22 February

Top 3 Types of Learning Theories

Learning Theory 

Learning theories stem from psychology of learning and their aim is to provide guiding principles on standards and best practices in learning design for professionals. This blend of philosophy, methodology, and theory underpins how learning should be designed and delivered in multiple areas and fields. There is a wide variety of learning theories out there. Below outlines our top 3 theories which can be successfully interlinked in the design & development of digital learning. 

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1) Behaviourism

What is Behaviourism? 

Behaviourism revolves around a stimulus which is followed by positive or negative reinforcement called conditioning and repetition.​ Pavlov and B.F Skinner both contributed to the way learning was observed and noted that learning happens when changes of behaviour(s) occur. ​ 

In the behaviourist approach learning is instructor centred and directed so the learner is seen as passive and dependent on the trainer for direction. ​Learning is a linear, continuous process that occurs gradually over time through a constant process of repetition and reinforcement of information.​  

Examples of Behaviourism 

  • Attending a university lecture – passively ingesting information from your lecturer with the motivation of passing an exam and being assessed based on attendance. 
  • Compliance or procedure training in the workplace – a requirement to give the learners important regulatory information​. 
  • eLearning course following a behaviourist approach- clicking through a course with a quiz/ test at the end (however it should be noted that this learning is passive and ultimately there is low levels of engagement). ​ 

How to apply Behaviourism to Digital Learning?  

Behaviourism in digital learning might be perceived as a less desired approach in instructional design as sometimes this passive approach leads to low levels of engagement and learning transfer. However, some of its elements might still be beneficial and applicable to current digital learning design: ​ 

  1. Predesigned learning outcomes of online courses allow instructional designers to ensure goals are reached​ 
  2. Incorporating repetition reinforces key information
  3. Quizzes will provide learners with feedback to strengthen the learning ​
  4. Gamification features such as badges and leader boards positively motivate the learners ​ 

2) Cognitivism

What is Cognitivism? 

Cognitivism underlines what level of knowledge/ skills needs to be reached and the expectation on learners to preform those actions. It is based around Piaget’s psychological approach focusing on cognitive development and Bloom’s famous taxonomy which creates measurable outcomes for learning experiences.  

Instructional design that incorporates pre-defined learning outcomes is a key element in cognitivism and is achieved by activities such as: comprehension, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation​. 

How to apply Cognitivism for digital learners? 

  1. Providing feedback not to reinforce but to shape the learner 
  2. Breaking down learning into manageable chunks that form a unified learning experience ​
  3. Allowing for active involvement in the learning process – learners can curate their own, manage and capture their process of learning through things such as an e-Portfolio 

3) Constructivism

What is Constructivism? 

Constructivism puts the learner at the centre of the experience, using a scaffolding approach to guide learners through the learning pathways while providing support. As progress is made, scaffolding is withdrawn to enable learners to become independent, therefore increasing problem-solving skills. 

Examples of Constructivism 

  • Completing a PHD where students learning occurs through independent research, activities, reflections, and decisions. They can construct their own opinions through the experiences, and they can lean on the mentor for advice. 
  • In the workplace, constructivism is associated with on-the-job learning, work-based projects and mentoring​. 
  • In digital learning, when learners are given access to a learning portal or LMS with loads of content, courses and resources that are signposted clearly and are provided with plenty of guidance. ​ 

 How to apply constructivism for digital learners? 

  1. Instructional scaffolding- set clear goals, navigation, and objectives 
  2. Assessment strategies & provide feedback indicating the level the learner is at (self and peer assessment could be also used to foster the learning process, using tools such as Peer Scholar)
  3. Social learning- provide learners with discussion forums, blogs or wikis in which students can express themselves and engage with their peers
  4. Social media & platform such as Slack or Microsoft Teams, allows for discussion 

The Next Step  

Learning in the EdTech industry is constantly evolving and changing, with instructional designers and digital learning professionals in high demand. With our university credit-rated programmes in Digital Learning Design and Instructional Design, you can start or advance your career as a specialist in digital learning design.