Learning Theory Chart by Theory

LT Chart by Issue

What it means to learn…
  • From a behaviorist perspective, learning often consists of
    • providing reflexive responses (for example: responding with a "clap" in Direct Instruction)
    • basic skills that require rote memorization such as learning the alphabet
    • controlling and shaping short-term behavior goals
  • The principles associated with behaviorism are often linked with behavior management techniques
  • Learning includes making connections to past experiences. For example, when an action produces a response, you learn to associate the two together. So in the future, previous experience is relied upon and it is expected that the same actions will produce the same responses.

How we learn…

  • Classical Conditioning:
    • Stimuli and responses are connected
    • Example: Pavlov's dogs (bell was followed by the treat, which made the dogs salivate & eventually the dogs just salivated when they heard the bell because they had learned that the bell meant that the treat was coming)
  • Operant Conditioning:
    • Consequences (rewards or punishments) produce changes in behavior
    • Lots of times behaviors can depend on what the reward is and what it means to the individual
    • Rewards must be logical and contingent on behavior. In other words, the reward is directly related to the behavior. So… a logical reward for getting good grades on tests would be not to have to take a final exam. A illogical reward for getting good grades on a test would be having a pizza party. In both cases the reward is still contingent on behavior (performance on tests).
    • Actions get (immediate) responses! Feedback, rewards– praise or tokens… are all most effective when given immediately after the behavior. For example, it would not make much sense to talk to a first grader about a poor choice a week after it occurred. This allows children to know what is expected and what will be rewarded.

The role of prior knowledge and experience in learning…

  • Who you are now is determined by how you've been reinforced in the past
  • In behaviorism prior experience is of great importance:
    • Prior experience often makes it more difficult to change behavior. For example, if there is a student in your class who has learned that they always get three warnings before receiving a consequence for a negative behavior, it is unlikely that they will comply the first time a direction is given. It will be more difficult to change this student's behavior because of their prior experiences.
    • Prior experience (reinforcements/punishments) determines behaviors. That is, the conditioning history determines how individuals respond in a learning situation, as well as the rate at which individuals respond

The active role of the individual in learning…

  • From a behaviorist perspective individuals do not have much of a choice because they are being made to act in a certain way
  • Individuals are simply responding to their environment. It is the teacher and environment that hold responsibility for the learning.

The role of social and cultural factors in learning…

  • In behaviorism, there is a strong emphasis on the ROLE OF OTHERS!
    • Children are likely to do what their peer groups reinforce, either positive or negative (for example, teen drinking)
    • What is and is not rewarded depends on culture
    • The people around you and your environment have a significant impact on shaping behavior
    • Parents/Teachers can be supportive or non-supportive depending on the reinforcements they provide
    • Parents/teachers/society also plays a large role in learning, as they are responsible for setting up the environment to which students are supposed to simply "respond"

The role of motivation in learning…

  • Students are motivated by extrinsic rewards
  • Students are not held to be individually accountable for their learning, because there are simply responding to their environment

1. What it means to learn?

Learning, according to Dewey, addresses transformative experiences. Learning can be and should be fun; it should enrich one's life. It should include integrating the subject matter and then applying it to our everyday life. It also addresses complex problems and values the development of problem-solving skill in complex, real-world situations. To learn according to Dewey includes value, perception, and meaning – things that go beyond observable behavior.

2. How do we learn?

We learn by connecting to experience. That is, by relating new concepts to our everyday experience. We also learn by exploring how and why things happen, and the significance of these things. Social interaction is also important to learning. These are more general (and somewhat vague) ideas, whereas Behaviorism has specific rules of behavior (e.g., classical and operant conditioning).

3. The role of prior knowledge and experience in learning

Prior experience is the basis and meaning for learning. Therefore, if we have prior experience that is related to the subject matter, it is likely to help us have a transformative experience. An example is the two kids, one urban, the other rural. The subject matter is wild animals. It is more likely that the rural child has prior experience with wild animals, whereas the urban child may not. Therefore, the rural child is more likely to have a transformative experience.

4. The active role of the individual in learning

One must be willing to experiment with the curriculum in his or her everyday life. That is, act on the ideas in everyday experience; try them out. To do this, one must be willing to suspend disbelief, not be worried about what others think, and try to limit the impact of peer pressure.

