Learning Theories I Didn’t Realise I Was Using

Isn’t it interesting how when you purchase a new car, you suddenly see it everywhere? Or your friend names her child a name you have never heard before and soon after you find yourself meeting five more children with the same name? Similar has been my journey in exploring my Professional Identity and learning theories so far this term. I have found myself thinking to myself while doing my readings and research “wow, I do that in my classroom! Sort of…” but I had not known that there was a word or specific description for it. Taking part in online discussion boards within the Community of Practice formed by our class, has led me to believe that many of us feel this way (Wenger, 2015).

As explained by Atherton (2013) Antonio Gramisci called this the Organic Intellectual because they are lacking in the formal education that allows them to identify what they know. My first blog post will explore the start of my journey from Organic Intellectual to Traditional Intellectual (Gramisci, 1971). Being able to read and learn about these learning theories and putting words to what I already knew to some extent has allowed me to explore them with more depth of understanding and to thus apply them better.Knowing

Figure 1. Knowing and not knowing (Atherton, 2013)

Behaviourism and Operant Conditioning:

Almost everything in our daily lives is influenced by Operant Conditioning (Andover, 2013). This is a theory developed on Behaviourism by the works of B.F. Skinner, which is explained as a voluntary action that is proceeded by a reinforcing incentive. These reinforcing stimuli can be either positive (children receiving extra dessert for achieving good grades) or negative (a teenager cleaning their room to stop their mother’s nagging) (David, 2015).

How I use it:

This learning theory lends itself extremely well into my classroom. The reason for this is that my classroom is not a classroom at all really. At least not in the traditional sense. My teaching of Food and Beverage Operations Management is completely behaviour based. Both positive and negative reinforcement techniques are used quite effectively. Students are enrolled in this subject to allow them to learn and apply skills before heading out into the industry. Not only are they here to learn practical skills such as carrying plates and setting a table, but also soft skills such as upselling and complaint handling. These soft skills can be more difficult to reinforce and so they are incentivised to encourage the students to practice them. For example, vegetarian and seafood dishes tend to not be as popular or easy to sell in our restaurant, and so occasionally, the student who sells the most of these types of dishes will receive a reward.

I came across this demonstration of Operant Conditioning from ‘The Big Bang Theory’ that explores positive reinforcement:


Bloom’s Taxonomy

 As discussed by Shabatura (2013) Bloom’s taxonomy is an effective tool that can be implemented in course design. The beauty in it is its logic and simplicity. In order to understand a concept, you must remember and in order to apply it you must understand it. Logically, it works, and knowing more about it allows us to implement more fully.


Figure 2. Using Bloom’s Taxonomy (Shabatura, 2013)

How I use it:

 I definitely do not attribute myself to being an expert demonstrator of Bloom’s Taxonomy, however when reading about it, I found the concept to be incredibly familiar. This is a fundamental part of what we teach at the Blue Mountains International Hotel Management School and forms the basis for our program.

Remember– Students of BMIHMS are put through a series of lectures that are theory based. Here they are expected to gain the theoretical background to what they will later be applying in a practical environment.

Understand– Students are then able to attend practical workshops to reconcile knowledge gained in their lecture with the physical environment.

Apply– Practical shifts are given to the students where they will work in a range of food outlets and demonstrate competence in a number of different service styles.

Analyse– Students learn what is possible and acceptable in the different outlets they have been working in.

Evaluate– Going on placement, students are now thrown into an unfamiliar environment that will most likely have slightly (sometimes drastically) different guidelines to the school’s practical environment.

Create– On their return from their placement, the now second year students may be given a role as a Mentoring Scholarship Student where they are required to use all of their prior knowledge to facilitate the learning of new students, where they once were.

Transformative Learning

Transformative Learning is a theory that is based around the workings of Jack Mezirow in that he believes it is is the result of a major crisis or life change. It is important to understand that a large part of Transformative Learning is for individuals to change perspective by reflecting critically on their assumptions, and using this to implement change (Mezirow, 1997).

Transformative learning

Figure 3.  Transformative Learning (O’Gorman 2015)

How I Use It:

Well, I don’t. Not yet, but I can definitely relate this to my many of students’ experience in coming to BMIHMS. Most of our students are international, meaning that just the act of coming to Australia to study would serve as their Disorienting Dilemma (Mezirow, 1997). Once they have arrived, they must set aside a lot of social, cultural and professional norms in order to achieve the learning outcomes. We as instructors must also set aside our assumptions to allow an effective learning environment. For example, teaching a student to set a table might seem like a simple task. You would begin by instructing the student to retrieve and place the entrée fork. In this is the assumption that the student knows what an entrée is and what fork is associated with it. A more serious example would be a student of the Muslim faith learning to open and serve wine. This could be considered a Dissorienting Dilema (Mezirow, 1997). As discussed by Christie, Carey, Robertson and Grainger (2015), Mezirow’s theory is focused on the transformation of an individual, however in the context of an international boarding school environment, each individual may begin with a similar challenge.


Further Exploration:

I have only touched the tip of the iceberg so far, but being able to relate these theories to my current knowledge and application has made me want to explore these theories further in order to become a better teacher. Hayes’ (2014) theory of Heutagogy is something that since becoming aware of it, I have made a conscious effort to implement more self-determined learning and innovative teaching where I can. I feel as though I am that much closer to solidifying my professional identity.



Atherton, J. S. (2013) Doceo; Knowing and not knowing [On-line: UK]           from http://www.doceo.co.uk/tools/knowing.htm

Burke, B. (1999, 2005) Antonio Gramsci, Schooling and Education. The encyclopedia of       informal education, Retrieved from http://www.infed.org/thinkers/et-gram.htm.

Christie, M., Carey, M., Robertson, A. & Grainger, P. (2015). Putting transformative   learning   theory into practice. Australian Journal of Adult Learning 55 (1), pp.10-30.

David, L. (June 2015) Classical and Operant Conditioning (Skinner) in Learning Theories.   Retrieved from https://www.learning-theories.com/operant-conditioning-skinner.html.

Gramsci, A. (1971). Selections from the Prison Notebooks. London: Lawrence and Wishart.

Hase, S. (2014, June). Heutagogy. [Video file]. Retrieved   from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uk5RYsZxwOM

Mezirow, J. (1997, June) Transformative Learning: Theory to Practice

O’Gorman B. (2015, September) Transformative Learning. Retrieved   from https://www.slideshare.net/besavoy123/transformative-learning-52950963

Shabatura, J. (2013, September) Using Bloom’s Taxonomy. Retrieved   from http://tips.uark.edu/using-blooms-taxonomy/

TeachingBizVids. (2012, Otober) Big Bang Theory-Operant Conditioning [Video file].   Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mt4N9GSBoMI

Wenger, E., & Traynor, B. (2015). Introduction to Communities of   Practice.Retri http://wenger-trayner.com/introduction-to-communities-of-practice/

















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