Posted: February 26th, 2023

Learning Theories


Applying learning theories and instructional design models for effective instruction | Advances in Physiology Education



The Implications Of 3 Adult Learning Theories On Instructional Design – eLearning Industry



Conditions of Learning (Robert Gagne) –



Learning Theories –


This assignment is an opportunity to demonstrate you can distinguish


behaviorist, cognitive, constructivist, and social learning theories and relate their characteristics to your personal instructional experiences. Prior to starting this dsicussion forum, be sure to read Chapter 2 in Brown and Green (2020), Khalil and Elkhider (2016), Schwartz (2018), and Culatta (n.d.-b). In addition, review the Week 2 Instructor Guidance page and the Grading Rubric.

Initial Post: Compare behaviorist, cognitive, constructivist, and social learning theories. Complete the following:

· Describe how are they similar and how are they different.

· Describe how these theories would influence how you would design instruction or

· Provide an example for each learning theory.

· State which learning theory you personally gravitate towards and explain why.


Critical Thinking Guidance: To help meet the critical thinking requirement, your post should do at least one of the following:

· analyze or evaluate information,

· make connections to other concepts in the class,

· provide examples that support your thoughts and viewpoints,

· share personal experiences relevant to the post,

· cite sources that support what you are stating in your post, or

· offer alternative viewpoints

Understanding How People Think and Learn

Discussions on how individuals think and learn have taken place throughout history. As a result, various perspectives,
influenced by philosophy and psychology, have developed and continue to be developed. Successful instructional designers
have a clear understanding of the major perspectives and how they influence the design and implementation of instruction.

This chapter provides an overview of the most common perspectives on thinking and learning that influence instructional

Guiding Questions

Why is it important for instructional designers to understand how people think?
How have historical and current perspectives on thinking and the thinking process in instructional design been
influenced by philosophy and educational psychology?
What point of view do instructional designers typically have regarding thinking and the thinking process?
What is learning?
Why is it important for instructional designers to understand how people learn?
What are two of the most common theories on how people learn that instructional designers make use of in their work?
What different types of learning are there?

Key Terms

behaviorism (page 30)
classical conditioning model (page 34)
cognition (page 27)
cognitive abilities (page 28)
cognitivism (page 31)
constructivism (page 31)
eclecticism (page 17)
executive abilities (page 28)
learning (page 33)
learning objective (page 38)
memory (page 28)
mental power (page 28)
metacognition (page 28)
neuroscience (page 31)
operant conditioning model (page 35)
scholasticism (page 29)

Chapter Overview
Take a moment to reflect on what your definition is for thinking. If you struggled to come up with what you believe is a clear
definition, don’t anguish over it because you are not alone. John Dewey, in How We Think, wrote, “No words are oftener on
our lips than thinking and thought. So profuse and varied, indeed, is our use of these words that it is not easy to define just
what we mean by them” (1910, p. 2). The words that Dewey wrote decades ago still ring true. Thinking remains a complex
concept that is often used in a variety of contexts to indicate very different things; therefore, at any given time, understanding
what thinking means can be quite a challenge.

Despite the challenges inherent in understanding thinking and the thinking process, having knowledge about how people
process, store, and retrieve information—in other words, think—is crucial for an instructional designer. This understanding can
help him or her better comprehend how people learn because thinking and learning are very much interconnected. An
instructional designer who has a solid grasp on thinking and learning is able to design and develop efficient, effective, and
meaningful instructional interventions.

The goal of this chapter is to provide you with a framework for understanding how people think and learn. Our intention is
to simplify, if possible, how thinking and learning have been conceptualized historically and in more modern times. The
opening section of the chapter is organized around two major topics. The first is how instructional designers typically view
thinking and the thinking process. The second is a discussion on thinking from various historical and contemporary
perspectives. The second half of the chapter examines two major psychological perspectives of learning—behaviorism and
cognitivism—and describes how each conceptualizes the learning process.

Cognition and

Basic Cognitive Functions

Before beginning a discussion on how instructional designers typically view thinking and the thinking process, an important
concept to understand is cognition. How people go about the process of thinking is often referred to as cognition. Cognition is
the mental process of knowing, including aspects such as awareness, perception, reasoning, and judgment. In essence,
cognition includes all of the brain’s mental input and output. Cognition encompasses basic activities like using language and
math functions during a trip to the hardware store, to making complex decisions such as selecting between two job offers, to
writing a creative story, to being able to understand another person’s perspective.

Cognition and thinking are terms that can be used interchangeably. This may not resonate well with some; however, this
book is not the place for a debate over the intricacies of cognition and how thinking may or may not be synonymous. It is
important to realize as an instructional designer that cognition and thinking can be and often are used to refer to the same thing.

