Human Resource Learning and Development Theories

Subject: Education
Pages: 9
Words: 2211
Reading time:
9 min
Study level: Bachelor


Human resource management (HRM) is an extensive system of practices that are aimed at achieving better motivation, professionalism, and improved work performance of employees. Such methods are based on a developed range of theories, which predetermine the overall direction of the outcomes and their ultimate impact on the personnel’s commitment to job and professional growth. The theories of learning and development as a core basis for training within the framework of HRM constitute a primary topic of interest since their choice plays a significant role in an organization’s ability to implement advanced vocational training and contribute to its sustainability. The synthesis of theories of learning and development provides an opportunity to understand the fundamentals of human abilities to acquire and use new knowledge and skills for the benefit of the improvement of employee performance. Therefore, it is essential to research the available theoretical basis for the topic and introduce a substantial overview of the implementation of HRM practices with the application of the theories.

In this paper, the importance of training in the sphere of human resources will be presented with the following identification of such main learning theories as behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism, and connectivism. The specific features of these theories will be synthesized to provide generalized information about the connections between them. The paper will be based on current research in the field of learning and HRM retrieved from credible professional sources.

The Importance of Training in HRM

Training as a combination of the processes aimed at acquiring and exchanging new knowledge, abilities, and skills embodies a learning process. Learning is recognized to be a primary constituent of education, through which humans perceive information about the world and prepares for changes in it (Thoms & Burton, 2016). Regardless of the sphere, in which training takes place, the result of this process is the overall development. In the context of organizational performance, training is implemented to enhance staff’s “career development and enrichment, thus expanding the individual, group and organizational effectiveness” (Milhem, Abushamsieh, & Arostegu, 2014, p. 12). Overall, the purpose of training is to stimulate the development of individuals’ capabilities and meet the needs and tasks of an organization.

Knowledge has become a leading force of the modern world where no sphere of human activity evolves successfully without the application of research that amplifies the knowledge base. Moreover, the rapidly advancing technological field imposes new challenges for entities, which need to adjust their performance to the requirements of the time.

Maintaining and improving the existing knowledge and skills, as well as acquiring completely new ones, a professional obtains an opportunity to grow within a company and provide better perspectives for his or her organization. According to Hassan (2016), the practices initiated by the HRM department in general and training, in particular, have a crucial influence on employee’s performance. As demonstrated in Appendix 1, training is one of the essential components of the work related to HRM. Its successful application allows for obtaining positive developmental achievements in three main areas, including personal growth, improvement of professional level, and organizational enhancement (Hassan, 2016). Accordingly, if the employees are bettering in the listed spheres, they become more capable of accomplishing high-quality results within a company and ensuring the improvement of a company’s performance.

Besides, the dynamic advancement of all spheres of work demands organizations’ HR to become strategic HR that performs within a strictly defined system of practices. The strategy utilized by HRM must be developed in close connection with the overall strategic planning of an organization (Milhem et al., 2014). Such an approach ensures consistency in the work of all departments within an entity and facilitates its productivity. Thus, HRM is a linking unit that establishes a connection between human resources and strategic organizational growth. That is why the strategic training plan should be developed with acute attention paid to the theories of learning, which define the direction of the learning process.

Learning Theories Applicable to HRM

The processes of learning and development are closely connected, especially when viewed from the perspective of professional growth and human resource management strategy implementation. Advanced vocational education, as well as other types of training, “is a planned process that is used to change attitudes, knowledge, skills, and behavior through the learning experience” (Milhem et al., 2014, p. 13). Moreover, by retaining prepared and qualified employees, an organization is capable of obtaining competitive advantages. Consistent advancement in human resources’ efficiency largely depends on the success of the application of relevant theoretical base. Four main learning theories are applicable to the process of strategic training in the context of HRM, including behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism, and connectivism. It is important to review their specific features in more detail.

