The word pedagogy may be loosely defined as an approach to teaching or instruction. It may also be thought as the theoretical underpinning of the practice of teaching. The Greek origin of this word may be translated as "to lead the child". There are four broad pedagogies that are used in instruction (for a general discussion of some of these pedagogies, see Ertmer and Newby, 1993):

Behaviourism (Duit and Treagust, 1998)

This pedagogy is based on the idea that learning is a behaviour that has to be acquired. Learning, in one sense, is instinctive. Our brains are hard wired to learn - acquire, process, assimilate, recall and apply information. At a fundamental level, behaviourists view learning as a stimulus-response conditioning. In other words, the behaviour of a learner is modified or affected by learning. This is referred to as conditioning. Educationalists have defined two types of conditioning behaviour: classical (where the learner's response is a reflex to a stimulus) and operant (where learning behaviour is modified and reinforced by a system of reward and punishment).

John Watson, a leading thinker in the field of behaviourism and education said "Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I'll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select -- doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors."

Cognitivism (Haugelanci, 1978)

This pedagogy focuses on the mechanics of learning. Learning is the process of absorbing, assimilating, processing and recalling information. Other aspects include reflection, creation, innovation and evaluation. Cognitivistic approaches seek to strengthen and enhance the development of these skills (or intelligences) in the learner. It emphasises verbal/linguistic and logical/mathematical intelligences. The development of these skills is then scaffolded in the learning environments at schools and at home. Instructors develop suitable learning activities that enhance such development. There is a heavy emphasis on the development of mental structures which allow learners to organise their learning processes into tangible patterns.

Humanism (DeCarvalgo, 1991)

Humanism considers education within the context of the individual learner. The learner brings a certain degree of purpose, values, meaning and motivation (among others) to his/her education. These traits are not necessarily the reaction to the learning processes (aka operant conditioning in behaviouristic pedagogy), but may be 'inherent' in the learner. They do, however, modulate the learning experience. The goal of humanistic pedagogy is to promote self-directed learning, divergent thinking (creativity and innovation) and to provide an emotional injection into the learning process.

Constructivism (Cunningham and Duffy, 1996; Glasersfeld, 1995)

Constructivism proposes that learning occurs mainly through the construction of mental model learners. All learning occurs fundamentally at the mental level and successful learners usually form robust mental models of ideas and concepts that they rely on to investigate the world around us. It is a particularly powerful approach for teaching abstract concepts. The ability to form those mental models depends primarily on pre-existing ideas in the learners' minds, and on their ability to form tangle relationships between new information and past experiences. In contemporary education circles, constructivism is often used in science instruction.


Cunningham, D., & Duffy, T. (1996). Constructivism: Implications for the design and delivery of instruction. Handbook of research for educational communications and technology, 170-198.

DeCarvalho, R. (1991). The humanistic paradigm in education. The Humanistic Psychologist, 19(1), 88-104.

Duit, R., & Treagust, D. F. (1998). 1.1 Learning in Science-From Behaviourism Towards Social Constructivism and Beyond.

Ertmer, P.A. and Newby, T.J. (1993).Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism: Comparing Critical Features from an Instructional Design Perspective.Performance Improvement Quarterly, 6, 50–72

Glasersfeld, E. V. (1995). Radical constructivism: A way of knowing and learning.

Haugelanci, J. (1978). The nature and plausibility of cognitivism. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1, 239-240

Sham Nair 2014