Basic Cognitive Functions

Numerous technical terms exist related to cognition. Making sense of these is not an easy task. There are hundreds of terms for
specific components of cognition, with many having the same or very similar meanings. What makes it difficult in dealing with
these components of cognition is that they can mean different things in different settings. Some of the differences may reflect
important scientific or theoretical nuances, but many are simply jargon specific to a particular discipline or profession.

The important thing to remember is that cognition and the components of cognition are important to understand because, as
mentioned earlier, understanding how people think helps to understand how they learn. Understanding how people learn will

help you as an instructional designer assist your clients in developing effective and efficient instructional interventions. You do
not, however, need to be a cognitive scientist to have an adequate understanding of how people think.

Let’s review some important concepts related to cognition.


Memory is much more than just a passive storage system of knowledge. Memory is a set of active processes that encode
information. Memory places information into “packages” or “packets” making information easier to recall and allowing it to be
associated with related items already in memory. Memory also involves storing information. Part of this process is the constant
rearranging of what has been stored for that new knowledge to be integrated with what has already been stored. Additionally, it
allows provides for locating and retrieving of information as it is needed.

Mental Power

Mental power is the basic energy that supports mental activity. It refers to how much mental work can be performed during a
specific amount of time. Power can be used to sustain something simple like using a television remote control or something
more complex like operating a computer. With either case, the central issue focuses on having enough power on hand to
complete the task. In the cognitive domain, power refers to arousal level, concentration span, channel capacity, and mental

Specific Cognitive Abilities

These functions refer to an individual’s stored supply of knowledge and skills. This includes items such as reading, writing,
comprehension, motor skills, and visual-spatial skills.

Executive Abilities

Executive abilities encompass a very large category of cognitive functions. Executive abilities include such higher-order
thinking skills as being able to anticipate future needs and planning accordingly, the ability to set priorities, and being able to
self-correct and regulate actions. In essence, these are the capacities, which allow an individual to use her mental power and
specific cognitive abilities to meet social, professional, and psychological needs.


Metacognition is the ability to control one’s own cognitive processes. It is often referred to as the practice of “thinking about
thinking.” In using metacognition, an individual takes an introspective look at the thought process that she has gone through. It
allows her to critically consider how she arrived at certain ideas, concepts, and thoughts. Metacognition is a reflective process
that helps improve an individual’s control over his or her own thinking process and learning (Bleiberg, 2001; Flavell, 1979;
Mayer, 2011, 2017; Ormrod, 2013; Sternberg, 1986; Woolfolk Hoy, 2016).

A Historical Perspective on Thinking: A Brief History
Historically, thinking was consigned to the realm of philosophy. Possibly the earliest theory about how the mind works was
offered in the 4th and 5th centuries bc by Greek philosophers like Empedocles, Democritus, and Epicurus. These philosophers
believed that the mind perceived images given off by objects. These perceived images were then copied as sense impressions
and stored into memory. “Knowledge then becomes a matter of knowing these mental copies, and the earliest copy theories
suggested that the mind knew directly what the sensory nerves brought to it” (Herrnstein & Boring, 1965 as cited in Driscoll,

A very different perspective, suggested by Plato (and much later by Kant), generally known as idealism, stated that the mind
does not directly comprehend reality or copy it. With this perspective, reason is considered the primary source for
understanding and knowledge. The major proposition behind this perspective is that all data coming from the senses are
interpreted by the mind according to the mind’s innate tendencies (Collinson, 1978; Driscoll, 2004).

Philosophy followed this theme (with numerous slight variations) up until the influence of the Church shifted philosophical
thought around the 9th century. This influence led to what was called scholasticism, a philosophical perspective based upon a
mixture of Aristotelian and Church writings and thought. Scholastic philosophy was built around a highly organized system of
truths, which were distinct from Church doctrines but were not in opposition to them. Scholastic philosophers, such as Thomas
Aquinas, believed that human intellect was incapable of acquiring knowledge of intelligible things without illumination from
God. Individual interaction and participation with the Word of God was necessary if knowledge was to be gained. Thinking
was directly related to what God provided to individuals through his inspiration (or “illumination”) (Nichols, 2003).

Another shift in the view on thinking began with the dawn of the Renaissance and continued into the 17th and 18th
centuries. A movement began that shifted attention away from the belief that truth was divinely inspired by God and that the
individual was incapable of discerning what is real or what is truth. Philosophers, like Descartes and Locke, believed to be true
what they saw with their own eyes and experienced with their senses. Rather than assuming God played the key role in the
universe, humans began to be the standard for judging what was real and what truth was. Human intellect was deemed capable
of discriminating between truth and error. Certain defined methods for discovering truth and evaluating evidence came to be
considered reliable and sufficient for discovering truth. Thinking focused more on observation, experience, rational thought,
and the scientific method, rather than solely on God and tradition (Almog, 2002; Sorell, 2001).