Behaviorist Theory

Behaviorism, as a learning theory emerged at the beginning of the twentieth century as a result of the advancement in the scientific method applied to educational fields. Stemming from psychological research of the learning process, behaviorist theory views the process of training as a set of positive and negative influences resulting in the change of behavior (Harasim, 2017). In other words, the results of the application of this method might be observed in the actions of a learner. From the perspective of organizational environment, where HRM-initiated training takes place, this theory “is linked to behavior and specific working contexts and outcomes” (Milhem et al., 2014, p. 18). In essence, behaviorism concentrates on the observable characteristics and seeks to change human behavior for specific purposes. The mind and its characteristics are not taken into account within the framework of this theory because they cannot be objectively observed (Harasim, 2017). The learning process occurs through the presentation of a stimulus that directly retrieves a response in the learner’s actions.

Due to its primary focus on the shifts in actions, behaviorism is mostly applicable to the learning environments where the acquisition of new practical skills or activities. It is essential that the achievements are assessed unambiguously according to commonly acknowledged and easily identified criteria (Harasim, 2017). Therefore, behaviorism might be used in task-oriented HRM practices where the learners’ ability to apply the newly acquired skill to practice can be claimed as either successful or unsuccessful. A trainer encourages successful behavior and disapproves of failure, thus adjusting the learning process to the desired outcomes.

Cognitivist Theory

Cognitivism initially appeared as a reaction to the emergence of behaviorist theory and prioritized intellectual development rather than a behavioral one. The educators using this approach focus on mental processes and the possible ways to improve the quality of existing knowledge and learn new information. The mind is regarded to be a processor of information that encodes, processes, and deciphers data, thus forming knowledge applicable to further practice (Harasim, 2017). Within the framework of this theory, the thinking process is stimulated by the knowledge that already exists, which allows for enhancing the scope of learning by enriching the knowledge base.

Therefore, the trainers might create a learning environment similar to the working setting of a learner so that one can use previously acquired data. Also, the materials that are used in the training activities are developed with regard to the knowledge that is familiar to the learners (Milhem et al., 2014). The educator’s task is to elicit performance on the basis of guidance (Harasim, 2017). In such a manner, the newly introduced information is linked to the old basis and builds a solid foundation for fruitful contemplation of the strategically important information.

Various cognitive skills might be trained with the help of this theory in the context of HRM. Employees might improve their abilities to think critically, provide argumentation and logical reasoning, as well as find practical solutions to the problems. Such skills as decision-making, problem-solving, verbal competence, and strategic thinking are primarily developed under the influence of cognitivist theory (Harasim, 2017). They are trained by the utilization of concept maps, memory games, and contests, so that the participants develop their mental capabilities and acquire necessary cognitive skills for better performance in their positions.

Constructivist Theory

The constructivist learning theory embodies the active involvement of the learners into the process of training so that they construct their own knowledge and skill basis. This approach grounds on the belief that human knowledge is most effectively perceived through immediate interaction with the world, thus empirical personal experiences from what people know and how they use this experience in life (Harasim, 2017). Since the process of learning is conditioned by an array of personal factors, which depend on a particular life experience a learner has, the outcomes of improved knowledge and skills might not be achieved according to one ideal criterion (Milhem et al., 2014). An HR manager leading a training process relies on the experience obtained by learners throughout their working history, as well as enforces acquisition of new material through direct involvement of the participants. This process combines such learning techniques as is one “asking questions, exploring, engaging in dialogue with others, and reassessing” existing knowledge (Harasim, 2017, p. 11). As a result, employees are capable of independent learning, continuous improvement of their performance, and commitment for the benefits of the organization.

Connectivist Theory

As its title implies, the connectivist learning theory is based on the creation of connections between different sources of information to ensure its credibility. Also, connectivism refers to the links between different people engaged in similar activities with the aim of productive exchange of experiences. According to Harasim (2017), this theory was initially introduced as a means of learner’s individual independent learning regardless of management and instruction.

