypothesis) which may be called ‘increased frustration-tolerance through early gratification.’ People who have
been satisfied in their basic needs throughout their lives, particularly in their earlier years, seem to develop
exceptional power to withstand present or future thwarting of these needs simply because they have strong,
healthy character structure as a result of basic satisfaction. They are the ‘strong’ people who can easily weather
disagreement or opposition, who can swim against the stream of public opinion and who can stand up for the
truth at great personal cost. It is just the ones who have loved and been well loved, and who have had many
deep friendships who can hold out against hatred, rejection or persecution.
I say all this in spite of the fact that there is a certain amount of sheer habituation which is also involved in any full discussion
of frustration tolerance. For instance, it is likely that those persons who have been accustomed to relative starvation for a
long time, are partially enabled thereby to withstand food deprivation. What sort of balance must be made between these
two tendencies, of habituation on the one hand, and of past satisfaction breeding present frustration tolerance on the other
hand, remains to be worked out by further research. Meanwhile we may assume that they are both operative, side by side,
since they do not contradict each other. In respect to this phenomenon of increased frustration tolerance, it seems probable
that the most important gratifications come in the first two years of life. That is to say, people who have been made secure
and strong in the earliest years, tend to remain secure and strong thereafter in the face of whatever threatens.
Degree of relative satisfaction. So far, our theoretical discussion may have given the impression that these five sets of needs
are somehow in a step-wise, all-or-none relationships to each other. We have spoken in such terms as the following: “If one
need is satisfied, then another emerges.” This statement might give the false impression that a need must be satisfied 100
per cent before the next need emerges. In actual fact, most members of our society who are normal, are partially satisfied in
all their basic needs and partially unsatisfied in all their basic needs at the same time. A more realistic description of the
hierarchy would be in terms of decreasing percentages of satisfaction as we go up the hierarchy of prepotency, For instance,
if I may assign arbitrary figures for the sake of illustration, it is as if the average citizen is satisfied perhaps 85 per cent in
his physiological needs, 70 per cent in his safety needs, 50 per cent in his love needs, 40 per cent in his self-esteem needs,
and 10 per cent in his self-actualization needs.
As for the concept of emergence of a new need after satisfaction of the prepotent need, this emergence is not a sudden,
saltatory phenomenon but rather a gradual emergence by slow degrees from nothingness. For instance, if prepotent need A
is satisfied only 10 per cent: then need B may not be visible at all. However, as this need A becomes satisfied 25 per cent,
need B may emerge 5 per cent, as need A becomes satisfied 75 per cent need B may emerge go per cent, and so on.
Unconscious character of needs. These needs are neither necessarily conscious nor unconscious. On the whole, however,
in the average person, they are more often unconscious rather than conscious. It is not necessary at this point to overhaul
the tremendous mass of evidence which indicates the crucial importance of unconscious motivation. It would by now be
expected, on a priori grounds alone, that unconscious motivations would on the whole be rather more important than the
conscious motivations. What we have called the basic needs are very often largely unconscious although they may, with
suitable techniques, and with sophisticated people become conscious.
Cultural specificity and generality of needs. This classification of basic needs makes some attempt to take account of the
relative unity behind the superficial differences in specific desires from one culture to another. Certainly, in any particular
culture an individual’s conscious motivational content will usually be extremely different from the conscious motivational
content of an individual in another society. However, it is the common experience of anthropologists that people, even in
different societies, are much more alike than we would think from our first contact with them, and that as we know them
better we seem to find more and more of this commonness, we then recognize the most startling differences to be superficial
rather than basic, e. g., differences in style of hair-dress, clothes, tastes in food, etc. Our classification of basic needs is in
part an attempt to account for this unity behind the apparent diversity from culture to culture. No claim is made that it is
ultimate or universal for all cultures. The claim is made only that it is relatively more ultimate, more universal, more basic,
than the superficial conscious desires from culture to culture, and makes a somewhat closer approach to common-human
characteristics, Basic needs are more common-human than superficial desires or behaviors.
Multiple motivations of behavior. These needs must be understood not to be exclusive or single determiners of certain kinds
of behavior. An example may be found in any behavior that seems to be physiologically motivated, such as eating, or sexual
play or the like. The clinical psychologists have long since found that any behavior may be a channel through which flow
various determinants. Or to say it in another way, most behavior is multi-motivated. Within the sphere of motivational
determinants any behavior tends to be determined by several or all of the basic needs simultaneously rather than by only
one of them. The latter would be more an exception than the former. Eating may be partially for the sake of filling the
stomach, and partially for the sake of comfort and amelioration of other needs. One may make love not only for pure sexual
release, but also to convince one’s self of one’s masculinity, or to make a conquest, to feel powerful, or to win more basic
affection. As an illustration, I may point out that it would be possible (theoretically if not practically) to analyze a single act
of an individual and see in it the expression of his physiological needs, his safety needs, his love needs, his esteem needs
and self-actualization. This contrasts sharply with the more naive brand of trait psychology in which one trait or one motive
accounts for a certain kind of act, i.e., an aggressive act is traced solely to a trait of aggressiveness.
Multiple determinants of behavior. Not all behavior is determined by the basic needs. We might even say that not all
behavior is motivated. There are many determinants of behavior other than motives. For instance, one other important class
of determinants is the so-called ‘field’ determinants. Theoretically, at least, behavior may be determined completely by the
field, or even by specific isolated external stimuli, as in association of ideas, or certain conditioned reflexes. If in response
to the stimulus word ‘table’ I immediately perceive a memory image of a table, this response certainly has nothing to do
with my basic needs.
Secondly, we may call attention again to the concept of ‘degree of closeness to the basic needs’ or ‘degree of motivation.’
Some behavior is highly motivated, other behavior is only weakly motivated. Some is not motivated at all (but all behavior
Another important point is that there is a basic difference between expressive behavior and coping behavior (functional
striving, purposive goal seeking). An expressive behavior does not try to do anything; it is simply a reflection of the
personality. A stupid man behaves stupidly, not because he wants to, or tries to, or is motivated to, but simply because he
is what he is. The same is true when I speak in a bass voice rather than tenor or soprano. The random movements of a
healthy child, the smile on the face of a happy man even when he is alone, the springiness of the healthy man’s walk, and
the erectness of his carriage are other examples of expressive, non-functional behavior. Also the style in which a man carries
out almost all his behavior, motivated as well as unmotivated, is often expressive.
We may then ask, is all behavior expressive or reflective of the character structure? The answer is ‘No.’ Rote, habitual,
automatized, or conventional behavior may or may not be expressive. The same is true for most ‘stimulus-bound’ behaviors.
It is finally necessary to stress that expressiveness of behavior, and goal-directedness of behavior are not mutually exclusive
categories. Average behavior is usually both.
Goals as centering principle in motivation theory. It will be observed that the basic principle in our classification has been
neither the instigation nor the motivated behavior but rather the functions, effects, purposes, or goals of the behavior. It has
been proven sufficiently by various people that this is the most suitable point for centering in any motivation theory (Murray,
Animal- and human-centering. This theory starts with the human being rather than any lower and presumably ‘simpler’
animal. Too many of the findings that have been made in animals have been proven to be true for animals but not for the
human being. There is no reason whatsoever why we should start with animals in order to study human motivation. The
logic or rather illogic behind this general fallacy of ‘pseudo-simplicity’ has been exposed often enough by philosophers and
logicians as well as by scientists in each of the various fields. It is no more necessary to study animals before one can study
man than it is to study mathematics before one can study geology or psychology or biology.
We may also reject the old, naive, behaviorism which assumed that it was somehow necessary, or at least more ‘scientific’
to judge human beings by animal standards. One consequence of this belief was that the whole notion of purpose and goal
was excluded from motivational psychology simply because one could not ask a white rat about his purposes. Tolman
(1932) has long since proven in animal studies themselves that this exclusion was not necessary.
Motivation and the theory of psychopathogenesis. The conscious motivational content of everyday life has, according to the
foregoing, been conceived to be relatively important or unimportant accordingly as it is more or less closely related to the
basic goals. A desire for an ice cream cone might actually be an indirect expression of a desire for love. If it is, then this
desire for the ice cream cone becomes extremely important motivation. If however the ice cream is simply something to
cool the mouth with, or a casual appetitive reaction, then the desire is relatively unimportant. Everyday conscious desires
are to be regarded as symptoms, as surface indicators of more basic needs. If we were to take these superficial desires at
their face value we would find ourselves in a state of complete confusion which could never be resolved, since we would
be dealing seriously with symptoms rather than with what lay behind the symptoms.
Thwarting of unimportant desires produces no psychopathological results; thwarting of a basically important need does
produce such results. Any theory of psychopathogenesis must then be based on a sound theory of motivation. A conflict or
a frustration is not necessarily pathogenic. It becomes so only when it threatens or thwarts the basic needs, or partial needs
that are closely related to the basic needs (Maslow, 1943b).
The role of gratified needs. It has been pointed out above several times that our needs usually emerge only when more
prepotent needs have been gratified. Thus gratification has an important role in motivation theory. Apart from this, however,
needs cease to play an active determining or organizing role as soon as they are gratified.
What this means is that, e.g., a basically satisfied person no longer has the needs for esteem, love, safety, etc. The only sense
in which he might be said to have them is in the almost metaphysical sense that a sated man has hunger, or a filled bottle
has emptiness. If we are interested in what actually motivates us, and not in what has, will, or might motivate us, then a
satisfied need is not a motivator. It must be considered for all practical purposes simply not to exist, to have disappeared.
This point should be emphasized because it has been either overlooked or contradicted in every theory of motivation I know
(Maslow, 1942) the perfectly healthy, normal, fortunate man has no sex needs or hunger needs, or needs for safety, or for
love, or for prestige, or self-esteem, except in stray moments of quickly passing threat. If we were to say otherwise, we
should also have to aver that every man had all the pathological reflexes, e.g., Babinski, etc., because if his nervous system
were damaged, these would appear.
It is such considerations as these that suggest the bold postulation that a man who is thwarted in any of his basic needs may
fairly be envisaged simply as a sick man. This is a fair parallel to our designation as ‘sick’ of the man who lacks vitamins or
minerals. Who is to say that a lack of love is less important than a lack of vitamins? Since we know the pathogenic effects
of love starvation, who is to say that we are invoking value-questions in an unscientific or illegitimate way, any more than
the physician does who diagnoses and treats pellagra or scurvy? If I were permitted this usage, I should then say simply that
a healthy man is primarily motivated by his needs to develop and actualize his fullest potentialities and capacities. If a man
has any other basic needs in any active, chronic sense, then he is simply an unhealthy man. He is as surely sick as if he had
suddenly developed a strong salt-hunger or calcium hunger.
If this statement seems unusual or paradoxical the reader may be assured that this is only one among many such paradoxes
that will appear as we revise our ways of looking at man’s deeper motivations. When we ask what man wants of life, we
deal with his very essence.
There are at least five sets of goals, which we may call basic needs. These are briefly physiological, safety, love, esteem,
and self-actualization. In addition, we are motivated by the desire to achieve or maintain the various conditions upon which
these basic satisfactions rest and by certain more intellectual desires.
These basic goals are related to each other, being arranged in a hierarchy of prepotency. This means that the most prepotent
goal will monopolize consciousness and will tend of itself to organize the recruitment of the various capacities of the
organism. The less prepotent needs are minimized, even forgotten or denied. But when a need is fairly well satisfied, the
next prepotent (‘higher’) need emerges, in turn to dominate the conscious life and to serve as the center of organization of
behavior, since gratified needs are not active motivators.
Thus man is a perpetually wanting animal. Ordinarily the satisfaction of these wants is not altogether mutually exclusive,
but only tends to be. The average member of our society is most often partially satisfied and partially unsatisfied in all of
his wants. The hierarchy principle is usually empirically observed in terms of increasing percentages of non-satisfaction as
we go up the hierarchy. Reversals of the average order of the hierarchy are sometimes observed. Also it has been observed
that an individual may permanently lose the higher wants in the hierarchy under special conditions. There are not only
ordinarily multiple motivations for usual behavior, but in addition many determinants other than motives.
Any thwarting or possibility of thwarting of these basic human goals, or danger to the defenses which protect them, or to
the conditions upon which they rest, is considered to be a psychological threat. With a few exceptions, all psychopathology
may be partially traced to such threats. A basically thwarted man may actually be defined as a ‘sick’ man, if we wish. It is
such basic threats which bring about the general emergency reactions.
Certain other basic problems have not been dealt with because of limitations of space. Among these are (a) the problem of
values in any definitive motivation theory, (b) the relation between appetites, desires, needs and what is ‘good’ for the
organism, (c) the etiology of the basic needs and their possible derivation in early childhood, (d) redefinition of motivational
concepts, i.e., drive, desire, wish, need, goal, (e) implication of our theory for hedonistic theory, (f) the nature of the
uncompleted act, of success and failure, and of aspiration-level, (g) the role of association, habit and conditioning, (h)
relation to the theory of inter-personal relations, (i) implications for psychotherapy, (j) implication for theory of society, (k)
the theory of selfishness, (l) the relation between needs and cultural patterns, (m) the relation between this theory and
Alport’s theory of functional autonomy. These as well as certain other less important questions must be considered as
motivation theory attempts to become definitive.
Criticisms of Maslow’s Theory of Motivation (McLeod, 2017)
The most significant limitation of Maslow’s theory concerns his methodology. Maslow formulated the characteristics of
self-actualized individuals from undertaking a qualitative method called biographical analysis. He looked at the biographies
and writings of 18 people he identified as being self-actualized. From these sources he developed a list of qualities that
seemed characteristic of this specific group of people, as opposed to humanity in general. It is extremely difficult to
empirically test Maslow’s concept of self-actualization in a way that causal relationships can be established.