A Modern View on Thinking: The Shift from Philosophy to Psychology
While philosophy continues to play a role in how thinking and the thinking process is conceptualized, the emergence of
psychology (especially educational psychology), in the mid- to late 19th century, has had and continues to have the most
significant influence on how instructional designers view thinking. Educational psychology, which originated as a separate
branch of psychology in 1892 (Berliner, 1993; Mayer, 2017), has provided a concentrated look at thinking and learning
through a more scientific perspective—one based upon research and which includes a focus specifically on how thinking and
learning are interconnected.

Two Major Perspectives

Two major perspectives, with several variations, emerged from psychology and have dominated the way instructional
designers view how people think, and, in turn, how people learn. Provided in this section are brief explanations of these two
distinctly different perspectives—behaviorist and cognitivist—with mention of key individuals who have had influence on how
these perspectives have developed.

As an instructional designer, it is important to keep in mind that neither perspective is inherently better than the other. Each
perspective offers important contributions that help us understand how individuals think and how people learn. Although most
instructional designers tend to feel more comfortable with one perspective over the other, instructional designers will use
principles and practices from both as they design and develop instructional interventions. It is also important to remember that
these two perspectives are two of out of many that exist. They are described here because they are two of the most influential

Positivism and Interpretivism

Before we begin the discussion of behaviorist and cognitivist perspectives it is important to provide a brief description of two
contrasting philosophical perspectives. We include this information because it helps explain how many people come to
understand how people think and learn.

Positivism and interpretivism are often seen as a dichotomy for describing individual approaches to how knowledge is
generated and verified. Positivism presumes that there are only two sources of knowledge—logical reasoning and empirical
experience. Logical knowledge includes mathematics, which is reducible to formal logic. Empirical knowledge includes such
areas as physics, biology, and psychology. Experience is the only judge of scientific theories (and therefore knowledge).
Interpretivism is based upon the view that knowledge is a matter of perspective. To understand the world, an individual must
interpret it. Schwandt (1998) wrote, “what we take to be objective knowledge and the truth is the result of perspective.
Knowledge and truth are created, not discovered by the mind” (p. 167).

As you will read below, behaviorist and cognitivist perspectives draw from the positivist and in interpretist philosophies.

The Behaviorist Perspective

The behaviorist perspective, known as behaviorism, dominated psychology for first half of the 20th century (Brandt & Perkins,
2000). Behaviorism includes a group of theories that share several common beliefs—“the generalizability of learning
principles across species, the importance of focusing on observable events, and the ‘blank slate’ nature of organisms” (Ormrod,
2013, p. 48). According to behaviorists, mental processes are invisible and therefore cannot be studied scientifically. What can
be observed is outward behavior; therefore, rather than speculating on internal causes for why things take place, focus should
be placed on how organisms respond to different stimuli (Brandt & Perkins, 2000; Brunning, Schraw, & Norby, 2011; Ormrod,
2013; Woolfolk Hoy, 2016). From a behaviorist perspective, the human mind is malleable, capable of being shaped and formed
into producing desired responses and behaviors if specific conditions and circumstances are accounted for and controlled.

The early foundational work of behaviorism was carried out by individuals such as Pavlov (1800–1950), Thorndike (1874–
1949), Watson (1878–1958), and Guthrie (1886–1959). Their research was most notably conducted using animals—typically
rats, pigeons, cats, and, in the case of Pavlov, dogs. Examples include the experiments conducted by Pavlov related to

salivation in dogs. He observed that a dog’s behavior could be conditioned in such a manner that if provided with a specific
stimulus (e.g., the ringing of a bell) a specific behavior (e.g., salivation) would take place. Pavlov conditioned a dog to
associate the ringing of a bell with eating, which was done by repeated ringing of a bell and then immediately feeding some
meat to the dog. After following this process, Pavlov eventually rang the bell but did not provide meat to the dog; despite this,
the dog still salivated in response to hearing the bell. The dog was conditioned to associate the bell with food (Pavlov, 1927).
This became known as the Classical Conditioning Model. Skinner, unquestionably the best-known behaviorist, built upon this
early body of research by developing what is known as operant conditioning. By observing pigeons and rats, Skinner observed
that the increase in the frequency of a behavior was more likely to occur if followed immediately by a reinforcer (i.e., a
reward) (Skinner, 1978). These concepts provided important insights that have helped provide understanding of the mind and
how people think.

