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Learning Theories

Tyesha Jones




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Major Learning Theories


B. F. Skinner

Edward Thorndike

  • Founder of Psychology
  • Known for researching Classical Condition
  • Defined learning habits formation

Bruner, Taba, Tyler

  • Suggested that meaningful learning occurred through problem solving and inquiry discovery
  • Argued that transfer in learning does not occure through memorization, but through application

  • Developed behaviorist theory of Operant Conditioning
  • Classified Operant Condition as two types of responses: Elicited and Emitted

Characteristics of Behaviorism

Thorndike's Three Laws of Learning:1. Law of Readiness- Speaks about learners's enthusiasm. The nervous system is ready and learners are alert. 2. Law of Exercise- Repetition 3. Law of Effect- Learners' Encouragement. Reinforce behaviors in the act of feedback .

Characteristics of Behaviorism

B. F. Skinner

The theory of operant conditioning suggest that behavior change and learning occurs as the outcome of effects of punishment and reinforcement.







Role of Memory in Behaviorism

Memory plays a huge role in operant conditioning. The premise of operant conditioning is that reinforced behavior will be repeated, and punished behavior will decrease (Jensen, 2023). For example, an individual needs to remember when behaviors are inforced and punished for the behaviors to increase and decrease.

How Learning occurs in Behavorism

The behaviorism theory suggests that individuals learn through experiences. Behavorism focuses on the idea that all types of behaviors through interactions with the environment (Jenson, 2023). For example, a common example of behaviorism is positive reinforcement. A boy may get a small treat if they get 100% on their math test.

Types of Learning Best Explained by Behaviorism

  • Classical Conditioning- Learning through association
  • Operant Conditioning- Learning through consequences
  • Observational Learning- Learning through observation


Jean Piaget

  • Cognitivism is the theory that focuses on how individuals receive, organize, store, and recall information (Clark, 2018).
  • Piage is responsible for identifying stages of cognition that pass through based on their age and stage of mental development.

Characteristics of Cognitivism

Characterisitics of Cognitivism includes

  • Learning is a process of organizing information into conceptualized models.
  • Instructions should be organized, sequenced and presented in a manner that
  • is understandable and meaningful to the learner.
  • Retention and recall is important to build schema’s in the brain.
  • Memory is supported by organizing learning material.
  • Teachers must provide tools that help learner’s brain process information.

Role of Memory in Cognitivism

In the cognitivism, when individuals learn something new, the process that occurs in their minds begins with the activation of prior knowledge. The prior knowledge that is what is already in their minds and serve as a hook to grab on to the new information and form a connection to it (Clark, 2018).

Information that individuals are exposed to goes into their short-term memory. If the learning is made meaningful they are able to successfully connect it to something they know, it and it is more likely that it will be stored with the new information in their long-term memory.

How Learning occurs in Cognitivism

Cognitive theory is an active style of learning that focuses on helping you learn how to maximize your brain's potential.

Examples of cognitive learning strategies include:

  • Asking students to justify and explain their thinking
  • Using visualizations to improve students' understanding and recall.

Learning Best explained by Cognitivism

Cognitivism assumes that students learn better when they use their own thinking skills rather than being taught facts and procedures (Clark, 2018).Cognitivism explain complex form of learning.

  • Reasoning
  • Problem-Solving
  • Information Processing


Lev Vygotsky

  • Believes that social interaction precedes development and that cognition results from socialization and social behavior
  • Learning takes place at specific level of social interaction. This is called the zone of proximal development.

Jerome Bruner

  • Contributed the idea of discovery learning to the constructivism. Believed an inquiry-based approach allows learners to discover facts and relationships for themselves.
  • Faced with a problem the learner uses past experience and existing knowledge to create new understandings
  • Models that are based on discovery learning include: guided discovery, problem-based learning, simulation-based learning and case-based learning.

Characteristics of Constructivism

  1. Knowledge is constructed rather than innate, or passively absorbed.
  2. Learning is an active process.
  3. All knowledge is socially constructed.
  4. All knowledge is personal.
  5. Learning exists in the mind.

Role of Memory in Constructivism

Memory or retrieval can be enhanced or improved through co-constructed narratives or conversations with others regarding their experiences. The basic principles of constructivism suggest that learners are more apt to remember information if their constructions are personally meaningful to them (Ormrod et al., 2009).

How Learning occurs in Constructivism

In constructivism, learners learn through experience and that meaning is influenced by the interaction of prior knowledge and new events.

Types of Learning Explained in Constructivism

  • Advanced Knowledge Acquisition- misconceptions and biases acquired previously can be discovered, negotiated and if necessary modified or removed.


  • Clark, K. R. (2018). Learning Theories: Cognitivism. Radiologic Technology, 90(2), 176–179
  • Jensen, R. (2023). Behaviorism. Salem Press Encyclopedia of Health.
  • Ormrod, J., Schunk, D., & Gredler, M. (2009). Cognitive learning processes. In Learning theories and instruction (Laureate custom edition) (pp. 98-145). New York: Pearson.