Learning Theories

This week’s blog is going to be a short introduction to several different Learning Theories commonly used by Instructional Designers and Educational Technologists in designing and building curriculum.

Learning Theories are frameworks that describe how content or information is absorbed, processed, and retained during learning. Four of the well-known learning theories focus on Educational Psychology. They are Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism, and Transformative learning theory.

Behaviorism– Learning means acquiring a new behavior through conditioning. Two ways that a learner is conditioned is by classical conditioning or operant conditioning. Classical conditioning is where the behavior becomes a reflex in response to stimulus.  Operant conditioning occurs when a learner is rewarded or punished for their behavior.


Cognitivism– This Learning Theory states that learners generate knowledge through sequences of mental processes. The mental processes include recognition, recalling, analyzing, reflecting, application, creating and evaluating. Cognitive Learning defers from Behaviorism in that it looks beyond behavior and focuses on how human memory impacts learning.


Constructivism– The Constructivism Learning Theory is when learners have an active involvement in their education. The theory states that a learner does best when they are able to build new ideas or concepts based upon current knowledge and experiences. Instructional Designers must, therefore, understand what the learners already know in order to develop effective instruction.


Transformative Learning Theory– This learning theory focuses on how the learner will revise and interpret learning to change their point of view. Transformative learning is the process of changing one’s frame of reference. An important part of transformative learning is for learners to change their frames of reference by critically reflecting on their assumptions and beliefs. It is also important that learners consciously make and implement plans that bring about new ways of defining their worlds. This can be done through reflection, feedback, debating with those of different viewpoints, and critically examining evidence.



About Julie Tausend Burba

Instructional Designer at Hulu, Ed Tech and Project Management enthusiast. MBA Technology Management, MS Management, BS Communications, Traveler and Cook.

Posted on May 20, 2013, in Instructional Design, Tausend Talks Shop and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

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