It is essential that technology and computing devices are vital for the successful application of the connectivist theory since they ensure the very connection of a learner with the sources of information and other people involved in the process. Digital representation of the material necessary for the learning process enhances the scope of opportunities for an employee to acquire new theoretical and practical knowledge. At the same time, a person engaged in social networking with other people develops skills of independent verification of information credibility, critical assessment, and social inclusion (Harasim, 2017). The development of the abilities of employees to cooperate in a network contributes to the efficiency of teamwork and is crucial for the organizations where group performance is a priority.

Synthesis of Learning Theories

All learning theories provide their specific perspectives on the ways how the learning process must occur and how the trainers and learners must interact. Despite differences in methodological attitudes, the theories of learning deal with the improvement of either behavioral or cognitive (or both) knowledge and skills. However, behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism emerged earlier and constituted the theoretical basis of learning as a core element of education. Therefore, their role in the advancement of work-specific skills is vitally important for the enhancement of organizational productivity. These three broad learning theories are regarded to be the constituents of instructional environments (Harasim, 2017). In other words, they all imply the active involvement of a manager or educator who provides guidance, assistance, and assessment. However, the connectivist learning theory, which is the one that has developed within recent years under the influence of global technological advancement, prioritized individual independent experience without any outer influence on the learning process. Such disparities in the attitudes to the role of a learner in the training activities broaden the perspectives of the learning opportunities and might be combined for the best results.

As it is shown in Appendix 2, the four analyzed theories present specific features of the training process and imply their particular learning outcomes. Regarding the characteristics of the learning practices, behaviorism and cognitivism target two dimensions of human performance, including mental, embodied in intellectual abilities and thinking processes, and practical, manifested through skills and behaviors. The change in behavior or cognitive abilities is the goal of these two theories. Also, there is a connection between constructivism and connectivism, both of which place an individual and his or her active involvement in the learning process to the front. Indeed, either practical experience, as in constructivism, or exchange of information with others with the help of networks, as in connectivism, helps learners acquire new knowledge and develop skills necessary for the improved professional performance.


In summary, the theoretical basis is key to the understanding of any human activity. The emergence of educational sciences and psychological theories has contributed to the advancement of theories of learning and development. A successful choice of theory ensures relevant strategic planning and facilitates the selection of appropriate direction needed for the achievement of particular results. In the context of organizational performance and the pivotal role of human capital in it, learning theories become decisive for strategic training planning. The enhancement of employees’ professional knowledge and skills should be organized and planned in accordance with the goals of a company so that each worker contributes to the competitive advantages of an entity. Continuous HRM-initiated education in the work environment enhances the professional, personal, and organizational development of an employee, and has a positive effect on a company’s productivity. Such learning theories as behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism, and connectivism provide an array of approaches and techniques for efficient implementation of HRM training. Appropriate choice of a theory or a combination of them determines the success of a company’s current and future goals’ achievements.


Harasim, L. (2017). Learning theories: The role of epistemology, science, and technology. In M. Spector, B. Lockee, & M. Childress (Eds.), Learning, design, and technology (pp. 1-39). New York: NY: Springer.

Hassan, S. (2016). Impact of HRM practices on employee’s performance. International Journal of Academic Research in Accounting, Finance and Management Sciences, 6(1), 15-22.

Milhem, W., Abushamsieh, K., & Arostegu, M. N. P. (2014). Training strategies, theories and types. Journal of Accounting – Business & Management, 21(1), 12-26.

Thoms, C. L. V., & Burton, S. L. (2016). Learning, development, and training: The influence of synergies through educational evolution. International Journal of Adult Vocational Education and Technology, 7(4), 85-104.

Appendix 1

HRM Intervetions

Appendix 2

Theory Learning Process Learning Outcomes
Behaviorism Practical performance on the basis of behavioral change New behavior is successfully acquired
Cognitivism Intellectual abilities are in the focus Improved ability to think critically, solve problems, and make decisions
Constructivism Personal experience and empirical learning are a priority Active involvement and ability to apply experience to new tasks
Connectivism Independent learning through networking and information research Ability to exchange experience effectively and work in a team