This section seeks to introduce the unique people discussed in this paper, i.e. students who have one disability or other. It seeks to explore the notion of disability and the various forms of disability.
This section introduces the concept of learning theories and enables us to understand them more comprehensively. It also offers a representation of the two core values, which are central to the theories.
Purpose of the Study
Here, various learning theories are listed and discussed. In addition, an introduction is made on how they relate and are beneficial to students who are disabled.
- Learning Theories and their Benefits to Disabled Students
Cognitive Dissonance Theory
The section is aimed at introducing the theory of Cognitive Dissonance, as well as expounding on it and explaining how it can be applied in order to be of benefit to students who are disabled all across the world.
This section is an exploration of the Cognitive Development Theory by Jean Piaget. This popular theory seeks to explain how the development of children occurs in sequential stages and how the same varies from one individual to another.
In addition, this section relates Piaget’s theory of Cognitive Development to the learning process among disabled students.
Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Theory
This section explores Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Theory and how it relates to learning process among children. It also seeks to expound on the role that culture plays in the process of learning.
Additionally, it offers explanation as to how the Sociocultural Theory is related to the learning process among disabled students.
Discovery Learning Theory
The above named section seeks to explore the manner in which present society places a high demand and value on people who possess the ability to solve problems. To help in exploring this further is the Discovery Learning Theory. Moreover, the section explains how learners with disabilities may benefit from this theory.
This section explores the innate inquisitive nature of the human being and personality. The Attribution theory helps to explain this as well as offering guidelines on how it can be applied to aid in the reading process of disabled learners.
The above named section comprehensively explores the Constructivist Theory; with emphasis on what it means and how it can be applied for the benefit of learners who have a disability.
This section explains the manner in which every individual controls their behavior and subsequently, controls their learning process as well. This is explored using the Control Theory with the section also discussing how the Control Theory is related to the learning process among disabled students.
Conclusion: This final section of the paper provides a comprehensive summary of the paper while making special mention of the central themes that are evident within all its main sections.
1.1. Disabled Learners
In public schools within the United States, the law provides for the rights of every disabled child to free and high quality education. As with every other child, these disabled children need to be exposed to the numerous opportunities available in order to enable them to acquire a good education, fulfill their potential and be productive contributors in society. The term ‘disabled persons’ is used interchangeably with ‘handicapped people’ and refers to individuals who have one or more of the following characteristics; blind, deaf, physically or mentally impaired. This includes retarded, autistic, and psychotic children. (Farnham-Diggory, 1992, p. 1).
1.2. Learning theories
Learning is described as a process, which brings together emotional, environmental, and cognitive experiences, and influences in order to enhance, acquire and establish changes over an individual’s knowledge, values, skills and worldviews (Murray & Christison, 2010, p. 140). The learning process focuses on that which happens when learning takes place. The aim of the different theories of learning is to explain what happens during the process of learning. According to Harteveld (2011, p. 138), there are two values that are central to these learning theories.
- Providing a framework of concepts and vocabulary to use in interpreting examples of learning, which have been observed.
- Suggesting places where an individual may seek out practical solutions to problems faced.
1.3. Purpose of the Study
In the education sector, there are a number of theories of learning. These include:
- Cognitive Dissonance Theory
- Piaget’s Theory
- Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Theory
- Discovery Learning Theory.
- Attribution Theory.
- Constructivist theory.
- Control Theory among many others.
This paper seeks to pool some of these learning theories together in order to demonstrate the means by which they can be applied in developing reading and other study skills among disabled students. Further, this paper will explore each of these theories in depth, while expounding on the ways through which they can be of benefit to the learning process among disabled students.
2.0 Learning Theories and their Benefits to Disabled Students
2.1 Cognitive Dissonance Theory
According to the Cognitive dissonance theory, every individual tends to seek consistency and order in the midst of his/ her opinions and beliefs; otherwise and collectively referred to as cognitions. There are instances during which there may be an inconsistency between one’s behavior and their attitudes. This is referred to as a dissonance, which the individual is required to eliminate.
In circumstances where the individual experiences a discrepancy between their behavior and attitudes, more often than not, individuals change their attitudes in order to accommodate the behavior. There are three major ways through which to eliminate dissonance. These are:
- By reducing the importance of the dissonance’s belief.
