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Educational Theories and Pedagogies

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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Decisions made by classroom instructors significantly affect the learning environment. Unlike previous models of assistance that separated students into prerequisite learning venues, progressive approaches embrace an inclusive classroom. Universal Instructional Design (Higbee, 2003) has emerged as a guiding theory for transforming the classroom for a diverse student body.



The posting below looks at educational learning theories in the context of both student and instructor behavior.  It is from the chapter, Best Practices and Models in Learning Assistance, in the book, Access at the Crossroads: Learning Assistance in Higher Education, by David R. Arendale.  It is part of the ASHE Higher Education Report: Volume 35, Number 6, Kelly Ward, Lisa E. Wolf-Wendel, Series Editors. Copyright © 2010 Wiley Periodicals, Inc., A Wiley Company. All rights reserved.


Rick Reis

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Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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Educational Theories and Pedagogies


Appropriate and effective educational theory leads exemplary best practices to achieve the most positive outcomes for both the institutions and the student (Hamrick, Evans, and Schuh, 2002). Fresh approaches reflect rapidly changing needs of a diverse student population. Following is a sample of emerging educational theories guiding best practices in learning assistance approaches and programs (Higbee, Arendale, and Lundell, 2005). Some theories focus on changing students' behaviors; others demand changes by the institution regarding curriculum delivery and the learning environment (Higbee, Arendale, and Lundell, 2005; Lundell and Higbee, 2001).

Theories that Guide Students' Behaviors

The concept of \"situated cognition\" recognized that students learn most effectively when they are in a learning environment perceived as personally meaningful and structured so they can directly apply new cognitive skills and strategies (Wilson, 1993). Students acquire and incorporate learning and study strategies more effectively when they concurrently apply them in the context of rigorous core curriculum courses (Stahl, Simpson, and Hayes, 1992). This approach differs significantly from prerequisite models of learning assistance such as remedial courses, study skill workshops, and the like. Disconnected prerequisite approaches erect barriers for students to acquire strategies and improve academic performance. Many do not link the immediate application of these new skills with demands presented in core curriculum courses. Situated cognition immediately grounds new abstract ideas and skills in concrete use with a learning task and an educational outcome measure. Immediate application and positive feedback heighten likelihood of further use.

Differing from previous models of learning assistance, new educational theories guide students as they actively manage their learning experiences. Metacognitive processes empower students to self-monitor comprehension of the material and equip them to select appropriate learning strategies based on demands of the academic task (Weinstein, Goetz, and Alexander, 1988). Metacognitive approaches address different types of motivation influencing students (Pintrich, 2000). This theory partially explains the effectiveness of peer cooperative learning programs like the emerging scholars program and supplemental instruction that blend active engagement, self-reflection about learning, and acquisition of new cognitive learning skills.

Theories That Guide Instructors' Behaviors

Decisions made by classroom instructors significantly affect the learning environment. Unlike previous models of assistance that separated students into prerequisite learning venues, progressive approaches embrace an inclusive classroom. Universal Instructional Design (Higbee, 2003) has emerged as a guiding theory for transforming the classroom for a diverse student body. UID was originally designed to mainstream students with disabilities into traditional classrooms by reducing barriers (Silver, Bourke, and Strehorn, 1998). As illustrated in the previous chapter by the introductory history courses at the University of Minnesota, UID guides integration of learning assistance activities and mastery of metacognitive learning strategies for all students enrolled in target core curriculum classes. This strategy builds on effective learning theory requiring immediate application to promote internalization and continued use by the student.

Astin (1984, 1985) promotes the \"talent development\" theory of student development. Too often students are stereotyped, especially those needing learning assistance, as being deficient. The purpose of education is to add what they lack. Instead, Astin encourages educators to understand students' strengths and build on them rather than dwelling on what they temporarily lack. This shift from a deficit to a talent development model lifts stigma placed on students using learning assistance activities.

UID serves students identified as academically underprepared in one or more traditional core-curriculum classes. UID classes present rigorous academic content and require sophisticated skills (Higbee, 2003; Higbee, Lundell, and Arendale, 2005). Academically underprepared students can thrive through an enriched learning experience and embedded instruction of learning strategies. Rather than focusing on individual students and their perceived deficits, this educational model redirects the institution to improve the learning environment for all students. This systems approach avoids negative stigma pervious learning assistance approaches often endured-a stigma that also generated negative consequences for the programs and the struggling students.