From a scientific perspective there are numerous problems with this particular approach. First, it could be argued that
biographical analysis as a method is extremely subjective as it is based entirely on the opinion of the researcher. Personal
opinion is always prone to bias, which reduces the validity of any data obtained. Therefore, Maslow’s operational definition
of self-actualization must not be blindly accepted as scientific fact.
Furthermore, Maslow’s biographical analysis focused on a biased sample of self-actualized individuals, prominently limited
to highly educated white males (such as Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, William James, Aldous
Huxley, Gandhi, and Beethoven). Although Maslow (1970) did study self-actualized females, such as Eleanor Roosevelt
and Mother Teresa. They comprised a small proportion of his sample. This makes it difficult to generalize his theory to
females and individuals from lower social classes or different ethnicity, which leads to questions on population validity of
Another criticism concerns Maslow’s assumption that the lower needs must be satisfied before a person can achieve their
potential and self-actualize. This is not always the case, and therefore Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in some aspect has been
falsified. Through examining cultures in which large numbers of people live in poverty (such as India), it is clear that people
are still capable of higher order needs such as love and belongingness. However, this should not occur, as according to
Maslow, people who have difficulty achieving very basic physiological needs (such as food, shelter etc.) are not capable of
meeting higher growth needs. Also, many creative people, such as authors and artists (e.g. Rembrandt and Van Gogh) lived
in poverty throughout their lifetime, yet it could be argued that they achieved self-actualization.
Psychologists now conceptualize motivation as a pluralistic behavior, whereby needs can operate on many levels
simultaneously. A person may be motivated by higher growth needs at the same time as lower level deficiency needs.
Contemporary research by Tay & Diener (2011) has tested Maslow’s theory by analyzing the data of 60,865 participants
from 123 countries, representing every major region of the world. The survey was conducted 2005-2010. Respondents
answered questions about six needs that closely resemble those in Maslow’s model: basic needs (food, shelter); safety; social
needs (love, support); respect; mastery; and autonomy. They also rated their well-being across three discrete measures: life
evaluation (a person’s view of his or her life as a whole), positive feelings (day-to-day instances of joy or pleasure), and
negative feelings (everyday experiences of sorrow, anger, or stress). The results of the study support the view that universal
human needs appear to exist regardless of cultural differences. However, the ordering of the needs within the hierarchy was
not correct. According to Diener, “Although the most basic needs might get the most attention when you don’t have them,
you don’t need to fulfill them in order to get benefits from other loftier needs. Even when we are hungry, for instance, we
can be happy with our friends” (as cited in Bauman, 2017, p. 41).
Educational Implications (McLeod, 2017)
Maslow’s theory of motivation is also called the theory of hierarchical needs. Maslow’s (1968) has made a major
contribution to teaching and classroom management in schools. Rather than reducing behavior to a response in the
environment, Maslow (1970) adopts a holistic approach to education and learning. Maslow looks at the complete physical,
emotional, social, and intellectual qualities of an individual and how they impact on learning.
Applications of Maslow’s hierarchical needs theory to the work of the classroom teacher are obvious. Before a student’s
cognitive needs can be met they must first fulfil their basic physiological needs. For example, a tired and hungry student
will find it difficult to focus on learning. Students need to feel emotionally and physically safe and accepted within the
classroom to progress and reach their full potential.
Maslow suggests students must be shown that they are valued and respected in the classroom and the teacher should create
a supportive environment. Students with a low self-esteem will not progress academically at an optimum rate until their
self-esteem is strengthened.
Maslow (1971) argued that a humanistic educational approach would develop people who are “stronger, healthier, and
would take their own lives into their hands to a greater extent. With increased personal responsibility for one’s personal
life, and with a rational set of values to guide one’s choosing, people would begin to actively change the society in which
they lived” (p. 195).
Adler, A. (1938). Social interest. London: Faber & Faber.
Bauman, S. (2017). Break open the sky: Saving our faith from a culture of fear. New York, NY: Multnomah.
Cannon, W. B. (1932). Wisdom of the body. New York, NY: Norton.
Freud, S. (1933). New introductory lectures on psychoanalysis. New York, NY: Norton.
Fromm, E. (1941). Escape from freedom. New York, NY: Farrar and Rinehart.
Goldstein, K. (1939). The organism. New York, NY: American Book Co.
Kardiner, A. (1941). The traumatic neuroses of war. New York, NY: Hoeber.
Levy, D. M. (1937). Primary affect hunger. Psychiat., 94, 643-652.
Maslow, A. H. (1939). Dominance, personality and social behavior in women. Journal of Social Psychology, 10, 3-39.
Maslow, A. H. (1942). The dynamics of psychological security-insecurity. Character & Pers., 10, 331-344.
Maslow, A. H. (1943a). A preface to motivation theory. Psychosomatic Med., 5, 85-92.
Maslow, A. H. (1943b). Conflict, frustration, and the theory of threat. Journal of Abnormal (Soc.) Psychol., 38, 81-86.
Maslow, A. H. (1968). Toward a Psychology of being. New York, NY: D. Van Nostrand Company.
Maslow, A. H. (1970). Motivation and personality (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Harper & Row.
Maslow, A. H. (1971). The farther reaches of human nature. New York, NY: Viking.
Maslow, A. H., & Mittelemann, B. (1941). Principles of abnormal psychology. New York, NY: Harper & Bros.
McLeod, S. A. (2017). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html
Murray, H., Barrett, W., Homburger, E., Langer, W., Mereel, H. S., Morgan, C. D., …Wolf, R. E. (1938). Explorations in
personality. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Plant, J. (1937). Personality and the cultural pattern. New York, NY: Commonwealth Fund.
Shirley, M. (1942). Children’s adjustments to a strange situation. Journal of Abrnormal Soc.) Psychol., 37, 201-217.
Tay, L., & Diener, E. (2011). Needs and subjective well-being around the world. Journal of Personality and Social
Psychology, 101(2), 354-365.
Tolman, E. C. (1932). Purposive behavior in animals and men. New York, NY: Century.
Wertheimer, M. (n.d.). Unpublished lectures at the New School for Social Research.
Young, P. T. (1936). Motivation of behavior. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.
Credible Articles on the Internet
Boeree, C. G. (2006). Abraham Maslow. Retrieved from http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/Maslow.html
Burleson, S., & Thoron, A. (2009). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and its relation to learning and achievement. Retrieved
Gawel, J. E. (1997). Herzberg’s theory of motivation and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Retrieved from
Green, C. D. (2000). Classics in the history of psychology. Retrieved from
Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles
Gambrel, P. A., & Cianci, R. (2003). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: Does it apply in a collectivist culture. Journal of
Applied Management and Entrepreneurship, 8(2), 143-161.
Gordon Rouse, K., A. (2004). Beyond Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: What do people strive for? Performance
Improvement, 43(10), 27-31.
Hagerty, M. R. (1999). Testing Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: National quality-of-life across time. Social Indicators
Research, 46(3), 249-271.
Milheim, K. L. (2012). Towards a better experience: Examining student needs in the online classroom through Maslow’s
hierarchy of needs model. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 8(2), 159.
Vanagas, R., & Raksnys, A. V. (2014). Motivation in public sector- motivational alternatives in the Maslow’s hierarchy of
needs. Public Policy and Administration Research Journal, 13(2). doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.13165/VPA-14-13-2-10
Books at Dalton State College Library
Goble, F. G. (1978). The third force: The psychology of Abraham Maslow. New York, NY: Grossman.
Maslow, A. H. (1999). Toward a psychology of being (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Wiley & Sons.
Sheehy, N. (2004). Fifty key thinkers in psychology. New York, NY: Routledge.
Videos and Tutorials
Child Development Theorists: Freud to Erikson to Spock and Beyond. Retrieved from Films on Demand database.
Information Processing Theory
Information Processing Theory is concerned with how people view their environment, how they put that information into
memory, and how they retrieve that information later on. The Information Processing Theory approach is based on the idea
that humans process information they receive instead of simply responding to external stimuli. According to the Information
Processing Theory model, the mind is often compared to a computer. The computer, like mind, analyzes information and
determines how the information will be stored. There are three components of the Information Processing Theory: sensory
memory, short-term memory, and long-term memory. Sensory memory is all of the things that you experience through your
five senses-hearing, vision, taste, smell, and touch. The capacity of sensory memory is about four items and the duration is
limited to .5 to 3 seconds. Short-term memory, also called working memory, is the temporary storage, lasts about 15-30
seconds, holds about 7 items of information, and includes the thinking part of applying what come out of the sensory
memory. Long-term memory is memory that can be accessed at a later time, is long lasting, and can hold infinite information.
The Information Processing Theory addresses how people respond to the information they receive through their senses and
how they further process those information with steps of attention, forgetting, and retention. Unlike other cognitive
developmental theories, the information processing theory includes a continuous pattern of development instead of
development in stages.
The information processing (IP) theory is a cognitive approach to understanding how the human mind transforms sensory
information. The model (Figure 12.1) assumes that information that comes from the environment is subject to mental
processes beyond a simple stimulus-response pattern. “Input” from the environment goes through the cognitive systems
which is then measured by the “output.” Information that is received can take several paths depending on attention, encoding,
recognition, and storage. The central executive feature controls how much information is being processed, though more
primitive sensory areas of the brain first accept environmental input. The theory looks at real time responses to presented
stimuli and how the mind transforms that information.
Figure 12.1 Information Processing Model. The model is constructed to represent mental processes much like that of
a computer. No one theorist claims to have invented the model. The model creates a basic structure for experimental
research of these internal cognitive processes.
The model assumes that through the process of maturation, one develops greater abilities to attend to stimulus, recognize
patterns, encode, and retrieve information. Over long spans of time, individuals process information with greater efficiency.
Over the life span, individuals experience more information, associations, and ways to categorize the input. The process
may seem passive, but the model assumes that input from the environment is actively transformed and rehearsed to become
a part of long-term memory. For environmental information to become a part of long-term memory, one must attend to,
rehearse, and make sense of the stimuli. The interaction between nature and nurture coincide for changes in development.
The model does not attempt nor can it distinguish between the two.
How Does the Information Processing Model Work?
Sensory Memory (Figure 12.5)
Sensory memory is where information gathered from the environment is stored. Sensory memory is very limited, passive,
and lasts about .5-3 seconds. It has the capacity of holding 4 items. It is affected by attention. Information is gathered from
the environment through the sensory register (sensory motor). In order for information to enter the short-term memory from
the sensory register, it must be attended to by the senses. Information that is not attended to is lost from the sensory memory
and never enters the short-term memory. The best understood sensory registers (SRs) are for seeing (iconic) and hearing
(echoic). Very little is known about tactile (touch), olfactory (smell), and gustatory (taste) SRs. For example, light reflecting
off the cup hits my eye; the image is transferred through my optic nerve to the sensory register. If I do not attend to it, it
fades from this memory store and is lost. In fact, my cup is on my desk most of the day, and I see it without really “seeing”
it many times during the day. Each memory stage has four attributes: 1. Representation; 2. Capacity; 3. Duration; and 4.
Cause of forgetting. For the visual sensory register, for example, representation is iconic-limited to the field of vision, and
lasts for about 250 milliseconds. The main cause of forgetting is decay. Representation in the auditory register is echoic
(based on sound); its duration is 2-3 seconds; it is only limited to the sounds we can actually hear and decay is the primary
cause for forgetting. Much less is known about the other three register types.
Short-Term Memory (Working Memory) (Figure 12.5)
Short-Term Memory (STM) is also known as working memory. It is where consciousness exists. In the cup example, if I
attend to the cup, it will be moved into STM. At this point, it is difficult to talk about the cup in STM memory without
referring to long-term memory (LTM). For example, I might attend to the cup and think, “That’s my cup. It has coffee in it.
I poured that coffee 3 hours ago.” Each of those statements draws on LTM. I know it is my cup because it is the one that a
potter friend of mine made for me. I know it has coffee in it, because I remember getting it this morning. I know that I
poured that cup at 9:00 am. The statement that the coffee is 3 hours old required me to look at the current time, and retrieve
from LTM that subtracting the current time from pouring time tells me how old the coffee is. Performing the subtraction
used no STM processing space, because experience in doing arithmetic allows me to do this automatically.
STM is where the world meets what is already known, and where thinking is done. You perceive and attend to stimuli; that
information is then actively processed based on information stored in LTM. The use strategies such as rehearsal (repeating
information verbally (acoustic encoding) and chunking (categorizing information together in one memory slot) can expand
the capacity of short-term memory (McLeod, 2009). In terms of the characteristics of this memory stage, the representation
is echoic. It is limited to 5-9 items, and it lasts between 15-30 seconds (Atkinson & Shiffrin, 1971). At the STM stage,
interference is the principal cause of forgetting. STM can hold about 7 (the magic number) items (Miller, 1956). A common
example of this is calling information for a phone number. After the operator gives you the number, you begin repeating it
to keep it in STM. This repetition is termed rehearsal. Rehearsal can also be used to get information into LTM, but it is very
inefficient. Rehearsal primarily serves a maintenance function; it can be used to keep information in STM. In the phone
number example, if someone interrupts you to ask you a question while you are rehearsing the number, responding interferes
with rehearsal, and the phone number is lost. You must call the information again.
Baddeley and Hitch (1974) further researched short-term memory and developed an alternative model as working memory
model (Figure 12.2; Figure 12.3).
Figure 12.2 Working Memory
In the working memory model (Figure 12.3), Central Executive is the part of working memory where information is
controlled. Visuospatial Sketchpad stores and processes visual and spatial information. Phonological Loop stores and
processes speech-form based sound information. Episodic Buffer is where information is brought to the forefront, used,
constructed from and to the Long-Term Memory, where information is retained indefinitely.
Figure 12.3 Working Memory Model Components
Figure 12.3 The above diagram shows the components of working memory, which is an alternative model for short
term memory, developed by Baddeley and Hitch (1974). It can also be found in Miller (2011, pp. 272-272).
