Educational theories are essential guidelines that entails enhancement of educational means of teaching. The sides of education are important as well since this is one of the primary building blocks in the society. Education is viewed as an intrinsic need by every individual, institution and country. The conditions of educational theories vary and it evolves the same way the world grows. It follows the trails of man’s civilization from the streets of Aristotle, the classrooms of Scholasticisms up to our current teaching universities. Various theories of education revolves in these events thus, tackling these principle proves to be essential.
Synthesis of Theories that have influenced 21st century Curriculum

Formulation of theoretical framework for a curriculum planning

Through out history, education has developed little by little in a systematic and chronological way matching the needs and evolution of man’s society. In the past, education theories are already evident especially in the classes of Aristotle, Plato and Socrates (the famous Greek philosophers). These people utilize various styles of educating their students and guided by early theories of education. However, time is not stagnant and it continues to flow, and part of it is man’s society.

The dynamic civilization of human kind of varying cultures, have influenced the development and evolution of these theories as well. The Aristotelian mode of concept has been modified during the renaissance period by the scholastics and, the Platonian principles are adapted by various scholars. This situation has led to further development of education systems as well as principles until its development reach the current state, which is the 21st century.

In the current civilization of man, education has been regarded as the utmost treasure that everybody needs to possess.  The theories of education principles have been integrated and modified in order for these theories to adapt in the current situations. These theories are well utilized by various educational systems in order to maintain standard education criteria.

Some of the classical theories are also maintained in order to support and stand basis for the current theories established. However, problems and sometimes inconsistencies occur along with this these theories since, the body and context of these principles are still considered theories and not facts. It is part of the molding and dynamic process involved in this theory.

As we go through the discussion of these theories, we shall employ analysis, interpretation as well as implementation of the theories concerned. The theories are not meant to act as the imposed rule of teaching but rather evident guidelines in order to establish appropriate teaching approach. The paper shall limit its study in the following question.

What are the educational theories present in the 21st century? Discuss all the educational theories that have influenced 21-century curriculum.
How does each theory influences the 21st century curriculum? Synthesizes all the theories by showing the commonalities and differences in all the educational theories and formulate a theoretical framework that can be used for a curriculum planning. Lastly, explain the benefits of this framework in the 21st century curriculum.
The research paper shall focus in these queries alone since the main objective is also the presentation of these educational theories that have influenced 21st century.

Main Educational Theories of 21st Century

All people require variety of learning needs, which is a desire or a requirement to know something that is presently unknown to the learner. These needs include new intellectual knowledge but also include physical, cultural, social and spiritual form of knowledge. Kozier (2004) defines learning as,

Learning is a change in human disposition or capability that persists and that cannot be solely accounted for by growth. Learning is represented by a change in behavior and the important aspect for a person to learn is the individual’s desire to learn and to act on the learning.

This connotes that learning is not only obtained by mental capacity of a person but it goes on all perspective angles of the individual’s characteristics. Moreover, compliance to such educational modes are not enough, acting is another factor to be considered.

There are various theories proposed that traces how and why people should learn and be educated. These theories have served as guideline protocols in order to establish educational approaches, learning interventions and curriculum formulation for educational institutions. These theories have originated even from the past and are now being used in order to enhance teaching and learning processes. The modification of these theories has occurred due to the evolution of man’s technology and growth of civilization.


This theory was originally promulgated by Edward Thorndike, whose primary contribution is the teaching based on behavioral manifestations of the individual. Behaviorism deals with learning and it acknowledges this subject as a factor that affects personality of a person. The theory includes analysis of the person’s personality as a whole and characteristics, and uses this to formulate strategies of teaching and education (Weiner, 2003 p.135).

Behaviorism takes into account the environment of the individual, not only physical but as a whole itself. The theories views environment as an extremely essential influence in the development of learning. However, ironically, behaviorists are not concerned in mental processes since they rely mostly on those objective data that are observed and rationalized by human capacity.