- By adding extra consonance beliefs, which in turn out weigh the dissonance beliefs.
- By altering the dissonance belief and thereby, removing any inconsistencies (Festinger, n.d., p. 27).
Festinger (1957, p. 2) argued that many times, an individual finds himself/ herself doing something that goes against what they know to be right. A good example is a person finds that they enjoy smoking while on the other hand; they believe that smoking is both wrong and harmful to the body. In order to avoid dissonance, this individual may need to adjust their perception toward the act of smoking.
This theory of cognition dissonance is highly applicable among disabled students. Most of these students live and socialize in social set-ups where people do not necessarily believe in their capabilities. Massie observed that in many societies, people who have a disability are often discriminated against and looked upon as being less able to accomplish various duties and responsibilities which are performed by other people (1994, p. 1).
Growing up in such a setting, the disabled child may develop a cognitive dissonance. This would most likely be manifested in the fact that, while they are aware in their minds that they are able to do and learn anything that is done and learnt by other children, society, having and communicating a different opinion; may start to adversely affect the student’s view of himself or herself in relation to his/her environment, their beliefs as well as their conduct. In this case, teachers, fellow students, peers and even parents represent society.
The disabled student finding himself/ herself in a situation like this would apply any of the three approaches put forth by the cognitive dissonance theory in order to eliminate the dissonance.
2.2 Piaget’s theory
Jean Piaget’s work on the cognitive development of children has been of great interest in the field of education. He studied the concept of cognitive development among children, by studying genetic epistemology. Through this, Piaget made an immense contribution to the theories that attempt to explain how cognition is developed.
Piaget believed that the development of children takes place in systematic stages, which facilitate a continuous transformation in the individual’s thought process. It was his view that even though many learning institutions generally classified students into groups based on how old they were; it is possible that their stages of development differ significantly (Ojose, 2008, p. 26).
Further, he put forth the argument that the rate at which children go through the stages differs from one child to another. These differences would be a result of differences in their experiences, cultures, level of maturity and the individual child’s ability.
According to Berk, it was Piaget’s belief that every child experiences gradual and steady growth throughout the different stages (1997). More so, he held that since the experiences from one stage laid the foundation for the next, every child should exhaustively complete one stage before proceeding to the next (Eggen & Kauchak, 2000, p. 81).
This theory is relevant and applicable in the learning process because, teachers who are well versed in the theory are able to implement its concepts as they teach the disabled students in their classrooms. By keeping in mind that the development of children is a continuous process with multiple stages, the teacher is better equipped to be sensitive to the learner’s level of development, in relation to the information that ought to be learnt at that level. Thus, the information that the student is exposed to during the learning process is equivalent to his/her stage of development.
With the application of Piaget’s theory, the teacher does not under any circumstances attempt to shove information down the learner’s throat. If the learner is not at a stage where he/she will understand the content being taught, the teacher retreats and teaches content that the student is better able to keep up with. Thus, all teachers will effectively approach the learning process for disabled students, and indeed that of all learners, as personal and not general. In as much as the learner shall continue to learn corporately within the classroom, the teacher will endeavor to conduct follow-up on individual students. The nature of this follow-up shall be dependent on the student’s capability and the stage at which they are as far as cognitive development is concerned.
On the other hand, a disabled student who has an understanding of Piaget’s theory of cognitive development will approach learning as a personal endeavor as opposed to a corporate one. As a result, this student will not be intimidated or demoralized when he/ she finds himself/ herself in a situation where their peers are grasping concepts faster and possibly, reading better than they are.
With comprehensive information on the stages of cognitive development, the student is then better able to allow the learning process to take its own pace with them as individuals; without feeling the need to push themselves too hard or too fast in an attempt to keep up with other students.
2.3 Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Theory
Vygotsky’s was one of the pioneers among theories that focused on how the cultural and social worlds contribute to the development of intellect. This resulted in the sociocultural approach to the study of the mind: which has had great influence in the development of cognitive theories (Benson & Haith, 2009, p. 120).
