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Learning Theories

There are three main learning theories you should be aware of to get started: Behaviorism, Cognitivism, and Constructivism. Begin by watching this overview video and then explore the resources below. Test your knowledge of these three learning theories with the knowledge review at the bottom of this page. When you feel comfortable with this information, move on to the theorist to find more learning theories and contributions to the field of Instructional System Design.


  • Behaviorism:

    Definition

    Learning primarily occurs through conditioning, a stimulus-response method. There are two types of conditioning: classical and operant.

    • In classical conditioning, the learning process is based on the learner responding to environmental stimuli in a new way through associations that the learner has made.
    • In operant conditioning, the learning process is based on the learner making choices based on rewards and punishments for behavior.

    Note: Learning is strengthened through consistent repetition.

     

    Learning Strategies

    Overall, learning strategies should focus on producing desired observable and measurable behaviors. Learning strategies should provide consistent and immediate feedback.

    A Behavioral Learning Strategist should consider:

    –        Creating learning objectives that can be behaviorally assessed.

    –        Providing appropriate rewards to learners who exhibit desired behaviors

    • Providing candy (reward) to learners who participate (desired behavior) in class.

    –        Providing appropriate rewards to learners who exhibit undesired behaviors

    • Providing negative feedback (punishment_ to learners who are not engaged (undesired behavior) in class.

    –        Using appropriate cues to facilitate a strong stimulus-response association.

    • Using thoughtful and relevant graphics to the learning content.
    • Using flashcard to associate an image or word with another image or word

     

    Key Quotes

    “Behaviorism equates learning with changes in either the form or frequency of observable performance. Learning is accomplished when a proper response is demonstrated following the presentation of a specific environmental stimulus”

    (Ertmer & Newby, 1993)

    “Stimulus-response learning is the ability to learn to perform a particular behavior when a certain stimulus is present.”

    (Cannon, 1999)

    Additional Resources

    • Ertmer, P. & Newby, T. J. (1993) Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly 6(4), 50-71.


  • Cognitivism:

    Definition

    Learning primarily occurs through a knowledge acquisition process where the learner actively filters and assimilates new information using appropriate learning strategies.

    Learning Strategies

    Overall, learning strategies should focus on engaging the learner to apply and create learning strategies to organize new information.

    A Cognitive Learning Strategist should:

    –        Create mnemonic devices

    –        Encourage the learn to think about his or her learning process

    –        Create images, maps, or graphs to organize the new information with previous information.

    • Outlines
    • Summaries

     

    Key Quotes

    “Learning is equated with changes between states of knowledge. Knowledge acquisition is described as a mental activity that entails internal coding and structuring by the learner. The learner is view as a very active participant in the learning process.”

    (Ertmer & Newby, 1993)

    “The real focus of the cognitive approach is on changing the learner by encouraging him or her to use appropriate learning strategies.”

    (Ertmer & Newby, 1993)

     

    Additional Resources

    –        Ertmer, P. & Newby, T. J. (1993) Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly 6(4), 50-71.

  • Constructivism:

    Definition:

    Learning primarily occurs through the learner’s prior experiences and knowledge and the meaning that the learner interprets from those previous experiences and knowledge.

    Learning Strategies

    Overall, learning strategies should focus on creating new and meaningful learning experiences.

    A Constructivist Learning Strategist should:

    –        Create interactive learning activities/environments

    • Group work/discussions/debates
    • Role-plays
    • Simulations

    –        Provide ways for learners to apply previous learning

    • Problem-focused activities
    • Vignettes

    Key Quotes:

    “Both learn and environmental factors are critical to the constructivist, as it is the specific interaction between these two variables that create knowledge”

    (Ertmer & Newby, 1993).

     

    Additional Resources:

    –        Ertmer, P. & Newby, T. J. (1993) Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly 6(4), 50-71.

View a learning theories comparison matrix here.

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