Long-Term Memory (Figure 12.5)
The final stage in the IP model is long-term memory (LTM), which involves the storage and recall of information over
extended periods of time, such as hours, days, weeks, or years (Merriam-Webster, 2017). LTM is everything we know and
know how to do. For most cognitive psychologists, the world of LTM can be categorized as one of three types of memory
(Figure 12.4): declarative, procedural or episodic. Declarative knowledge can be defined as knowledge needed to complete
this sentence “Knowing that…” By contrast, procedural knowledge is “Knowing how…” These two types of knowledge
account for most of what is learned in school and at work. The remaining type of knowledge is episodic which might also
be called anecdotal. This is memory for specific events in one’s life: a memory of your first kiss or of your graduation. The
personal stories in our lives comprise episodic memory. While this makes for a neat tautology, some have suggested that it
Figure 12.4 Declarative Knowledge, Procedural Knowledge, and Episodic Knowledge in Long-Term Memory
Figure 12.4. The Inspiration web illustrates that most cognitive psychologists categorized that Long-Term Memory
consists of declarative knowledge (“I know that… even numbers end with the digits 0, 2, 4, 6, and 8!”), procedural
knowledge (“I know how… to pronounce and comprehend new vocabulary!”), and episodic knowledge (“I remember
when… I graduated from high school!”). By Tiffany Davis, Meghann Hummel, and Kay Sauers (2006).
Pavio (1986) has asserted that memory for images differs from memory for words. He offers a dual coding hypothesis
asserting that when we see an image, both the image and a label for that image are stored in memory. He has extended the
hypothesis, suggesting that dual codes may exist for the other senses as well. For example, the smell of an orange is stored
along with its label “orange.” Others have suggested that there are mechanisms that control thinking and learning. These
control processes are called metacognition. Metacognition often takes the form of strategies. For example, learners
attempting to master a complex topic might choose to use a strategy such as drawing pictures to help them understand the
complex inter-relationships of the various components of the topic. Strategic readers might stop and mentally summarize
what they have just read in order to ensure comprehension.
The 1970s saw great expansion of understanding of human learning. It became clear that there was no one method of
teaching that ensured successful learning. Many researchers, especially in the field of second language (L2) acquisition,
recognizing this fact, turned their attention to learners, attempting to answer the question “Why is it that some learners
succeed in learning regardless of the methods used to teach them?” Rubin (1975) and Stern (1975) formulated lists of the
characteristics and strategies that “good” language learners use in their study. Rubin and Thompson (1982) offered guidance
to foreign language students on how to make themselves better learners. Extensive study of this notion of learning strategies
in the 1980s led O’Malley et al. (1985) to formulate a list of 24 strategies used by English as a Second Language (ESL)
students in their study. Most importantly, the strategies were classified into three categories: Metacognitive Strategies: is a
term borrowed from IP theory. These strategies, according to O’Malley et al. (cited in Brown,1987), “indicate an ‘executive
‘ function…that involve planning for learning, thinking about the learning process as it is taking place, monitoring…and
evaluating learning…” (Brown, 1987, p. 94). Metacognitive strategies might include using advance organizers, self-
planning, self-monitoring, and self-evaluation; Cognitive Strategies: are more task-specific, and often refer to “direct
manipulation of the learning material itself” (Brown, 2000, p. 124). Examples of cognitive strategies are note-taking,
repetition, guessing meaning from context, or using mnemonic devices; Socio-affective Strategies: refer to strategies that
use association with or input from teachers or peers. O’Malley, Chamot, Stewer-Manzanares, Russo, and Kupper (1985)
have gone on to suggest that these strategies can be overtly taught to learners, facilitating one of the most important goals
of learning, learner autonomy.
Finally, there is another viewpoint that offers the notion of concepts. For example, there exists a concept called “bird,”
which can be reduced to declarative statements such as: “It has feathers,” “It has wings and flies,” “It lays eggs,” and the
like. The concept of “bird” can also include our episodic experiences with birds-the parakeet I had when I was a child, the
sparrow I found dead by the fence one morning, etc. It can also include the hundreds of images that we have seen of birds,
as well as all instances of real birds we have seen. All of this collectively is what we know of as “bird.” It is the concept of
bird, the tightly woven collection of knowledge that we have for birds.
In the end, there are five types of knowledge in LTM-declarative, procedural, episodic, imagery, and strategic knowledge;
there also exists one collective type called conceptual knowledge. For the LTM stage, the representation is semantic (based
on meaning). Capacity and duration are considered unlimited in LTM, and the cause of forgetting is failure to retrieve.
How information gets into the LTM? In order to keep information in the working, it needs to be rehearsed (rote
memorization). Rote memorization is not an effective way to move information to the long-term memory. However, by
using the correct methods, information can be moved from the short-term memory into the long-term memory where it can
be kept for long periods of time. Information that is stored in the long-term memory does not need to be rehearsed. To
retrieve information from the long-term memory, short-term memory must be used. Usually if someone “forgets” something
that is stored in the long-term memory, they have simply forgotten how to retrieve it or where it is stored.
In order for information to move from short-term (working) memory to long term memory, it must be attended within 5 to
20 seconds of entering. Information must be linked to prior knowledge and encoded in order to be permanently stored in
long term memory. It is generally believed that encoding for short-term memory storage in the brain relies primarily on
acoustic encoding, while encoding for long-term storage is more reliant on semantic encoding (The Human Memory, n.d).
Some encoding methods include chunking, imagery, and elaboration. For examples, when I think about teaching learners, I
need to know what they already know so that they can relate the new information to their existing knowledge. This is
elaboration. While teachers can do some of that for learners, elaboration is an active process. The learner must be actively
engaged with the material that is to be learned. This does not necessarily mean that the learner must be physically active;
rather, it implies that they should be actively relating this new piece of information to other ideas that they already know.
LTM is often regarded as a network of ideas. In order to remember something, ideas are linked, one to another until the
sought-after information is found. Failure to remember information does not mean that it has been forgotten; it is merely
the procedure for retrieval has been forgotten. With more elaboration, more pathways to that piece of information are
created. More pathways make retrieval of the information more likely. If it is found, it is not forgotten.
Figure 12.5 Sensory, Short-Term (Working), and Long-Term Memory
Type Characteristics Representation Capacity Duration
limited and passive; store
information gathered from
the external environment
senses (seeing, hearing, taste,
4 items .5-3 seconds decay
processing: rehearsing and
visual imaging and acoustic
5-9 items 16-30 seconds
information over extended
periods of time (hours,
days, weeks, months,
semantic encoding: chunking,
imagery, and elaboration
procedural, episodic, imagery,
infinite permanent forgetting
Human as Computer
Within the IP model, humans are routinely compared to computers (Figure 12.6). This comparison is used as a means of
better understanding the way information is processed and stored in the human mind. Therefore, when analyzing what
actually develops within this model, the more specific comparison is between the human brain and computers. Computers
were introduced to the study of development and provided a new way of studying intelligence (Lachman & Lachman, 1979)
and “added further legitimacy to the scientific study of the mind” (Goodwin, 2005, p. 411). In the model below, you can
see the direct comparison between human processing and computer processing. Within this model, information is taken in
(or input). Information is encoded to give meaning and compared with stored information. If a person is working on a task,
this is where the short-term memory (working) memory is enacted. An example of that for a computer is the Central
Processing Unit (CPU). In both cases, information is encoded, given meaning, and combined with previously stored
information to enact the task. The latter step is where the information is stored where it can later be retrieved when needed.
For computers, this would be akin to saving information on a hard drive, where you would then upload the saved data when
working on a future task (using the short-term (working) memory).
Figure 12.6 Human Memory and Computer Comparison
Figure 12.6. The Inspiration web above shows how Information Processing can be likened to the model of a computer.
The Sensory Register would include input devices like CDs. Short-Term Memory includes the Central Processing
Unit. Long-Term Memory would be viewed as the hard drive or storage. By Tiffany Davis, Meghann Hummel, and
Kay Sauers (2006).
Information Processing Theory views humans as information processing systems with memory systems sometimes referred
to as cognitive architecture (Miller, 2011). A computer metaphor is often applied to human cognitive systems, wherein
information (a stimulus) is inputted (sensed) and the brain then performs processes such as comparing the information to
previously stored information (schemas), transforming information (encoding), or storing information in long-term memory.
This theory views humans as machines, actively inputting, retrieving, processing and storing information. Context, social
content, and social influences on processing are generally ignored in favor of a focus on internal systemic processes (Miller
2011). Nature provides the hardware, or the neurological processing system likely predisposed to economical and efficient
processing, as well as being pre-tuned to attend to specific stimuli. The “Nurture” component presents as the environment
which provides the stimuli to be inputted and processed by the system.
Current Areas of Research
Information Processing Theory is currently being utilized in the study of computer or artificial intelligence. This theory has
also been applied to systems beyond the individual, including families and business organizations. For example, Ariel (1987)
applied Information Processing Theory to family systems, with sensing, attending, and encoding stimuli occurring either
within individuals within the system or as the family system itself. Unlike traditional systems theory, where the family
system tends to maintain stasis and resists incoming stimuli which would violate the system’s rules, the Information
Processing family develops individual and mutual schemas which influence what and how information is attended to and
processed. Dysfunctions can occur both on the individual level as well as within the family system itself, creating more
targets for therapeutic change. Rogers, Miller, and Judge (1999) utilized Information Processing Theory to describe business
organizational behavior, as well as to present a model describing how effective and ineffective business strategies are
developed. In their study, components of organizations that “sense” market information are identified as well as how
organizations attend to this information, which gatekeepers determine what information is relevant/important for the
organization, how this is organized into the existing culture (organizational schemas), and whether or not the organization
has effective or ineffective processes for their long-term strategy.
Memory, Human Development, Social Influences, and Learning
When children are faced with information that is unfamiliar to them, they are left with the task of developing strategies to
encode the information so as to store it and accurately and easily access it at a later time (Miller, 2011). Depending on the
age of the child, the method of storing information into memory differs. As children develop, increased cognitive abilities,
increased memory capacity, and other social/cultural factors serve as major contributors to their development. Older children
are more likely to develop memory strategies on their own, are better at discerning what memory strategies are appropriate
for particular situations and tasks, and are better able to selectively attend to important information and filter out extraneous
Memory and Strategies
The strategies children use to encode and remember information are of interest to Information Processing researchers (e.g.,
task analysis research). For example, “young children are capable of using rehearsal to aid memory if they are told to
rehearse, but they are deficient at spontaneously producing a strategy” (production deficiency) (Miller, 2011, p. 283).
Therefore, young children are unable to ascertain the appropriate time to use particular strategies. On children’s encoding
strategy development characteristics, Miller (2011) pointed out the following:
As children develop they become more capable of developing appropriate strategies to acquire and remember units
of knowledge when necessary;
A child’s ability to selectively choose which information they attend to is another developmental milestone;
o A child may choose a strategy that does not produce a desired outcome (utilization deficiency);
o Children may use several strategies on the same task;
o They may frequently change their strategies used or strategies develop as a result of increased knowledge,
Children develop strategies over the course of their development;
Children may employ strategies at an early age that prove ineffective later in development; and
Children may develop new strategies that they find effective and useful later in life.
Information processing theory combines elements of both quantitative and qualitative development. Qualitative
development occurs through the emergence of new strategies for information storage and retrieval, developing
representational abilities (such as the utilization of language to represent concepts), or obtaining problem-solving rules
(Miller, 2011). Increases in the knowledge base or the ability to remember more items in short-term (working) memory are
examples of quantitative changes, as well as increases in the strength of connected cognitive associations (Miller, 2011).
The qualitative and quantitative components often interact together to develop new and more efficient strategies within the
Memory and Knowledge
Information Processing Theory views memory and knowledge formation as working together, and not as separate and
mutually exclusive concepts. Humans are better able to remember things they have knowledge of, which increases the recall
of stored information. Increased knowledge allows the person to more readily access information because it has been
categorized and the bits of information relate to one another.
As children develop, they also gain an understanding of their own memory and how it works, which is called metamemory.
Also, children also gain information about how human cognitive functioning, which is called metacognition. These are other
important developmental milestones, which indicate the child is able to process much more complex and less concrete
information. This is important in our overall functioning, because it shows an understanding of our own functioning related
to specific tasks and how to best adapt our learning and memory strategies.
Younger children have less memory capacity. A child’s level of comprehension is integrally connected with their memory
(Miller, 2011). As the child develops, they are able to process information at a faster speed, and they have an increased
capacity of how much information they can take in at a time. Increased memory capacity allows the child to process and
store more bits of information (Miller, 2011). Thus, older children are able to take in more information at a faster rate,
therefore allowing better efficiency of information processing.
Increased knowledge enables the child to more readily access information from their long-term storage and utilize it in
appropriate situations (Miller, 2011). The more associations one is able to make and the more complex their network of
associations, the better their information recall. A developmental milestone examined in children is their ability to take
information and expound upon it. Younger children are more likely to purely recall the information they process. However,
as children develop and gain knowledge, they are better able to gather information, make inferences, judgments, and go
beyond pure recall (Miller, 2011).
