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  • Destiny Yarbro

Learning Theory Highlights in University of the People's EDUC 5210 Course [Infographic]

My pedagogical philosophy, while fundamentally unchanged, has been refined and honed in this course. Whilst exploring how I construct my lesson plans, deliver instruction, and evaluate student learning gains, my goal for this final portfolio is ultimately to congregate the “aha!” moments I have had over the last eight weeks.

Constructing Lesson Plans

My focus has always been to create curriculum and plan lessons that are applicable to my students; spotlighting useful content for their current realities and future goals. This has been my priority since reading Bridges Out of Poverty and seeing how very unrelatable education can seem to many students (2010). This course gave me the language I needed to communicate this priority with other language course teachers:

  • Week 5 Portfolio: “As a minority language teacher, my goal is to help students know that language is inseparably affixed to culture and community; that language learning is about communication and connection (context), not just grammar, conjugations, and memorizing vocabulary (content).”

  • Week 2 Portfolio: “My assignments are not made up of predetermined vocabulary lists or summative testing. My goal is that students walk out of my classroom each day more and more adept at communicating in their own environments.”

  • Week 5 Portfolio: “In a way, curriculum (and assessment) learning environments are focused on the content. Student (and community) learning environments are more focused on context; in other words, how and why a unit of knowledge is important and potentially useful to them.”

  • Week 3 Written: “Unfortunately, it is common for teachers to use repetition and abstract scenarios in the name of ‘modeling’ language. They focus on ‘linguistic knowledge as a goal in itself, leaving it up to the learner’ to make the language functional and useful (Van Gorp and Bogaert, 2006). ‘Many formal education systems [orient] towards abstract and decontextualized forms of teaching’ rather than authentic learning scenarios in which the learners converse with native language users and practice their responses in specific situations (Herrington, Reeves, & Oliver, 2010; Ozverir & Herrington, 2011). By using authentic modeling, my students see sign language as useful and applicable to real life as ‘they might face the same situation themselves and...want to learn the necessary actions to succeed’ (Schunk, 2012, p.134).”

Delivering Instruction

Prior to this course, I would have assumed that my instruction was founded on behaviorist theory. After all, my courses are not made up of abstract ideas but focused on tangible enactments of what has been learned. However, learning about the theory in depth has helped me realize how much I value social cognitive theory’s learner-centered approach.

  • Week 2 Portfolio: “I believe that student-led, exploratory learning should take precedence over ‘the acquisition of pre-determined skills,’ (Talebi, 2015). Behaviorists tout objectives that are ‘easy to measure’ but in my opinion, these lead to an inflexible curriculum, an assessment-centric learning environment, and teachers who “ignore educational outcomes involving complex intellectual skills” and ‘assume that only what is measurable is valuable’ (Borich & Tombari, n-d; McLeod, 2018).”

  • Week 2 Portfolio: “A behaviorist is focused on ‘minimizing mistakes’ at all costs (to ensure that only desirable behavior is repeated and engrained), so they use prompts, hints, and other stimuli to help a student ‘make the correct responses’ (Borich & Tombari, n-d). Honestly, this reminds me of lawyers using leading questions in the courtroom. The teacher holds all the power; the student scrounges for the answer the teacher wants. In contrast, I believe that students thrive when there is a healthy, interdependent relationship between teacher and student; when students problem-solve and find meaning in what they are exploring.”

  • Week 3 Forum: “Learning about fixed mindsets (touted by entity theorists) and growth mindsets (promoted by incremental theorists) in Dweck’s book clarified ... that ‘the context of learners’ beliefs about cognition’ has a significant impact (for better or for worse) on learning (Mangels et al., 2006; Schunk, 2012, p. 257)”

Two elements of this course that sparked a myriad of “aha!” moments for me were learning about Gange’s Nine Events of Learning in week 2 and Affective, Psychomotor, and Cognitive Domains in week 4. I had assumed that I disliked nearly all cognitive-centric approaches (i.e. abstract, idealized content), however, studying these domains and creating an example for each of Gange’s events helped me realize that more often than not, my aversion was to low-level taxonomies that are too often employed in language learning classrooms.

  • Week 4 Portfolio on Affective Domain: “Language is inseparably connected to the people and culture who cherish it. By prioritizing grammar, conjugations, and written language in the classroom (called the Grammar-translation method, a method that also happens to be easy to test in classrooms), we strip a language from its identity. Sign languages are not repetitive gestures; spoken languages are not grunts and groans. Language is about communication and connection, not the sterile and archaic cases, vocabs, grammar, conjugations, we have emphasized in language learning for too long.”

  • Week 4 Portfolio on Cognitive Domain: “I realized that despite my aversion to traditional methods of language teaching, I do have elements of the cognitive domain in my pedagogy. For example, I do encourage the memorization of vocabulary; a low level activity in taxonomy of the cognitive domain according to Wilson (2016). But rather than providing a predetermined list of vocab for my students to learn, I make sure that their lists incorporate the terms they would use in their unique and diverse environments. (For example, if a student mows lawns after school for work, vital terms for them to memorize would include grass, payment, mow, etc. Words that would probably not be a priority on most general vocab lists and completely unusable for a student who roofs houses with his dad during the summer.)”

  • Week 4 Portfolio on Psychomotor Domain: “ its very nature, language requires ‘performing sequences of motor activities to a specified level of accuracy, smoothness, rapidity, or force’ but with the flexibility needed to create ‘new movement patterns to account for problematic and new situations’ (Kasilingam & Ramalingam & Chinnavan, 2014, pp. 29-30).”

