Studying the science of psychology for quite some time now made me realized that there isn’t one single approach that is used to explain all human behaviours and mental processes alone. One possible explanation for this is the fact that a particular approach has its own strengths and limitations. This realization is likewise true in my quest to understand and apply the process of learning.
Among the approaches, humanistic psychology at first glance may not be associated with learning. Its principles and applications are more related to the fields of counselling, developmental, personality and social. But in learning, some may think twice. Nevertheless, humanistic approach, the ‘third force’ of psychology, focus on the things that make people uniquely human such as subjective emotions and the freedom to choose one’s own destiny. Can this approach be applied in the classroom? Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow, the famous founders of humanism, would definitely say yes! The question now is how? To answer the question, let me discuss their theories.
CARL ROGERS: The Self-Concept
Rogers (1961) emphasized that human beings are always doing their utmost effort to fulfil their innate capacities and capabilities and to develop into everything that their genetic potential will allow them to become. This striving for fulfilment is called the self-actualization tendency. For an individual to become self-actualize, he or she must develop an image of oneself or the self-concept. The self-concept is based on what people are told by others and how the sense of self is reflected in the words and actions of important people in one’s life, such as parents, siblings, friends, co-workers, and teachers.
Moreover, there are two important components of the self-concept: the real self and the ideal self.Real self is the person’s actual perception of characteristics, traits and abilities that form the basis of the striving for self-actualization. On the other hand, ideal self is the perception of what one should be or would like to be. It usually comes from those important, significant others in one’s life, more often the parents. Rogers believed that when the real self and the ideal self are very close or similar to each other, people feel competent and capable. However, when there is a mismatch between the real and ideal selves, anxiety and neurotic behaviour can the result. To have these two components match, people need to receiveunconditional positive regard, which is love, warmth, respect and affection without any conditions attached. Applying this in the field of counselling, Roger believed that the counsellor should provide the unconditional positive regard that has been absent from the troubled person’s life. Thus, the approach is nondirective and the person actually does all the real work, whereas, the counsellor acts as a ‘sounding board’.
Applying Roger’s theory in the classroom, the teacher must guide the students in fulfilling their innate capabilities for them to achieve self-actualization. In addition, the teacher should also assist them in discovering their self-concept. To do this, the teacher must not be controlling and the classroom ambiance should be relaxed. The teacher should also express unconditional positive regard towards the students. Thus, shouting in front of the class, saying inappropriate words while having a class discussion and embarrassing a student in front of his or her classmates are not effective instructional and motivational strategies. Since, this theory emphasized the major role of the counselee rather than the counsellor in solving his or her own problems; I think it also works in the classroom setting. What I am trying to say is that students can also learn in their own way where the teacher would be the facilitator of that learning process. Therefore, ‘spoon-feeding’ is inappropriate way to help students learn and achieve self-actualization.
ABRAHAM MASLOW: The Hierarchy of Needs
Another well known humanistic theorist is Abraham Maslow. Maslow postulated eight different levels of needs in which one cannot advance to the next higher level of needs without fully satisfying the lower level needs (Rathus, 2002). Specifically, these needs are (from lowest to highest level): physiological needs, safety and security, love and belongingness, esteem needs, cognitive needs, aesthetic needs, self-actualization and transcendence. Physiological needs are the basic needs such as food, water, and clothing that are essential for survival. Once these needs are met, safety becomes important and involves feeling secure. Love and belongingness are the needs for friends and companions as well as to be accepted by others, and self-esteem needs pertain to the need to achieve, to be competent, to gain approval and to be recognized. Next, is the cognitive needs that emphasizes the need to know and understand the world that is, of course typical among the students. Above the cognitive needs are the aesthetic needs, which include the need for order and beauty, distinctive to artistic individuals. Once all these needs are met, it is possible to be concerned about self-actualization or the need for personal growth and realization of one’s unique potentials. Lastly, the highest level of need called transcendence refers to the need to help other people achieve self-actualization.
Maslow’s theory describes how people move up the pyramid as they go through life, gaining wisdom and the knowledge of how to handle many different situations (Maslow, 1987). Basically this theory provided us with a clear understanding about human need and motivation. But like the theory of Rogers, Maslow’s theory can also be applicable in the classroom. This can be used particularly by teachers. It is the responsibility of the teacher to be aware of their students’ nature. Thus, they need to be sensitive of their needs. If the teacher is aware of these, he or she can design lesson plans and use relevant teaching strategies that are appropriate with the learners. It is also important that the teacher must assist the students to discover their potentials and guide them towards self-actualization. I also suggest that the teachers must also enrich the students’ abilities through various activities that will highlight their talents.
Carl Rogers’ concept of the self and person-centered approach and Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs are also significant in understanding learning. Likewise, both can also be used and can be integrated with the teaching strategies. An important realization with humanism is putting an importance to the learners – the student. That is guiding them towards achieving one’s full potential or the actual self. Thus, I can say that the greatest impact of this approach to me has been in the development of strategies to promote self-growth and help students to better understand themselves and others as well.
Maslow, A. (1987). Motivation and personality, 3rd Ed. New York: Harper & Row.
Rathus, S. (2002). Psychology in the new millennium. Florida: Harcourt College Publishers.
Rogers, C. (1961). On becoming a person: A therapist’s view of psychotherapy. Boston: Houghton/Mifflin.