Theoretical Perspectives

What are some common theories about learning that help us to understand the science behind the action of learning? We will focus on three broad theories.

As you read the selection linked below, please consider the following question from the chapter: “Which theory is the most effective in fostering mastery of specific tasks by specific learners?”

Consider the role of the learning designer and the role of the learner in each approach. What are the beliefs held by the learning designer in each theory, and how does that impact the design for the learner? Determining which strategies to use in each specific context for each group of learners is a critical element of learning design.

Behaviourists work with reinforcement and feedback to develop habits in their learners. The key is to determine which reinforcements will be most effective for the learners. A learning design using this model might look like a series of similar prompts requiring responses from learners, with feedback given at each step.

Cognitivists work with the learner to help them uncover and use appropriate learning strategies and make connections to prior understandings. Strategies used in this approach would work to make the information meaningful and help the learner to organize it alongside their existing understandings.

Constructivists believe that learners make their own meaning and interpretations based on individual experiences and interactions. Each individual’s mental representation of knowledge is flexible and open to constant change. A constructivist learning design would require an individual to actively participate in the learning by trying something in a real world context.

Each theory supports LEARNING. Your work as a learning designer is to determine how best to support the success of your learners by carefully selecting strategies, materials, and identifying the needs of your learners. Each approach highlights and hones different competencies for the learner.


Read Chapter 11 of (‘Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism’) from Foundations of Learning and Instructional Design Technology before you continue with the rest of this unit.