Memory and Social Influences
One’s culture greatly influences how one remembers bits of information by how the culture emphasizes various elements,
emotions, or even events (Shaki & Gravers, 2011). As the text discusses, children can manage and handle more information
at once due to increased capacity, and “because new information can be packaged into preexisting categories and structures”
(Miller, 2011, p. 290). The knowledge gained, however, is not obtained without interaction with the child’s external
environment. Attitudes and beliefs about gender, race, sex roles, etc. greatly influence how a child processes and recalls
information (Miller, 2011). Beck (1975) suggests that as we develop we learn how to process external stimuli, and these
messages are processed, interpreted and incorporated into one’s internal schemas. For example, children in a school setting
who are taught that men and women occupy certain gender-stereotypic jobs are thus more likely to process information
through such a “filter” (Best, 1983). The text points out that children may even reconstruct images later to fit with their
schema of a particular occupation (Miller, 2011). This relates to the construction of scripts, which are assumptions or
expectations about what is supposed to happen in a particular situation. They can greatly influence how a child remembers
events and may potentially lead to assumptions about people, events, etc. (Miller, 2011). While scripts are helpful in making
the information processing system more efficient, they can hinder the recall of specific information and enhance the
generalizations made about people, events, etc. Language is an integral part of one’s culture that can greatly influence the
information processing system. Language, the nature of a task’s instruction, and the type of task can all greatly impact the
processing of information (Shaki & Gravers, 2011). Furthermore, individualistic versus collectivistic cultures can have
different outlooks on human development as well as the proper formation and development of an individual, which therefore
influences motivations and actions toward goals (Hamamura, Meijer, Heine, Kamaya, & Hori, 2009).
Criticisms of Information Processing Theory
Models based upon Information Processing Theory take a somewhat simplistic view of cognitive processing, with
information processing being viewed largely as a linear process. This IP model does not take into account simultaneous or
parallel processing. For example, with the linear model, which suggests rehearsal is required to encode information in long-
term memory, is likely faulty in cases of trauma, where information can be encoded automatically and without rehearsal
due to a single exposure to traumatic stimuli. The metaphor of the computer is off-putting to many, who dislike comparing
human beings to machines. Moreover, no current computer program can truly simulate the full range of human cognition.
Computer constructed models that are based upon this theory are highly complex and again cannot take into account all the
nuances of human thought despite their complexity. Information Processing Theory does not account for fundamental
developmental changes, or changes to the “hardware” of the brain. For example, how do humans gain the ability to utilize
representational thought utilizing language? How do people develop “formal operations” thinking, such as abstract logical
or social thinking when previously their thoughts were in “concrete” terms? There is an excessive focus on internal cognitive
processes, with little attention being paid to environmental influences or the nature of the external stimuli the individual is
exposed to. Lastly, the impact of emotions or behaviors on cognitive processing or interpretation is not sufficiently included
in this model. For example, the Information Processing model does not consider how an individual can process a stimulus
differently if they are angry versus if they are in a calm state. The Information Processing model is described as being
universal, with little attention being paid to individual differences or cultural differences.
In K-12 classrooms, most teachers hand out worksheets to help students practice (or rehearse) their new information. To
improve students’ encoding, teachers should look for ways to incorporate more senses. For example, when learning new
vocabulary (such as in a foreign language) teachers could have the students act out the words. In higher education
classrooms, the more modes of information an instructor can provide to students the better. If the classroom or course doesn’t
condone itself to a lab-like lesson or environment to allow students to actually experience the concept on their own,
instructors could point the students in the direction of a good video tutorial on that day’s lesson. The instructor could even
make their own videos.
Making learning multi-modal. The more modes the teacher or the instructor have working at one time, the more likely
learners are going to remember (e.g. the more senses used, the better). Humans, like computers, need to do something with
new information so to store it in our brains so that we can recall it again later when needed. We need to create a similar
pathway so we make sure our brain knows not to discard the newly learned information. This process is called encoding. A
good example of encoding we are all familiar with is ROY G BIV. This acronym was created as a way to remember the
colors on the color spectrum: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet. Additionally, the more times we
practice pulling the information out, the easier and easier it becomes when needed. During encoding, a learner may watch,
listen, repeat, recall, etc., it is very important to keep cognitive load in mind when trying to learn, recall, and remember new
information. Cognitive load is a term concerning the manner in which cognitive resources are focused and used during
learning and problem solving (Chandler & Sweller, 1991; Sweller, 1988, 1989). It is argued that cognitive load can be
reduced for learners via instructional design. When designing and presenting information, teachers and the instructors are
encouraged to consider learner activities that optimize intellectual performance. Overloading a learner with information and
stimuli can have negative effects on task completion and comprehension. To help students effectively process information,
the teacher or the instructor could use the following guidelines:
Gain students’ attention. Example: Gain attention before providing information, move around the room, voice
Ask students to recall prior relevant learning. Example: review of previous day’s material.
Point out important information. Example: information on the board, handouts, study guides, etc.
Organizing information. Example: present information starting at simple and moving to more complex.
Categorize related information. Example: Present information in a logical sequence and teach students to look for
similarities and differences.
Have students relate new information. Example: Connect new information with something that is already known.
Teaching encoding for memorizing lists. Example: mnemonics and imagery.
Repetition of learning. Example: Present information in many different ways and provide many ways for students
to manipulate information.
Overlearning. Example: Daily practice drills.
Pay attention not to create cognitive overloading activities.
Ariel, S. (1987). An information processing theory of family dysfunction. Psychotherapy, 24, 477-495.
Atkinson, R. C., & Shiffrin, R. M. (1971). The control processes of short-term memory. Institute for Mathematical Studies
in the Social Sciences. Standford, CA: Stanford University.
Baddeley, A. D., & Hitch, G. (1974). Working memory. In G. H. Bower (Ed.), The psychology of learning and
motivation: Advances in research and theory (Vol. 8, pp. 47-89). New York, NY: Academic Press.
Beck, A. T. (1975). Cognitive therapy and the emotional disorders. Madison, CT: International Universities Press, Inc.
Best, R. (1983). We’ve all got scars: What boys and girls learn in elementary school. Bloomington, IN: Indiana
Brown, H. D. (1987). Principles of language teaching and learning (2nd ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NY: Prentice-Hall.
Brown, H. D. (2000). Principles of language learning and teaching. White Plains, NY: Pearson Education.
Chandler, P., & Sweller, J. (1991). Cognitive load theory and the format of instruction. Cognition & Instruction, 8, 293-
Goodwin, C. J. (2005). A history of modern psychology. Danvers, MA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Hamamura, T., Meijer, Z., Heine, S. J., Kamaya, K., & Hori, I. (2009). Approach avoidance motivation and information
processing: A cross-cultural analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35, 454-462.
Lachman, J. L., & Lachman, R. (1979). Theories of memory organization and human evolution. In C. R. Puff (Ed.),
Memory organization and structure. New York, NY: Academic Press.
McLeod, S. A. (2009). Short term memory. Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org/short-term-memory.html
Merriam-Webster. (2017). Long term memory. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/long-
Miller, G. (1956). The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information.
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Miller, P. H. (2011). Theories of developmental psychology. New York, NY: Worth.
O’Malley, M., & Chamot, A. (1994). The CALLA handbook: Reading. Boston, MA: Addison-Wesley.
O’Malley, M., Chamot, A. U., Stewer-Manzanares, G., Russo, R. P., & Kupper, L. (1985). Learning strategy applications
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Pavio, A. (1986). Mental representations: A dual coding approach. New York, NY: Oxford Press.
Rogers, P. R., Miller, A., & Judge, W. Q. (1999). Using information-processing theory to understand
planning/performance relationships in the context of strategy. Strategic Management Journal, 20, 567-577.
Rubin, J. (1975). What the “good language learner” can teach us. TESOL Quarterly, 9, 41-51.
Rubin, J., & Thompson, I. (1982). How to become a more successful language learner. Boston, MA: Heinle & Heinle.
Shaki, S., & Gevers, W. (2011). Cultural characteristics dissociate magnitude and ordinal information processing. Journal
of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 42, 639-650.
Stern, H. H. (1975). What can we learn from the good language learner? The Canadian Modern Language Review, 31,
Sweller, J. (1988). Cognitive load during problem solving: Effects on learning. Cognitive Science, 12, 257-285.
Sweller, J. (1989). Cognitive technology: Some procedures for facilitating learning and problem solving in mathematics
and science. Journal of Educational Psychology, 81, 457-466.
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Credible Internet Sites
Can understanding information processing theory help student learning? (n.d.). Retrieved from
Hall, R. H. (n.d.). Information processing theory. Retrieved from http://web.mst.edu/~rhall/ed_psych/info.html
Huitt, W. (2003). The information processing approach to cognition. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA:
Valdosta State University. Retrieved from http://www.edpsycinteractive.org/topics/cognition/infoproc.html
Information processing theory. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://psysc613.wikispaces.com/Information+Processing+Theory
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Interactive, Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved from
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Ruiji, L. (2012). The development on multimedia teaching resources based on information processing theory.
International Journal of Advancements in Computing Technology, 4(2), 58-64.
Books in Dalton State College Library
Coolen, A. C. C., Kühn, R., & Sollich, P. (2005). Theory of neural information processing systems. Oxford, UK: Oxford
Lindsay, P. H., & Norman, D. A. (1972). Human information processing: An introduction to psychology. New York, NY:
Videos and Tutorials
Kahn Academy. (2013). Information processing model: Sensory, working, and long-term memory. Retrieved from
About the Book Contributors
Molly Zhou Ed.D.
Molly Zhou is an associate professor in the School of Education at Dalton State College. Her research interests are education,
culture and diversity, technology, assessment and teacher preparation. Dr. Zhou received her Bachelor’s degree in English.
She earned her Master’s degree in Educational Administration. Dr. Zhou continued her studies in curriculum studies with
an Ed.S. degree. She completed her doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of West Florida. She has
published articles and books on education, diversity, sustainability, teaching and learning in relation to teacher preparation.
Her research studies were presented at regional, national and international conferences. Dr. Zhou loves nature and enjoys
walking, hiking, and swimming.
David Brown M.S., M.A.
David Brown is currently instructional technologist at Dalton State College. He has worked at Dalton State since 2011 both
as instructional technologist and as instructional technology librarian. Before coming to Dalton State, Mr. Brown worked
at Georgia Northwestern Technical College and at the University of Tennessee. He has a Master’s degree in Instructional
Technology from Georgia Southern and a Master’s degree in Information Science from the University of Tennessee.
GALILEO, University System of Georgia
GALILEO Open Learning Materials
Educational Learning Theories: 2nd Edition
Educational Learning Theories
George Lucas Educational Foundation
Social and Emotional Learning
Big Thinkers: Howard Gardner on Multiple Intelligences
Edutopia revisits its 1997 interview with the Harvard University professor about multiple intelligences and new forms of assessment.
April 1, 2009
Howard Gardner is the John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs Professor in Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He also holds positions as adjunct professor of psychology at Harvard University and as senior director of Harvard Project Zero.
He has written 20 books and hundreds of articles, and is best known for his theory of multiple intelligences, which holds that intelligence goes far beyond the traditional verbal and linguistic and logical and mathematical measurements. Here he discusses student-directed learning, multiple intelligences, and a different approach to assessment.
This interview was conducted in 1997. To learn more, please see this 2018 article on some common misunderstandings about multiple intelligences theory and learning styles.
1. On the importance of engaging students actively in what they’re studying: We have schools because we hope that someday when children have left schools that they will still be able to use what it is that they’ve learned. And there is now a massive amount of evidence from all realms of science that unless individuals take a very active role in what it is that they’re studying, unless they learn to ask questions, to do things hands-on, to essentially re-create things in their own mind and transform them as is needed, the ideas just disappear. The student may have a good grade on the exam, we may think that he or she is learning, but a year or two later, there’s nothing left.
2. On the characteristics of student-directed learning: If, on the other hand, somebody has carried out an experiment himself or herself, analyzed the data, made a prediction, and saw whether it came out correctly, if somebody is doing history and actually does some interviewing himself or herself—oral histories—then reads the documents, listens to the interviews, goes back and asks further questions, writes up a paper—that’s the kind of thing that’s going to adhere. Whereas if you simply memorize a bunch of names and a bunch of facts, even a bunch of definitions, there’s nothing to hold on to.
video3. On the theory of multiple intelligences: The idea of multiple intelligences comes out of psychology. It’s a theory that was developed to document the fact that human beings have very different kinds of intellectual strengths and that these strengths are very, very important in how kids learn and how people represent things in their minds, and then how people use them in order to show what it is that they’ve understood.
If we all had exactly the same kind of mind and there was only one kind of intelligence, then we could teach everybody the same thing in the same way and assess them in the same way and that would be fair. But once we realize that people have very different kinds of minds, different kinds of strengths—some people are good in thinking spatially, some in thinking language, others are very logical, other people need to be hands-on and explore actively and try things out—then education, which treats everybody the same way, is actually the most unfair education. Because it picks out one kind of mind, which I call the law professor mind—somebody who’s very linguistic and logical—and says, “If you think like that, great; if you don’t think like that, there’s no room on the train for you.”
4. On technology and multiple intelligences: If we know that one child has a very spatial or visual-spatial way of learning, another child has a very hands-on way of learning, a third child likes to ask deep philosophical questions, the fourth child likes stories, we don’t have to talk very fast as a teacher. We can actually provide software, we can provide materials, we can provide resources that present material to a child in a way in which the child will find interesting and will be able to use his or her intelligences productively and, to the extent that the technology is interactive, the child will actually be able to show his or her understanding in a way that’s comfortable to the child.
We have this myth that the only way to learn something is to read it in a textbook or hear a lecture on it. And the only way to show that we’ve understood something is to take a short-answer test or maybe occasionally with an essay question thrown in. But that’s nonsense. Everything can be taught in more than one way. And anything that’s understood can be shown in more than one way. I don’t believe that because there are eight intelligences we have to teach things eight ways. I think that’s silly. But we always ought to be asking ourselves, “Are we reaching every child, and, if not, are there other ways in which we can do it?”
5. On the need for fundamental change in the curriculum: I think that we teach way too many subjects, and we cover way too much material, and the end result is that students have a very superficial knowledge—as we often say, a mile wide and an inch deep. Then once they leave school, almost everything has been forgotten. And I think that school needs to change to have a few priorities and to really go into those priorities very deeply.
