Perspectives on Learning

November 4, 2010

Authors: D.C. Phillips and Jonas F. Soltis

Edition: Fifth

Publisher: Teachers College Press

Pages: 144

Price: £17.95

ISBN 9780807749838

New teachers want simple solutions. Amid the pressure of the one-year postgraduate training course they struggle with priorities. Prepare tomorrow's lesson, complete this assignment, mark these books and read about theories of learning.

Sadly, there are no simple fixes: a list of practical teaching techniques will not help much if teachers do not understand the complex ways in which we learn and the many physiological, social and environmental factors that affect this process. The joy of Perspectives on Learning is that it manages to convey this complexity concisely and accessibly. As the title suggests, it recognises the need to look at learning through many lenses.

In a mere 131 pages it offers a genuinely broad introduction to the topic. It has seven chapters, each focusing on a different approach to learning, prefaced by an introduction that makes the case for theory and tackles head-on the widely expressed view that it is all just common sense. It goes beyond the limited summaries of learning theory sometimes offered to new teachers, which can be over-reliant on behaviourism and cognitive structural approaches, and introduces them to social learning, gestalt and problem solving.

Its emphasis on insight is especially helpful for teachers of interpretive and affective subjects. The section on transfer of learning, which is new to this edition, draws attention to this significant challenge, if only to make teachers aware of the fact that we really do not have a secure understanding about this process. The book concludes with a series of short dialogues and discussions, and a set of vignettes that raise questions about learning. Readers can use these for stimulus and reflection, or they could form the basis for discussion in a teacher-education classroom.

Inevitably, there are some things that such a short text cannot do. While it is relevant to teachers of all ages and sectors, more recognition and integration of the particular theories that tackle adult learning would be most helpful.

The book addresses its readers directly and conversationally, linking theory to the kinds of teaching challenges they are likely to face. Some may find this informal style patronising. I suspect that most new teachers who have an excellent grasp of their subject but to whom education theory and indeed some of its foundational disciplines, such as psychology, philosophy and sociology, are new, will find its honesty reassuring and helpful. It mimics the teaching process, using questions and examples to draw in the reader, prompting reflection at every stage. It feels, in many ways, like engaging in a stimulating conversation with an experienced teacher.

Who is it for? Anyone who is learning to teach; experienced teachers looking to review and reflect on their understanding of learning theories.

Presentation: It is logically structured, easy to use and clearly written.

Would you recommend it? Definitely.

Recommended

Debating Moral Education: Rethinking the Role of the Modern University

Editors: Elizabeth Kiss and J. Peter Euben

Edition: First

Publisher: Duke University Press

Pages: 368

Price: £72.00 and £17.99

ISBN 9780822346203 and 6166

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