Another important educational theory enhancing learning is multiculturalism. The classroom learning environment shifts from one that reflects the dominant campus culture to one focused on individual students. Previously multiculturalism celebrated contributions by individuals from historically underrepresented groups in society through history appreciation months or assigned readings. Leading-edge theorists advocate radical redesign of the classroom learning experience for all students. As UID reduces barriers for all students through careful redesign of class learning tasks and activities, multiculturalism requires similar effort (Higbee and Goff, 2008). Just as physical barriers in the classroom present challenges for some students, so too do learning pedagogies that do not respect different cultures and preferred ways of interacting in a classroom setting. The urgency of this theory's application to learning assistance lies in the idea that it is a more effective way to serve a diverse student body. Culture extends beyond ethnicity through the expression of the multiple identities each person possesses. Some ways to implement instructional change guided by this theory include ensuring curricular materials reflect the diversity of the ethnicities, cultures, genders, and other identities of the students enrolled as well as the broader society; employing a variety of assessment activities such as objective exams, writing expressions, oral presentations, and the creation of Web sites to create opportunities for students to demonstrate mastery of course skills and knowledge; and providing various modes of learner interactions such as class lecturers, large-group discussions, small-group discussions, and Internet-based conversations. Multiculturalism reflects a respect for a wide variety of ways to learn, express, and demonstrate mastery of rigorous course material sensitive to preferences from students' cultural backgrounds (Higbee, Lundell, and Duranczyk, 2003).


Astin, A. W. (1984). Student involvement: A developmental theory for higher education. Journal of College Student Personnel, 25, 297-308.

Astin, A. W. (1985). Achieving educational excellence. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Hamrick, F. A., Evans, J. J., and Schuh, J. H. (2002). Foundations of student affairs practice: How philosophy, theory, and research strengthen educational outcomes. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Higbee, J. L. (Ed.). (2003). Curriculum transformation and disability: Implementing universal design in higher education. Minneapolis: Center for Research on Developmental Education and Urban Literacy, General College, University of Minnesota.

Higbee, J. L., Arendale, D. R., and Lundell, D. B. (Eds.). (2005). Using theory and research to improve access and retention in developmental education. In C. A. Kozeracki (Ed.), Responding to the challenges of developmental education (pp. 5-15). New Directions for Community Colleges, no. 129. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Higbee, J. L., and Goff, E. (Eds.). (2008). Pedagogy and student services for institutional transformation: Implementing universal design in higher education. Minneapolis: Regents of the University of Minnesota, Center for Research on Developmental Education and Urban Literacy, College of Education and Human Development, University of Minnesota.

Higbee, J. L., Lundell, D. B., and Duranczyk, I. M. (Eds.). (2003). Multiculturalism in developmental education. Annual Monograph Series No. 4. Minneapolis: Center for Research on Developmental Education, General College, University of Minnesota.

Lundell, D. B., and Higbee, J. L. (Eds.). (2001). Theoretical perspectives for developmental education. Annual Monograph Series No. 1. Minneapolis: Center for Research on Developmental Education and Urban Literacy, General College, University of Minnesota.

Pintrich, P. R. (2000). The role of goal orientation in self-regulated learning. In M. Boekaerts, P. R. Pintrich, and M. Zeldner (Eds.), Handbook on self-regulation (pp. 451-502). San Diego: Academic Press.

Silver, D., Bourke, A., and Strehorn, K. C. (1998). Universal instructional design in higher education: An approach for inclusion. Equity & Excellence in Education, 31(2), 47-51.

Stahl, N. A., Simposon, M. L., and Hayes, C. G. (1992). Ten recommendations from research for teaching high-risk college students. Journal of Developmental Education, 16(1), 2-4.

Weinstein, C., Goetz, E. T., and Alexander, P. A. (Eds.). (1988). Learning and study strategies: Issues in assessment, instruction, and evaluation. San Diego: Academic Press.

Wilson, A. L. (1993). The promise of situated cognition. New Directions for Adults and Continuing Education, no. 57. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.