Let’s take the area of science. I actually don’t care if a child studies physics, biology, geology, or astronomy before he goes to college. There’s plenty of time to do that kind of detailed work. I think what’s really important is to begin to learn to think scientifically. To understand what a hypothesis is. How to test it out and see whether it’s working or not. If it’s not working, how to revise your theory about things. That takes time. There’s no way you can present that in a week, or indeed even in a month. You have to learn about it from doing many different kinds of experiments, seeing when the results are like what you predicted, seeing when they’re different, and so on.
But if you really focus on science in that kind of way by the time you go to college—or, if you don’t go to college, by the time you go to the workplace—you’ll know the difference between a statement that is simply a matter of opinion or prejudice and one for which there’s solid evidence.
6. On how assessment in school differs from assessment in other arenas, such as sports or music: The most important thing about assessment is knowing what it is that you should be able to do. And the best way for me to think about it is a child learning a sport or a child learning an art form because it is completely unmysterious what you have to be to be a quarterback or a figure skater or a violin player. You see it, you try it out, you’re coached, you know when you’re getting better, you know how you’re doing compared to other kids.
In school, assessment is mystifying. Nobody knows what’s going to be on the test, and when the test results go back, neither the teacher nor the student knows what to do. So what I favor is highlighting for kids, from the day they walk into school, the performances and exhibitions for which they’re going to be accountable.
7. On the need for a new approach to assessment in schools: Let’s get real. Let’s look at the kinds of things that we really value in the world. Let’s be as explicit as we can. Let’s provide feedback to kids from as early as possible and then let them internalize the feedback so they themselves can say what’s going well, what’s not going so well.
I’m a writer, and initially I had to have a lot of feedback from editors, including a lot of rejections, but over time, I learned what was important. I learned to edit myself, and now the feedback from editors is much less necessary. And I think anybody as an adult knows that as you get to be more expert in things you don’t have to do so much external critiquing; you can do what we call self-assessment. And in school, assessment shouldn’t be something that’s done to you, it should be something where you are the most active agent.
8. On what needs to happen for change to occur in public education: I think for there to be long-standing change in American education that is widespread, rather than just on the margins, first of all people have to see examples of places that are like their own places where the new kind of education really works, where students are learning deeply, where they can exhibit their knowledge publicly, and where everybody who looks at the kids says, “That’s the kind of kids I want to have.” So we need to have enough good examples.
Second of all, we need to have the individuals who are involved in education, primarily teachers and administrators, believe in this, really want to do it, and get the kind of help that they need in order to be able to switch, so to speak, from a teacher-centered, let’s-stuff-it-into-the-kid’s-mind kind of education to one where the preparation is behind the scenes and the child himself or herself is at the center of learning.
Third of all, I think we need to have assessment schemes that really convince everybody that this kind of education is working. And it’s no good to have child-centered learning and then have the same old multiple-choice tests that were used 50 or 100 years ago.
Finally, I think there has to be a political commitment that says this is the kind of education that we want to have in our country, and maybe outside this country, for the foreseeable future. And as long as people are busy bashing teachers, or saying that we can’t try anything new because it might fail, then reform will be stifled as it has been in the past.
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The Theory of Multiple Intelligences
Katie Davis, Harvard University
Joanna Christodoulou, Harvard University
Scott Seider, Boston University
Howard Gardner, Harvard University
Please address correspondence to:
Harvard Graduate School of Education
Larsen 201, Appian Way
Cambridge, MA 02138
PART 1: Background
The theory of multiple intelligences, developed by psychologist Howard Gardner in the
late 1970’s and early 1980’s, posits that individuals possess eight or more relatively autonomous
intelligences. Individuals draw on these intelligences, individually and corporately, to create
products and solve problems that are relevant to the societies in which they live (Gardner, 1983,
1993, 1999, 2006b, 2006c). The eight identified intelligences include linguistic intelligence,
logical-mathematical intelligence, spatial intelligence, musical intelligence, bodily-kinesthetic
intelligence, naturalistic intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, and intrapersonal intelligence
(Gardner, 1999). According to Gardner’s analysis, only two intelligences—linguistic and
logical mathematical—have been valued and tested for in modern secular schools; it is useful to
think of that language-logic combination as “academic” or “scholarly intelligence”. In
conceiving of intelligence as multiple rather than unitary in nature, the theory of multiple
intelligences, or (hereafter) MI theory, represents a departure from traditional conceptions of
intelligence first formulated in the early twentieth century, measured today by IQ tests, and
studied in great detail by Piaget (1950, 1952) and other cognitively oriented psychologists.
As described elsewhere in this volume, French psychologist Alfred Binet (1911; Simon
& Binet, 1916) designed the precursor to the modern-day intelligence test in the early 1900’s in
order to identify French school children in need of special educational interventions. Binet’s
scale, along with the contemporaneous work of English psychologist Charles Spearman (1904,
1927) on ‘g’, served as the principal catalysts for conceiving of all forms of intellectual activity
as stemming from a unitary or general ability for problem-solving (Perkins & Tishman, 2001).
Within academic psychology, Spearman’s theory of general intelligence (or ‘g’) remains the
predominant conception of intelligence (Brody, 2004; Deary et al, 2007; Jensen, 2008) and the
basis for more than 70 IQ tests in circulation (e.g. Stanford-Binet Intelligence Sales Fifth
Edition, 2003; Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scales Third Edition, 2008). MI theory, in contrast,
asserts that individuals who demonstrate a particular aptitude in one intelligence will not
necessarily demonstrate a comparable aptitude in another intelligence (Gardner, 2006b). For
example, an individual may possess a profile of intelligences that is high in spatial intelligence
but moderate or low in interpersonal intelligence or vice versa. This conception of intelligence as
multiple rather than singular forms the primary distinction between MI theory and the conception
of intelligence that dominates Western psychological theory and much of common discourse.
A second key distinction concerns the origins of intelligence. While some contemporary
scholars have asserted that intelligence is influenced by environmental factors (Diamond &
Hopson, 1998; Lucas, Morley, & Cole, 1998; Neisser et al, 1996 Nisbet 2008), many proponents
of the concept of general intelligence conceive of intelligence as an innate trait with which one is
born and which one can therefore do little to change (Eysenck, 1994; Herrnstein & Murray,
1994; Jensen, 1980, 1998). In contrast, MI theory conceives of intelligence as a combination of
heritable potentials and skills that can be developed in diverse ways through relevant experiences
(Gardner, 1983). For example, one individual might be born with a high intellectual potential in
the bodily-kinesthetic sphere that allows him or her to master the intricate steps of a ballet
performance with relative ease. For another individual, achieving similar expertise in the domain
of ballet requires many additional hours of study and practice. Both individuals are capable of
becoming strong performers—experts– in a domain that draws on their bodily-kinesthetic
intelligence; however, the pathways along which they travel in order to become strong
performers may well differ quantitatively (in terms of speed) and perhaps qualitatively (in terms
MI theory is neither the sole challenger to Spearman’s (1904, 1927) conception of
general intelligence, nor the only theory to conceive of intelligence as pluralistic. Among others,
Thorndike (1920; Thorndike, Bregman, Cobb, & Woodyard, 1927) conceived of intelligence as
the sum of three parts: abstract intelligence, mechanical intelligence, and social intelligence.
Thurstone (1938, 1941) argued that intelligence could better be understood as consisting of seven
primary abilities. Guilford (1967; Guilford & Hoepfner, 1971) conceptualized intelligence as
consisting of four content categories; five operational categories; and six product categories; he
ultimately proposed 150 different intellectual faculties. Sternberg (1985, 1990) offered a triarchic
theory of intelligence that identified analytic, creative, and practical intelligences. Finally, Ceci
(1990, 1996) has described multiple cognitive potentials that allow for knowledge to be acquired
and relationships between concepts and ideas to be considered.
Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, however, is perhaps the best known of these
pluralistic theories. This notoriety is due, in part, to the sources of evidence on which Gardner
drew, and, in part, to its enthusiastic embrace by the educational community (Armstrong, 1994;
Kornhaber, 1994; Shearer, 2004). Many hundreds of schools across the globe have incorporated
MI principles into their mission, curriculum, and pedagogy; and hundreds of books have been
written (in numerous languages) on the relevance of MI theory to educators and educational
institutions (Chen, Moran, & Gardner, 2009). In 2005, a 10-acre ‘science experience park’
opened in Sonderberg, Denmark with more than 50 different exhibits through which participants
can explore their own profile of intelligences (Danfoss Universe, 2007). In what follows, we
outline the major claims of this far-reaching theory as well as some of the adjustments to the
theory made over the past twenty-five years.
It should be pointed out that Gardner’s conceptualization of multiple intelligence does not
belong exclusively to Gardner; other scholars and practitioners have made numerous applications
of the principal tenets, sometimes with little regard to Gardner’s own claims. In this chapter,
however, we focus principally on MI theory and practices, as put forth by Gardner.
Gardner’s (1983, 1999) conception of intelligence as pluralistic grew out of his
observation that individuals who demonstrated substantial talent in domains as diverse as chess,
music, athletics, politics, and entrepreneurship possessed capacities in these domains that should
be accounted for in conceptualizing intelligence. Accordingly, in developing MI theory and its
broader characterization of intelligence, Gardner did not focus on the creation and interpretation
of psychometric instruments. Rather, he drew upon research findings from evolutionary biology,
neuroscience, anthropology, psychometrics and psychological studies of prodigies and savants.
Through synthesis of relevant research across these fields, Gardner established several criteria
for identification of a unique intelligence (see Table 1).
Table 1. Criteria for Identification of an Intelligence
Criteria for Identification of an Intelligence
It should be seen in relative isolation in prodigies, autistic savants, stroke victims
or other exceptional populations. In other words, certain individuals should
demonstrate particularly high or low levels of a particular capacity in contrast to
It should have a distinct neural representation—that is, its neural structure and
functioning should be distinguishable from that of other major human faculties
It should have a distinct developmental trajectory. That is, different intelligences
should develop at different rates and along paths which are distinctive.
It should have some basis in evolutionary biology. In other words, an intelligence
ought to have a previous instantiation in primate or other species and putative
It should be susceptible to capture in symbol systems, of the sort used in formal or
It should be supported by evidence from psychometric tests of intelligence.
It should be distinguishable from other intelligences through experimental
It should demonstrate a core, information-processing system. That is, there should
be identifiable mental processes that handle information related to each
(Gardner 1983; Kornhaber, Fierros, & Veneema, 2004)
Drawing on these criteria, Gardner initially identified seven intelligences. However, in
the mid-1990’s, Gardner concluded that an eighth intelligence, naturalistic intelligence, met the
criteria for identification as an intelligence as well (see Table 2). Naturalistic intelligence allows
individuals to identify and distinguish among products of the natural world such as animals,
plants, types of rocks, and weather patterns (Gardner, 1999). Meteorologists, botanists, and
zoologists are all professions in which one would likely find individuals who demonstrate high
levels of naturalistic intelligence. In a world where this particular skill is less important for
survival than it was in earlier times, naturalistic capacities are brought to bear in making
consequential distinctions with respect to manmade objects displayed in a consumer society.
Table 2. Gardner’s Eight Intelligences.
Linguistic An ability to analyze information and create products involving oral and
written language such as speeches, books, and memos.
An ability to develop equations and proofs, make calculations, and solve
Spatial An ability to recognize and manipulate large-scale and fine-grained
Musical An ability to produce, remember, and make meaning of different patterns
Naturalist An ability to identify and distinguish among different types of plants,
animals, and weather formations that are found in the natural world.
Bodily-Kinesthetic An ability to use one’s own body to create products or solve problems.
Interpersonal An ability to recognize and understand other people’s moods, desires,
motivations, and intentions
Intrapersonal An ability to recognize and understand his or her own moods, desires,
motivations, and intentions
The above descriptions of the eight intelligences that comprise MI theory relied upon the
domains or disciplines in which one typically finds individuals who demonstrate high levels of
each intelligence. This is because we do not yet have psychometric or neuro-imaging techniques
that assess directly an individual’s capacity for a particular intelligence. For example, no test has
been devised to assess directly whether an individual possesses a profile of intelligences high in
spatial intelligence; however, one might reasonably infer that an individual who demonstrates
excellent performance in the domain of architecture or sculpture or geometry possesses high
spatial intelligence. Likewise, excellence in the domains of ballet or orthopedic surgery suggests
the possession of high bodily-kinesthetic intelligence. It is possible that in the future more direct
methods of measuring intelligences may be devised—for example, through evidence about
neural structures or even through genetic markers.
In the twenty-five year history of the theory, numerous researchers have proposed
additional intelligences that range from moral intelligence to humor intelligence to cooking
intelligence (Boss, 2005; Goleman, 1995). Gardner (2006b) himself has speculated about an
existential intelligence that reflects an individual’s capacity for considering ‘big questions’ about
life, death, love, and being. Individuals with high levels of this hypothesized intelligence might
be likely to be found in philosophy departments, religious seminaries, or the ateliers of artists. To
date, however, naturalistic intelligence has been the only definitive addition to the original set of
seven intelligences. In Gardner’s judgment, neither existential intelligence nor any of the other
proposed intelligences sufficiently meet the criteria for identification as a unique intelligence (a
discussion of the reliability of these criteria in identifying candidate intelligences is offered in
Part 2 of this chapter). In future years, new proposed intelligences might be found to meet the
criteria for identification as a unique intelligence (Battro & Denham, 2007; Chen & Gardner,
2005). Conversely, future research may reveal that existing intelligences such as linguistic
intelligence are more accurately conceived of as several sub-intelligences. These inevitable
adjustments and adaptations of MI theory, however, are less important than the theory’s
overarching principle: namely, that intelligence is better conceived of as multiple and content-
specific rather than unitary and general.
