Theories of Learning: Introduction

Although there are many different approaches to learning, there are three basic types of learning theory: behaviorist, cognitive constructivist, and social constructivist. This section provides a brief introduction to each type of learning theory. The theories are treated in four basic parts: after a short historical introduction, a discussion of the view of knowledge presupposed by the theory follows. Next, there is an account of how the theory treats learning and student motivation. Finally, an overview of some of the instructional methods promoted by the theory is presented.


Knowledge Repertoire of behavioral responses to environmental stimuli. Knowledge systems of cognitive structures are actively constructed by learners based on existing structures. Knowledge is socially constructed.
Learning Passive absorption of predefined body of knowledge by learner. Promoted by repetition and positive reinforcement. Active assimilation and accommodation of new information to existing cognitive structures. Discovery by learners. Integration of students into knowledge community. Collaborative assimilation and accommodation of new information.
Motivation Extrinsic, reward and punishment (positive and negative reinforcers). Intrinsic. Learners set their own goals and motivate themselves to learn. Intrinsic and extrinsic. Learning goals and motives are determined both by learners and extrinsic rewards provided by the knowledge community.
Instruction Correct behavioral responses are transmitted by the teacher and absorbed by the students. The teacher facilitates learning by providing an environment that promotes discovery and assimilation/accommodation. Collaborative learning is facilitated and guided by the teacher. Group work.