The most fundamental concept in Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory is that the mind of human beings is mediated. Thus, in the same way that people use tools and labor to transform their physical world, they also use symbolic signs and tools to mediate and control their relationships: both with themselves and with others. It is by so doing that they are then able to transform the nature of these relationships.
Both physical and symbolic tools are artifacts and have been formed by the cultures of humankind over time. These artifacts are made available to successive generations who modify them before passing them on to future generations and so on (Lantolf, 2004, p. 1). The sociocultural theory posits that the mental and social activities of human beings are organized through some artifacts that have been constructed culturally.
According to Vygotsky, the human mind is “a functional system in which the properties of the natural or biological specified brain, are organized into a higher or culturally shaped mind through the integration of symbolic artifacts, into thinking” (Lantolf, 2004, p. 1-2). The mental capacities that are considered to be of a higher level include:
- intentional memory
- voluntary attention
- logical thought
- problem solving
- Learning the effectiveness of processes.
As far as this theory relates to the learning process among disabled students, students are able to learn better irrespective of their physical or mental status, as long as there is an understanding of their cultural artifacts i.e., how their minds are organized.
Students with disability are able to implement this theory into their process of learning and reading by developing an understanding that their academic performance and overall success are not dependent on their physical condition but on their interaction with their cultural artifacts.
Teachers of the disabled students would be able to apply the arguments put forth by Vygotsy and enable their students to be better learners. Through this process, the students would be better exposed to the cultural artifacts both from their society and from others and as a result, they would be better equipped for a great and more fruitful future.
2.4. Discovery Learning Theory
In the society that we are living today, both in business and personally, people are looking for individuals who provide solutions to problems. These people need to be able to study the business premise, accurately pinpoint the challenge being faced and come up with an effective mechanism to deal with it. As a result, the employment arena has become increasingly competitive.
The methods of teaching which have been in use traditionally are incapable of preparing an individual for this. This is because the learning process is initiated by the teacher and without him/ she, the learning process ceases (Castronova, n.d., p. 2).
The discovery learning theory states that the most appealing and effective form of learning occurs when learners are adequately equipped to discover facts and relationships by themselves, without necessarily relying on their teachers (Bruner, 1979, p. 88). This theory encompasses an instructional model whose focus is on making hands-on, active learning opportunities available to students (Paget, 1954, p. 44).
This discovery learning theory has a number of advantages. These are:
- It encourages active engagement.
- It promotes motivation.
- It promotes responsibility, autonomy and independence.
- It enables the development of problem solving and creativity skills.
- It facilitates a tailored learning experience.
The discovery learning theory posits that learning is an active endeavor, which is process-based. Consequently, failure is a significant part of the learning process (Castronova, n.d., p. 2-3). According to Mosca & Howard, 1997, through this theory, students are active participants in the learning process. They probe their teachers for solutions as opposed to passively waiting for the teacher’s initiative.
Based on its emphasis on a process where students initiate learning, this theory is highly applicable to the learning process among disabled learners.
It is possible for some teachers to be biased against a particular learner due to the student’s impairment. However, by understanding that the student is the most significant person in the learning process and that a teacher does not have to be present for learning to take place, the disabled leaner is empowered to be more active in the process of acquiring knowledge. The disabled student is therefore empowered with the knowledge that with or without the assistance of the teacher, he/she has the ability to acquire knowledge, reading and other skills and as a result, the student relies more on themselves in the learning process. The discovery learning theory effectively motivates the learner and transfers the greater responsibility of learning from the teacher to the learner (Castronova, n.d., p. 6).
2.5. Attribution Theory
Manusov and Spitzberg observed that human beings are by nature, very inquisitive and are continually questioning why and how certain things occur. As a result, humankind is always developing religions, sciences and philosophies in a bid to answer these questions.
This curiosity is the drive that influences every individual’s cultural, personal, interpersonal and societal life in intricate ways. It is on this curiosity and attempt to answer all questions, that the theory of attribution is based. The attribution theory seeks to explain and describe both the mental and communicative processes involved in our day-to-day explanations: most naturally, explanations of social and individual events (Manusov & Spitzberg, 2008, p. 37). This theory posits that the learning process takes place when individuals endeavor to understand the reason behind a certain event or happening.