5. The role of social and cultural factors in learning

Peer influences can make a difference in how we engage. We're influenced by the attitudes and actions of our peers, families, and community. What one culture may have prior experience with, another may not. Likewise, that same prior experience may be viewed differently (positive or negative) by one culture, and not another. This can influence whether students are likely to have transformative experiences or not.

6. The role of motivation in learning

Intrinsic motivation is the main focus. That is, learners need to be motivated from within to have a transformative experience. Although extrinsic motivation could foster the same result, the learner is more likely to have a transformative experience if he or she has some experience with the subject, and therefore are more engaged and self motivated. Additionally, Dewey's focus is on "learning" goal oriented rather than "performance" goal oriented learners.


Cognitive: Information Processing

What it means to learn?

The processing of knowledge; that is, the storage and retrieval of information.

To truly learn according to the information processing model (i.e., to acquire information in a way that it can effectively be retrieved later) is to contextualize a concept in a rich knowledge structure. That is, connect the concept to other ideas, prior knowledge & experience, emotions, multiple senses, etc.

A value is placed on deep level understanding of an idea by understanding how all of the concepts that are interrelated.

How do we learn according to Information Processing?

By following the model of information processing.

  •  Information is registered by the individual's sensor register.
  • Attention determines which information makes it to working memory.
  • Rehearsal keeps information in the working memory.
  • Associating the idea with other information moves it into the long-term memory.
  • Finally, when you recall the idea it then flows back into the working memory.

How does prior experience influence current learning?

Connecting new concepts to prior knowledge is critical to the IP view of learning.

Prior experience allows us to recall events, experience, and emotions pushing a deep level learning and helping us to obtain expertise  These previous events form a foundation of intertwined ideas helping us to relate to new ideas and concepts that fit within this structure.

What active role does the individual play?

An individual needs to take charge of the control processes (attention, rehearsal, and association) in order to learn effectively.

In terms of association, the individual needs to be active in creating a structured network of information. This can be achieved through such things as:

  • Creating a concept map to help strengthen deep understanding instead of just using rehearsal.
  • Elaborating on the new knowledge by relating it personal experience, developing opinions about it, comparing it to other ideas, etc.
  • Networking with peers can help an individual explore ideas and experiences previously undiscovered.  (not sure if this is one)
  •  Individuals can focus on the “key ideas” to explain in-depth concepts and to provide a core to the developing knowledge structure.
  • Rehearsal can help an individual learn facts to reinforce the knowledge network.

What social and cultural factors affect information processing?

Social and cultural factors can either strengthen or weaken a person’s knowledge network. A favorable home environment can help support and reinforce the learning process. Disconnect can occur when the support structure at home is lacking or nonexistent.

For example students who come from a more affluent area may enter school with a prior deep understanding of the subject matter where students from more urban communities may be overwhelmed by the ideas presented.

What is the role of motivation?

Information processing uses both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. 

Intrinsic is shown by the active role played by the individual.  This includes such things as concept mapping and prior knowledge.

Extrinsic motivators can also influence information processing.  A student who is motivated by outside factors such as grades, peers, and prestige may not display the most elaborate knowledge network.  It is often up to the educator to reinforce the concepts and performance goals to help create an effective learning environment.

Overall, students who are internally motivated (e.g., intrinsic motivation, mastery goals) tend to use more of the effective learning strategies (like those listed in the question above) than students who are externally motivated. Those who are externally motivated are more likely to use strategies that work for short-term performance (e.g., cramming the night before a test), but do not lead to understanding and effective information processing over the long-term.

Cognitive: Self-regulation

1. What it means to learn

As its name suggests, the meaning of learning is for the student to be self-regulated and/or develop self-regulation. This includes the following: the student has a positive attitude and positive learning experiences; the student learns for mastery; has goals and ownership of his or her own learning; and is intrinsically motivated to learn and become self-regulated. These can be summarized by the concept of SKILL and WILL, which encompasses all of the above mentioned features.