The Cognitivist Perspective

Psychologists in the years following World War II began to move away from behaviorism toward a different perspective of the
mind and how people think. This perspective was distinguished as cognitivism. With this perspective, internal mental processes
were considered important and capable of being identified and studied (Brandt & Perkins, 2000; Ormrod, 2013). From a
cognitivist perspective, the human mind is considered highly complex. A metaphor typically used by cognitivists to describe
the mind is a computer. Like a computer, the mind processes information through a series of different processes that work
together as a complete system.

Several individuals have had tremendous influence on the cognitive perspective. The foundations of cognitivism were built
on the work of Vygotsky (1896–1934), Dewey, Piaget (1896–1990), and Bruner (1915–).

More Recent Perspectives

Although behavorist and cognitivist perspectives have dominated the way in which thinking has been perceived, more recent
perspectives have influenced instructional designers views’ on how people think. These perspectives are constructivism,
neuroscience, and postmodernism.


Constructivism, a variant of cognitivism, is centered around the principle that an individual constructs his own understanding
of the world he lives in by reflecting on his experiences. An individual generates his own mental models, which he uses to
make sense of his experiences. Brandt and Perkins (2000) write, “Both a philosophical and psychological stance,
constructivism argues that the human mind does not simply take in the world but makes it up in an active way” (p. 160).
Brooks (2001) describes the underlying principle of constructivism in more detail.

Each of us makes sense of our world by synthesizing new experiences into what we have previously come to understand. Often, we
encounter an object, an idea, a relationship, or a phenomenon that doesn’t quite make sense to us. When confronted with such initially
discrepant data or perceptions, we either interpret what we see to conform to our present set of rules for explaining and ordering our
work, or we generate a new set of rules that better accounts for what we perceive to be occurring. Either way, our perceptions and rules
are constantly engaged in a grand dance that shapes our understandings.

(p. 4)

With constructivism, one of the most important factors that influences learning—the construction of meaning and knowledge
—is interacting with others. Through social interactions learners will build deeper understandings (van Merrienboer & de
Bruin, 2014).


Neuroscience is the study of the brain and nervous system. Neuroscientists focus on interpreting how the brain controls of all
its varied and diverse functions. According to the Society for Neuroscience (2014), “Brain researchers are motivated to
understand behavior. How do cell circuits enable us to read and speak? How and why do we form relationships? How do we
think, remember, despair, or motivate?” (para. 6). Additionally, neuroscientists focus on disorders of the brain and body—how
they occur and how they might be prevented or cured (Society for Neuroscience, 2014).

Although neuroscience is not a new field, the focused application of neuroscience to education has been relatively recent.
According to Beauchamp and Beauchamp (2012), “Modern neuroscience research has produced findings about the brain and
its functioning that could potentially impact the ways teachers in school classrooms approach their learners” (location 489).
These findings can also have an impact on how instructional designers go about creating instruction. It should be noted that
despite the positive applications of neuroscience in education, there have been many documented instances where applications

have not been based on sound empirical data (Anderson & Della Sala, 2012). According to Mayer (2017), “The potential of
educational neuroscience rests in building connections between the science of learning and neuroscience to build a
neuroscience-informed science of learning” (p. 844). This will help bring about “new implications for instructional design and
classroom teaching” (p. 845).


In the late 20th century and into the early 21st century, an approach called a postmodernism has provided a different
perspective on how humans think.

Postmodernism is largely a reaction to the assumed certainty of scientific, or objective, efforts to explain reality. In essence, it stems
from a recognition that reality is not simply mirrored in human understanding of it, but rather, is constructed as the mind tries to
understand its own particular and personal reality.

(PBS, 2003)

In addition,

In the postmodern understanding, interpretation is everything; reality only comes into being through our interpretations of what the
world means to us individually. Postmodernism relies on concrete experience over abstract principles, knowing always that the outcome
of one’s own experience will necessarily be fallible and relative, rather than certain and universal.

(PBS, 2003)

As mentioned, postmodern philosophy questions (and often rejects) the idealized view of truth and of knowing inherited from
past philosophical traditions. To the postmodernist, thinking is a dynamic, ever-changing function that depends upon an
individual’s interpretation of the world they live in (Butler, 2003; Goodman, 2008).

An Instructional Designer’s View on Thinking
It is important to recognize that a person’s perspective on thinking largely depends upon a combination of that person’s
education, training, philosophical beliefs, and profession. The perspective of instructional designers is no different. An
instructional designer’s perspective on thinking, and in turn learning, is highly influenced by training and by the nature of the

Instructional designers tend to look at thinking from a pragmatic point of view, asking themselves, What do we need to know
about thinking and the studies done on thinking that will help develop efficient and effective instructional interventions? It is
no surprise that the majority instructional designers are considered eclectic—borrowing from different perspectives and using
what works for a given situation to produce desired results. Instructional designers tend to take a systems theory approach
when it comes to looking at thinking (and learning) by exploring it from several different perspectives, rather than focusing
narrowly on one aspect of what thinking is or is not. Instructional designers perceive thinking as a complex process that
includes various interconnected elements, and therefore cannot be encapsulated in one neat and tidy description or theory. This
view has been shaped by centuries of thought and study conducted by philosophers and psychologists on thinking and how the
mind works.