In applying the attribution theory to the learning process among disabled students, it is important to recognize that most of these students may attribute their failure to meet societal demands and excel academically, to their handicapped situations. The attribution theory argues that every individual’s motivation and behavior are determined by how the individual views and thinks about the world (Webster, p. 85).
External punishments and rewards for behavior therefore have a minimal role in motivation. However, people develop personal and individual plans for regulating their behavior. Thus, there is no need for a disabled student to wait for an external factor to determine whether he/she will indulge in the learning process. This is because, even without the motivators, the disabled student may decide to study more and work harder as a result of their own the intrinsic motivation, which ultimately, is the primary source of motivation.
2.6. Constructivist Theory
The constructivist theory posits that, “Learners construct knowledge for themselves.” (Hein, 1991, p. 1). Thus, every learner individually constructs meaning that is based on his/her learning. The process of constructing meaning therefore constitutes learning. Here, the learning process focuses on the learner being the main agent of the learning process: as opposed to placing more emphasis on the lesson or subject being taught.
Further, the constructivist theory posits that knowledge involves learning about the real world and as a result, the learner should seek to understand the world and organize its contents in the manner that is most rational to them. Hein argued that the only way in which learning can take place effectively, is when the learner has a full understanding of the subject matter, whether or not they were participating in class.
The theory therefore perceives learning as an active process, which requires the learner to use their sensory input in order to construct meaning (Hein, 1991, p. 3).
The constructivist theory has a number of basic concepts. These are:
- Learning is contextual.
- Learning is an active process.
- In learning, the construction of meaning is a mental process.
- Learning involves language.
- Learning is a social activity.
- In order to learn, one needs knowledge.
- Learning takes time.
- Motivation is fundamental in learning (Hein, 1991, p. 3-4).
The constructivism theory is beneficial to disabled students based on its main features. By realizing that the process of learning is an active one whose main objective is the construction of meaning, he/she then seeks to effectively apply their mental faculties to finding meaning in what they read; rather than just reading and memorizing the information.
Understanding that learning is a social activity also motivates the disabled learner to engage in relational activities and as a result, the learning process is facilitated further. Additionally, the learner is able to be more patient with him/ herself as they understand through the constructivism theory, that the learning process takes time.
2.7. Control Theory
William Glasser put forward the control theory in 1986. In this theory, he argued that the behavior of an individual is not a response to external stimuli but rather, is inspired by that which the individual wants at any given time. These wants may be love, survival, freedom, power or any other need that humanity seeks to fulfill.
Glasser therefore posited that human beings control their behavior by maximizing the satisfaction of their needs (Leigh & IET, 2004, p. 4). For instance, if a learner is not motivated to complete his/ her schoolwork, it is because they do not perceive the work as being relevant or as a need at that particular time. Thus, one is able to control their own behavior, physiology and feelings through the way that they choose to think and act (Holt, et al., 2005, p. 102-103).
In relation to the learning process, the control theory places emphasis on internal motivation as opposed to that of an external nature. Thus, a disabled student may decide to apply internal motivation in reading and in the learning process in spite of the possible presence of external factors of a demoralizing nature. Even though the physical or mental impairment may present itself as a demoralizing factor, the learner may decide to employ the control theory and determine the course of his/ her own learning himself, regardless of the external factors.
By applying this theory, the learner steers his own learning and as a result, the process of reading and acquiring knowledge stays on the right course.
There are a number of learning theories among which are: The Cognitive Dissonance Theory, Piaget’s theory, Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Theory, The Discovery Learning Theory, The Attribution Theory, The Constructivist theory, and The Control Theory.
While some of these theories facilitate the learning process, others explain why it takes place the way it does. While some of these learning theories emphasize the learners’ role as the primary factor in the learning process and seek to give them the central role, others place emphasis on the need for both internal and external motivation.
However, if applied, each of these theories can contribute significantly to the learning process. The disabled students would be able to derive knowledge from them and determine their own unique role in the process of learning.
Benson, J & Haith, M. (2009). Social and Emotional Development in Infancy and Early Childhood. New York, NY: Academic Press.
Berk, L. E. (1997). Child development (4th ed.). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.