Theories of Human Development and Learning

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Theories of Human Development

   There are many different Theories of human development. Each theory provides a framework of general principles that can be used to interpret our observations. George Boeree (1997, p.1) states ‘theory is a model of reality that helps us to understand, explain, predict and control that reality’. The interpretation of human development theories varies from different prospectives, but they all attempt to provide a basic understanding of individual development and behavior. These theories are loosely grouped together in four main categories, Psychoanalytical (social and personality theories), Cognitive (the mind and its importance), Behavioural (external factors) and Humanistic (Individual potential) concepts. All of the theories have their own strengths and weakness, along with their own possible application. Each suggests instructional and guidance processes most apt to enhance the way they go through dramatic changes on the way from baby to adulthood. Comparisons, contrasts, and criticisms are expressed on models established by notables as Piaget, Erickson, Bruner, Maslow, Freud and Rogers. When taken as a body of knowledge, each model affords a part of the entire panorama of human development and addresses the vast impact it has on the behavior and development of the individual.

Sigmund Freud (1856 -1939), the fore father of classical psychoanalytical theory, emphasizes that our actions are the results of ideas that arise in our unconscious level of awareness. Freud proposed that essential childhood development needed three stages to complete which are characterized by sexual interest and pleasure on particular parts of the body. Berger (1998, p32) states ‘in infancy, it is the mouth (the oral stage), early childhood it is the anus (anal stage), and in the preschool years it is the genitalia (the phallic stage)’. Freud claimed that the satisfaction associated with the three stages is essential in major development of the human identity.

Erik H. Erikson’s neo – psychoanalytical theory is based on eight stages of development, called “the psychosocial stages”. Wu (2005, p.1) states ‘each stage is characterised by a different psychological crisis, which must be resolved by the individual before the individual can move on to the next stage’. Stages start with birth and continue up until the time of death. The psychological crisis that affects development include, trust Vs mistrust, Autonomy Vs Doubt,  Initiative Vs Guilt, Competency Vs  Inferiority, Identity Vs Role Confusion,  Intimacy Vs Isolation, Generativity Vs Stagnation and  Integrity Vs Despair Important. (Boeree 1997, p.34).


Behavioural theorists are also known as Learning theorists, there main beliefs lies in behaviour that can be measured or observed. They are especially interested in why certain behaviours exist, and the events or catalyst that produced such behaviour in the first place. There is an emphasis on ‘conditioning’ behaviour, and a belief there is an association between a stimulus and certain responses, like sympathy morning sickness or headaches. Operant conditioning is where a person learns that a type of behaviour produces particular consequences, if the consequence is desired; the behaviour is often repeated like the reward-punishment system. Behavioural modeling ideals that we learn to behave in a certain fashion by patterning our own behaviour on what we observe others to be doing.

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Ivan Pavlov, B. F. Skinner and Albert Bandura provide a basic framework for behaviourist models. With this view all development is a process of learning. Ideas that behavioural reactions are the results of stimuli, namely events or experiences. It should be noted that some responses are automatic like blinking to bright light and salivation when smelling food. There is the notion that any behaviour that seems to be deeply rooted or inborn may be results of unconscious learning (Berger 1998, p36)

Jean Piaget (1898 – 1980), was considered a major pioneer in cognitive theory. With the understanding ...

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