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Learning Theory

Learning theory can be defined as a set of different concepts and ideas regarding how students receive, process, and employ knowledge during the process of learning.

Understanding Learning Theory

Cooperative interaction with people results in the individual growth of a person which is known as learning. It refers to a process that brings personal and environmental experiences together. This process influences the modification, acquirement, and enrichment of an individual’s knowledge, skills, values, behaviors, attitudes, and perspectives. Learning theories explain how this process works. Learning theory is considered as an abstract framework of different significant concepts that help the learners perform better in their environment. The basic framework of learning theory is specially designed to enable the learners to achieve their personal goals. A 2017 research paper 1 suggested that these theories explain how a learner can improve behavior, adopt new knowledge, create and maintain healthy relationships. “Learning theory seeks to explain how individuals acquire, process, retain, and recall knowledge during the process of learning”, suggested by a study 2 . Some 20th-century psychologists desired to transform the concept of psychology into a more scientific venture. They argued that psychology should study only those things that could be measured and quantified. That’s why they started researching certain concepts. Such efforts resulted in the emergence of different learning theories. The psychologists explained in those theories how and why people behave the way that they do.

Researchers explained that cognitive, environmental 3 , and emotional 4 influences play significant roles in understanding the world and retaining their knowledge and skills. According to behaviorism 5 , learning is an essential aspect of conditioning and a vital part of education. Learning theory provides numerous benefits in teaching, creating a course curriculum, and describing things to the learners. It reflects the ever-changing social values, popular influences, and cultures. Studies have found the concept of learning extremely complex and purposeful. The definition of this particular phenomenon is explained and described by several researchers, but one specific theory is not enough to portray every person or every situation. Learning theories help learners understand how knowledge is created and how they adopt it. It simplifies and organizes the concept of human learning.

Read More About Cognitive Decline Here.

Importance Of Learning Theory

Theories provide a basis for understanding how people learn things and gain knowledge from them. It also explains how one can describe, analyze, and predict the process of learning. Researchers designed the learning theories after studying those deeply and extensively. It offers a large amount of information about the development, design, and delivery of learning. A 2011 research paper suggested that the concept of learning theory is proven to be very beneficial for the learners as the theories support them in thinking critically about the learning process and stages of education. These theories mainly focus on portraying the frameworks to help understand how one can use information, knowledge, and skills. It describes the importance of learning in every field of life. According to the requirements, learners can study the frameworks to make more informed decisions about choosing the correct instructional implementations.

There are different types of learning theories and one cannot mention any one type as the best one. Because every theory contains something different to offer. Every theory demonstrates a different way to observe learning and the significant ingredients of it. Learning designers can understand the role of a learner and an instructor or facilitator by using certain learning theories as lenses. Over the years, these theories have influenced and shaped instructional methods and practices. According to a study of 2006 6 , learning theory is considered to be an extremely vital part of teaching. It provides the learning contexts as well as underlies the motivation and methods of teaching. As it comprises various facts and assumptions, the learners should identify their goals at first and then choose the correct theoretical framework that helps them to achieve their objectives.

Types Of Learning Theories

Learning psychology influences lessons, curriculum, and program development. The concept helps educators to understand the rapidly changing technologies and their importance in student’s learning. Learning psychology is considered one of the branches of applied psychology regarding applying principles, techniques, and resources of learning. The discipline of learning psychology includes numerous significant theories. But researchers have identified five main theories that learning designers utilize to enhance the process and make a better environment for learning. The most effective theories are as follows:

1. Behaviorism theory

The behaviorism theory refers to the concept of the learners’ behavior. Dates back to the late 19th century, this theory explains that a learner’s behavior depends on their interaction with the environment. It suggests that human behavior can be influenced and learned from external forces rather than internal ones. Behaviorism sees a learner’s mind as a blank space where information should be provided for learning. The primary idea of it includes a change of behavior because of the three popular elements such as positive reinforcement, acquisition, and application associations between the learner and the environment. The most common implication of positive reinforcement is by teachers helping the students to better learn a concept in a classroom.

2. Cognitivism theory

The Cognitivism theory 7 is primarily concerned with the way people think. After emerging in the 1950s by German psychologist Wolfgang Kohler, this theory became dominant in the late 1960s. It explains that both internal and external stimuli can influence the learners. The theory of cognitivism is in contrast with behaviorism. The cognitive theory still consists of a behavior change evident, but that is in response to thinking and processing information. Cognitivism mentions that learning occurs when the learners find new explanations, adapt old ones, and reorganize information. The most common implication of the cognitive theory is by teachers giving students enough opportunities to ask their queries, to fail, and think out loud. These practices provide the knowledge to understand how their thought process works and how their minds utilize the information for better learning.

3. Constructivism theory

Constructivism theory emerged in the 1930s-1940s and is based on the concept of learners constructing their learning depending upon their prior knowledge and experiences. In this theory, learning seems to be an active process that is quite personal and different for each learner. Studies 8 have shown that constructivism allows teachers to act as more of a guide. Teachers can help the students to identify and construct their learning and understanding by utilizing this theory. Despite being the most essential one, it creates many misconceptions and is not recommended when a consistent outcome is required. The most common examples of constructivism include problem-based learning, group collaborations, research-based assignments, and creative projects in the classroom.

