Humanism is a paradigm/philosophy/pedagogical approach that believes learning is viewed as a personal act to fulfill one’s potential.


Key Concepts

Humanism, a paradigm that emerged in the 1960s, focuses on the human freedom, dignity, and potential. A central assumption of humanism, according to Huitt (2001), is that people act with intentionality and values[1]. This is in contrast to the behaviorist notion of operant conditioning (which argues that all behavior is the result of the application of consequences) and the cognitive psychologist belief that the discovering knowledge or constructing meaning is central to learning. Humanists also believe that it is necessary to study the person as a whole, especially as an individual grows and develops over the lifespan. It follows that the study of the self, motivation, and goals are areas of particular interest.

Key proponents of humanism include Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow. A primary purpose of humanism could be described as the development of self-actualized, autonomous people[2]. In humanism, learning is student centered and personalized, and the educator’s role is that of a facilitator. Affective and cognitive needs are key, and the goal is to develop self-actualized people in a cooperative, supportive environment[3].

Additional Resources and References


  1. Huitt, W. (2001). Humanism and open education. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved September 11, 2007, from the URL:
  2. Rogers, C., & Freiberg, H. J. (1994). Freedom to learn (3rd Ed.). New York: Macmillan.
  3. DeCarvalho, R. (1991). The humanistic paradigm in education. The Humanistic Psychologist, 19(1), 88-104.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (often represented as a pyramid with five levels of needs) is a motivational theory in psychology that argues that while people aim to meet basic needs, they seek to meet successively higher needs in the form of a pyramid.


  • Abraham Maslow (1908 – 1970)

Key Concepts

Abraham H. Maslow felt as though conditioning theories did not adequately capture the complexity of human behavior. In a 1943 paper called A Theory of Human Motivation, Maslow presented the idea that human actions are directed toward goal attainment[1]. Any given behavior could satisfy several functions at the same time; for instance, going to a bar could satisfy one’s needs for self-esteem and for social interaction.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has often been represented in a hierarchical pyramid with five levels. The four levels (lower-order needs) are considered physiological needs, while the top level of the pyramid is considered growth needs. The lower level needs must be satisfied before higher-order needs can influence behavior. The levels are as follows (see pyramid in Figure 1 below).

  • Self-actualization – includes morality, creativity, problem solving, etc.
  • Esteem – includes confidence, self-esteem, achievement, respect, etc.
  • Belongingness – includes love, friendship, intimacy, family, etc.
  • Safety – includes security of environment, employment, resources, health, property, etc.
  • Physiological – includes air, food, water, sex, sleep, other factors towards homeostasis, etc.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
Figure 1.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid.

Deprivation Needs

The first four levels are considered deficiency or deprivation needs (“D-needs”) in that their lack of satisfaction causes a deficiency that motivates people to meet these needs. Physiological needs, the lowest level on the hierarchy, include necessities such as air, food, and water. These tend to be satisfied for most people, but they become predominant when unmet. During emergencies, safety needs such as health and security rise to the forefront. Once these two levels are met, belongingness needs, such as obtaining love and intimate relationships or close friendships, become important. The next level, esteem needs, include the need for recognition from others, confidence, achievement, and self-esteem.

Growth Needs

The highest level is self-actualization, or the self-fulfillment. Behavior in this case is not driven or motivated by deficiencies but rather one’s desire for personal growth and the need to become all the things that a person is capable of becoming[2][3].


While a useful guide for generally understanding why students behave the way that they do and in determining how learning may be affected by physiological or safety deficiencies, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has its share of criticisms. Some critics have noted vagueness in what is considered a “deficiency”; what is a deficiency for one is not necessarily a deficiency for another. Secondly, there seem to be various exceptions that frequently occur. For example, some people often risk their own safety to rescue others from danger.

Additional Resources and References



  1. Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological review,50(4), 370.
  2. Maslow, A. H., Frager, R., & Cox, R. (1970). Motivation and personality (Vol. 2, pp. 1887-1904). J. Fadiman, & C. McReynolds (Eds.). New York: Harper & Row.
  3. Maslow, A. H. (2013). Toward a psychology of being. Start Publishing LLC.

Experiential Learning (Kolb)

A four-stage cyclical theory of learning, Kolb’s experiential learning theory is a holistic perspective that combines experience, perception, cognition, and behavior.


  • David A. Kolb (1939-)

Key Concepts

Building upon earlier work by John Dewey and Kurt Levin, American educational theorist David A. Kolb believes “learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience” (1984, p. 38)[1]. The theory presents a cyclical model of learning, consisting of four stages shown below.


One may begin at any stage, but must follow each other in the sequence:

Concrete experience (or “DO”)

The first stage, concrete experience (CE), is where the learner actively experiences an activity such as a lab session or field work.

Reflective observation (or “OBSERVE”)

The second stage, reflective observation (RO), is when the learner consciously reflects back on that experience.

Abstract conceptualization (or “THINK”)

The third stage, abstract conceptualization (AC), is where the learner attempts to conceptualize a theory or model of what is observed.

Active experimentation (or “PLAN”)

The fourth stage, active experimentation (AE), is where the learner is trying to plan how to test a model or theory or plan for a forthcoming experience.

Kolb identified four learning styles which correspond to these stages. The styles highlight conditions under which learners learn better[3]. These styles are:

  • assimilators, who learn better when presented with sound logical theories to consider
  • convergers, who learn better when provided with practical applications of concepts and theories
  • accommodators, who learn better when provided with “hands-on” experiences
  • divergers, who learn better when allowed to observe and collect a wide range of information

Additional Resources and References


  1. Kolb, David A. 1984. Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, N.J.
  2. Kolb, D. A. (2014). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. FT press.
  3. Kolb, D. A. (2014). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. FT press.