Learning Models in Early Childhood Education


The search for the perfect learning model has been continuing ever since the traditional adult-run approach was first doubted. The tendencies switched between such extremes as transmission and acquisition of knowledge. Community-of-learners model does not stand in the middle between one-sided models, as it is a completely different philosophical system of view on the education process.

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According to Rogoff (1994), learning occurs in all the models, but the difference is in practices that are learned in different situations designed in correspondence to each approach. The models based on participation in a group of learners, traditional approaches run by adults or children approaches are the three learning models under discussion. Adult-run education sees learning as the process of knowledge distribution from an active teacher to passive students, while the children-run model considers learning as the process of independent exploration of knowledge. The community-of-learners model focuses on learning as transforming participation in mutual socio-cultural endeavors.

One-sided Models of Learning

Adult-Run Model

One-sided learning offers entirely asymmetrical activities where either an adult or a child is leading the process allowing no mutual interaction. Researchers have criticized both models, but they still prevail in the majority of societies, especially when concerning early childhood education. Learning, according to the adult-run model, is the process of transmission of knowledge from adults to children in which the information is distributed in one direction. This approach is traditional in all Western cultures, and the switch to other models has been noted only recently. The child is seen as the receiver of knowledge both in educational institutions and at home.

Rogoff (1994) notes that in this model, the main aim of learning is for students “to be able to demonstrate that knowledge has been encoded and retained” (p. 210). Through direct instruction, adults transfer their experience to the relatively passive children. In educational institutions, test evaluation is seen as the priority in assessing the level of knowledge transmission.

Children-Run Model

Children-run model is often contrasted to the adult-run model as here adults are passive, while children actively participate in the process of knowledge acquisition. Adults are responsible for the learning environment but do not direct children through activities. As Rogoff (1994) claims that in this model, the ways of learning are “not necessarily connected to the uses to which the information is historically or currently put in the adult world” (p. 210). Rogoff et al. (2016) describe such learning as based on a child’s initiative or interest. Despite its popularity, the model has significant flaws, as it is unable to provide effective learning in a multicultural environment.

Community-of-Learners Model

Despite a rather widespread misconception, the community-of-learners model is not the balance of power between two one-sided models, but a different philosophy based on the transformation of participation. According to Rogoff (1994), students learn through collaboration with peers and with adults in activities that are tightly connected to current practices and history of communities. Children participate in adult-run activities where the roles are asymmetric, varying through different activities. Rogoff (1994) notes that mutual double-sided or many-sided conversation is a typical discourse in such classrooms.

Games are extensively used in this model as they, according to Fleer (2012), develop “the relations between individual and collective activity” (p. 76). Promoting genuine interest in the final product of activity and not in the assessment results is a crucial aspect of the model under discussion and its key advantage in terms of preparedness for adult life.

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The community-of-learners model is more understandable for the representatives of non-Western cultures where adult-run methods haven’t acquired popularity, and the learning was traditionally based on informal teaching of crafts. Gee (2008) defines such communities as the environments where people mutually collaborate in practices related to a shared endeavor. According to the researcher, the main features of such communities are a strong affiliation between the members, a whole process as the basis for the organization of the collective endeavor, and extensive sharing of knowledge (Gee, 2008).

Iyer and Reese (2013) highlight the necessity of establishing such communities of practice for success in learning. Although the transition to this model is often complicated for children from other environments, it positively affects further individual development and readiness for adulthood.

Personal Experience of Learning Models

My personal learning experience includes all three models at different stages of education. My pre-school learning was based on child-run methods, where children had to engage in independent activities in a specially designed environment. Although I did not represent any minority, I still remember the moments of confusion in some situations where I had no idea how to participate. School education was mostly adult-run at all stages with the emphasis on a test evaluation.

Today I often participate in project work with fellow students and teachers, so this is the role of the community-of-learners model in my life now. While seeing adult people at work, I often observe the negative effect of adult-run learning, as many people work without genuine interest in the result, merely trying to impress people who evaluate them.

Learning Models in Early Childhood Education in New Zealand

Early childhood education in New Zealand should be viewed in a complex multilingual and multicultural context. The country has developed specific curricula for pre-school institutions and is believed to be a leader in the level of professional development in the early childhood workforce (Dalli, 2012).

Nevertheless, several steps have to bridge socio-cultural disparities that should be made. The adult-run model is inapplicable in a given context, as, besides its general drawbacks, it is also complicated for the children to switch from it to other models. The children-run approach can cause discrimination of ethnic minorities when the environment is designed according to the concepts of one culture. Te Whāriki, the curriculum for early childhood education in New Zealand, highlights that “children learn through responsive and reciprocal relationships with people, places and things” (Alcock, 2010, p. 215). According to these recommendations and due to the need for bridging socio-cultural disparities, the community-of-learners model is the most suitable for early education in New Zealand.


Three main learning models are based on children-run, adult-run, and community-of-learners approaches. The former two are opposite, where only one of the sides is active, either adults or children, while the latter is a new philosophy of cooperation-based learning. Community-of-learners approach promotes the interest in the result of mutual collaboration and thus provides preparedness for adult life. Moreover, it is the most applicable model for a multicultural environment that helps to connect children from different cultures in one activity.

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Reference List

Alcock, S. (2010). Young children’s playfully complex communication: Distributed imagination. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 18(2), 215-228. Web.

Dalli, C. (2011). A constant juggle for balance: A day in the life of a New Zealand kindergarten teacher. Early Childhood Grows Up, 87-101. Web.

Fleer, M. (2012). The development of motives in children’s play. In M. Hedegaard, A. Edwards, & M. Fleer (Eds.), Motives in children’s development: Cultural-historical approaches (pp. 79-96). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Gee, J. P. (2008). A socio-cultural perspective on opportunity to learn. Assessment, Equity, and Opportunity to Learn, 1(1), 76-108. Web.

Iyer, R., & Reese, M. (2013). Ensuring student success: Establishing a community of practice for culturally and linguistically diverse preservice teachers. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 38(3). Web.

Rogoff, B., Callanan, M., Gutiérrez, K. D., & Erickson, F. (2016). The organization of informal learning. Review of Research in Education, 40(1), 356-401. Web.

Rogoff, B. (1994). Developing understandings of the idea of communities of learners. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 1(4), 209-229.

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