What is Learning?
As is the case with thinking, learning can be conceptualized in a variety of ways. Most often, learning is defined as being a
relatively permanent change in either behavior or in mental representations or associations brought about by experience
(Ormrod, 2013). The change that takes place will last for some time, but it may or may not last forever. These changes may be
readily observable, such as when a child learns to tie his or her shoes, while other changes may be more subtle, such as when
an individual gains a better appreciation for classical music (Ormrod, 2013). Additionally, these changes that occur may be
deliberate or unintentional, correct or incorrect, and conscious or unconscious (Hill, 2002).

It is important to understand that change occurs as a result of experience. These experiences are events, planned or not, that
occur in a learner’s life. Thus, change occurs as an individual interacts with his or her environment. It is important to note,
however, that not all changes that take place are learned and therefore cannot be attributed to learning. These types of change
are based on maturation or on temporary body states (e.g., fatigue, hunger, intoxication); they are not based on experiences
(thus, they are not considered learned).

In examining the definition of learning, we propose that two very different types of changes can take place when learning
occurs. The first is a change in behavior; the other is a change in mental representations or associations. It is important to note
this difference because it reflects the divergent viewpoints of two psychological perspectives: behaviorism and cognitivism.

Two Major (and Very Different) Approaches to How People Learn
There unquestionably exist more than two perspectives that describe how humans learn. Arguably, however, two of the most
influential and popular perspectives that have had the greatest impact on instructional design are behaviorism and cognitivism.
Throughout much of the first half of the 20th century, behaviorism dominated how instructional designers approached their
work; it wasn’t until after World War II that cognitivism began to supplant behaviorism by providing an alternative viewpoint.
Both perspectives, along with their various branches, continue to have great influence on instructional design activities in the
21st century. The purpose of this section is to provide a brief overview on how each perspective approaches how people learn.

A Behavioral Approach to Learning

From a behaviorism perspective, learning is defined as a change in behavior due to experience that can be measured (Burton,
Moore, & Magliaro, 2004; Driscoll, 2004; Ormrod, 2015). Woolfolk Hoy (2016) writes that, “Behaviorism attempts to explain
learning by focusing on external events as the cause of changes in observable behaviors” (p. 198). Brandt and Perkins (2000)
add that behaviorism suggests

organisms learn through classical and operant conditioning. Complex behaviors are built up through “shaping”, starting with parts of or
rough approximations of the target behavior and providing reinforcement in ways that gradually shape the pattern of behavior in the
intended direction. Much learning in natural circumstances occurs because the environment shapes behavior in this way. Not only direct
rewards like food but also indirect “tokens” of reward shape behavior through learned associations.

(pp. 161–162)

Classical and operant conditioning models provide explanations for how learning specifically takes place within the
behaviorism perspective. The classical conditioning model (developed by Pavlov) describes a type of associative learning.
Classical conditioning occurs when two stimuli are presented at approximately the same time. One of the stimuli is an
unconditioned stimulus (i.e., it has been shown to elicit an unconditioned response). The other stimulus (neutral stimulus),
through its association with the unconditioned stimulus, begins to bring on a response, as well—it becomes a conditioned
stimulus that brings about a conditioned response. Figure 2.1 depicts an example of classical conditioning based upon Pavlov’s
experiment with dogs.

Figure 2.1 Classical Conditioning Analysis—Pavlov’s Experiment on Dogs

Source: Adapted from Pavlov, I. (1927). Conditioned reflexes (G. V. Anrep, Trans.). London: Oxford University Press.

The operant conditioning model was developed by Skinner. Skinner believed there were two types of learning—classical
conditioning and operant conditioning. Operant conditioning results when a response is followed by a reinforcing stimulus.
The response produced is a voluntary one. The individual (or other organism) producing the response has complete control
over whether the response occurs. Skinner’s term operant indicates that the individual willingly operates on the environment
and therefore can have an effect on it (Driscoll, 2004).

Figure 2.2 is a comparison of operant and classical conditioning.

Figure 2.2 Differences between Classical and Operant Conditioning

Source: Ormrod, J. E. (2007). Human learning. Printed and electronically reproduced by permission of Pearson Education, Inc.,
Upper Saddle River, New Jersey.

