Psychology Wiki

In psychology and education, learning theories are attempts to describe how people and animals learn, thereby helping us understand the inherently complex process of learning. There are basically three main perspectives in learning theories, behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism.

Radical Behaviorism

Main article: Radical Behaviorism

Radical Behaviorism is an approach to psychology which purports that learning is the result of operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is a process both named and investigated by B. F. Skinner. The word ‘operant’ refers to the way in which behavior ‘operates on the environment’. Briefly, a behavior may result either in reinforcement, which increases the likelihood of that behavior occurring again; or punishment,which decreases the likelihood of the same behavior recurring in the future. The issues surrounding are relatively complex. For example, a reinforcer or a punisher is defined within behaviorism by its effect on behavior. Therefore a punisher is not considered to be punishment if it does not result in the reduction of a particular behavior. As a result, behaviorists are particularly interested in measurable changes in behavior, which is itself a basic premise of the scientific method.


Main article: Cognitivism (psychology)

Cognitivism, also known as cognitive information processing (CIP). Cognitivism became the dominant force in psychology in the late 20th century, replacing behaviorism as the most popular paradigm for understanding mental function. Cognitive psychology is not a refutation of behaviorism, but rather an expansion that accepts that mental states are appropriate to analyze and subject to examination. This was due to the increasing criticism towards the end of the 1950s of behaviorist models. For example, Noam Chomsky argued that language could not be acquired purely through conditioning, and must be at least partly explained by the existence of internal mental states, and that these states can be described and analyzed.


Main article: Constructivism (learning theory)
Main article: Social Constructivism (Learning Theory)

Constructivism views learning as a process in which the learner actively constructs or builds new ideas or concepts based upon current and past knowledge. In other words, "learning involves constructing one's own knowledge from one's own experiences." Constructivist learning, therefore, is a very personal endeavor, whereby internalized concepts, rules, and general principles may consequently be applied in a practical real-world context.The teacher acts as a facilitator who encourages students to discover principles for themselves and to construct knowledge by working to solve realistic problems. This is also known as knowledge construction as a social process (see social constructivism). We can work to clarify and organize their ideas so we can voice them to others. It gives us opportunities to elaborate on what they learned. We are exposed to the views of others. It enables us to discover flaws and inconsistencies by learning we can get good results. Constructivism itself has many variations, such as generative learning, discovery learning, and knowledge building. Regardless of the variety, constructivism promotes a student's free exploration within a given framework or structure.




Social Cognitive

Applied Behavior Analysis

B.F. Skinner

Information Processing

J. Anderson


Jean Piaget


Lev Vygotsky

Social Cognitive Theory

Albert Bandura


Fixed body of knowledge to aquire

Stimulated from outside

Fixed body of knowledge to acquire

Stimulated from outside

Prior knowledge of influences how information is processed

Changing body of knowledge

Built on what learner brings

Socially constructed knowledge

Built on what participants contribute, contruct together

Changing body of knowledge, contructed in interaction with others and the environment

Acuisition of facts, skills concepts

Occurs through drill, guided practice

Acuisition of facts, skills concepts, and strategies

Occurs through the effective application of strategies

Active construction, restructuring prior knowledge

Occurs through multiple opportunites and diverse processes to connecct to what is already know

Collaborative construction of socially defined knowledge values

Occurs through socially constructed opportunities

Active construction of knowledge based on observation, interacting in the physical and social world, and developing agency becoming more self-regulating
Teaching Transmission presentation (Telling)


Guide students toward more "accurate" and complete knowledge

Challenge, guide thinking toward more complete understanding Co-construct kowledge with students Presenting models, demonstrating, supporting, self-efficacy and self-regulation
Role of Teacher

Manage, supervisor

Correct wrong answers

Teach and model effective strategies

Correct misconceptions

Facilitator, guide

Listen for student's current conceptions, ideas, thinking

Facilitator, guide


Co-construct different interpretation of knowledge; listen to socially constructed conceptions

Model, facilitator, motivator

Model of self-regulated learning

Role of Peers Not usually considered Not necessary but can influence information processing Not necessary but can stumulate thinking, raise questions Ordinary and necessary part of process of knowledge construction

Serve as models

Ordinary and necessary parts of process of knowledge construction

Role of Student

Passive recipient of information

Active listener, direction-follower

Active processor of information, strategy user

Organizer and reorganizer of information


Active contruction (within mind)

Active thinking, explainer, interpreter, questioner

Active co-construction with others and self

Active thinker, explainer, interpreter, questioner

Active social participator

Active co-construction with others and self

Active thinker, explainer, interpreter, questioner

Active social participator

Informal and post-modern theories

Informal theories of education deal with more practical breakdown of the learning process. One of these deals with whether learning should take place as a building of concepts toward an overall idea, or the understanding of the overall idea with the details filled in later. Modern thinkers favour the latter, though without any basis in real world research. Critics believe that trying to teach an overall idea without details (facts) is like trying to build a masonry structure without bricks.

Other concerns are the origins of the drive for learning. To this end, many have split off from the mainstream holding that learning is a primarily self taught thing, and that the ideal learning situation is one that is self taught. According to this dogma, learning at its basic level is all self taught, and class rooms should be eliminated since they do not fit the perfect model of self learning. However, real world results indicate that isolated students fail. Social support seems crucial for sustained learning.

Informal learning theory also concerns itself with book vs real-world experience learning. Many consider most schools severely lacking in the second. Newly emerging hybrid instructional models combining traditional classroom and computer enhanced instruction promise the best of both worlds.

See also

About accelerating the learning process

About the mechanisms of memory and learning:

About learning theories related to classroom learning:

  • Contemporary Educational Psychology/Chapter 2: The Learning Process

See also


External links