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The 5 Best Theories of Learning for ESL Teachers

The 5 Best Theories of Learning for ESL Teachers | ITTT | TEFL Blog

There are many learning techniques and the course covered four major groups – constructivists, maturationists, environmentalists, and others.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Kathi Z.

Maturationist, Environmentalist and Constructivist and Other Theories

The fundamentals of the maturation theory is the natural biological process humans go through. There is a natural sequence of events that take place despite external stimuli. The fundamentals of the environmental theory is the environment in which we exist. How we behave is a response to what is happening around us. This idea is different from how maturationists believe that we will develop in a systematic way. Our behavior is a reaction to our surroundings. The constructivists believe that learning is a combination of maturation and the environment. “We interact with our environment and construct our own frameworks or settings, in which learning can take place.”

Finally, the ‘other’ group mentioned in the course includes other theories like cognitive development. I would like to look further into this aspect of learning, specifically discovery learning that is supported by Jean Piaget, Jerome Bruner, and Seymour Papert.

Discovery Learning

Discovery learning is learning by doing and is considered a constructivist approach in learning. Students are faced to problem solve their situation and during this process, they will learn. There is minimal teacher guidance and requires the teacher to do one or more of the following:

  1. Provide guided tasks leveraging a variety of instructional techniques

  2. Students should explain their own ideas and teachers should assess the accuracy of the idea and provide feedback

  3. Teachers should provide examples of how to complete the tasks.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Native Language Learning

I believe discovery learning is how we learn our native language. For example, how babies learn language. They are observing how their parents and other adults speak around them and they pick up sounds and words. And as they get older, they become aware of phrases and unknowingly pick up grammar and styles. They also go through trial and error when they start to speak. For example, they may not speak the correct grammar, but when an adult responds in the correct way, they will catch the difference. They are listening, speaking, analyzing, and collecting a database of sounds, words, phrases, etc.

Also read: 6 Peculiarities of the English Language That Are Mind-Boggling for English Learners

Discovery Learning and EFL Students

However, for EFL learners, this type of learning requires student to self-discover and be able to draw on their own past experiences and prior knowledge, a certain level of self-motivation, discipline, and cognitive development is necessary. So this may be more appropriate for older kids or at least young adults of EFL learners.

Downsides of Discovery Learning

Discovery learning can also hinder EFL learners. Because we already know one language, we tend to draw on that experience and knowledge when we learn a new language. However, different languages use different grammar forms and styles, making it difficult to directly translate different languages. Trial and error will take an extra step because we will likely use what we know from our native language first then try another way.

One of the drawbacks of discovery learning when under time constraint could be that it may take longer than other types of learning. It may take us longer to go through the problem solving phase and discover the answer. However, I believe what we actually end up learning during this process will be more ingrained in our brains.

Finally, discovery learning for language is inclusive of social learning. We must interact and communicate with other people in order to use language. This is necessary for learning our native and non-native languages.

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