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The Theories of Learning as applied at Film Academy Milton Keynes

My Journey into Learning Theories

I must start by saying I never really considered learning theories whilst running the Film Academy. I am a filmmaker who is an educator and not the other way round, however, reflecting on our teaching practice I see a few learning theories at play in what we do.

In fact, over the past few years I have attempted to define how we teach filmmaking and our desired outcomes which has led to this doctoral journey.

Having now read about learning theories I can identify and frame our practices within some of these constructs. Receiving new information which then expands my knowledge base, capacity and practice as identified by Ygotsky in his theory of Zone of Proximal Development.

Since coming into contact with Paulo Friere’s book, the ‘Pedagogy of The Oppressed’ (1968), in university, I have always been passionate about placing the tools of learning and interpretation in the hands of the learners to empower them to create change. I have always seen learners as people with agency to make change.  Thus, a lot of our training has revolved around equipping learners to be change makers using film.

A lot of our film training is themed based as they are usually funded by funders with an agenda or theme they want young people to engage with.  Our own agenda then is to provide, this theme or agenda to the young people and allow them to interpret it in ways which provide ownership and therefore agency to create change and action. As the owners of this information and film they have produced we anticipate that internal change has taken place, and this is passed on within the film and also within the social settings. This is how I relate our training to Friere’s idea of the value of creating agency, and social change through education.

Having now read about the various theories of learning I see other aspects of training defined and these frameworks and structures place our practices into defined spaces which allow for reflection and expansion later in this doctoral enquiry.

Cognitivism: Focuses on the ability of learners to recall information from past learning and experience and relate this to new information to influence or draw new conclusions and new practice. (Brown et al., 2014). It is about learner’s’ mental processes. (Codington-Lacerte, 2018. Learners use rational thought and participate fully in the process of learning. (Clark, 2018)

I see this theory at work when we expect learners to use information and knowledge acquired on the themes being discussed to create new ideas for films. They have to use mental recall and process their knowledge in order to effectively create new content.

I see the use of most of Gagné (1985) nine conditions of learning in active use in our settings.

Constructivist Theory: This theory expects learners to use the knowledge they acquire or have to create solutions. It places the learner at the centre of the learning process expecting they can develop meaning from the process. The tutor is seen as the facilitator and guide rather than the didactic provider of knowledge. (Kretchmar, 2019b).

On our projects we expect learners to use knowledge acquired on the course through teaching, research and also from past knowledge to dictate and direct the future development of their film. They must use this knowledge to ideate, create, write and produce a film. The trainer acts as a guide rather than a teacher.

Social Constructivist Theory

Each individual contributes to the ideas and outcome of a project. Social constructivist theory focuses on how people’s reactions can impact the whole. It discusses how people’s identities influenced by other factors such as family and education can impact their interactions with others, (Schaffer, 2006). Here the role of the tutor is to encourage, guide and encourage learning between the group and not be the centre of the learning experience.

This reminds me of the Social Identity and Individual Identity Wheel concept which discusses how people bring their individual experiences and knowledge to influence the whole and how the whole in turn influences the individual.

This is the same idea practiced in our filmmaking programme, although unnamed until now. The tutor acts as a facilitator and a guide and learners have to collaborate with each other, bringing their individual experiences and knowledge and skills together to connect, create new meaning and produce a film.

Connectivism Learning Theory: Proposes that learners learn when they form connections with each other or with their roles, Siemens, (2005). In film projects, learners develop knowledge and practice in their specific role. This is brought to the group and connected with others to create a cohesive whole which can effectively work together to produce a film. With Connectivism, each individual is a node or link which connects to the other, each transmitting and offering its own knowledge and skill, a key aspect of filmmaking which can be seen almost as a team sport or a human body at work.

Transformative Learning Theory Defined by Mezirow looks at how learners shift their perspectives and understanding as they receive new information. I find this has some connection to cognitive theory of learning regarding how new schema is formed. What is interesting for me here is how Mezirow discuss how learners communicate their emotions, needs and desires once they have interacted with new information.

An interesting theory as an aspect of what we seek to create is transformation through the information filmmakers learn and create. We seek to create catalysts for change through the process of learning they undertake evidenced in the films they produce.

Experiential Learning Theory: Kolb’s (1984), theory of experiential learning and self-reflection seeks to encourage learners to reflect and access their experiences, learning and define their reactions and attitudes to them and forecast how these new learnings will be implemented moving forward.

Through the filmmaking process, learners are encouraged to reflect on their learning individually and as member of a group. The aim is to discover the impact of each learner’s contribution to the group, the learnings received from the group and project and incorporate these moving forward.


It has been exciting and interesting learning about all the various learning theories.  I have probably written more than required but I see so much of what we do reflected in so many of the theories.  We have been practicing these theories for such a long time without actually having defined them within the parameters of existing knowledge and to do so in this exercise has been fulfilling.

So for me this exercise itself has been a moment of disequilibrium as I have had to renegotiate my learning and knowledge. (Ygotsky, 1962).

It will be interesting to investigate these even further to understand how we develop better understanding of these theories, how we reenforce them and be more intentional about their application now that we understand them better.

I would like to see if we then decide to narrow down the focus of the theories I have discussed by removing some or merge them as some of them have similarities.

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