Green Decorative Wheat


Humanism, like most of our other learning theories, comes to education from another discipline. Humanism has its roots in Ancient Greece, and it came to flower in the Italian Renaissance. Humanism was a reaction to the earlier focus on the divine and metaphysical. Rather than looking toward religion, Humanists focused on the inherent good they saw in humanity. This belief in people's essential goodness had a direct impact on educational theory, and the Humanist worldview has been influential in education from especially the 19th century on.

Humanism, when applied as a learning theory, tends to have the following foundational beliefs:

  • Learner-centric education: Whether the Humanist is focused on pedagogy (children) or andragogy (adults), they will come at education with the belief that education's central purpose is the development of the individual learner. This worldview is expressed in allowing for a great deal of learner choice in what and how to learn, and this even holds true for very young learners.
  • Learner engagement: Humanists belive that learning requires learners to be "engaged" in the process. This idea can be misinterpreted as requiring educators to be entertainers, but engagement is not the same thing as entertainment. Instead, engagment means to foster curiosity and interest in the learner. From this perspective, excellent educators excel at helping their students come to love learning.
  • Self-evaluation: Because Humanists place learners at the center, they also focus on student-led evaluation. For some, this even means that grades are unimportant and that the only real evaluation that matters is the student's own. But students still need to have structured ways to think about their own growth, and they have to learn how to effectively self-evaluate, and that is part of the effective educator's focus.
  • Respecting the whole brain: One of Humanism's central beliefs is that learning requires both emotional growth and the acquisition of knowledge and skills. While this idea predates our ability to understand how brains work including the role that the hippocampus plays in information storage and retrieval, it is useful to understand the argument with that neuroscience in mind.
  • How to learn, not what to learn: Because Humanists believe each learner is in charge of their own learning, they are much less likely to focus on didactic instruction of a pre-defined curriculum and much more on providing learners the opportunity to learn with a focus on helping them develop skills that can be applied outside the classroom.