Theories and Their Usage in Education Essay

Theories and Their Usage in Education Essay

Famous Theorists and Key Details

Name (Country of Origin): Birth Date/Death Date: Educational Background: Associated Theory: Theory’s Key Components/Statements:
John Dewey (USA) 1859/1952
  • The University of Vermont and State Agricultural College (a bachelor’s degree in 1879)
  • Johns Hopkins University in Maryland (PhD degree in 1884)
Child-centred education (progressivism in education)
  • Education should be clearly structured and individualized
  • Recognize the uniqueness of all children (both genetic and experiential) (Gray and MacBlain 38)
Jean Piaget (Switzerland) 1896/1980
  • A PhD in Philosophy in 1918 (the University of Neuchatel)
  • Postdoc training (Zurich, Paris)
Stages of development – There are four stages:
  1. Sensorimotor (0-2 years, children learn through sensory interactions)
  2. Preoperational (2-7 years, children do not understand formal logic but learn to use symbols)
  3. Concrete operational (7-11 years, children learn to perform concrete logical operations and solve tasks)
  4. Formal operational (11-16 years, children understand the principles of abstract thinking) (Gray and MacBlain 75)
Burrhus Frederik Skinner (USA) 1904/1990
  • A PhD in Psychology (Harvard University, 1931)
  • Studied human behavior at the universities of Minnesota and Indiana
Operant conditioning
  • Learning is impacted by positive and negative reinforcers and punishments
  • Behavioral variations can be weakened or strengthened with the help of stimuli
Erik Erikson (Germany) 1902/1994
  • Studied psychoanalysis in Vienna
  • Was a Harvard student (psychology), did not receive a formal degree
  • Had no PhD degrees
Theory of psychosocial development (with assistance from Joan Erikson)
  • Eight stages of development:
    • Trust
    • Autonomy
    • Initiative
    • Industry
    • Identity
    • Intimacy
    • Generativity
    • The integrity of the ego (Charlesworth 131)
  • Each stage is associated with an internal conflict
  • The ninth stage is the stage of crisis (eight stages are manifested in reverse order)
Abraham Maslow (USA) 1908/1970
  • Three degrees in psychology: Bachelor 1930, Master 1931, PhD 1934
  • The State University of Wisconsin
Hierarchy of needs
  • Five levels of needs (from the lowest to the highest):
    • Physiological
    • Safety
    • Belongingness/love
    • Self-esteem
    • Self-actualization
  • Basic needs (1 and 2) should be met prior to psychological (3 and 4) and self-fulfillment (5) ones (Gray and MacBlain 22)
Lev Vygotsky (Imperial Russia, USSR) 1896/1934
  • Studied medicine in Moscow but never received an academic degree
  • Moscow State University (Master of Legal Studies, 1917)
Zone of proximal development
  • Children follow the example of adults and learn to perform some tasks on their own
  • Three types of tasks:
    • Can be fulfilled without help
    • Require guidance to be fulfilled (ZPD)
    • Cannot be fulfilled (Gray and MacBlain 99)
Alfie Kohn (USA) 1957/still alive
  • Degrees in Social Sciences: Bachelor (Brown University, 1979), Master (the University of Chicago, 1980)
Kohn contributed to classroom management theories
  • Teachers should foster mutual work and curiosity to avoid using rewards/punishments
  • Praise should not be overused
  • Criticized standardized tests (Charlesworth 72)
Friedrich Froebel (Germany) 1782/1852
  • Studied biology and plant biology, mathematics, foreign languages
  • A student of Johann Pestalozzi who was a philosopher and an educator
  • Did not finish his studies at the University of Gottingen
Theory of play and education
  • Individual playing is the key element of early education
  • Children can express themselves when playing
  • Froebel was the first to “liberate the notion of play” (Gray and MacBlain 34)
Arnold Gesell (USA) 1880/1961
  • Bachelor’s degree in Education (the University of Wisconsin, 1903)
  • Studied medicine and developmental abnormalities in Wisconsin
  • PhD in Child Psychology (Clark University, 1906)
Maturational theory of child development
  • Maturation – the process of development predicted by genetic characteristics
  • Normally, the order of bodily systems to develop is fixed
  • Children develop mechanisms for self-regulation (Charlesworth 10)
Stanley Hall (USA) 1846/1924
  • A graduate of Williams College (1867)
  • Studied theology and philosophy
  • The first American to become a Doctor of Psychology (Harvard University, 1878)
Theory of adolescence
  • Hall tried to apply Darwin’s ideas to child development (Charlesworth 22)
  • Adolescence (14-24 years) is characterized by mood swings, a proneness to conflict, criminal leanings, and risky behaviors
  • Adolescence is the transition between irrationality and rationality
Charles Darwin (England) 1809/1882
  • The University of Edinburgh (studied medicine)
  • Christ’s College (a Bachelor of Arts)
  • Earned Bachelor’s degrees from Cambridge and Oxford (non-specialized)
Theory of biological evolution
  • Some groups of living creatures can have common ancestors
  • Natural selection is the key mechanism of evolution
  • Due to natural selection, the number of organisms with traits favorable to survival increases, the converse is also true