2. How do we learn

Students can become self-regulated and their understanding of self-regulation can be enhanced in three ways: indirectly through experience, directly through instruction, and elicited through practice. Self-regulation can be induced from authentic or repeated experiences in school. Self-regulation may emerge as tacit knowledge about what is expected by the teacher and what is useful behavior for the student. Teachers may provide explicit instructions about self-regulation by providing detailed strategy instruction or involving the students in deciding appropriate motivational goals and standards, including information about how, when, and why particular strategies should be used. Teachers can also make implicit strategies visible though instruction, discussion, modeling, or technology. Teachers should provide open-ended tasks that involve challenge, collaboration, goal-setting, and opportunities for autonomy and goal-setting. Finally, students can become self-regulated by being encouraged to be self-monitoring through such activities as discussion, reflective journals, authentic assessments, and portfolios.

3. The role of prior knowledge and experience in learning

Prior knowledge and experience can have a great impact on a student being or becoming self-regulated. Parents, previous teachers, and the social atmosphere of growing up can affect the skills needed for self-regulation such as organizational skills, analytical skills, self-reflection, and any other skill that was learned or acquired. A student's background can prepare him or her to be self-regulated by incorporating some of the above mentioned characteristics from #2. Depending on the choices given to the child and the kind of structure (tight or loose) surrounding the choices, the choices can have a great influence on the student's self-regulation.

4. The active role of the individual in learning

To sum up this theory very quickly, it is the role of the individual to become self-regulated (i.e. the whole theory is about the individual). Students should be reflective about the strategies used, their own strengths and weaknesses, their goals, their mastery of the subject area, and the motivation behind their success. The student should be self-monitoring including metacognition, self-assessment, and self-appraisal. The answer to #1 can also be applied to this question.

5. The role of social and cultural factors in learning

Depending on the facilitators (parents, teachers, etc.), various degrees of self-regulation can be apparent in students from different cultures. A person's social atmosphere as well as his or her culture can affect whether the student can be self-regulated or not. What the student learns from his social circle as well as his cultural background can enhance the student's self-regulation by the choices made or can inhibit the student from becoming self-regulated.

6. The role of motivation in learning

Will is part of self-regulation. Therefore motivation is already incorporated into the theory and to say that a student is self-regulated implies that he or she has internal regulation (i.e., intrinsic motivation or at least identified regulation), a mastery orientation, and an adaptive attribution pattern or is developing positive motivation patterns as he or she becomes more self-regulated.

Cognitive: Piaget/Constructivism

1. What it means to learn

Learning is cognitive development. This means an increasing ability to think, reason, problem-solve, and think abstractly. It also involves the development of more sophisticated schemas.

2. How do we learn

As learners, Piaget believes that we learn through assimilation, equilibrium, and accommodation.

Constructivism – A theory stating that people create knowledge from the interaction between their existing knowledge or beliefs and the new ideas or situations they encounter. We learn and build on prior knowledge.

    • Assimilation- Learners fit new information into their existing schemas.
      • Example: A child has a schema that cats are furry and have 4 legs. The child then sees an animal that is 4-legged and furry and calls it a cat (even if it is a dog). The child doesn't change his/her initial schema but just fits information into it.
    • Accommodation- Instead of just fitting new information into an existing concept/schema, accommodation involves the construction of a new concept and the reconstruction of how we interpret ideas, beliefs, or certain situations.
      • Example: A child calls an animal a cat because it is 4-legged and furry then is told that cats are small and the animal is big so it is a dog. The child then revises his/her cat schema and constructs a new dog schema.
    • Equilibration- Since the learner is still learning, his/her structures will not be able to completely handle some new experience because there will be a loss of equilibrium at some point, and change (accommodation) will be made to a cognitive structure in attempt to accommodate to the novel aspects of the experience. Going through this process is a key to cognitive development.

3. The role of prior knowledge and experience in learning

Schemas are our existing prior knowledge. These determine how we interpret the world and provide a basis for making sense of the world. Learning is a process of reconstructing our prior knowledge rather than receiving new information. The concepts of constructivism, assimilation, and accommodation explain how our prior knowledge affects our learning.

4. The active role of the individual in learning

As an individual, we are very active because we are constantly using assimilation and prior knowledge to further our learning and cognitive thinking. We must be active in learning by putting forth and testing ideas in our environment. It is when we actively test our existing ideas that we a forced to reconstruct (accommodate) our initial ideas and develop more sophisticated schemas.

