Learning Theories

Learning Theories

EDU 120 Principles of Instructional Design

Ashford University

Learning Theories

What are learning theories? They explain how we process, connect, and absorb knowledge while we learn. By learning about each learning theory, we can grasp a better understanding of how learning occurs. These principals of each approach can guide us to select the correct instructional tools and strategies that will promote how we learn.

The behaviorist theory states that human behavior can be explained or studied through operant and classical conditioning. It can be observed through observation (Brown & Green, 2018). Operant conditioning involves associating the learned behavior with consequences. Classical conditioning involves associating the two unrelated stimuli with each other to learn.

The cognitive theory states that the mind processes information through a series of different processes that work together as a complete system (Brown & Green, 2018). Learners produce their knowledge through human cognitive abilities. The constructivist theory, which is very similar to cognitivism, is centered on the principle that learning is centered on the person understanding of the curriculum by comparing it to his or her own experiences (Culatta, 2018). The social learning theory explains human behavior in terms of continuous reciprocal interaction between cognitive, behavioral, environmental influences (Culatta, 2018).


Cognitivism is similar to behaviorism because they are both based on the learner’s environment. Cognitivism focuses on the effectiveness of concepts presented in a clear and concise way. The environment must be clear and concise. Behaviorism relates to that same environment. Because the behavior is based on the consequence, the area of learning must be this same way in order to accomplish the objective.

Constructivism is similar to the social learning theory because they both deal with observation and relationships. These theories argue that learning has two parts, an individual and a social viewpoint. They emphasize the interaction within education.


The difference between cognitivism and behaviorism is that behaviorism deals with the behaviors of the learned objective. Students perform activities through learned behaviors to achieve the learning goal. In cognitivism, students focus on how they receive the information through the decision making and memory-based learning. The social learning theory deals with the behaviors learned through observations. The constructivist approach advises that education is organized, whether they are learning individually or during group work.

Personal Instructional Experience

The learning theories that I’ve experienced recently are behaviorism and constructivism. I am currently assisting with the training department at my employer. In the middle of March, we were advised to work from home due to COVID-19. Our current training class was just in the middle of learning auto concepts. We then had to transition from a classroom environment, using different learning techniques, to e-learning from home. The response from learning online can be behavioral due to the environment that they are learning in (at home). The objectives are provided each day to give the students guidance on what is required throughout the day. Constructivism is also taken into consideration because while students are performing the learned behavior (assisting agents with processing changes and requests), they are creating their own personal understanding of each task. They actively use critical thinking in solving the goal at the end of the call.

Each of these learning theories assists in a better understanding of how to use them while teaching. My goal is to be an instructional designer for my current employer once I’ve graduated from Ashford University. It is critical to understand which learning theories best suit the learner. This way, we make significant, informed decisions, which can lead to better development and delivery of learning.


Brown, A. H., & Green, T. D. (2016). The essentials of instructional design: Connecting fundamental principles with process and practice (3rd ed.). Retrieved from https://redshelf.com

Culatta, R. (2018). Conditions of learning (Robert Gagné). (Links to an external site.) Retrieved from http://www.instructionaldesign.org/theories/conditions-learning.html

Culatta, R. (2018). Learning theories (Links to an external site.). Retrieved from http://instructionaldesign.org/theories/index.html

Weber, M. (2018, March 9). The implications of 3 adult learning theories on instructional design (Links to an external site.). Retrieved from https://elearningindustry.com/adult-learning-theories-on-instructional-design-implications-3

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