B.F Skinner, another important persona in behaviorist theory, considers “emotions” as fictitious product of behavior that can be assess through stimuli-response mechanism (Fogiel, 1999 p.501). The main emphasis of this theory is the behavior of a person that primarily promotes the learning.

Arising now is John Watson, another important persona in the field of behaviorism, who started the use of behavioral conditioning. Watson has utilized animal specimens such as rats, pigeons, dogs and cats in order to test behavior functioning. During the procedures, Watson has discovered that these animals are capable of learning-behavior principles (Weiner, 2003 p.135-136). The utilization of behavior as a means of pattern in order to formulate the right educational approach is the primary principle of the theory.

According to Gordon (2003) in her book, Beginnings & Beyond: Foundations in Early Childhood Education, learning occurs when an organism interacts with the environment, and through experience, behavior is modified or changed. In the behaviorist’s eyes, three types of learning occur:

1.      Classical Conditioning

2.      Operant Conditioning

3.      Observational learning or modeling

The first two categories are based on the idea that learning is mostly the development of habit. The continuous and frequent routine that an individual confers with induces the habits that in turn produce behavioral modifications. The third is actually based on social approach, such as family social conditions, peer socializations, etc. Guided by these three principles, education systems employ rewards and consequences as the primary molding characteristics of educational approaches.

In application of such theory, we can see this being done in a simple standard educational system known as grading. In such case, the instructor assesses an individual’s performance based on criteria imposed by the institution. The grading system indicates how well the student performs during the span of an activity or the entire education program it self. The instructor provides high grade is the performance of the student is well conforming and appropriate to the instruction given. This type of rewarding reinforces the individual to again strive and initiate efforts in order to attain the said mark. However, if the student fails to comply in the standard imposed by the instructor, the student now gets a low or failing grade. This is a form of negative reinforcement in the part of the student. The response of the student, however, should be the same, which is to study harder and try to comply the next time.

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However, there are cases wherein this kind of negative reinforcement, based on the example, triggers negative action. Instead of the attitude of perseverance, the mindset of depression and intimidation settles in. The education approach should consider this type of response among varying students.


The theory of humanism utilizes the belief that human cognitive function and learning are not driven by information processing theory, nor by the enhancement of schemas through the creation of new knowledge structures nor by conditional responses to various stimuli. Rather, human thinking and learning are driven by the growth of the self as a whole, mature and complete human being, who has a strong character and an ability to make decisions that positively influence others (Keating, 2003 p.53).

The humanistic theory centers on both cognitive and affective angle of a person. The main contributors of this theory are Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers who have introduced essential humanistic theories that is used up until today in almost every aspect (Kozier, 2004 p.448).

Hierarchy of Needs. Abraham Maslow has formulated the triangular model of levels of man’s need according to priorities. The base part of this triangle portrays the basic level, thus considers as the most essential needs of man. The physiologic needs comprise of food, shelter, clothing, water and the physical requirements in order to live and maintain body homeostasis. The next level involves the level of safety needs, which includes protection, security, order, law, limits and stability that are part of the community. Love and belongingness is the next level after the latter – family, relationships, commitments, attachments, peers, social circles- that provide the emotional, cognitive and social stability of an individual. Self-esteem follows and this level portrays the needs of self-gratification as resulted by achievements, status, responsibilities and good reputation. Lastly, the self-actualization pertains to the personal growth and fulfillment of a person (Chapman, 2001).

Student-Learning Approach. The theory of Carl Rogers regarding the student focused learning has a great impact in the teaching strategies at various curriculums in our current generation. The primary focus of this concept is the student body itself wherein the needs of the students are prioritized above all. This theory suggests that learning is achieved is the students are the ones being targeted as the main recipient in all educational programs implemented by the educational bodies, such as administrators, instructors and etc. The design of teaching curriculum, syllabus, course description and learning approaches are needed to be in favor of the students and not the administrative body.

