Behavioral, Cognitive, Developmental, Social Cognitive & Constructivist Perspectives

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Melissa Hurst

Melissa has a Masters in Education and a PhD in Educational Psychology. She has worked as an instructional designer at UVA SOM.

In educational psychology, there are five branches of perspective that are each supported by different parts of the psychology community. This lesson describes those five perspectives--behavioral cognitive, developmental, social cognitive, and constructivist--and dives into the guiding principles and assumptions of how people take in and retain information. Updated: 08/17/2021

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  • 0:43 Behavioral
  • 2:37 Cognitive
  • 4:00 Developmental
  • 5:15 Social Cognitive
  • 6:29 Constructivism
  • 7:36 Lesson Summary
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Behavioral Perspective

Behaviorism is the theoretical perspective in which learning and behavior are described and explained in terms of stimulus-response relationships. The key assumptions of behaviorism are:

  • The environment influences behavior. Behaviorists believe that people's behaviors are a result of their interaction with the environment. Specifically, people become conditioned, or molded, to respond in certain ways based on responses like feedback, praise and rewards.
  • Learning is described through stimuli and responses. Behaviorists focus on observable events rather than events that occur inside a person's head, such as thoughts, feelings and beliefs.
  • Learning must involve a behavioral change. Theorists believe that learning has not occurred unless there is an observable change in behavior.
  • Learning must result when stimulus and response occur close together in time. Learners must associate their response with a stimulus. In order for that to occur, the two must happen in conjunction with each other, or, in other words, be contiguous.
  • Animals and humans learn in similar ways. Behaviorists, unlike many other theorists, performed their experiments using animals because they believed the study of animals could explain human learning behavior.

The major behaviorists you should be familiar with include John Watson, known as the father of behaviorism; Ivan Pavlov, best known for classical conditioning; B.F. Skinner, known for operant conditioning; and Edward Thorndike, known for the law of effect.

John Watson is known as the father of behaviorism
John Watson Behaviorist

Cognitive Perspective

The next perspective of educational psychology is the cognitive perspective. Cognitive psychology is the theoretical perspective that focuses on learning based on how people perceive, remember, think, speak and problem-solve. The cognitive perspective differs from the behaviorist perspective in two distinct ways. First, cognitive psychology acknowledges the existence of internal mental states disregarded by behaviorists. Examples of these states are belief, desire, ideas and motivation (non-observable states). Second, cognitive psychologists claim memory structures determine how information is perceived, processed, stored, retrieved and forgotten. Cognitive psychology encompasses perception, categorization, memory, knowledge representation, language and thinking processes.

The major cognitive psychologists you should be familiar with include Jean Piaget, who developed Piaget's theory of cognitive development and stages of cognitive development; Lev Vygotsky, best known for his sociocultural development theory; Noam Chomsky, referred to as the father of modern linguistics; and Jerome Bruner, who coined the term 'scaffolding.'

Developmental Perspective

Our next perspective is the developmental perspective. Developmental psychology is the perspective that studies change that occurs in learners over the course of a long period of time. The developmental perspective encompasses theories that are continuous and discontinuous in nature. Discontinuous theories are stage-like. The processes of learning and development involve distinct stages, which are characterized by qualitative differences in behavior. Theorists who posit discontinuous theories propose a specific beginning and end period for each stage. Continuous theories, in contrast, explain that learning and development occur in incremental processes. Learning involves gradual and ongoing changes throughout the lifespan.

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