Learning Theories in Psychology


Learning is a process that integrates cognitive, emotional and environmental factors in order to acquire and develop one’s knowledge and skills. On the other hand, learning theory is an attempt to explain the process of learning in human beings. It offers description of the way people acquire knowledge and skills which in turn assist in understanding the complex process of learning. Learning theories carry two substantial aspects that paramount to life of a human being. One such value is provision of vocabulary and conceptual framework that best interpret what we observe. The other paramount aspect in learning theories is that it suggests areas of possible remedies to problems that are practical in nature. It is in real sense that the learning does not give solutions but rather offers direction to the variables that are relevant in arriving at solutions for these practical problems. Behaviorism, cognitivism and constructivism are the main philosophical frameworks which classifies learning theories.

Behaviorism theory

The theory was developed by B. F. Skinner but the work of Tolman, Guthrie and Hull were incorporated. According to this theory, underlying assumptions about the learning process were considered. The investigators assumed that learning is evident by an alteration in human behavior. Secondly, the environment contributes significantly in shaping the character of an individual. The third assumption was the principle of contiguity i.e. the closeness of events if a bond is to be performed and reinforcement i.e. ways of increasing the likelihood that an event will occur again. According to this theory, learning is the acquiring of new behavioral traits through conditioning. This conditioning are classical and operant conditioning.

Cognitivism Theory

Behaviorism theory faced a lot of criticism from Bode. He criticized behaviorists that they relied on overt behavior to explain the learning process and he postulated that events should be isolated but observed in patterns. The underlying assumptions of the cognitive theory are: (1) memory systems process information at all times since it is ever active and (2) prior knowledge is of great importance in learning process. It is imperative to note that cognitive theory goes beyond behavior to give explanations for brain-based learning. The theory considers the way human memory functions in promoting the learning process. The major difference between the cognitive theory and the behaviorism theory is the locus of control over the learning process. Behaviorism theory lies with the environment whereas a cognitivist lies on the individual learner.

Constructivism theory

According to this theory, learning is a process which the learner dynamically constructs new concepts where recent and past knowledge is incorporated. The central idea behind this theory is the fact that learning entails one’s knowledge construction basing one’s experiences. It is considered to be personal endeavor where concepts and ideas are internalized and later applied in practical situations in solving certain practical problems. This is referred to as social constructivism. This postulates that knowledge is constructed when individuals indulge in very social activities where problems are shared. In addition, this theory postulates that learning is a process by which individuals are initiated to a customs by the more knowledgeable members.

Other learning theories

  1. Informal and modern theories– This deals with more sensible collapse of the learning process.
  2. Connectivism theory– Basically focuses on learning as making connections
  3. Multimedia learning theory– Its central theme is to ensure that there is an effective use of multimedia in the learning process.

Works Cited

Jeffrey, S. & Beverly, G. Abnormal Psychology in Altering World. 100-150