Theories and models

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Why do we need learning theories? For a start they help us to understand how information is "absorbed, processed and retained" (Wikipedia, 2013, para 1). They also give teachers a useful foundation on which to build their approach to learning and teaching and helps them to understand the many different ways in which people learn. Different theories are linked to various outcomes of learning, for example, skills-based learning might be underpinned by behaviourist learning theory.

Learning theories are generally grouped into five different categories:

  • Behaviourist (conditioning - stimulus and reward);
  • Humanistic (values-based empowerment of learners) - slide presentation of concepts - click on slides to enlarge as necessary;
  • Constructivism (making meanings - social and cognitive aspects) - after reading the definition, you can work through a list of topics to find out more ;
  • Cognitivism (memory and prior learning); and
  • Situated learning theory (social and communities of practice).

Take some time to explore some different approaches to learning that are based on the various theories. Links to several more extra resources can be found further on. In the first instance, use the activities to help guide your understanding of learning theories. If you are not sure where to start, check out this Interactive collection of learning theories and theorists. For an overview and comparison of behaviourism, cognitive constructivism and social constructivism - check out the Overview of Learning Theories from Berkley.

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The IBSA workbook contains a table on page 13 which highlights the key elements of the different learning theories. Note the relevance of the different theories to teaching and learning.
  • Identify the practical applications these learning theories could have in relation to the approach you would take in designing activities for your learners.
  • Look at a comparison of instructional design in behavioural and constructivist approaches: 
 University of Washington eproject, 2003, Notice the differences between the two main approaches to learning in the instructor's role, the student's role and the suggested activities.
  • Post to your blog and share your perspectives on the Moodle discussion forum.