Education Theorists

Theories of Education and their Champions

Learning is one of the essential human activities. As the world becomes more complicated, the importance of getting an education increases as well. At the same time, newer educational methods and approaches are needed now and then in order to keep up with the changes in society and in communication technologies. Let us review several prominent education theorists who advocated certain reforms in the schooling system.

Prominent Education Theorists of the 20th Century

Psychology as a separate science has been developing rapidly in the past century. Let us explore the ideas of 6 prominent education theorists who applied latest psychological discoveries to the educational process:

  • Lev Vygotsky
  • Jean Piaget
  • B.F. Skinner
  • Jerome Bruner
  • Benjamin Bloom
  • Howard Gardner

Lev Vygotsky

Developed in the 1930s, in the era of massive educational reforms, Vygotsky’s concept of guided learning was aimed at raising the efficiency of teaching and better discovery of students’ abilities. His term, Zone of Proximal Development (or ZPD), describes the way to gradually increase the difficulty of tasks given to a student. Ideally, the difficulty level must be just a bit higher than this student can accomplish on their own. So, with the help of teachers or peer students she or he can learn to solve such problems and thus increase her or his skills, step by step. Also, finding the gap between problems students can solve and a problem they cannot solve provides important feedback for a teacher.

Jean Piaget

As a follower of constructivist theories of intelligence and knowledge, French psychologist Piaget argued that there are close links between the biological factors and the development of intelligence, as a part of adaptation. Therefore, the human thought is built gradually when the child comes into contact with the world. These ideas, according to Piaget, can be adopted in education. Students are to be purposefully put into unfamiliar situations and try to “adapt”, developing their own elementary units of knowledge. Piaget called these units “schemas”. So, a teacher can encourage pupils to either develop new schemas during the lessons, or incorporate new knowledge into their existing schemas. Such an approach should help a student to develop a well-structured system of views.

B.F. Skinner

Proper motivations can do wonders to a person’s performance! B. F. Skinner, a 1930’s Harvard researcher, has made a huge contribution into understanding how encouraging and discouraging works on a personal level during his studies of behaviourism. His ideas about programmed instructions in education helped to shape modern approach to motivation in teaching:

  1. Understand what encourages and what discourages students, on a personal level and a group one
  2. Using this knowledge, positively reinforce their proper behavior
  3. In the same way, discourage their misbehavior, engaging them to improve their performance instead.

Jerome Bruner

One of leading American psychologists of the 1940s – 1960s, Bruner has completed a number of important research works, analyzing educational problems and developing solutions based on latest discoveries in psychology. One of his main ideas was that understanding a structure of a system is no less important than memorizing a ton of facts about it. Later he developed suggestions for unified curriculums for colleges in the US and abroad. His purpose was to ensure students receive well-structured understanding about the world. Today’s school curriculums are greatly influenced by his ideas.

Benjamin Bloom

When analyzing a student’s performance, it is useful to understand it on different levels. A special system for such analysis has been first suggested by Benjamin Bloom, who separated human intellectual behavior into different levels: from remembering facts (easiest) to creating original things or ideas (most difficult). This system, called Bloom’s Taxonomy, has contributed a lot to modern educational approaches all over the world. Particularly, it helps to classify educational objectives for a school based on its specialization and to better define the priorities and milestones of teaching, on individual and group levels.

Howard Gardner

A person can be talented in different ways, even non-conditional ones, and the modern approaches to education usually foresee certain alternative ways to measure students’ intelligence and capabilities. This is based on Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences: during his teaching in Harvard schools in the 1980s – 2000s he has completed a number of works where he argued that people have several different cognitive mechanisms to process the knowledge they receive. Moreover, these different intelligences are not even directly connected with each other, according to him. Thanks to his suggestions, modern schools often try different alternative methods to teach pupils:

  • Reading and writing
  • Verbal discussions
  • Songs
  • Games
  • Art (e.g. asking a student to draw a picture related to the lesson topic).

Reading might be the best way to learn about some concept for one person, while another one understands it better after playing a related game. Using several such methods in a combination often helps to achieve best results for the entire group.


It is useful to understand where key educational concepts come from, such as a curriculum or a motivational system. Understanding the evolution of educational approaches and the importance of psychological analysis for teaching might help to know what approach to take in each separate case. Essentially, any human being has their personal strong and weak sides, and these should be taken into account when teaching them. This way much better results can be achieved!

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