In this theory, a goal of educational approach is being set, the stand or the set function of the teacher is being identified, students are being reinforced positively, learning assessment is being done and lastly, student participation is greatly encouraged (Burnard 2002, p.72). Unlike in the classical way of teaching wherein the instructor is the one who directs everything to the students more like “robot teaching”, participation and interaction in this principle does not only come from the teachers but from the student as well. It encourages collaboration between the two sides in order to achieve maximal learning.

Humanism focuses on the internal aspect of an individual as persons and not as sole information bank. This theory takes into consideration the emotions and attitudes of learners, the importance of the individual in identifying learning needs and taking the responsibility over these learning tasks.

Humanism also motivates the student to act as part of the learning process, encouraging independence as well as self-reliance. This greatly negates the concept of education spoon-feeding approach since the students, even if the theory is student-centered, still this does not conclude that sole information are given directly to them by the teachers. Building up educational independence and education responsibility are the primary goals of this theory.


Learning in this theory principle gives more emphasis on the learning process itself than any other means. Organization of the learning approach and modified mental representations are the key in this type of learning process. According to the book of Uden and Beaumont (2006) entitled Technology and Problem-based Learning,

Cognitive learning is equated with discrete changes between states of knowledge rather than with changed in the probability of response. In cognitive learning, the issues of how information is received, organized, stored and retrieved by the mind is important. Learning is concerned not so much with what learners do, but what they know and how they came to acquire that knowledge (p.6).

In this theory, the main emphasis is the process itself and not the outcome. From the point of information delivery up to the cognitive reception of this information, the learning is assessed. If learning is achieved then it only means that the process is appropriate, however, if otherwise occurs, then it means the education approach needs to be re-evaluated.

This type of theory has been utilized in various forms of institutional approach such as in the process of health teaching. One example is when the health care provider utilizes a health care plan accompanied by teaching plan. Part of this systematic education approach is the re-evaluation of plan until the set goal is met. The focus mainly is not on the response but the means of teaching or the cognitive approach.

The major contributors of this theory are jean Piaget, K.Lewin and B.Bloom. The cognitive theory by Jean Piaget, sensorimotor stage, pre-operational stage, operational stage and formal operations, gave patterns of educational development according to age development from infant to adulthood (Kozier 2004, p.448).

Lewin states that learning involves four different types of learning particularly, cognitive structure, change in motivation, change in one’s sense of belonging to a social circle, and gain control over one’s self. Lewin has focused on changes, and this led in the discovery of the theory of changes that contributes greatly in Cognitivism. The three basic stages involve are unfreezing, moving and refreezing (Ziegler, 2005 p.211).

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Lastly, Bloom has identified three domains of learning particularly the cognitive, affective and psychomotor. Each category pertains to different learning specifications that guide the whole planning of educational approach. Cognitive domain talks about the intellectual, concept, principles and theoretical knowledge incorporated in the plan of teaching. Affective domain pertains to the emotional side, affect and mood, attitude and the totality of values that is incorporated in the teaching plan. Lastly, the psychomotor theory, which emphasizes on the physical, developmental and skill enhancement incorporated as well in the teaching approach (McDonald 2002, p.34).

These theories are the molding clays of the cognitivism thus, considered as the framework of the said theory. Cognitive theory has its primary attributes that also recognizes the developmental levels of learners and acknowledgements of learner’s motivation and environment (Kozier, 2004 p.449).

Other Theories that Influences Educational Curriculum

Other than the three framework of today’s educational curriculum, there are still contributing theories that needs to be taken into account especially if pertaining about aspect of educational systems. These theories have been formulated recently but have gain influence in the education curriculum already.


The emphasis of the theory is more inclined in the philosophical and logical analysis of student’s origin and environmental contributors. The theory is primary based on idealism as well as realism in terms of philosophical perspective. It states that learning is universal and uniform for every individual that desires to learn. Education is regarded as essential truth and a preparation for life. Fundamentals are encouraged more than the complexities of the concepts since; these basics are regarded as the finest knowledge (Segall & Wilson, 2004 p.156).