Despite the variants of behaviorism, Ormrod (2015, pp. 30–31) writes that historically behaviorism have shared certain basic

Principles of learning should apply equally to different behaviors and to different species of animals.
Learning processes can be studied most objectively when the focus of study is on stimuli and responses.
Internal processes are largely excluded from scientific study.
Learning involves a behavior change.
Organisms are born was blank slates.
Learning is largely the result of environmental events.
The most useful theories tend to be parsimonious ones.

The Role of the Learner from a Behavioral Perspective

Skinner (1978) stated that a learner “does not passively absorb knowledge form the world around him but must play an active
role” (p. 5). Therefore, learners learn by doing, experiencing, and engaging in repeated trial and error. Burton et al. (2004)
write that, “The emphasis is on the active responding of the learner—the learner must be engaged in the behavior in order to
learn and to validate that learning has occurred” (p. 9).

A Cognitivist Approach to Learning

From a cognitivist perspective, learning is a change in mental representations and associations brought about by experiences.
Greeno, Collins, and Resnick (1996) write that cognitivists view learning as “transforming significant understanding we
already have, rather than simple acquisitions written on blank states” (p. 18). This follows the standard cognitivist view of
learning that assumes that mental processes exist, and can be studied scientifically. Brandt and Perkins (2000) noted that early
research in cognitivism “focused primarily on information processing, especially pattern recognition, memory, and problem
solving. The mind was considered a rule-governed computational device. A scientist’s task was to identify the specific rules by
which the mind manipulates symbols to arrive at results” (p. 165). This view reflects a common metaphor used by many
cognitivists that the mind works in the same way as a computer; therefore, learning takes place by applying set-in-place
algorithms. Brandt and Perkins go on to write that, “Over time, cognitive scientists gradually expanded their attention to
include a remarkable array of human activities: the formation of judgments, decision making, creativity, critical thinking, and
even the emotions” (2000, p. 165).

The Role of the Learner from a Cognitive Perspective

Cognitivists believe that learners are not passively influenced by environmental events; rather, they are active participants in
their own cognition (Ashcraft, 2002). As individuals engage in the learning process, they “actively choose, practice, pay
attention, ignore, reflect, and make many other decisions as they pursue goals” (Woolfolk Hoy, 2004, p. 236).

What is Learned?

The behaviorist and cognitive perspectives differ in their assumptions regarding what is learned. From the cognitive
perspective, knowledge is learned. It is the increase of knowledge that makes it possible for changes in behavior to occur.
According to the behaviorist perspective, the new behaviors themselves are learned (Shuell, 1986).

A Constructivist Approach to Learning

In addition to the two major approaches to how people learn that we discussed above, the constructivist approach has emerged
over the past three decades, with a tremendous impact on learning. Constructivism has its roots in both psychology and
philosophy. Constructivism goes beyond the traditional view of cognitivism that “people represent information in their minds
as single or aggregated sets of symbols, and that cognitive activity consists of operating on these symbols by applying to them
learn plans, or algorithms” (Winn, 2004, p. 79).

Marzano (2000) writes, “Constructivism refers to the general principle that learners use their prior knowledge to construct a
personally meaningful understanding of new content that is the focus of learning” (p. 81) The learner takes in information from
the world, filters this information, and use this information to make his or her own unique reality (Jonassen, 1991). Driscoll
(2004) adds that constructivism “rests on the assumption that knowledge is constructed by learners as they attempt to make
sense of their experiences. Learners, therefore, are not empty vessels waiting to be filled, but rather active organisms seeking
meaning” (p. 376). Driscoll (2004, pp. 382–383) summarizes the conditions necessary for learning in a constructivist
environment as:

embedded learning in complex, realistic, and relevant environments;

provision for social negotiation as an integral part of learning;
support for multiple perspectives and the use of multiple modes of representation;
encouragement of ownership in learning; and
nurturing of self-awareness of the knowledge construction process.

Using Various Approaches to Learning
The different approaches to learning can provide very useful perspectives on how people learn. It is generally not advisable to
strictly follow one approach when carrying out instructional design activities, because every instructional context is different
and brings with it different variables that need to be accounted for such as the context, the learners, and the type of learning
that needs to occur. No one approach can completely account for all of these variables. For successful instructional design to
occur, it is critical that instructional designers are able to borrow from the different approaches to develop instructional
interventions that take into consideration all of these variables.

Types of Learning

As mentioned, one variable that is part of every instructional context is the type of learning that needs to take place.
Instructional designers must have the ability to identify different types of learning to design efficient and effective instructional
interventions. Probably the most well-known and used distinctions made regarding types of learning is that of learning
domains. There are three commonly used learning domains that refer to specific types of learning—cognitive, affective, and
psychomotor. The major idea behind the learning domains is that learning can be organized and measured along a continuum
from low-level to higher-level knowledge, attitudes, or skills.

