The twentieth century was innovative in a multiplicity of fields, including psychology and education. The attempt to develop the understanding on how humans learn was a challenge upheld by a “huge and diverse cast of characters” (Harré, 2006: p7), with some so prolific that they didn’t only affect the classroom but “have left an enduring mark on our understanding of ourselves” (Harré, 2006: p7). For this essay, I will describe and reflect on the theories of Burrhus Fredrick Skinner and Jerome Bruner, particularly focusing on Operant Conditioning and Cognitive Learning and apply them to an educational setting.Jerome Bruner (1915-2016) is renowned as one of the most significant and influential cognitive and constructivist theorists of the twentieth century and specifically developed “the study of the mental processes of thinking” (Harré, 2006: p49). His initial focus was the development of human cognition but psychology at Harvard, according to Bruner had become “centrifugal” (Bruner,1983: p252). In turn, this led Bruner to begin his exploration into child cognitive development, highlighting the importance of categorization in learning as well as “challenge the old psychology in the latter years of the 20th century” (Harré, 2006: p.
60). Bruner was highly influential in educational thinking, especially after the release of his book “The Process of Education (1960)” that is now recognised as a classic. Himself and other cognitivist theorists such as Piaget were both interested in child development, and Bruner agreed that biological organisation underlies cognitive development but queried whether age ranges were correct in Piaget’s developmental stage theory.