The Educational Theory of
This article, in a new and expanded form organized
for practical relevance
Based on writings by and about Jerome Bruner, answers have been constructed, with extensive endnotes and references, to the following questions in eight general areas:
I. Theory of Value: What knowledge and skills are worthwhile learning? What are the goals of education?
II. Theory of Knowledge: What is knowledge? How is it different from belief? What is a mistake? A lie?
III. Theory of Human Nature: What is a human being? How does it differ from other species? What are the limits of human potential?
IV. Theory of Learning: What is learning? How are skills and knowledge acquired?
V. Theory of Transmission: Who is to teach? By what methods? What will the curriculum be?
VI. Theory of Society: What is society? What institutions are involved in the educational process?
VII. Theory of Opportunity: Who is to be educated? Who is to be schooled?
VIII. Theory of Consensus: Why do people disagree? How is consensus achieved? Whose opinion takes precedence?
Jerome Bruner's Educational Theory
1. Theory of Value: What knowledge and skills are worthwhile learning? What are the goals of education?In order to keep pace with the ever increasing changes of technology, education should focus on the basic skills that will be needed to manage this technology (B, p. 136) These skills should continuously be updated as technology grows more complex. Skills in handling, seeing and imaging and symbolic operations(especially as they relate to technology) are also worthwhile learning. In addition, skills that incorporate necessary tools, such as language are also very important (13, p. 132). The goals of education, according to Bruner, are to free society and assist students in developing their full potential (Bruner, p. 129). To instruct students in how to use the tools, especially language, (which encodes reality by using grammar and vocabulary) instruments and technologies at their disposal to amplify and express their own powers. In this way, we increase our knowledge and our capacity to learn (B, p. 132). An additional goal of education should be for the student to experience cognitive and intellectual mastery. This was found to be very rewarding to students according to pedagogical experiments. Students realize that, as they learn, they are able to access information that they were previously unable to utilize. This reward and excitement perpetuates the student to learn even more. Educators should assist with this (B, p. 135).
2. Theory of Knowledge: What is knowledge? How is it different from belief? What is a mistake? What is a lie?What is knowledge? Knowledge is not simply thinking and the result of intellectual activity and experience, it is the "internalizing of tools that are used within the child's culture" (GB, p. 109). It is characterized by the development of language to convey, in words or symbols, what is felt and known. Language is key to knowledge, it is the primary way that concepts can be taught and questioned. It is also the increasing ability to deal with a variety of activities simultaneously and sequentially (GB, p. I 10). How is knowledge different from belief?. I believe that Bruner would not see much difference between knowledge and belief. He felt that students learn best when their instructor leads them to discovering information on their own. As this is done, knowledge would first occur as a belief, that would later be validated by the instructor. What is a mistake? Because Bruner believes discovery learning, there is, inherently, a trial and error process that the child must go through. Mistakes are therefore simply alternative mental processes and a necessary part of learning. What is a lie? A lie, to Bruner, is anything that takes away from discovery learning, that does not capitalize on young learners who have the ability to learn anything and that does not utilize the technology and tools of our society.
3. Theory of Human Nature: What is a human being? How does it differ from other species? What are the limits of human potential?What is a human being? A human being is one that has the ability to learn and grow. How do human beings differ from other species? Human beings differ from other species because the have the above capabilities. They are able to learn, grow, instruct, write, dance and be free. What are the limits of human potential? There are no limits to human potential. Anything can be taught to anyone at any age, the important factor is how it is taught. No matter the age, or stage of development as Piaget believed, there is an appropriate version that corresponds to that age-even if it is preparatory (B, p. 139).
4. Theory of Learning: What is learning? How are skills and knowledge acquired?What is learning? Learning is an active, social process in which students construct new ideas or concepts based on their current knowledge. The student selects the information, forms hypothesis and then integrates this new material into their own existing knowledge and mental constructs (DJB, p.2). This is a continual process. Learning occurs in three stages: Enactive- in which children need to experience the concrete (manipulating objects in their hands, touching a real dog) in order to understand. Iconic-students are able to represent materials graphically or mentally (they can do basic addition problems in their heads) (M, p.215). Symbolic- students are able to use logic, higher order thinking skills and symbol systems (formulas, such as f--ma and understand statements like "too many cooks spoil the broth") (GB, p. 111).