Benjamin Bloom (1913–1999) and colleagues are typically credited with developing the original idea and work behind the
three learning domains in the mid-20th century (Eisner, 2000). The result of Bloom’s work originated out of his efforts to
improve university examinations (Eisner, 2000; Ormrod, 2015). The result of this work was three taxonomies of educational
objectives corresponding to three learning domains. In recent years, other researchers (e.g., Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001;
Cangelosi, 1990; Marzano & Kendall, 2007) have published revisions to Bloom’s original work. Despite this, the major
premise behind Bloom’s original work remains intact.

One of the most useful ways that the learning domains can be used is to consider them when learning objectives are being
developed for instruction. Learning objectives are descriptions of what an individual should know or be able to do once he or
she has completed an instructional intervention. In addition to the development of learning objectives, the domains can be
useful in planning assessments.

Cognitive Domain

The cognitive domain is historically referred to as Bloom’s Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain. This taxonomy describes six
levels: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation (Bloom, Engelhart, Frost, Hill, &
Krathwohl, 1956). It is common to consider these levels as a hierarchy—each level building upon the ones below. This is not
entirely accurate for every subject or discipline (Seddon, 1978); some subjects or disciplines—like mathematics—do not fit
this structure extremely well (Gronlund, 2000). At the bottom level of the domain (knowledge), individuals can remember
basic information without necessarily understanding, using, or manipulating it. With evaluation, the highest level, individuals
can make judgments about complex ideas, materials, and processes as they are applied in various contexts.

Figure 2.3 Bloom, Engelhart, Frost, Hill, and Krathwohl’s Cognitive Domain (1956)

Source: Adapted from Bloom, B. S., Engelhart, M. D., Frost, E. J., Hill, W. H., & Krathwohl, D. R. (1956). Taxonomy of
educational objectives. Handbook I: Cognitive domain. New York: David McKay.

Affective Domain

The affective domain deals with emotional responses. The levels range from least committed to most committed (Krathwohl,
Bloom, & Masia, 1964). The levels are: receiving, responding, valuing, organizing, and internalizing (see Figure 2.4). At the
basic level of this domain (receiving), an individual is able to pay attention to a certain idea (e.g., listening to music at a live
event), but does not show any concerted interest. With internalizing, the highest level, an individual can adopt a new idea or
value and act consistently with it (e.g., openly demonstrating an appreciation for classical music).

Figure 2.4 Krathwohl, Bloom, and Masia’s Affective Domain

Source: Adapted from Krathwohl, D.R., Bloom, B.S., & Masia, B.B. (1964). Taxonomy of educational objectives. Handbook II:
Affective domain. New York: David McKay. Bloom

Psychomotor Domain

The psychomotor domain deals with physical abilities and skills. There are several taxonomies (Cangelosi, 1990; Harrow,
1972; Simpson, 1972) that depict this domain that typically describe levels that move from basic physical actions to more
skilled and creative movements. Simpson (1972) outlines a domain with seven levels: perception; set; guided response;
mechanism; complex overt response; adaptation; and origination. Cangelosi (1990) looks at the psychomotor domain by
stating that it is useful to look at it as either voluntary muscle capabilities (e.g., flexibility, agility, or speed) or the ability to
perform a specific skill (e.g., tying shoes).

Figure 2.5 Simpson’s Psychomotor Domain (1972)

Source: Adapted from Harrow, A.J. (1972). A taxonomy of the psychomotor domain: A guide for developing behavior objectives.
New York: David McKay.

Attempts to understand and describe the human mind and how it works can be noted throughout history. Consideration of the
topic began in ancient times with the writings of the Greek and Roman philosophers and has continued into modern times with
the research conducted in psychology, cognitive science, and neuroscience. As the understanding of the human mind and how
it works continues to grow, instructional designers need to be able to continue to determine how this information can be used to
positively impact their work. Successful instructional designers know that understanding different and often very divergent
perspectives on how people think will provide insights into how people learn. This understanding is important because
understanding how people learn is a key element in designing successful instructional interventions.

An instructional designer who has a solid understanding of how people learn can articulate the basics of various
psychological perspectives that describe different approaches on how people learn. This ability allows him or her to use this

knowledge to create instructional interventions that meet the goals of their clients.
As described in this chapter, behaviorism and cognitivism (and their various branches) are two major psychological

perspectives that have dominated how learning has been viewed throughout the 20th century and now into the 21st century.
These two divergent perspectives provide unique approaches on how learning takes place. Behaviorism stresses that learning is
a result of a change in behavior based on experience, while cognitivism stresses that learning is a change in mental
representations and associations resulting from experience. It is important to understand that neither approach should be used

Chapter Comprehension Questions

1. How people go about the process of thinking is often referred to as _________________.
2. Cognition and thinking are often used to refer to the same thing.

a. True.
b. False.

