Learner Centred Learning/Adult Learning Theories, Principles and Practices/Four Orientations to Learning

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A brief summary of each

The Behaviourist Orientation

Control over learning comes from the environment and learning is expressed as observable behaviour. Purpose in education

Produce behavioural change in desired direction

Educator's role

Arranges environment to elicit desired response

The Cognitivist Orientation

Control of the learning lies with the individual learner and how they process information.

Purpose in education

Develop capacity and skills to learn better

Educator's role

Structures content of learning activity

The Humanist Orientation

This orientation views learning from the perspective of the unlimited potential for human growth.

Purpose in education

Become self-actualized, autonomous

Educator's role

Facilitates development of the whole person

The Social and Situational Orientation

This orientation is based on the belief that people learn from observing and interacting with others. Context has considerable importance and it is the interaction of many factors that result in learning.

Purpose in education

Full participation in communities of practice and utilization of resources

Educator's role

Works to establish communities of practice in which conversation and participation can occur.


Merriam, S.B. & Caffarella, R.S. (1991). Learning in adulthood. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Smith, M.K. (1999). Learning theory. The encyclopedia of informal education. Retrieved on 26 June 2004 from www.infed.org/biblio/b-learn.htm.

Further Resources

This pdf document provides a little more detail to the summary above including identifying theorists linked to each orientation.

For those who want more in depth reading, Mark Smith's article explores learning theory with a focus on four orientations of learning.