How are skills and knowledge acquired? These things are not acquired gradually, but more in a staircase pattern which consists of spurts and rests. Spurts are caused by certain concepts "clicking", being understood. These "clicks" have to be mastered before others are acquired, before there is movement to the next step. These steps are not linked to age but more toward environment. Environments can slow down the sequence or speed it up (B, p. 133). Bruner felt that knowledge was best acquired when students were allowed to discover it on their own (Mi, p.464).
5. Theory of Transmission: Who is to teach? By what methods? What will the curriculum be?Who is to teach? Everyone has something to teach. Many skills are taught to students through subtle interaction between their parents and members of their culture and society. When greater demands for knowledge are placed on the child, teachers in school are relied on for more formal education. He saw instructors as human events, not as transmission devices (Mi, p. 466) Our educational system can be seen as the sole agent of evolution, it is the sole means of providing instruction for our constantly changing society (B, p. 132). By what methods should we teach? During this time period, Piaget believed that children were only able to accept information at specific levels of development and at no time before. Bruner disagreed with this viewpoint explaining that, if materials are presented in an appropriate manner, they can be taught at any age. He believed that readiness was something that should be taught while providing opportunities for learning, not waited for (B, p. 135).
Discovery learning is most important. Interaction between students and their instructors was necessary (GB, p. 109). What will the curriculum be? "A curriculum should involve the mastery of skills that in turn lead to the mastery of still powerful ones" (B, p. 139). Bruner believed that curriculum should be organized in a spiral manner, each new concept building on what was previously learned (JB, p. 1). Mathematics is very important because it is one of the few disciplines, along with poetry, that is able to withstand change. These things, at their foundation, have remained relatively the same for centuries, while the rest of our world has grown and changed. Courses in visual design were also important to give teachers, as well as students, fresh viewpoints and new ways to analyze their environments (13, p. 13 8). There should be more emphasis on social and behavioral sciences rather than history. He felt that it was better for students to learn about what was possible and ahead of them, than to dwell on what had already been achieved. ffistory only serves to develop stylestyles of writing, dance, etc (B, p. 139).
6. Theory of Society: What is society? What institutions are involved in the educational process?What is society? Society is the cultural group that humans depend on for survival This cultural group provides a pool of resources which are socially inherited and acquired (BAH, p. 3). Bruner believed that there was no such thing as human nature independent of culture. Culture is the great molder of thinking, each culture enables individuals to make sense o and Prosper according to their culture (GB, p. I 11).
7. Theory of Opportunity: Who is to be educated? Who is to be schooled?Everyone has the potential to acquire knowledge, the key lies in the instruction.
8. Theory of Consensus: Why do people disagree? How is consensus achieved? Whose opinion takes precedence?Why do people disagree? People disagree when their ideas are not in alignment with each other. When learning is in a discovery format, their may very well be times when there is disagreement, different people will see the same situation differently, however, it is then up to the instructor to guide students to the desired outcome. How is consensus obtained? Consensus is obtained when there is agreement from everyone about what a concept is. Whose opinion takes precedence? Every opinion is important and offers perspective into the issue, however, the instructor, or the more learned person's opinion would have a slight precedence over the others.
CitationsB- Bruner, Jerome. “Education as Social Invention”. Journal of Social Issues, 1983, v39, pp.129-141.
BAH- “Bruner and Hybridity”. HYPERLINK http://lchc.ucsd.edu/people/mcole/brunerapa.html http://lchc.ucsd.edu/people/mcole/brunerapa.html, pp.1-4.
DJB- “Dr. Jerome Bruner-old and new lessons”. HYPERLINK http://oaks.nvg.org/wmlra2.html http://oaks.nvg.org/wmlra2.html, pp.1-6.
GB- Berliner, David, Gage, N.L., Educational Psychology, 6th edition. Boston, New York:Houghton Mufflin Company, 1998.
JB- “Jerome Bruner”. HYPERLINK http://userwww.sfsu.edu/~ching/personal/learning/theorists/… http://userwww.sfsu.edu/~ching/personal/learning/theorists/…, pp.1-3.
M- Muir, Sharon, “Time Concepts for Elementary School Children”, Social Education, 1990, v54, p.215.
Mi- Milner, Joseph, “Suppositional Style and Teacher Evaluation”. Phi Delta Kappan, 1991, v72, pp.464-67.