What is a “learning theory”?
A learning theory is a conceptual framework that attempts to explain what happens when people learn. Learning theories can help people interpret observations of learning, and direct people toward solutions to practical problems.
In general, there are three types of learning theories: behaviorist, cognitive, and constructivist.
Behaviorism focuses on observable aspects of learning, and often looks at learning as part of conditioning — i.e. behavior that responds to external stimuli (positive or negative). Cognitive theories of learning focus on the learner, looking at the cognitive structure that help people assimilate new information. Memory often plays a large role in cognitive theories. Constructivism considers how knowledge is acquired within social constructs; prominent constructionists like John Dewey and Maria Montessori focus on how real-life experience, collaboration, and both intrinsic and extrinsic motivations facilitate learning.
Instructional designers can use learning theories to inform design strategy.
Here at Knewton, we love geeking out over edtech – the people, the technology, and its potential to change the world. As part of our participation in the community, we’re putting together an “Ed Tech 101” glossary to explore the language itself – the buzzwords, the jargon, the neologisms, and everything in between. Have an ed tech word or phrase you’d like us to feature? Leave a comment!
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