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Constructivism, Behaviorism, and Humanism

When we think about teaching, we have to remember that we are all human. Psychology has come a long way in the last 100 years, yet there is so much we don't understand about the mind. In this page, I hope to explore three schools of thought, and how they apply to education.

These are Constructivism, Behaviorism, and Humanism. Each one takes a different perspective on what it means to be human. No single theory is correct, but each one helps us better understand ourselves, our motivations, and our place in the world.

As you read about each model, think about your own learning. What motivates you? How do you interact with others? How do you make sense of the world? By keeping your learner in mind you become a more effective teacher, a better student of the world, and ultimately, a better, more fulfilled human being.

Video by me: Taken from a Kayak at N. Manitou island


In the constructivist model, students gain knowledge through experience and reflection. Constructivism asserts that students learn best through application and creativity.

Learners process new information by contrasting it to their existing paradigm. Put another way, our knowledge is built upon previous understandings of the world.

Think about how you learn best. Do you prefer to passively sit there while the instructor goes on and on, or would you rather actively engage with the instructor and your fellow students, testing out new concepts and solving problems.


Behaviorism is the idea that all behavior is learned through conditioned interaction with our enviornments.


Behaviorism is theory about stimulus-response. Think Pavlov's Dog. Did your mouth just salivate?

Behaviorism is often connected to Rote Learning, or repetition. Positive behaviors are reinforced, while negative ones are punished.

According to Simply Psychology, there are five major tenets of Behaviorism:

1. All behavior is learned from the environment

2. Behavior is the result of stimulus-response

3. Psychology should be seen as a science

4. Behaviorism is primarily concerned with observable behavior, as opposed to internal events like thinking and emotion

5. There is little difference between the learning that takes place in humans and that in other animals

I believe we are more than our limbic systems, and are of a higher order than other animals. Nevertheless, Behaviorism brings up some valid points and is still pervasive in our educational system.


Now we get to what is perhaps my favorite, Humanism.

According to the American Humanist Society, "Humanism is a rational philosophy informed by science, inspired by art, and motivated by compassion."

As it relates to education, the Humanistic perspective looks at the whole individual. Rather than focusing on deficits, it focuses on self-efficacy and self-actualization.

The idea holds that society functions best when people are allowed to embrace their free will, achieve their own goals, and contribute to society in a meaningful way.

This theory aligns well to Maslow's Hierarchy, specifically the concept of self-actualization.

What does it all mean?

As an educator you need to find the right balance that makes sense for your discipline, teaching style, and most importantly, your learners.

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