Week 2: Overview

a quick review of learning theories, instructional design approachs and related concepts/ideas to help ground each design plan.

Learning Theories - Review

Learning theories present ideas about the way that people learn; some theories derive from critical analysis, research and a significant body of evidence from testing in various educational situations. You may also notice that some widely accepted theories lack substantive research but are still valued by many experienced educators as they reflect some shared experiences with students and can still provide valuable guidance in developing courses.

Learning theories do not provide clearcut answers about the best ways to design learning for our increasingly complex and diverse society but exploring some of the philosophical foundations and critical elements of each major group of theories can be helpful in developing more flexible, varied approaches to education. You do not need to become an expert on learning theories to be a successful designer but an awareness of the theoretical foundation for many of the current course and curriculum designs can be helpful.

A simple way to organize your understanding of traditional and developing learning theories is to consider the four categories below:  Behaviourism, Cognitivism, Constructivism and Connectivism. The titles reflect a shared focus and perspective on human learning and the nature of knowledge and reality.

Behaviourism includes theories that are based on changes in behaviour that can be directly observed and measured. Cognitivism includes theories that focus on the way the human brain take in information and stores it for recall and application. Constructivism includes a range of theories that begin from a subjective perception of reality and may include a belief that learning occurs through social interactions. A final theory (still argued by many) is Connectivism. This theory was developed to address the way learning has changed due to the exponential increase in information due to advances in digital technologies and connectivity. A central belief is that learning occurs primarily (most effectively?) through networked learning.

Learning Theories

Some of the important questions you may ask about each are included in the table, followed by the names of some of the leading theorists.

How does learning occur? stimulus -> response; observable behaviour main focus, chaining events input -> process -> output (learning) structured, computational meaning created by each learner (personal);focus on social learning Distributed within a network, social, technologically enhanced, recognizing and interpreting patterns
What factors influence learning? nature of stimulus (reward; punish), timing of events existing schema, previous experiences Engagement, participation, social, cultural Diversity of network
What is the role of the memory Repeated experiences are remembered - timing & type of reward / punishment are most influential Encoding to long term memory, retrieval Prior knowledge remixed to current context Adaptive patterns, representative of current state, existing in networks
How does transfer occur? Stimulus, response Duplicating knowledge constructs of "knower" Socialization Connecting to (adding nodes)

What types of learning are best explained by this theory?

Task-based learning Reasoning, clear objectives, problem solving Social, vague ("ill defined") problem solving Complex learning, rapid changing core, diverse knowledge sources

Names of some theorists

I. Pavlov, B.F. Skinner, J. Watson D. Ausubel, J. Bruner, R. Gagne J. Dewey, L. Vygotsky, E. von Glaserfeld S. Downes & G. Siemens

You may also enjoy exploring the amazingly comprehensive and interactive learning theories map, created by Richard Millwood for a European Union project: HoTEL (Holistic Approach to Technology Enhanced Learning).


Fredholm, Lotta (2001) Ivan Petrovich Pavlov (1849-1936). Nobelprize.org. Retrieved from https://www.nobelprize.org/educational/medicine/pavlov/readmore.html

Greengrass, M. (2004) 100 Years of B.F. Skinner, American Psychological Association. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/mar04/skinner.aspx

HLWiki Canada. (2016) John Dewey, Creative Commons BY-NC-SA, Retrieved from http://hlwiki.slais.ubc.ca/index.php/John_Dewey

HLWiki Canada. (2015) Gagne's Nine Events of Instruction, Creative Commons BY-NC-SA, Retrieved from http://hlwiki.slais.ubc.ca/index.php/Gagne's_Nine_Events_of_Instruction

HLWiki Canada. (2015) Lev Vygotsky, Creative Commons BY-NC-SA, Retrieved from http://hlwiki.slais.ubc.ca/index.php/Lev_Vygotsky

Siemens, George (2005) Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age, International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning. Retrieved from http://www.itdl.org/journal/jan_05/article01.htm

Smith, M.K. (2002) ‘Jerome S. Bruner and the process of education’, the encyclopedia of informal education. [http://infed.org/mobi/jerome-bruner-and-the-process-of-education/ Retrieved: Dec. 10, 2016]

Smith, M. K. (2003). ‘Learning theory’, the encyclopedia of informal education. [http://infed.org/mobi/learning-theory-models-product-and-process/. Retrieved: Dec. 10, 2016].

Millwood, Richard. (2013) Learning Theory, v6, Holistic Approach to Technology Enhanced Learning (EU-funded project), retrieved from http://hotel-project.eu/sites/default/files/Learning_Theory_v6_web/Learning%20Theory.html

Scientific Reasoning Research Institute. von Glasersfeld, Ernst. Radical Constructivism. Retrieved from https://www.srri.umass.edu/vonglasersfeld/

Weibell, C. J. (2011). Principles of learning: 7 principles to guide personalized, student-centered learning in the technology-enhanced, blended learning environment. Retrieved Nov. 4, 2016 from [https://principlesoflearning.wordpress.com].

Wikipedia article - David Ausubel - Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Ausubel