In describing intelligence(s) as pluralistic, MI theory conceives of individuals as
possessing a profile of intelligences in which they demonstrate varying levels of strengths and
weakness for each of the eight intelligences. It is a misstatement within the MI framework, then,
to characterize an individual as possessing “no” capacity for a particular intelligence (Gardner,
1999). Individuals may certainly demonstrate low levels of a particular intelligence, but, except
in cases involving severe congenital or acquired brain damage, all individuals possess the full
range of intelligences. It would be equally inaccurate within the MI framework, however, to
assert that everyone demonstrates superiority or giftedness in at least one of the intelligences
(Gardner, 1999). As a pluralistic theory, the fundamental assertion of MI theory is that
individuals do demonstrate variation in their levels of strength and weakness across the
intelligences. Unfortunately this variation does not mean that every individual will necessarily
demonstrate superior aptitude in one or more of the intelligences.
After twenty five years of reflection on the theory, Gardner accentuates two primary
claims: l) All individuals possess the full range of intelligences—the intelligences are what
define human beings, cognitively speaking; 2) No two individuals, not even identical twins,
exhibit precisely the same profile of intellectual strengths and weaknesses. These constitute the
principal scientific claims of the theory; educational or other practical implications go beyond
the scope of the theory, in a strict sense.
PART 2: Review of Issues and pseudo-issues spawned by the theory
During the years since its inception, MI theory has drawn considerable attention,
primarily from psychologists and educators. The attention has come in many forms, from
scholarly critiques regarding the development, scope, and empirical basis of the theory, to
educational curricula that claim to develop children’s intelligences in an optimal way. This
attention has led to new developments in the theory and promising practical applications in the
classroom. Yet, several reviews and critiques of MI theory reveal misunderstandings regarding
its empirical foundation and theoretical conception of human cognition. In this section, we use
these misunderstandings as a springboard for exploring the theory in greater depth, with the
purpose of illuminating its major claims and conceptual contours.
The foundation and province of MI theory
Some critics of MI theory argue that it is not grounded in empirical research and cannot,
therefore, be proved or disproved on the basis of new empirical findings (Waterhouse, 2006;
White, 2006). In fact, MI theory is based entirely on empirical findings. The intelligences were
identified on the basis of hundreds of empirical studies spanning multiple disciplines (Gardner,
1983, 1993; Gardner & Moran, 2006). Noted, too, is the relative lack of empirical studies
specifically designed to test the theory as a whole (Visser, Ashton, & Vernon, 2006). Like other
broad theories, such as evolution or plate tectonics, which synthesize experimental,
observational, and theoretical work, MI theory cannot be proved or disproved on the basis of a
single test or experiment. Rather, it gains or loses credibility as findings accumulate over time.
Indeed, subsequent findings have prompted ongoing review and revisions of MI theory, such as
the addition of new intelligences and the conceptualization of intelligence profiles. Much of the
empirical work conducted since 1983 lends support to various aspects of the theory. For instance,
studies on children’s theory of mind and the identification of pathologies that involve losing a
sense of social judgment provide strong evidence for a distinct interpersonal intelligence
(Gardner, 1995; Feldman & Gardner, 1988; Gardner, Feldman & Krechevsky, 1998a, 1998b,
1998c; Malkus, Feldman, & Gardner, 1988; Ramos-Ford, Feldman, & Gardner, 1988).
Relatively few critiques of MI theory have addressed the criteria used to identify and
evaluate a candidate intelligence. This state of affairs is somewhat unexpected, since the criteria
serve as the theory’s foundation. Moreover, by drawing on cross-disciplinary sources of
evidence, the criteria represent a pioneering effort to broaden the way in which human
intellectual capacities are identified and evaluated. White (2006) is one of the few scholars to
question this effort. He suggests that the selection and application of the criteria is a subjective –
and therefore flawed – process. A psychologist with a different intellectual biography, he argues,
would have arrived at a different set of criteria and, consequently, a different set of intelligences.
The professional training that preceded MI theory no doubt played an important role in its
formulation. We do not argue the fact of this influence, simply its effect. MI theory is the product
of several years spent examining human cognition through several disciplinary lenses, including
psychology, sociology, neurology, biology, and anthropology, as well as the arts and humanities.
The criteria that emerged from this examination formed the basis of a systematic investigation of
candidate faculties. Thus, in contrast to White’s depiction of an idiosyncratic process marked by
one researcher’s intellectual preoccupations, the identification and application of the criteria
represent a systematic and comprehensive approach to the study of human intelligence.
Moreover, any attempt to pluralize intelligence inevitably involves either an agreed upon
stopping point (an acceptance of the criterion as stated or an infinite regress –what stimulated
this criterion rather than another criterion?). Nonetheless, White is correct that ultimately the
ascertainment of what is, or is not, a separate intelligence involves a synthesizing frame of mind
(Gardner, 2006a), if not a certain degree of subjectivity.
Many critiques of MI theory pay scant attention to the criteria and focus instead on the
level of analysis used to classify human intellectual faculties. Some scholars argue that the eight
intelligences are not specific enough. Indeed, findings from neuroscience lend support to the call
for increased specificity in the classification of intellectual capacities. As Gardner pointed out in
the original publications (Gardner, 1983, 1993), it is likely that musical intelligence comprises
several sub-intelligences relating to various dimensions of music, such as rhythm, harmony,
melody, and timbre. An analogous comment can be stated for each of the other intelligences. In
fact, one test of MI theory would be whether the sub-intelligences within each intelligence
correlate more highly with each other than they correlate with sub-intelligences within other
intelligences. Were the classification of intelligences expanded to include such specific faculties,
however, the number would quickly become unwieldy and virtually untranslatable to educators.
At the other extreme are those scholars who claim that MI theory expands the definition of
intelligence to such a degree that it is no longer a useful construct. Gardner has argued elsewhere
that a concept of intelligence that is yoked to linguistic and logical-mathematical capacities is too
narrow and fails to capture the wide range of human intellectual functioning (Gardner, 1995;
Gardner & Moran, 2006). MI theory seeks a middle ground between an innumerable set of
highly specific intelligences, on the one hand, and a single, all-purpose intelligence, on the other.
The description of individuals in terms of several relatively independent computational
capacities would seem to put MI theory at odds with ‘g’ (psychometricians’ term for general
intelligence). Willingham (2004) argues that a theory of intelligence that does not include ‘g’ is
inconsistent with existing psychometric data. These data, consisting typically of correlations
between scores on a series of oral questions or paper-and-pencil instruments, do provide
considerable evidence for the existence of ‘g.’ They do not, however, provide insight into the
scope of ‘g,’ or its usefulness as a construct. Neither Willingham nor other “geocentric” theorists
have yet provided a satisfactory definition for ‘g.’ One might argue that ‘g’ is merely the
common factor that underlies the set of tasks devised by psychologists in their attempt to predict
scholastic success. Perhaps ‘g’ measures speed or flexibility of response; capacity to follow
instructions; or motivation to succeed at an artificial, decontextualized task. None of these
possibilities necessarily places ‘g’ at odds with MI theory—and indeed Gardner has never denied
the existence or utility of ‘g’ for certain analytic purposes. The current perseveration on ‘g’
does, however, suggest a narrowness that fails to capture adequately the broad range of human
cognition. Just how much of excellence across the range of intelligences reflects a current or
future version of ‘g’ is at present not known.
Delineating the boundaries of an intelligence
It is sometimes challenging to draw clear distinctions between intelligences and other
human capacities (Gardner, 2006c). Indeed, even when we have mapped out completely the
neurological underpinnings of the human mind, the drawing of these boundaries will probably
continue to involve considerable judgment. At the same time, the undergirding criteria and level
of analysis of MI theory can be usefully employed to draw a number of key distinctions. For
instance, since intelligences operate on specific content (e.g.. language, music, the apprehension
of other persons), they can be separated from so-called “across the board” or ‘horizontal’
capacities like attention, motivation, and cognitive style. Whereas these general capacities are
thought to apply across a range of situations, the ‘vertical’ intelligences are used by individuals
to make sense of specific content, information, or objects in the world. Thus, while attention is
required to engage in any type of intellectual work and motivation is needed to sustain and
enhance it, attention and motivation remain separate from the operation of an intelligence.
Moreover, it is possible that an individual may be quite attentive and/or motivated with respect to
one kind of content, and much less so with respect to other contents.
Similarly, an individual’s cognitive style (sometimes referred to as a learning or working
style) is not tied to specific content in the same way as is an intelligence (Gardner, 1995). A
cognitive style putatively denotes the general manner in which an individual approaches
cognitive tasks. For instance, where one person may approach a range of situations with careful
deliberation, another person may respond more intuitively. In contrast, the operation of an
intelligence entails the computation of specific content in the world (such as phonemes,
numerical patterns, or musical sounds). A closer look at individuals’ cognitive styles may reveal
content-specificity. For instance, a student who approaches a chemistry experiment in a
methodical and deliberative manner may be less reflective when practicing the piano or writing
an essay. By the same token, individuals bring to bear different styles depending on the
intelligence or group of intelligences they are using. The key distinction is that one can bring
either a deliberative or intuitive style to the interpretation of a poem, but there is no question that
some degree of linguistic intelligence will be needed.
Indeed, in an illuminating discussion of the relation between style and intelligence, Silver
and Strong (1997) suggest that an introvert strong in linguistic intelligence might become a poet,
while an extrovert with comparable linguistic competence is more likely to become a debater.
This observation also highlights the fact that there is not a one-to-one correspondence between
specific types of content and the intelligences. Writing a poem and engaging in a debate are two
distinct activities that each draw on linguistic intelligence. Moreover, it is not the case that a
skilled debater will necessarily be a successful poet. In addition to using linguistic intelligence, a
debater may employ logical-mathematical intelligence to structure a coherent argument, whereas
a poet may draw on musical intelligence to compose a sonnet. Other factors besides intelligence,
such as motivation, personality, and will power, will likely prove influential, as well.
Other putative general capacities, like memory and critical thinking, may not be so
general, either. For instance, we know that individuals draw on different types of memory for
different purposes. Episodic memory enables us to remember particular events like a high school
graduation or wedding, whereas procedural memory allows us to recall how to drive a car or knit
a scarf. These different types of memory draw on different neural systems of the brain.
Neuropsychological evidence documents that memory for one type of content, such as language,
can be separated from memory for other types of content, such as music, shapes, movement, and
so on (Gardner, 2006b). Similarly, the kind of critical thinking required to edit a book is certainly
different from the kind of critical thinking required to balance a budget, plan a dinner party,
transpose a piece of music, or resolve a domestic conflict.
The understanding that intelligences operate on specific content can also help to
distinguish them from sensory systems. Whereas sensory systems are the means through which
the brain receives information from the outside world, the intelligences have been
conceptualized as computational systems that make sense of that information once it has been
received and irrespective of the means of reception. Thus, the senses and the intelligences are
independent systems. The type and quality of the information received by a sensory system
determines the intelligence, or set of intelligences, employed, not the sensory system itself. Thus,
linguistic intelligence can operate equivalently on language that is perceived through eye, ear, or
touch. Even musical intelligence, which is most closely linked to a specific sensory system
(audition), may be fractionated into information that can be obtained via diverse transducers (e.g.
The distinction between an intelligence and a skill is another common source of
confusion. Unlike sensory systems, which precede intellectual work, skills manifest as a product
of such work. More specifically, they are the cognitive performances that result from the
operation of one or more intelligences (Gardner & Moran, 2006). Within and across cultures, the
types of skills displayed by individuals vary widely, from cartoon drawing to swimming, from
writing computer code to navigating ships. Skills act on the external world. As a result, they are
shaped by the supports and constraints of the environment. Thus, whether an individual’s bodily-
kinesthetic and spatial intelligences are put to use in swimming or marine navigation depends on
an individual’s access to a body of water, a willing instructor, and time for practice. Living in a
culture that values the ability to swim or sail (or scuba dive or catch fish) is another influential
Skills can be grouped according to the domain in which they operate. A domain (a neutral
term designed to encompass a profession, discipline, or craft) is any type of organized activity in
a society in which individuals demonstrate varying levels of expertise. A list of domains can
readily be generated by considering the broad range of occupations in a society, such as lawyer,
journalist, dancer, or electrician. (In modern society, the yellow pages serve as a convenient
index of significant domains). As such, a domain is a social construct that exists outside the
individual, in society; skills in that domain can be acquired through various routes. An
intelligence, on the other hand, is a biopsychological potential that all individuals possess by
virtue of being human.
Because some domains have the same name as certain intelligences, they are often
conflated. However, an individual can, and often does, draw on several intelligences when
performing in a given domain. A successful musical performance, for example, does not simply
depend on musical intelligence; bodily-kinesthetic, spatial, and even interpersonal and
intrapersonal intelligences are likely at work, as well. By the same token, fluent computation of
an intelligence does not dictate choice of profession; a person with high interpersonal
intelligence might choose to enter teaching, acting, public relations, sales, therapy, or the
Domains are continually being reshaped by the work of creative individuals (Feldman,
1980). Newton changed the domain of physics with his universal law of gravitation and laws of
motion, and Einstein re-conceptualized it again with his theory of relativity. Like intelligences,
creativity involves solving problems or fashioning products; however, creativity requires doing
so in a novel way. Yet, novelty in itself does not constitute creativity. An individual who
fashions a novel product may not necessarily alter a domain. Sufficient mastery of a domain is
required to detect certain anomalies and formulate new techniques or ideas that resolve these
anomalies. Since it generally takes ten years, or several thousand hours, to master a domain, and
several more years to alter it (Hayes, 1989; Simon & Chase, 1973), creativity requires concerted
focus and dedication to one domain. For this reason, a person rarely achieves high levels of
creativity in more than one domain. Moreover, individuals do not have the final word on their
creativity. According to Csikszentmihalyi (1996), creativity is a communal judgment that is
ultimately rendered by the gatekeepers and practitioners of the domain; there is no statute of
limitations as to when these judgments are made.
