Influence of Educational Theorists on Thinking in Education
This article will assess the influences of Dewey, Lewin, Piaget, and Kolb to the current trends in education
Dewey’s influence on today’s education system is significant. Dewey was one of the first theorists to propose the connection of education to the meaningful experience. Tenets of that connection can be found in the curriculum of K-12 schools, colleges, and universities, which embrace the idea of authentic experiential instruction. These schools provide course offerings that include internship, externships, work-study arrangements, and credit based on prior experience. The learner is directly in touch with the realities studied. Often, it involves direct encounters with the phenomenon being studied rather than merely thinking about the encounter or only considering the possibility of doing something with it (Keeton & Tate, 1978, p. 2). The internship type courses provide students with real-world experiences which can be applied to day-to-day situations. According to Dewey’s theory, instruction through application has relevance to the student.
Dewey’s theory also has influenced the current theory of constructivism. He encouraged the students to take an active role in the learning process. The constructivist teacher designs lessons which allow students to be participants in the construction of their own knowledge. Gertek (2004) explains that Dewey’s concept of experience as the interaction of the person with his or her environment reflects constructivist beliefsp.11)
Lewin also strongly believed that the experience was a construct of the learning process. Lewin added the additional propositions to Dewey’s theory that took into account the interactions of group dynamics, action research, laboratory training, and the training group. His work, which is related to groups, serves as a medium for learning how to encourage planned change within organizational social systems. He emphasized basic values of a humanistic scientific process and authenticity in relationships which offered new hope-filled ideals for the conduct of human relationships and the management of organizations (Schein & Bennis, 1965). Today, many organizations planning change use Lewin’s three-stage change process model.
Piaget is most widely known of all the educational theorists and perhaps one of the most substantial contributors to the current constructivist theory of education. Marlowe and Page (2005) say that one cannot overestimate Piaget’s contributions to the direction, meaning, and understanding of contemporary constructivism (p. 12). Examples of Piaget’s contributions include his ideas that knowledge should be actively constructed by a child, and learning activities should match the level of the conceptual development stage of each child. Also, several major approaches to curriculum and instruction are based on the Piagetian theory (Berrueta-Clement, Schweinhart, Barnett, Epstein, & Weikart, 1984). For instance, Piaget influenced many teaching techniques such as the focus on the process of the child’s thinking and the active role of the learner (Berk, 2001).
Piaget’s focus on the process of the child thinking promoted the development of the stages of Cognitive Development Theory. Teachers use the stages in today’s classroom as a way to gauge a child’s cognitive functioning. This permits the development of activities and learning experiences that are at the correct cognitive development stage for the child’s ability to learn.
Piaget recognized that students must be self-initiated and actively involved in learning activities. A current application of this concept today can be found with the teacher designing a variety of activities that allow a child to act within the physical world. Today, many of the academic curriculum material include interactive activities and even educational software for the student to engage in self-controlled learning.
David Kolb’s work has been very influential within the education system at the present time. His most notable work is the LSI. The instrument offers educators and trainers the tools to assess and determine behavior related to environmental interactions, which is useful in determining a match between the learner and the learning experience. Sims explains that the effectiveness of Kolb’s model is contingent on a dynamic match between the learner and the experience. In support, Tennant (1997) explains that Kolb’s model can be used as a framework for planning, teaching, and learning activities, as well as a guide for understanding learning difficulties, vocational counseling, and academic advising. Therefore, the inventory provides the learner with the necessary information needed to support the learning process with direction.
Kolb’s measure of learning styles called the LSI has been used increasingly by both education and business organizations. Kolb describes that the increased attention is due to the fact that very little in terms of research and studies have focused on the relation of learning styles to one’s chosen field of specialization in college. Honigsfeld and Schiering (2004) explain that empirical results with the Learning Styles Inventory have shown differentiated learning style preferences in specified disciplines. This indicates that there is a relation with academic choices, achievement, and teaching styles. Therefore, the information obtained from the inventory can be applied to learning choices, career paths, and continued professional development.
Kolb’s LSI is currently used in adult learning and development. Healey and Jenkins (2000) say that Kolb’s inventory remains one of the most widely distributed instruments used in higher education. In fact, the tool can be downloaded for a small fee from a number of web sites. Many management consultant firms also use the model as a tool to develop personal development and planning.