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EDIT 704: Learning Theories/Instructional Tech Foundations

Course guide for EDIT 704 - Learning Theories/Instructional Technology Foundations

Learning Theory

Many learning theories have been posited by learning theorists.  The people listed below are commonly known in the field of learning theory. 


Malcolm Knowles emphasizes that adults are self-directed and expect to take responsibility for decisions. Adult learning programs must accommodate this fundamental aspect. 

Assumptions about the design of learning:

  1. Adults need to be involved in the planning and evaluation of their instruction.
  2. Experience (including mistakes) provides the basis for learning activities.
  3. Adults are most interested in learning subjects that have immediate relevance to their job or personal life.
  4. Adult learning is problem-centered rather than content-oriented. 

Experiential Learning

David Kolb states that learning works on two levels.  First a four stage cycle of learning  in conjunction with four separate learning styles

Four Stages of Learning
1. Concrete Experience - (a new experience of situation is encountered, or a reinterpretation of existing experience).
2. Reflective Observation (of the new experience. Of particular importance are any inconsistencies between experience and understanding)
3. Abstract Conceptualization (Reflection gives rise to a new idea, or a modification of an existing abstract concept).
4. Active Experimentation (the learner applies them to the world around them to see what results).

Learning Styles
1. Diverging (Feel and watch) - gathers information and use imagination to solve problems
2. Assimilating (think and watch) - a concise logical approach to learning wants clear explanations
3. Converging (Think and do) - solve problems and find practical solutions
4. Accommodating (feel and do) - hands-on learning

Social Learning Theory

Albert Bandura ties behaviorist learning theories such as classical conditioning and operant condition to the learners observation of people's behavior in certain situations and meditational processes which focus in how cognitive factors are involved in learning. Focuses include:

  • Observational learning (See Bandura, 1961:  Bobo doll experiment)
  • 4 Mediational processes: attention, retention, reproduction and motivation

In 1986, Bandura changed the name of his theory from Social Learning Theory to Social Cognitive Theory based on his belief that it better describes how learning occurs.

Social Development Theory

Lev Vygotsky's theory is one of the foundations of Constructivism.  He sees three major themes.  

1.  Social interaction is fundamental to cognitive development.  People learn first on a social level and later on an individual level.
2.  The More Knowledgeable Other - Someone who has more knowledge and ability about a specific task. 
3.  Zone of Proximal Development - This is the zone in which learning occurs.  It is tied to a person's ability to perform a task with guidance or peer collaboration vs. on their own.


Situated Learning

Jean Lave states that learning is generally unintentional.  It occurs through activity, context and culture without out these learning does not occur.  Learners are part of a "community of practice" Situated Learning is often tied to Vygotsky's theory of learning through social development

Transformational Learning

Jack Mezirow states that learning induces far-reaching change in learners.  Learning experiences which have significant impact affect later learning as well.  He believes critical reflection is to be pivotal to learning.  It is tied to rational discourse which allows the learner to explore their world views, and articulate them to others.

Multiple Intelligences

Howard Gardner suggests that there are a number of distinct forms of intelligence that each individual possesses in varying degrees. Gardner proposes seven primary ways that people use to perceive and understand the world: linguistic, musical, logical-mathematical, spatial, body-kinesthetic, intrapersonal (e.g., insight, metacognition) and interpersonal (e.g., social skills). 

1. Individuals should be encouraged to use their preferred intelligences in learning.
2. Instructional activities should appeal to different forms of intelligence.
3. Assessment of learning should measure multiple forms of intelligence. 


Jean Piaget's theory of Constructivism emphasizes the importance of the active involvement of learners in constructing knowledge for themselves. Students are thought to use background knowledge and concepts to assist them in their acquisition of novel information. It is based on the premise that learning occurs as we reflect on our experiences and use them to construct our understanding of the world in which we live.

Information Processing Theory

Information Processing Theory

George A. Miller has provided two theoretical ideas that are fundamental to cognitive psychology and the information processing framework. The first concept is "chunking" and the capacity of short term memory.  The second concept is TOTE (Test-Operate-Test-Exit).

  1. Short term memory (or attention span) is limited to seven chunks of information.
  2. Planning (in the form of TOTE units) is a fundamental cognitive process.
  3. Behavior is hierarchically organized (e.g., chunks, TOTE units).