In contrast, the intelligences are used daily across a variety of domains. In one day, a
person may use linguistic intelligence to write a letter to a friend, read the assembly instructions
for a piece of furniture, and question the fairness of a government policy in a class debate. In
developing one or more intelligences to a high degree, individuals become experts in a domain
and are readily recognized as such. It may well be that individuals who become experts exhibit a
personality configuration and motivational structure quite different from that displayed by
creators (Gardner, 1993). For example, creators are likely to take on risks and deal easily with
setbacks, while experts may be risk-averse and aim toward perfection in well-developed spheres.
In delineating the boundaries of an intelligence, Gardner hesitated to posit an executive
function (a “central intelligences agency”) that coordinates the relationships among the
intelligences, or between the intelligences and other human capacities (Gardner, 1983, 2006b).
The first problem one encounters when considering an executive function is the prospect of
infinite regression: who is in charge of the executive? Further, it is worth noting that many
human groups, whether artistic, athletic, or corporate, follow a decentralized model of
organization and perform effectively without an executive whose role it is to coordinate and
direct behavior. At the same time, neuropsychological evidence suggests that particular
executive functions, such as self-regulation and planning, are controlled by mechanisms in the
frontal lobe. Instead of viewing such functions as constituting a separate entity that oversees the
intelligences and other human capacities, Gardner and Moran (2007) argue that executive
functions are likely one, clearly vital, emerging component of intrapersonal intelligence. Defined
as the capacity to discern and use information about oneself, intrapersonal intelligence engenders
a sense of personal coherence in two ways: by providing understanding of oneself, or self-
awareness; and by regulating goal-directed behavior, or executive function. Thus, executive
function is that part of intrapersonal intelligence responsible for planning and organizing actions
in a deliberative and strategic way. Viewed in this way, executive function does not form the
apex of a hierarchical structure, but rather constitutes one vital component of an essentially
Assessing candidate intelligences
Over the years, there have been many calls for new intelligences to be added to the
original list of seven. Yet, as noted above, in more than twenty five years, the list has only grown
by one (and a possible second). This relatively small expansion is partly due to Gardner’s
intellectual conservatism; mostly, however, it can be attributed to the failure of candidate
intelligences to meet sufficiently the criteria for inclusion. For instance, some of the proposed
intelligences are really general capacities that do not operate on specific content. Posner’s (2004)
“attention intelligence” and Luhrmann’s (2006) “absorption intelligence” fall into this category.
Absorption is arguably one component of attention and both are prerequisites for intellectual
work. It is not evident how either one is tied to specific content, information, or objects in the
world. For this reason, attention and absorption are perhaps more properly viewed as
components of the sensory systems that precede and facilitate the operation of any one of the
Artistic intelligence is another candidate intelligence that is not tied to any specific
content. Since each intelligence can be used in an artistic or a non-artistic way, it does not make
sense to speak of a separate artistic intelligence. Linguistic intelligence is used by both
playwrights and lawyers, and spatial intelligence is used by sculptors and building contractors.
Musical intelligence may be used to compose a symphony, to announce the arrival of horses onto
a race track, or to soothe pain in the dental chair. The decision to deploy an intelligence more or
less artistically is left to the individual. The culture in which he or she lives can also prove
consequential, as cultures vary in the degree to which they encourage and support artistic
Candidate intelligences raise additional considerations. Scholars (including Gardner
himself) have explored the possibility of a moral intelligence (Boss, 1995; Gardner, 1997,
2006b). Morality is clearly an important component of human society, but it is not clear that it is
felicitously described as an intelligence. MI theory is descriptive, not normative. As
computational capacities based in human biology and human psychology, intelligences can be
put to either moral or immoral uses in society. Martin Luther King, Jr. used his linguistic
intelligence to craft and deliver inspiring speeches about the quest for civil rights through
peaceful means. In stark contrast, Slobodan Milosevic used his linguistic intelligence to call for
the subjugation and eventual extermination of entire groups of people. The two men also
deployed their interpersonal intelligences in distinct ways. MI theory merely delineates the
boundaries of biopsychological capacities; the way in which one decides to use these capacities
is a separate matter.
A closer look at another oft-proposed candidate—humor intelligence—underscores a
second ploy. There is no need to add a new intelligence when it can be explained through a
combination of existing intelligences. Thus, humor can be seen as a playful manipulation of our
logical capacity. Comedians draw on their logical-mathematical intelligence to turn the logic of
everyday experience on its head. They also employ their interpersonal intelligence to “read” an
audience and make decisions about the timing of individual jokes and the overall direction of
their act. In this way, it is more appropriate to speak of comedians as exercising a particular
blend of logical-mathematical and interpersonal intelligences rather than as displaying separate
humor intelligence. In a similar manner, Battro and Denham (2007) make an intriguing case for a
digital intelligence, but it is not clear whether or how digital intelligence can be untangled from
logical-mathematical intelligence (with a smidgeon of bodily-kinesthetic intelligence tacked on).
Cooking is another candidate intelligence that is more properly viewed as an amalgam of
existing intelligences. In preparing a meal, for instance, one might draw on interpersonal
intelligence to decide on a menu that will please the guests; linguistic intelligence to read the
recipe; logical-mathematical intelligence to adjust the ingredient measurements for the size of the
party; and bodily-kinesthetic intelligence to dice the vegetables, tenderize the meat, and whip the
cream. The preparation of a fine meal may also draw on the only full-fledged addition to the
original list of intelligences: naturalist intelligence. Cooks will draw on their naturalist
intelligence to distinguish among ingredients and perhaps tweak a recipe by combining
ingredients in an unexpectedly flavorful way. Of course, sensory systems are important in
cooking, but it is the operations performed upon the sensory information that yields intelligent
(or non intelligent!) outcomes.
PART 3: Scholarly Work in the wake of MI theory
Since its inception the theory of multiple intelligences has been a subject of scholarly
inquiry and educational experimentation. We here examine three major fronts: research,
assessment, and educational interventions.
A notable point of departure is the problem of how to decide which research is relevant to
testing MI theory as it has been described in these pages. Some research that is described in MI
terms may be irrelevant (e.g., informal and unvalidated questionnaires, assessments using paper
and pencil or multiple-choice tests alone), whereas research that does not mention MI explicitly
could be important (e.g., transfer and correlations between competencies, aptitude-treatment
interactions, parsimonious models of cognitive neuroscience brain activation patterns, etc.).
Other conceptions of intellect have faced a similar challenge in psychology (Mayer & Caruso,
Cognitive Neuroscience and MI
Evidence for the several intelligences came originally from the study of how mental
faculties were associated or dissociated as a consequence of damage to the brain, and especially
to cortical structures. With the surge in the types of neuroimaging tools in the recent decades, far
more specified inquiries relevant to MI are possible. Nowadays a consensus obtains that there is
not a one-to- one correspondence between types of intelligence and areas of the cortex.
Nonetheless it is still germane to detail how the constructs outlined by MI can relate to brain
structure and function.
Until this point, most neuroimaging studies of intellect have examined the brain
correlates of general intelligence (IQ). These studies have revealed that general intelligence is
correlated with activations in frontal regions (Duncan et al., 2000) as well as several other brain
regions (e.g., Jung & Haier, 2007), and with speed of neural conduction (Gotgay et al., 2004). An
analogous kind of study can be carried out with respect to specific intelligences (cf. emotional
intelligence as reviewed by Mayer, Roberts & Barsade, 2008). Ultimately it would be desirable
to secure an atlas of the neural correlates of each of the intelligences, along with indices of how
they do or not operate in concert. Researchers should remain open to the possibility that
intelligences may have different neural representations, in different cultures—the examples of
linguistic intelligence (speaking, reading, writing) comes to mind.
From a neuropsychological point of view, the critical test for MI theory will be the ways
in which intellectual strengths map onto neural structures and connections. It could be, as
proponents of general intelligence claim, that individuals with certain neural structures and
connections will be outstanding in all or at least, predictably, in some intelligences. Were this to
be the case, the neuropsychological underpinnings of MI theory would be challenged. It could
also be the case that individuals with intellectual strengths in a particular area show similar brain
profiles, and that those who exhibit contrasting intellectual strengths show a contrasting set of
neural profiles. It might also be the case that certain neural structures (e.g. precociously
developing frontal lobes) or functions (speed of conduction) place one “at promise” for
intellectual precocity more generally, but that certain kinds of experiences then cause
specialization to emerge—in which case, a profile of neurally-discrete intelligences will
Similar lines of argument can unfold with respect to the genetic basis of intelligence. To
this point, those with very high or very low IQs display distinct combinations of genes, though it
is already clear that there will not be a single gene, or even a small set of genes, that code for
intellect. What remains to be determined is whether those with quite distinctive behavioral
profiles (e.g. individuals who are highly musical, highly linguistic and/or highly skilled in
physical activities) exhibit distinctive genetic clusters as well. Put vividly, can the Bach family or
the Curie family or the Polgar family be distinguished genetically from the general population
and from one another? Or, as with the neural argument just propounded, certain genetic profiles
may aid one to achieve expertise more quickly, but the particular area of expertise will
necessarily yield quite distinctive cognitive profiles in the adult.
It is germane to inquire whether, should neural evidence and genetic evidence favor the
notion of a single general intelligence and provide little evidence for biological markers of the
specific intelligences, MI theory will be disproved scientifically. A question will still remain
about how individuals end up possessing quite distinct profiles of abilities and disabilities.
Whether the answer to that question will lie in studies drawn from genetics, neurology,
psychology, sociology, anthropology, or some combination thereof, remains to be determined.
From the start, a distinctive hallmark of MI theory has been its spurning of simple paper-
and-pencil or “one shot” behavioral measures. Instead, with respect to assessment, Gardner has
called for multiple measures of performance and ecologically valid testing environments and
tasks. This approach to MI has been actualized by a large initiative for children, Project
Project Spectrum is an assessment system for young children that features a classroom
rich in opportunities to work with different materials—in the manner of a well-stocked children’s
museum (Gardner, et al, 1998a, 1998b, 1998c; Malkus et al 1988; Ramos-Ford, Feldman, &
Gardner, 1988; see also http://www.pz.harvard.edu/research/Spectrum.htm). The Spectrum
approach yields information based on meaningful activities that allow for a demonstration of the
strengths of the several intelligences. While validity is not something that can be examined with
preschoolers, Spectrum tasks have been shown to demonstrate reliability (Gardner et al., 1998a,
Spectrum transcends traditional assessments such as the IQ tests in several ways. First, it
highlights components of thought (e.g. musical competence, knowledge of other persons) that
are not typically considered indices of smartness (Gardner, 1993). Second, the assessment is
based on “hands on” activities that have proved to be engaging and meaningful for preschool
children drawn from a range of social backgrounds (Chen & Gardner, 1997). Third, the initiative
seeks to document approaches to learning (working styles) as well as the distribution of strengths
and weaknesses across the several intelligences—the so called Spectrum Profile. (For a
comprehensive description of components and guidelines by domain for activities, see Adams &
Feldman, 1993; Krechevsky, 1998; Krechevsky & Gardner, 1990; for observational guidelines
see Chen and Gardner, 1997).
Empirical studies using the Project Spectrum materials have been instructive and useful.
In one study, researchers worked with at-risk students in a local elementary school’s first grade
(Chen & Gardner, 1997). The majority of students (13/15) demonstrated identifiable strengths
based on assessments spanning many areas of performance including visual arts, mechanical
science, movement, music, social understanding, mathematics, science and language (Chen &
Gardner, 1997). Gardner (1993) has described this approach as efforts to identify how a student
is smart as opposed to whether the student is smart. Identifying such strengths has the potential
to detach an at-risk or struggling student from uni-dimensional labels and offer a more holistic
formulation with respect to student strengths and potentials.
Other empirical investigations have sought to document the validity of MI claims. Visser
et al. (2006) operationalized the 8 intelligences and selected two assessments for each. Further,
the researchers categorized the intelligences into purely cognitive (linguistic, spatial, logical-
mathematical, naturalistic, and interpersonal), motor (bodily-kinesthetic), a combination of
cognitive and personality (intrapersonal and possibly interpersonal), and a combination of
cognitive and sensory (musical). Study results showed a strong loading on g, or general
intelligence, for intelligences categorized as cognitive as well as intercorrelations among
intelligences, suggesting that strong MI claims are not held up empirically.
The study findings stand in contrast to those reported from Project Spectrum studies, as
well as those put forth by other investigators (e.g. Maker, Nielson, & Rogers, 1994). These
contrasting results may be attributed to the use of standard psychometric measures, as opposed to
the employment of broader (but less specific) tasks that aim for ecological validity and that can
be used routinely in the course of daily school activities.
As a visit to any search engine will document, many researchers and practitioners of an
educational bent have developed rough-and-ready measures of the several intelligences. The
best known such effort is Branton Shearer’s Multiple intelligences developmental assessment
scale (MIDAS) (1999), which has been used as a tool for measuring MI in many research
projects (i.e., dissertations, Masters’ theses; see http://188.8.131.52/aerami/dissertations.php).
Such measures provide a snapshot of how individuals view their own intellectual profiles. Such
self descriptions do not, however, allow one to distinguish one’s own preferences from one’s
own computational abilities, nor is it clear that individuals are necessarily competent to assess
their areas of strength. (How many persons consider themselves in the bottom half of the
population with respect to driving skill, or sense of humor?) Optimally, descriptions of a person
should come from several knowledgeable individuals, not just the person him- or herself. And
optimally, the measures should tap actual intellectual strengths. Of the methods with which we
are familiar, Project Spectrum comes closest to meeting these desiderata.