(Gray and MacBlain 22)

Ivan Pavlov (Imperial Russia, USSR) 1849/1936
  • Studied natural sciences at Saint Petersburg State University
  • A student at the Military Medical Academy in St. Petersburg (became a doctor of medicine in 1883)
Theory of classical conditioning
  • Living creatures can learn through association
  • Conditioned responses can be caused by the combinations of stimuli
Edward Thorndike (USA) 1874/1949
  • Bachelor’s degree ( Wesleyan University)
  • A PhD degree in Educational Psychology (Columbia University, 1897)
  • Based on behavioral postulates (stimuli and response)
  • Thorndike introduced three “laws” of learning:
    • The law of effect – responses followed by rewards turn into habits
    • The law of exercise – constant practice makes connections stronger, the lack of it weakens them
    • The law of readiness – some responses can be connected to meet certain goal
John Watson (USA) 1878/1958
  • Did not finish his studies at Furman University
  • A PhD degree (the University of Chicago, 1903)
Behaviorist approach to learning
  • Any child is a “tabula rasa”
  • Children are easily manipulated and responsive to suggestion
  • Stimuli are used to trigger reactions (the famous “Little Albert” experiment)
Maria Montessori (Italy) 1870/1952 Studied medicine (undergraduate degree) and philosophy (did not finish her studies) at the University of Rome
A Doctor of Medicine (the University of Amsterdam)
Montessori theory of education
  • Montessori’s approach to education is based on child-centeredness, independent learning (children should learn to solve tasks on their own)
  • Children should be observed and helped to make choices
  • Children “absorb” everything they see/hear/experience
Jerome Bruner (USA) 1915/2016 Academic degrees in psychology: Duke University (Bachelor), Harvard University (Master, PhD) Bruner’s theory of development
  • Children should learn by making discoveries
  • Study materials should reflect children’s worldview
  • Cognitive representation and its stages: enactive (actions), iconic (images), symbolic (verbal symbols)


A popular theory of learning that is focused on behaviors that can be observed and studied objectively. Unlike other concepts, it does not emphasize the role of subjective cognitive processes. The components peculiar to early education include the ability to use positive/negative reinforcements to achieve the necessary results, the leading role of the teacher, and the teacher’s ability to punish or reward children (Charlesworth 22).

Today, behaviorism is a dominant approach in education widely used in general education or mainstream schools. Its use is manifested in the presence of study plans that involve tests, grades, and tasks that gradually become more difficult. For early childhood education, these methods can be used with the help of prizes and tasks. Behaviorism gave rise to the method of direct instruction currently used by the majority of teachers and famous educators, often in combination with other theories.


The approach to education that recognizes the presence of well-structured mechanisms of development. This approach involves helping children to develop properly (passive help) instead of seeing the teacher as the key decision-maker and evaluator. Components peculiar to early education: the educational process should be child-centered, the use of statistical data on normal development and observations, teach new skills based on readiness. The concepts or maturationism are widely used in nursery schools that use the Reggio-Emilia approach. Famous educators who fully or partially adhere to the principles of maturationism include Loris Malaguzzi and other Reggio Emilia teachers.


Is the approach, according to which children are the active and full-fledged participants of the learning process. The components related to early education include the teacher’s role as a guide, the flexibility of daily schedules, children’s ability to participate in planning, learning through discoveries and experiments (Charlesworth 18). The types of institutions that use the approach include Bank Street nurseries and preschools. Famous people who support the approach or adhere to it include Alfie Kohn, Marian Small, and Meir Muller.

Works Cited

Gray, Colette, and Sean MacBlain. Learning Theories in Childhood. 2nd ed., Sage Publications, 2015.

Charlesworth, Rosalind. Understanding Child Development. 9th ed., Cengage Learning, 2014.

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