Theoretical and conceptual perspectives

Pedagogically oriented theoretical and conceptual perspectives offer researched knowledge and understanding about teaching and learning and can be considered akin to ‘flashlights’ (Luoma 2009) for examining the learning processes and teaching practices. It is important for a teacher to have these ‘flashlights’ to be able to shed light on the practices related to the teaching work and facilitating learning processes. For instance, teachers’ personal conceptions of knowledge, learning and teaching affect their work in many ways, and with the help of the ‘flashlights’, one is able to understand how personal conceptions work in relation to the researched knowledge about teaching and learning.

One personal conception that largely affects the teaching and learning processes is the conception of learning. The conception of learning is a person’s (teacher’s or a student’s) personal conception of what learning is and how a person learns. A teacher, for example, bases their work and build their teaching practices and their own pedagogical thinking strongly on their own conception of learning as well as to their personal assumptions and beliefs concerning teaching (Murtonen 2017, p. 63; Nevgi & Lindblom-Ylänne, 2009, p. 194).

For a teacher, the conception of learning creates the basis for developing one’s own pedagogical thinking and theory-in-use. A theory-in-use is a teacher’s personal, extensive and systematic, theory related to teaching. It provides the teacher with the guidelines for designing and executing their practical operations. It is good to remember that there is no one model or theory that fits all; it is more important to become aware of the factors that guide your personal pedagogical thinking and actions and to understand what kind of learning your actions support and produce.

Therefore, it is important that an instructor of different learning processes is aware of what they think about learning, where their concept of good learning and good teaching stems from, how their own concept of learning compares to the current research literature or learning theories and what kind of practical solutions they formulate based on their own conceptions of learning and teaching.

”The problem of the pupils is found in subject matter; the problem of teachers is what the minds of pupils are doing with the subject matter – The teacher has to be a student of the pupil’s mind”.

Nilssen & Solheim 2015

As teaching and learning situations are always interactive, it should be kept in mind that there are also other conceptions of learning as well as views of ‘correct’ progress of a learning process, present in these situations. The conceptions of the student and the instructor of the learning process interact with each other as well as with the conceptions related to the subject of learning (see Figure 1). The learning process’s instructor should therefore listen to and interact with the student so that they can become aware of the different conceptions (including their own) and understand the effects of these different conceptions on the learning process (cf. Nilssen & Solheim, 2015).

  • Conception of oneself as a learner
  • Conceptions of learners
  • Conceptions of learning
Subject of learning
  • Conceptions of knowledge
  • Conceptions of the subject / content to be learned
Instructor of the learning process
  • Conceptions of oneself as a teacher
  • Conceptions of teaching / facilating the learning process
Figure 1. Learning and teaching environment (Murtonen, 2017, p. 68).

Learning Theories (briefly)

Different learning theories explain learning based on scientific research. They comprise theoretical hypotheses related to knowledge and its construction as well as to humans and human perception (Nevgi & Lindblom-Ylänne, 2009, 194). Learning theories have changed and evolved along with social development and as research has evolved and expanded. Today, learning theories draw knowledge from many different fields of science, both enriching and expanding our conception of learning. Understanding these various learning theories helps discern why certain learning practices play a central role in certain times in the field of education and which conceptions the approaches applied are based on. The learning theories presented shortly on this site (such as the transformative theory and constructivism) are seen to support the practices of aligned curriculum work. Other traditional theories used in learning studies include behavioural, cognitive and experiential learning theories (see Stewart, 2012; Nevgi & Lindblom-Ylänne, 2009).

Transformative learning theory

According to Nevgi and Lindblom-Ylänne (2009), transformative learning theory highlights the importance of considering different aspects, reflection and critical questioning in the learning process as well as the important role of discussion and exchanging ideas. According to this theory, a person’s previous experiences create a reference framework through which they interpret and assign significance to new experiences and matters they come across. With regard to learning, it is crucial for a person to become aware of how and from which perspectives they interpret their experiences. This will happen through conscious reflection; a central part of the learning process is to find a new perspective on previously familiar things through critical reflection. Reflection and reflection skills are today considered a key working life skill as well as a prerequisite for continuous learning.

Constructivism as a learning theory

According to the learning theory called constructivism, human beings are active processors and seekers of information and knowledge. For example, constructivism emphasises the importance of learning objectives set by the students themselves and commitment to them in the learning process. By discerning the objectives and committing to them, students create a meaningful skill set for themselves. Constructively aligned teaching that guides how teaching is structured describes, for example, how ‘assessment guides the students to set learning goals for themselves and how the teacher – first by becoming consciously aware of what the course’s learning outcomes are and what are they like – can also support the students in creating learning goals aiming for deeper learning by adjusting, for instance, the assessment (Nevgi & Lindblom-Ylänne, 2009, p. 226).

Constructivism is a certain kind of umbrella term that ‘covers all such learning theories that focus on the student’s own active process in knowledge formation’ (Nevgi & Lindblom-Ylänne, 2009). For instance, there are differences in the emphasis between the different movements of constructivism, ranging from individual to social (Tynjälä 2002, 39). This movement relates especially to the idea and view of knowledge formation – whether knowledge constructions is seen as an individual process or as a social process that emphasises learning communities (socio-constructive learning conception).

Elsewhere in TLC

Curriculum work
Pedagogical design
Pedagogical research and projects

Links checked 13.9.2023