5. The role of social and cultural factors in learning

  • Social- We discuss ideas and beliefs with others to reorder our own personal schema. Our environment is important to challenge our ideas and create disequilibrium. This often causes us to engage in accommodation and equilibration, which are the processes needed for cognitive development.
  • Cultural-Gives a basis for our schemas. Many of our dominant schemas come from our culture. This is important for education because it means that individuals from different cultures will interpret the same information in different ways and have different bases of prior knowledge to build on.

6. The role of motivation in learning

From Piaget's perspective, a developmentalist is intrinsically motivated because the learner must be self-directed and actively interest.

Cognitive: Conceptual Change

1. What it means to learn

Learners change an existing conception (i.e., misconception, naïve theory) to a more sophisticated and accurate conception.

2. How do we learn

Learner must be dissatisfied with their current conception, be able to make sense of the new idea, think the new idea is plausible, and see the new idea as useful. There are many reasons why learners hold on to their existing misconceptions. These reasons become barriers to conceptual change. Such reasons include the fact that existing misconceptions often make sense and are grounded in experience, we are comfortable with our existing ideas, existing ideas are often associated with political and social values or authority figures, our existing ideas may be "hard-core" ideas that we preserve by changing our "protective-belt" ideas, we don't like to be wrong about our ideas, and others.

3. The role of prior knowledge and experience in learning

The learner resists change to existing ideas (see above). Conceptual change is not so much a process as adding a new idea to a blank knowledge based, but a process of reorganizing and reconstructing prior ideas.

4. The active role of the individual in learning

The learner challenges/changes their schema. They need to be open, motivated, and willing to test new ideas and be open to the idea that they have certain misconceptions.

5. The role of social and cultural factors in learning

Different backgrounds such as race and politics can result in different conceptions/schemas. These can lead different groups of people to interpret the world differently and resist understanding someone else's perspective (because we resist changing our own ideas).

6. The role of motivation in learning

The learner is motivated to filter through new information, to have the correct understanding, and a mastery of the content. Learners has a mastery goal orientation are more like to achieve genuine conceptual change than learners who are performance oriented.

Social Constructivism

1. What it means to learn

According to Social Constructivism, individuals learn by internalizing mental tools. Mental tools are objects or strategies that are used to transform mental work. Physical materials like calculators, calendars, and clocks, as well as more abstract examples such as language and learning strategies are some of the tools we use. As we internalize these mental tools, we develop higher psychological processes.

The theory works well for addressing how we learn complex skills that can be applied in real-world activities. Examples include the development of language and learning to do authentic science experiments. The theory also addresses the outcome of learning to be an active member of a knowledge building community.

2. How do we learn

We internalize our mental tools as we work in our Zone of Proximal Development. This involves the completion of tasks that are neither too easy for us nor too difficult. They are tasks that can only be completed with help. Therefore, we learn most efficiently while participating in authentic social activities. Learning, according to this theory, is a part of enculturation.

The apprenticeship model is based on the ideas of internalization and the ZPD. It is particularly useful for helping students develop complex skills that can be applied in real-world situations. The community of learners model likewise is based social constructivism theory and useful for, among other things, helping individuals learn to be a part of a knowledge building community.

3. The role of prior knowledge and experience in learning

First, our prior experience is gained through our social and cultural backgrounds. Community knowledge is continually built upon and passed down. So, our culture greatly impacts our prior knowledge/experience.

Second, our Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) is determined by our prior experience. As we gain knowledge, our ZPD is raised to a new level and we work to succeed at more challenging tasks.

4. The active role of the individual in learning

According to Social Constructivism, our thoughts and knowledge are not our own, but are a product of our history and culture. However, the learner does have a role. They must be a willing participant in the knowledge-building community and must be able to internalize new ideas. Participation in authentic activity is central to this view of learning.

5. The role of social and cultural factors in learning

Social and cultural factors play a huge role. Individuals learn from their culture before they enter school. The prior experience that they have comes from their background. Their mental tools, the Zone of Proximal Development, etc. all come from the social experiences they have. New learning is developed through authentic social activities. Social learning is in fact the basis of this theory.

6. The role of motivation in learning

Values and attributions can vary by culture. As we grow and develop as members of our community, we adopt the cultural norms, attitudes, and beliefs. As a result, what may be intrinsically motivating to one individual may hold little interest for another.

5/7110 Homepage