The human mind is remarkably complex, orders of magnitude more so than most other living creatures on Earth. The science of how best to “hack” the mind, and in the case of TEFL education to improve English learning, has evolved over years of trial and error. There are still many questions and much debate among psychologists as to how to best enhance the learning process in English and other subjects, but several theories have proven themselves worthy of consideration.

Cognitive Learning Theory

Cognitive Learning Theory, abbreviated to CLT, is a commonly applied theory in the acquisition of English and other languages. It is scientifically sound with tons of research to back up its claims. Likely, an experienced teacher will have some level of background in this theory and apply the principles in the classroom or in online teaching.

There are two main components of CLT: Cognitive Behavioral Theory (CBT) and Social Cognitive Theory (SCT). CBT focuses on how thinking, or cognition, affects the behavior of humans. What a human learns, and therefore thinks, plays a huge role in how he or she acts in the world. Practical applications of the theory are often attempted in therapy sessions of psychologists, where modifications of perception and/or cognition are thought to potentially results in positive changes for the patient. SCT focuses on humans’ complex social arrangements to explain behavior. According to this theory’s proponents, socialization and environment largely explain behavior. As such, changing how a person interacts with his or her environment and the people in it can also change behavior for better or worse.

Behaviorism is a wide-ranging field of psychology most famously practised by Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov. In Pavlov’s experiments, he trained dogs to learn to respond to a stimulus in the form of a metronome by making the noise and then feeding them shortly afterwards. After several rounds of repetition, the dogs began to salivate in response to the metronome, in excitement at the coming meal. This action-reaction training called “conditioning” is one of the oldest models of learning. Activities like listening and repeating vocabulary are based largely on the behavioralist approach to learning.

Development Psychology has made an enormous impact on the way English is taught as well. Jean Piaget, the originator of the theory, explained the process of learning from a psychological viewpoint, describing the various stages of learning and the requisite psychological states which encourage them to occur.