4. Humanism Theory

Studies have proven that the basic concept of humanism is very closely related to the idea of constructivism. Humanism theory is solely based on people’s self-actualization. Self-actualization 9 refers to the complete realization of a person’s potential. It describes the development of people’s abilities and appreciation for life. Researchers 10 suggested that self-actualization is most important in the hierarchy of needs. Humanism mentions that one’s learning environment can either help to meet those needs or away from meeting those requirements. However, students or learners are at the center of this theory. The most common implication of humanism theory is by educators identifying the unique requirements of each student and motivating their academic and social development.

5. Social learning theory

Social learning theory was developed by Canadian-American psychologist Albert Bandura. This theory contains three core elements. The first one explains that people learn through their observations. The second element shows the importance of internal mental conditions in the learning process. The third and final element describes that learning doesn’t always result in a change of behavior. The theory suggests that people learn within a social context. This specific theory mentions three significant concepts that can facilitate the process of learning. The concepts include observational learning, imitation of attitudes/behavior/emotional reactions, and modeling. Social learning theory consists of four important mediational processes such as –

  • Retention
  • Reproduction
  • Attention
  • Motivation

The most common example of this theory is that children often imitate family members, cartoon characters, famous figures, or friends.

Learning Theory In Teaching

Most of the learning theories describe the role of a teacher as more of facilitating and guiding. Educators must have a thorough knowledge of several basic learning theories. Because this understanding is extremely essential to understand how teachers can support, inspire, and motivate students. The theories help educators to understand the process of learning and how they can help learners to reach their different developmental milestones. Learning theory adds a variety of ideas into the teachers’ ‘how to teach’ pocket. Thus, these theories can suggest different types of interesting approaches or methods that educators can use.

The following are some of the important ideas that teachers can receive by studying learning theory:

1. Behaviorism theory

Educators can use positive feedback in the form of rewards that will help to motivate and support students. Those feedbacks will influence the students to build their present learning into the future.

2. Cognitivism theory

Educators can draw on the ‘learning while doing’ approaches. They can provide guided studies that will prompt the students to think.

3. Humanistic theory

By utilizing this theory, teachers can create a safe environment for the students to learn, grow, and develop.

4. Social learning theory

Teachers can act as role models that the students can follow or copy.

5. Constructivism theory

This theory insists the educators help the students to get their understanding of the content by asking them thoughtful and open-ended questions.

The Learning Theory Approach

Learning theories are of great significance as they help teachers in implementing their responsibilities. Students cannot be treated like blank spaces waiting to be filled with knowledge. Every student’s level of experience and learning is different from each other. They are sufficiently similar. When it comes to arriving at the desired learning outcome, learning theories have a pivotal role to play. A theory offers detailed frameworks, explanations, predictions, and guidelines for action and behavior. Therefore, it is an extremely vital tool for educators as well as a must-have component for the students.

  1. Badyal, D. K., & Singh, T. (2017). Learning Theories: The Basics to Learn in Medical Education. International journal of applied & basic medical research, 7(Suppl 1), S1–S3. https://doi.org/10.4103/ijabmr.IJABMR_385_17 []
  2. Gandhi MH, Mukherji P. Learning Theories. [Updated 2020 Aug 25]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK562189/ []
  3. Ramli, A., Zain, R. M., Zain, M., & Rahman, A. (2021). Environmental Factors and Academic Performance: The Mediating Effect of Quality of Life. The Importance of New Technologies and Entrepreneurship in Business Development: In The Context of Economic Diversity in Developing Countries: The Impact of New Technologies and Entrepreneurship on Business Development, 194, 2082–2105. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-69221-6_150 []
  4. Tyng, C. M., Amin, H. U., Saad, M., & Malik, A. S. (2017). The Influences of Emotion on Learning and Memory. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 1454. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01454 []
  5. Clark K. R. (2018). Learning Theories: Behaviorism. Radiologic technology, 90(2), 172–175. []
  6. Wilson, S. M., & Peterson, P. L. (2006). Theories of Learning and Teaching What Do They Mean for Educators? ERIC – Education Resources Information Center. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED495823.pdf []
  7. Yilmaz, K. (2011). The cognitive perspective on learning: Its theoretical underpinnings and implications for classroom practices. The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, 84(5), 204-212. https://doi.org/10.1080/00098655.2011.568989 []
  8. Jia, Q. (2010). A brief study on the implication of constructivism teaching theory on classroom teaching reform in basic education. International Education Studies, 3(2). https://doi.org/10.5539/ies.v3n2p197 []
  9. IVTZAN, I. (n.d.). School of Positive Transformation. https://www.awarenessisfreedom.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/SAforIndividualisticculturesonly1.pdf []
  10. Kenrick, D. T., Griskevicius, V., Neuberg, S. L., & Schaller, M. (2010). Renovating the Pyramid of Needs: Contemporary Extensions Built Upon Ancient Foundations. Perspectives on psychological science : a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, 5(3), 292–314. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691610369469 []