With respect to assessment generally, Gardner and colleagues (Chen & Gardner, 1997)
have advocated several key points. As reviewed earlier, an important starting point is the
assumption that intelligence may be pluralistic rather than a unitary entity. Another key point is
that the intelligences are shaped by cultural and educational influences; it follows that measuring
them in natural contexts is preferable, if the results are to be ecologically valid. Recognizing the
limitations of static assessment is also important – while such assessment sessions may serve
other purposes, they do not fulfill the tenets of MI which calls for dynamic assessment to
accompany the use of intelligences in culturally-meaningful contexts.
Perhaps most important, intelligences can never be observed in isolation; they can only
be manifest in the performance and tasks of skills that are available, and optimally, valued in a
cultural context. Hence the notion of a single measure of an intelligence makes little sense.
Rather, any intelligence—say linguistic—ought to be observed in several contexts—speaking,
reading, telling a story, making an argument, learning a foreign language, etc. Taken together,
such diverse measures would converge on linguistic intelligence; one assumes that what each
task shares in common with the remaining tasks is reliance on some facet of linguistic
intelligence. In sum, MI assessment calls for multiple measures for each intelligence and
“intelligence-fair” materials that do not rely on verbal or logical-mathematical skills. Gold
standard MI assessments should avoid several pitfalls and aim for several goals, summarized in
Table 1. Assessment characteristics for the multiple intelligences and traditional counterparts
Traditional Assessments MI Assessments
Over-reliance on linguistic and logical
mathematical abilities and measures
Sample the gamut of intelligences and domains
Deficit-focused Identify relative and absolute strengths
Minimal intrinsic value to activity/tasks Immediate feedback to students; Meaningful
for students; materials with which children are
Performance captured in a single score Scores on a range of tasks, across several
domains. for each intelligences
Detached from context Ecological validity; Present problems in the
context of problem solving; Instructive for
(Adapted from Chen & Gardner, 1997)
Research on MI as an Educational Intervention
We turn finally to studies of educational settings that have developed methods based on
the core ideas of MI theory. In the most ambitious study to date, Kornhaber, Fierros, and
Veenema (2004) compiled data on the impact of MI across many educational settings using
interview and questionnaire data on educators’ perceived impact of MI. Featured were interview
data from 41 schools, which had been implementing MI-inspired curricular practices for at least
three years. Staff at four fifths of schools associated improvements in standardized test scores
with the implementation of MI. Additionally, MI was also associated with improvements in
student discipline (54% of schools), parent participation (60% of schools), and performances of
students diagnosed with learning disabilities (78% of schools). The researchers attributed the
success of MI-based practices to six compass point practices: attention to the school culture,
readiness to use MI, use of MI as a tool for improved work quality, collaborations, opportunities
for choice, and a role for the arts.
Investigations of MI in educational settings have taken several forms, including
descriptions of how the theory contributes to education (e.g., Barrington, 2004), how MI can be
applied in the curriculum (e.g., Dias-Ward & Dias, 2004; Nolen, 2003; Ozdemir, Guneysu, &
Tekkaya, 2006; Wallach & Callahan, 1994), and how MI operates within or across schools (e.g.,
Campbell & Campbell, 1999; Greenhawk, 1997; Hickey, 2004; Hoerr, 1992, 1994, 2004;
Wagmeister & Shifrin, 2000). MI approaches have been credited with better performance and
retention of knowledge as compared to a traditional approach (for science instruction for 4th
graders) (Ozdemir et al., 2006) and with understanding content in more complex ways (Emig,
1997). Similarly, MI approaches in the curriculum have been credited with giving teachers a
framework for making instructional decisions (Ozdemir et al., 2006). Teele, who has devised one
of the principal MI self-administered instruments, suggests that “intrinsic motivation, positive
self-image, and a sense of responsibility develop when students become stakeholders in the
educational process and accept responsibility for their own actions” (1996, p. 72).
PART 4: Conclusion: Looking ahead
In a number of ways, MI theory differs from other psychological approaches to
intelligence. Rather than proceeding from or creating psychometric instruments, the theory
emerged from an interdisciplinary consideration of the range of human capacities and faculties.
The theory has garnered considerable attention, far more in educational circles than in the
corridors of standard psychological testing and experimentation. Consistent with that emphasis,
numerous educational experiments build on MI theory, and many of them claim success.
However, because MI theory does not dictate specific educational practices, and because any
educational intervention is multi-faceted, it is not possible to attribute school success or failure
strictly to MI interventions. Direct experimental tests of the theory are difficult to implement
and so the status of the theory within academic psychology remains indeterminate. The
biological basis of the theory—its neural and genetic correlates—should be clarified in the
coming years. But in the absence of consensually-agreed upon measures of the intelligences,
either individually or in conjunction with one another, its psychological validity will continue to
What does the future hold for MI theory? It seems reasonable to expect that these ideas
will continue to be of interest to educators and other practitioners. Having initially catalyzed an
interest in elementary schools, particularly with respect to students with learning problems, the
theory has been picked up by schools of all sorts, as well as museums and other institutions of
informal learning. MI ideas are also invading other occupational spheres, such as business, and
have proved of special interest to those charged with hiring, assembling teams, or placement of
personnel (Moran & Gardner, 2006).
Uses of MI ideas within and outside of formal educational settings hold great promise. In
particular, new digital media and virtual realities offer numerous ways in which learners can
master required knowledge and skills. At one time, it may have seemed advisable or even
necessary to search for the ‘one best way’ to teach a topic. Now, at a time when computers can
deliver contents and processes in numerous ways, and when learners can take increasing control
of their own educational destinies, a plurality of curricula, pedagogy, and assessments figures to
become the norm. Individualized education does not depend on the existence of MI theory; and
yet MI-inspired practices provide promising approaches for effective teaching and learning
(Birchfield et al., 2008). Moreover, as lifelong learning becomes more important around the
world, the prospects of developing, maintaining, and enhancing the several intelligences gains
Initially, MI ideas were introduced in the United States and the first MI-inspired
experiments took place there. But over the last two decades, MI ideas and practices have spread
to numerous countries and regions. There are both striking similarities and instructive
differences in the ways in which these regions implement MI ideas, formally and informally. An
initial survey appears in ‘Multiple Intelligences Around the World” (Chen, Moran, & Gardner,
2009). In addition to chronicling numerous implementations of MI theory in more than a dozen
countries, this work also provides a fascinating and original portrait of how “memes” about
intelligence take and spread in different educational soils.
Gardner has long maintained that MI cannot be an educational goal in itself. Educational
goals, value judgments, must emerge from discussions and debates among responsible leaders
and citizens. Once goals have been laid out, the question then arises: How and in what ways, can
MI ideas aid in the achievement of these goals? To be sure, a tight answer to that question can
rarely be given. Nonetheless, over time it should certainly become clearer which MI ideas, in
combination with which goals, have pedagogical effectiveness and which do not. Within Project
Zero, the research group with which Gardner has been associated since its inception in 1967, MI
ideas have proved particularly congenial with the goal of ‘education for deep understanding.’
(Gardner 1999, 2006b).
Whether or not explicitly recognized as such, MI ideas are likely to endure within the
worlds of education, business, and daily practice—like the terms ‘emotional intelligence’ and
‘social intelligence’ (Goleman 1995, 2006), they are already becoming part of the conventional
wisdom. The status of MI theory within psychology, biology, and other social and natural
sciences remains to be determined. Attempts will be made to define and redefine the set of
intelligences, to evaluate the criteria by which they are identified and measured, to consider their
relationships to one another, and their status vis-à-vis ‘general intelligence.’ In all probability,
like other attempts at intellectual synthesis, some facets will become accepted in scholarship,
while other parts will fade away or remain topics for debate. What is most likely to last in MI
theory is the set of criteria for what counts as an intelligence and the idea of intelligence as being
pluralistic, with links to specific contents in the human and primate environments. The particular
list of intelligences and sub-intelligences will doubtless be reformulated as a result of continuing
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The Myth of ‘Learning Styles’
A popular theory that some people learn better visually or aurally keeps getting debunked.
By Olga Khazan
China Stringer Network / Reuters
April 11, 2018Share
In the early ’90s, a New Zealand man named Neil Fleming decided to sort through something that had puzzled him during his time monitoring classrooms as a school inspector. In the course of watching 9,000 different classes, he noticed that only some teachers were able to reach each and every one of their students. What were they doing differently?
Fleming zeroed in on how it is that people like to be presented information. For example, when asking for directions, do you prefer to be told where to go or to have a map sketched for you?
Today, 16 questions like this comprise the VARK questionnaire that Fleming developed to determine someone’s “learning style.” VARK, which stands for “visual, aural, read/write, and kinesthetic,” sorts students into those who learn best visually, through aural or heard information, through reading, or through “kinesthetic” experiences. (“I learned much later that vark is Dutch for “pig,” Fleming wrote later, “and I could not get a website called vark.com because a pet shop in Pennsylvania used it for selling aardvarks—earth pigs!”)
He wasn’t the first to suggest that people have different “learning styles”—past theories included the reading-less “VAK” and something involving “convergers” and “assimilators”—but VARK became one of the most prominent models out there.
Experts aren’t sure how the concept spread, but it might have had something to do with the self-esteem movement of the late ’80s and early ’90s. Everyone was special—so everyone must have a special learning style too. Teachers told students about it in grade school. “Teachers like to think that they can reach every student, even struggling students, just by tailoring their instruction to match each student’s preferred learning format,” says Abby Knoll, a Ph.D. student at Central Michigan University who has studied learning styles. (Students, meanwhile, like to blame their scholastic failures on their teacher’s failure to align their teaching style with the student’s learning style.)
Either way, “by the time we get students at college,” says Polly Husmann, a professor at Indiana University, “they’ve already been told, ‘You’re a visual learner.’ Or aural, or what have you.”
The thing is, they’re not. Or at least, a lot of evidence suggests that people aren’t really one certain kind of learner or another. In a study published last month in the journal Anatomical Sciences Education, Husmann and her colleagues had hundreds of students take the VARK questionnaire to determine what kind of learner they supposedly were. The survey then gave them some study strategies that seem like they would correlate with that learning style. Husmann found that not only did students not study in ways that seemed to reflect their learning style, but those who did tailor their studying to suit their style didn’t do any better on their tests.
Husmann thinks that the students had fallen into certain study habits, which, once formed, were too hard to break. Students seemed to be interested in their learning styles, but not enough to actually change their studying behavior based on them. And even if they had, it wouldn’t have mattered.
“I think as a purely reflective exercise, just to get you thinking about your study habits, [VARK] might have a benefit,” Husmann says. “But the way we’ve been categorizing these learning styles doesn’t seem to hold up.”
Another study published last year in the British Journal of Psychology found that students who preferred learning visually thought they would remember pictures better, and those who preferred learning verbally thought they’d remember words better. But those preferences had no correlation to which they actually remembered better later on—words or pictures. Essentially, all the “learning style” meant, in this case, was that the subjects liked words or pictures better, not that words or pictures worked better for their memories.
In other words, “there’s evidence that people do try to treat tasks in accordance with what they believe to be their learning style, but it doesn’t help them,” Daniel Willingham, a psychologist at the University of Virginia, told me. In 2015, he reviewed the literature on learning styles and concluded that “learning styles theories have not panned out.”
That same year, a Journal of Educational Psychology paper found no relationship between the study subjects’ learning-style preference (visual or auditory) and their performance on reading- or listening-comprehension tests. Instead, the visual learners performed best on all kinds of tests. Therefore, the authors concluded, teachers should stop trying to gear some lessons toward “auditory learners.” “Educators may actually be doing a disservice to auditory learners by continually accommodating their auditory learning style,” the researchers wrote, “rather than focusing on strengthening their visual word skills.”
In our conversation, Willingham brought up another study, published in 2009, in which people who said that they liked to think visually or verbally really did try to think that way: Self-proclaimed visualizers tried to create an image, and self-proclaimed verbalizers tried to form words. But, there was a rub, he said: “If you’re a visualizer and I give you pictures, you don’t remember pictures any better than anyone who says they’re a verbalizer.”
This doesn’t mean everyone is equally good at every skill, of course. Really, Willingham said, people have different abilities, not styles. Some people read better than others; some people hear worse than others. But most of the tasks that we encounter are really suited to only one type of learning. You can’t visualize a perfect French accent, for example.
The VARK questionnaire itself illustrates this problem pretty well. One question, for example, asks:
You are planning a vacation for a group. You want some feedback from them about the plan. You would:
describe some of the highlights they will experience.
use a map to show them the places.
give them a copy of the printed itinerary.
phone, text, or email them.
But of course, any friend-having human in 2018 would email their friends to coordinate group travel, whether or not that email includes the first three elements. (Another question asks, sweetly, “You are helping someone who wants to go to the airport” and suggests different ways of giving directions, along with the option to simply “go with her.” It depends on the “her” in question, one would assume!)
The “learning styles” idea has snowballed—as late as 2014, more than 90 percent of teachers in various countries believed it. The concept is intuitively appealing, promising to reveal secret brain processes with just a few questions. Strangely, most research on learning styles starts out with a positive portrayal of the theory—before showing it doesn’t work.
Willingham goes so far as to say that people should stop thinking of themselves as visual, verbal, or some other kind of learner. “It’s not like anything terrible is going to happen to you [if you do buy into learning styles],” he said, but there’s not any benefit to it, either. “Everyone is able to think in words; everyone is able to think in mental images. It’s much better to think of everyone having a toolbox of ways to think, and think to yourself, which tool is best?”
Husmann says that the most important thing, for anyone looking to learn something new, is to really focus on the material—that’s what the most successful students from her study did. Rather than, say, plopping some flash cards in your lap … “but I’m really watching the football game,” she says.
Fleming did not return a request for comment by press time, but his own papers seem to warn against getting too carried away by VARK. “I sometimes believe that students and teachers invest more belief in VARK than it warrants,” he wrote in 2006. “You can like something, but be good at it or not good at it … VARK tells you about how you like to communicate. It tells you nothing about the quality of that communication.”
In other words, it might help you learn about yourself, but it might not help you learn.
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