Everyone learns differently. Some learn better with a hands-on approach and learning by doing. Others can learn best by reading about processes and putting them to practice later on.
Ultimately, understanding how to use different learning theories helps students and faculty communicate better with one another while increasing overall learning outcomes. Teaching is both an art and a science, and using several methods in and out of the classroom can improve the learning experience for everyone involved.
What Are Learning Theories?
Generally speaking, a learning theory is a method by which educators teach and students learn. They often categorize different ways that students receive and comprehend information for long-term understanding. After observing how people learn, learning theories were born. Although it has been widely accepted that individuals learn differently across the board, learning theories were only developed in the early 20th century.
Why Are Learning Theories Important?
Understanding how people learn is vital to developing effective teaching methods. Pamela Roggerman, EdD, dean of the College of Education at University of Phoenix, explains, “Just as no two people are the same, no two students learn in the exact same way or at the exact same rate. Effective educators need to be able to pivot and craft instruction that meets the needs of the individual student to address the needs of the whole child. Sound knowledge in multiple learning theories is a first step to this and another reason why great teachers work their entire careers to master both the art and the science of teaching.”
Learning theories provide the foundation for classroom structure. This includes the overall learning environment such as the room or platform and how the educator conveys information. Various learning theories empower teachers to meet student needs, and they can have a profound impact on how and what a person ultimately learns.
The Five Classic Educational Learning Theories
Learning is based on a reaction to external stimuli and data. It is also related to how humans interact with one another. The five generally accepted educational learning theories are set out below.
Behaviorism focuses exclusively on observable responses to stimuli. Under behaviorism, there is only one real way to measure learning: whether the student can respond to external stimuli in a way that shows that learning has occurred.
In practice, educators drill information into students and provide positive feedback to students who can recall the information or routines. This concept of conditioning is at the core of behaviorism learning theory.
This learning theory incorporates both external factors that then spark internal thought processes. Instead of simply engaging in routines, students take information, process it, and then use the information. This theory moves away from behaviorism by focusing on the mind’s role in learning.
In constructivism, the student builds on their prior experience and knowledge to create or construct a new understanding of concepts and ideas. This stands in contrast to other theories that assume that the learner is an empty vessel to be filled with knowledge. Constructivism takes past and current learning to construct meaning in a particular subject. It also incorporates active engagement such as through real-world problem solving or experiments.
Humanism is uniquely focused on the learner. The potential found in the learner is much more important than methods or materials. The entire theory is based on the underlying premise that humans are generally good and want to achieve self-actualization.
In practice, humanism appears when students create their own learning goals and educators help them meet those goals. It is a much more independent and self-driven process compared to other learning theories.
Connectivism is entirely based on access to information. It is also used more frequently today because of the average student’s unique, extensive ability to gather and update information. This theory focuses on showing the student how to find the best information, emphasizing that knowing how to find information is just as important as the data itself. Students identify and address gaps in knowledge by using available resources and access to data.
Additional Educational Theories
In addition to these five classic learning theories, three others are particularly relevant to adult learners:
- Transformative: Under this theory, new information can change worldviews. Combining experience, knowledge, and critical reflection can profoundly affect how students process information and view the world around them.
- Social: The social learning theory focuses on the effect of peer pressure on learning. Seeing how others act affects how individual students respond. They will often either conform or take additional action to distinguish themselves from the crowd.
- Experimental: Teaching by doing can be extremely useful for some students. With this theory, the student learns about a concept and then puts it into practice. The experimental learning theory only became an official learning theory in the 1980s.
At University of Phoenix, instructors and students use and experience a wide variety of educational learning methods. Theories are often combined and utilized at different times to address various subjects and classroom environments.
About University of Phoenix
University of Phoenix has a variety of certificate and degree programs, that provides students with options when it comes to how and what they learn. Learn more.