The theory characteristics talk about its radical disposition and views education as a vehicle for influencing fundamental social change, especially in the realm of socio-political, economic and cultural organization. For Reconstructionists, progressive education is too slow or too “soft” ever to lead to change in the existing social order. It suggests that major constructive deliberations and even revolutionary actions are needed in order to solve such issue (Gwelle & Uys, 2005 p.8).


The theory of essentialism focuses more on the intrinsic nature of an individual as well as the classical educational principles. The theory suggests that the educational systems should maintain appropriate mental discipline among the students. Essentialists believe that educational process relies on the teacher itself rather than the student (Lantolf, 2000p.237).


This theory takes into account that education itself is not a means to earn living but rather a lifestyle to live on. It focuses more on the value-principle aspect in terms of education. Learning is achieved as the student becomes interested in the subject matter and the teacher’s role is not to give sole instructions but to propose advice that facilitates learning. Competition is disregarded and educational cooperation is encouraged since, this theory aims to enhance the free expression of ideas, thoughts and personalities of the students in order to enhance and promote learning (Griffin & Nasta 2000 p.31).

Comparisons Educational Theories

As implicated in this study the educational theories still proposes similarities and differences, which is common since these theorists have various perspectives that influence their view in terms of education systems. The similarities as well as differences greatly centers in the focus of educational system. Each theory suggests the main contributor of educational intervention. However, the learning principle and guidelines are almost similar with all the theories. The detailed differences are specifically indicated in the above analysis of these theories.

However, looking at the broad angles, we can see the similarities that group these theories and the differences that negate the proposed concepts of these educational principles. Behaviorists, humanists and essentialists are mainly student-centered than education systems. They emphasize on the intrinsic and outward response of the individual itself and patterned their theories in the individual’s characteristics as well as output from the stimuli.

On the other hand, cognitivism, perennialism, reconstructionalists and progressivism connotes the educational process and the environmental contributing factors that surround the client, such as instructors, educational support systems, etc. They believe that the primary influence in the educational development of the student lies on the external etiologies rather than the internal, where in the latter groups are more favorable.

Theoretical Framework

The formulation of this theoretical framework takes into account the theories discussed in the above portion of this paper. Such theories are all synthesized based on their important points in order to come up in an enhanced educational principle. As per analysis of various points involved in these theories, we have come up in an educational approach that is applicable for educational curriculum.

The focus of behaviorism, particularly the behavior of the person itself, can be utilized to serve as guide in maintaining appropriate teaching methods that are suitable for student needs. The assessment of these behaviors and attitudes can help the instructor understand the needs of these students rather than understanding the needs of system bodies. Guided by the student-centered learning approach by Carl Rogers, we can utilize the principle of education putting the student as the center of focus. The education requirement must be based on the student’s need and not of the institution. Only this way can learning be maximized and achieve. In addition, we have to consider the wholesome aspect of the student in which, humanism have given emphasis. The individual’s educational needs should not be based on specific areas but rather the wholeness of the individual. We need to take into account the domains of learning provided by the theory, specifically psychomotor, cognitive and affective aspects.

Moreover, the planning of the theory needs to consider the educational process itself in order to ensure proper learning is obtained. The cognitive theory emphasizes on the educational processes itself. It needs to coincide in the needs of the client as assessed through various intrinsic factors present in the client as described by behaviorism and essentialists. The formulation of educational approach needs to consider external criteria involve in the student such as, the background, racial culture and attitudes.

After the formulation of educational approach, it is necessary to instill the values of education especially the purpose of having this process, as indicated by Progressivism. Upon implementation of this learning approach, we have to consider and aim for the changes that Lewin has implicated. The change in the client signifies the effectiveness of learning. However, if the opposite results are attained, then reassessment and re-evaluation is needed until the target goal of educational approach is achieved.