Evaluating Students

When I explored my definition of learning in our first forum and portfolio assignments, I considered the question: “Is the retention of abstract or unrelatable information truly learning?” I have always had a strong aversion to rote memorization and standardized assessments. Through this course, I spent a significant amount of time learning about the difference between summative and formative testing as well as the differences between standardized testing and more “authentic measurements of assessment” to monitor progress (Armstrong, 2018, p. 129).

  • Week 1 Portfolio: “With my aversion to the traditional ideas that learning can only be measured by memorization and formal assessments, I did not fully take into account that ‘learning must endure’ (Schunk, 2012, p.4). Creating my portfolio visual for this week helped me realize that learning includes prioritizing: memorizing the essential, retaining the useful, and knowing where to turn when other information is needed. (One of the many reasons standardized tests have little value; what information is essential, useful, or trivial varies by student.)”

  • Week 6 Forum: “Anxiety often manifests itself in a student as either (1) perfectionistic (high functioning) or (2) apathetic (low functioning) tendencies. … Teachers may accidently overlook the needs of students with anxiety in that they may use deeply entrenched, commonly accepted teaching methods that aggravate anxiety. For example, many teachers give surprise quizzes. These exams trigger fight, flight, or freeze emotional responses in students; they inhibit even the most attentive students from being able to test well if they are in a trauma response (through no fault of their own). Another common practice is that teachers use true/false problems in their examinations which trigger OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) symptoms. … I see both of these practices to be ‘gotcha’ testing. Like ‘gotcha journalism,’ there is little value to either practice that more “authentic measures of assessment” could achieve (Armstrong, 2018, p.129).”

  • Week 1 Written: “This rigorous (and in my opinion, destructive) assessment-centered environment induced severe anxiety for even the most prepared of students. (Especially considering these were all straight-A students and already prone to perfectionism and anxiety-disorders.) These assessments compared students against a single, rigid standard, thus further ingraining a fixed rather than growth (malleable) mindset (Bransford, Brown & Cocking, 2000, p.23; Dweck, 2006).”

  • Week 6 Forum: “More often than not, the assignment/examination structure and delivery method create the greatest barriers. Kent ISD (n-d) made this clear when they wrote that ‘In the area of worksheets and tests, some materials themselves add to a student’s other problems by the layout and design, the way the directions are written, the amount of content presented, and the testing format. Revising these materials effectively will help not only those students who struggle, but also the others in the classroom. Good teaching is good teaching and all students benefit from improved materials and strategies’ (p. 1). Rather than using antiquated teaching methods or examination structures to try and ‘catch’ students who did not prepare, all our students benefit from assignments that are more formative than summative...”


Obviously, I have strong beliefs on what ideal language classrooms and teaching practices look like, but courses like Learning Theory broaden and deepen my understanding of why too many students find language courses in the United States to be ineffective, shallow, provisional, and even useless. The joy in taking courses like those provided by University of the People is that I walk away with more tools in my teaching toolkit. Thank you!

Reference List

Armstrong, T. (2017). The power of the adolescent brain: strategies for teaching middle and high school students. Hawker Brownlow Education. *

Armstrong, T. (2018). Multiple intelligences in the classroom (4th ed.). ASCD. *

Borich, G. D. & Tombari, M. L. (n-d). “Behaviorism in the Classroom.” Lumen Educational Psychology.

Bransford, J.D., Brown, A.L., & Cocking, R.R. (2000). How people learn: brain, mind, experience, and school. National Academy Press.

Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Ballantine Books.

Herrington, J., Reeves, T.C., & Oliver, R. (2010). A guide to authentic e-learning.

Kasilingam, G., Ramalingam, M., & Chinnavan, E. (2014). Assessment of learning domains to improve student’s learning in higher education. Journal of Young Pharmacists, 6(1), 27-33.

Kent Intermediate School District (n-d). Classroom adaptations: Creating a climate of success. *

Mangels, J. A., Butterfield, B., Lamb, J., Good, C., & Dweck, C. S. (2006). Why do beliefs about intelligence influence learning success? A social cognitive neuroscience model. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 1(2), 75–86.

McLeod, S. A. (2018, June 06). Jean Piaget's theory of cognitive development. Simply Psychology. *

Ozverir, I. & Herrington, J. (2011, June). Authentic activities in language learning: Bringing real world relevance to classroom activities. *

Payne, R. K., DeVol, P. E., & Smith, T. D. (2010). Bridges out of poverty: Strategies for professionals and communities. Moorabbin, Victoria, Australia: Hawker Brownlow Education.

Schunk, D. H. (2012). Learning theories: an educational perspective (6th ed.). Pearson.

Schwartz, M. (2012). Best practices in experiential learning. Retrieved from *

Sun Protection Outreach by Students Training Manual (2008). The adolescent brain-Learning strategies & teaching tips. *

Van Gorp, K., & Bogaert, N. (2006). Developing language tasks for primary and secondary education. In K. Van den Branden (Ed.), Task-based language education from theory to practice (pp. 76-105). Cambridge University Press.

Wilson, L.O., (2016, October). The three domains of learning: cognitive, affective, and psychomotor / kinesthetic.

Wilson, S.M., & Peterson, P.L. (2006, July). Benchmarks for learning and teaching: Moving from passive absorption to active engagement. [Table 1]. *

Sources with * are worth keeping and reviewing regularly.


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