The Science of Learning: What lays between experience, Behaviorism and Constructivism for the educator?

Humans have always gathered for explanations about everything that surround them. Natural phenomena like astrological events, natural disasters, and the human itself. However, how can we provide an objective explanation? Since the Greek, a distinction was made between doxa and episteme. The pre-Socratic believed that doxa was a particular opinion and subjective about a given topic. In contrast episteme was the universal knowledge, demonstrable, that has to be accepted as true (Bisquerra, 1998). From that concept we have the word epistemology, the study of nature and scope of knowledge itself. As a result, the scientific knowledge should be the result of the scientific method. Science is “an organized set of knowledge that has been acquired through the scientific method” (Bisquerra, 1998, p.2). The scientific method is then, a systematic process of which we obtain scientific knowledge, based on observation and experimentation.

Through experimentation, science identifies variables, correspondences, rules and constant that control san phenomenon, and provides an explanation of it. Science is then validated, systematized and has a specific and clear methodology.  However, we always have several folk theories, ideas that, as stated before, human beings create about the world surrounding to provide explanations.  .

The experimental psychology begins with the study of consciousness, but due to several difficulties and multitude of variables, the experimental psychology gets “into a crisis of which John B. Watson, the behaviorism founder, tried to save it” (Delval, 1994, p.58). And here we get into the methodological behaviorism. Watson found out that, analyzing thoroughly, this was based on conditioned reflexes and therefore, the study of learning becomes fundamental Later on, B.F. Skinner,  Argues that an individual response to the stimulus is not a reflex, but it surges of the acquisition of another behavior that is reinforced (positive or negative) or a punishment (positive or negative). We call this operant conditioning.


Literacy was subject of study of Emilia Ferreiro, Piaget’s student

Therefore, experience, both in Watson’s and Skinner’s behaviorism, is understood as an agent that allows behavior modification. . However, Bandura and Walters (1963) claim for an observational learning, in which a person “acquires much of his behaviors through observation and imitation of what others do” (Delval, 1994, p.60). It is important to notice how again experience is a key piece in the observational learning. The person is exposed to elements that he learns and then imitates in his own personal behavior.

In other words, the person itself, experiments, gains experience. This recalls us to the philosophical spectrum of Empiricism, a Greek word, ἐμπειρία, that means experience. However, Bandura and Walters (1963) claim for an observational learning, in which a person “acquires much of his behavior through observation and imitation of what others do” (Delval, 1994, p.60). It is important to notice how again experience is a key piece in the observational learning. The person is exposed to elements that he learns and then imitates in his own personal behavior. Experience. It can have two main and fundamental definitions. The first one can be understood as “the personal participation in repetitive situations, as when it is said that X has experience of S, in which S is understood as any situation or state that are repeated with enough uniformity and give X the capacity of solving certain problems” On the other hand we have the second definition” The repetitive resource of certain situations as a medium to examine which are the solutions that can be allowed” (Abbagnano, 197, p.495). Therefore, it is not strange that behaviorism relies on reinforcement to conquer its goals. Time pass and a new approach arrives, Constructivism. The constructivism has its basis on the studies of the Swiss developmental psychologist Jean Piaget. Piaget dealt with the knowledge generation and adaptation.

Piaget then considered the organism as active and by means of this activity it is able to build his own structures, both biological and mental (Delval, 1994, p.64). during the process we have two key processes: accommodation and assimilation.< Reflexes are then, the material that will allow the creation trough the exercising of it, creating new structure, new schemes. Previous schemes generate others through internalized experimentation, an internal representation of reality, generating learning, through assimilation and accommodation that will lead the transformation of the organism. Then we have that what is learned is modified bidirectional. The subject will modify his scheme about the object itself and the object is then modified thorough the modification of the subject scheme>It is hard to determine which particular method, generates this learning, but instead it is claimed as methods that facilitates or not learning, because the generation of leaning is a result of the owns subject activity (Ferreiro y Teberosky, 1979). Therefore the stimulus will not lead us always to the same response in the subject, it has to do with schemes, assimilation and accommodation.

Learning still a mystery. If we state that science looks for a specific methodology in order to find an well-grounded explanation to phenomena, in this case learning, it is probably that we have not yet found a concrete answer. Behaviorism loses its force, because it is not able to be applied in certain stages of learning, however it has been quite effective in some other areas.

Piaget’s theory suggested that learning was not dealing with reinforcements but with the capacity of the organism of assimilate and accommodate knowledge. However methodology still untouched. As teachers, many of us had been taught of what students need to know, curriculum objectives, competences to develop, assessment techniques, etc. But the practice itself needs to be explored even more. Instead of the what to teach we should be questioning how to teach. Sometimes the Ministries of Education around the world, tend to look for the measurable results, as those of international or national academic achievement tests. The works in Psychology areas exercise a role in teaching, the Ministry of Education in some cases, ask teachers to take them in to account, but without knowing how (Brousseau, 1999). The practice, the didactic, the methodology are urging to be clarified. teachers have to plan a class, fulfill papers of this and that, and what is less important is the practice. During a supervision of practice, specially while dealing with school principals. what get the most is if the classroom is clean or not, if what was stated over the lesson plan is achieved, if the started or finished on time, etc. 

Even if the Institutions are more interested in this areas, it is our due as educators to be aware of theory and to incorporate it in practice. Sometimes a teaching diary could be of use to keep a record our experience with certain techniques and activities, a meeting to exchange experiences and spaces like this nowadays are useful to keep developing our practice.

For those who have chosen the path of facilitating leaning to others, it is imperative to keep studying, but at the same time, to keep developing their practice incorporating new scopes.


Abbagnano, N. (1973). Diccionario de Filosofía. México: Fondo de Cultura Económica.

Bisquerra, R. (1998). Métodos de investigación educativa. Barcelona: Grupo Editoria Ceac.

Brousseau, G. (1999). Educación y didáctica de las matemáticas. Educación Matemática , 5-38.

Delval, J. (1994). El desarrollo humano. Mexico: Siglo Veintiuno Editores.

Ferreiro, E., & Teberosky, A. (1979). Los sistemas de escritura en el desarrollo del niño. México: Siglo Veintiuno Editores.