3. The practice of “thinking about thinking” is called:

a. Executive abilities.
b. Memory.
c. Mental Power.
d. Metacognition.

4. Prior to philosophy, psychology greatly influenced how scholars thought about how individuals thought and learned.

a. True.
b. False.

5. According to the ________________ perspective, mental processes are invisible and therefore cannot be studied

6. According to the __________________ perspective, the mind processes information through a series of different
processes that work together as a complete system.

7. A relatively new area of research that focuses on the brain and how it functions is:

a. Behaviorism.
b. Cognitivism.
c. Interpretivism.
d. Neuroscience.

8. An instructional designer’s view on thinking is influenced primarily by their:

a. Age.
b. Education and training.
c. Philosophical beliefs.
d. Place of birth.
e. Both (a) age, and (b) education and training.

9. The perspective that borrows from different philosophical perspectives is called __________.
10. Most often, _____________ is defined as being a relatively permanent change in either ________________ or in mental

representations or associations brought about by ________________ (Ormrod, 2013).
11. From a _______________ perspective, learning is a change in mental representations and associations brought about by

12. From a _________________ perspective, learning is defined as a change in behavior due to experience that can be

13. The three general domains of learning are __________, __________, and __________.
14. The ________________ domain focuses on emotional responses.
15. The ________________ domain focuses on physical abilities and skills.
16. The ________________ domain focuses on six levels of mental processes.

Activities Connecting Process to Practice

1. Why is it important for instructional designers to understand different perspectives on how people think?
2. You are having a discussion with a client. Your client says he recently read an article about behaviorism and cognitivism,

but he isn’t certain whether he clearly understands how each views human thinking. He asks you if you could help him

clear up any misconceptions he might have by describing the two perspectives. How would you describe the two
perspectives to your client?

3. You have been asked to give a brief talk about how perspectives on how humans think and learn have changed over time.
What would you include as major topics to discuss?

4. What are some of the most common myths about the brain?
5. What might a simple training session to teach someone how to properly change a flat tire look like if you took a

behaviorist approach in design the training? How about if you took a cognitivist approach or a constructivism approach?
6. Create a chart that describes the major components of behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism.
7. Discuss which learning theory you believe would be the most effective approach to take in creating instruction or

training that focuses on procedural knowledge.
8. Discuss which learning theory you believe would be the most effective approach to take in creating instruction or

training that focuses on declarative knowledge.
9. Locate a piece of educational software. Examine the software and determine what learning theory you believe has

guided the instructional design of the software. Explain your rationale.
10. Conduct a web search on neuroscience and education. What themes do you find? How might these themes impact your

work as an instructional designer?
11. Search the Web for “Dr. John Medina’s 12 Brain Rules.” Explore these. How might instructional designers use these in

the design of instruction or training?

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Part II

Examining the Situation
Needs, Task, and Learner Analysis

According to the principles of instructional design, before you can begin to create an instructional intervention for any group of
learners, you need to first thoroughly analyze the situation in order to determine the best course of action. Chapters 3, 4, and 5
describe the instructional design processes that help to answer the question, What type of intervention is needed?

Chapter 3

introduces the principles, processes and practices of needs analysis, which helps determine what kind of change
the instruction should help bring about. Chapter 4 introduces task analysis, which is a way of understanding the content and/or
tasks that will form the basis for the instruction being developed. Chapter 5 explains learner analysis, which is a way of
getting to know the people the instruction is designed for.

These analysis activities are essential elements of instructional design. They help the instructional designer decide upon the
goals and objectives of the instructional event and help them select and organize the best possible activities for instruction.

Chapter 3

Required Resources


Brown, A. H., & Green, T. D. (2020). 

The essentials of instructional design: Connecting fundamental principles with process and practice

 (4th ed.). Routledge.

· Chapter 2: Understanding How People Think and Learn

· The full-text version of this ebook is available through the RedShelf platform and can be access using the link provided in your online classroom. Chapter 2 presents various learning theories, discusses what learning is, and why it’s important that instructional designers understand how people think. Chapter 2 will help you complete the How People Learn discussion, and the Learning Theories discussion.


Khalil, M. K., & Elkhider, I. A. (2016). 

Applying learning theories and instructional design models for effective instruction Links to an external site.

Advances in Physiology Education,
 40(2), 147–156.

· This article presents the science of learning and instruction as theoretical evidence for the design and delivery of instruction, as well as a practical framework for implementation. This article will assist you in the How People Learn and Gagné’s Nine Events of Instruction assignment this week.
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Web Pages

Culatta, R. (n.d.-b). 

Conditions of learning (Robert Gagné)

 Links to an external site.


· This webpage provides a brief overview of Gagné’s theory of instruction and instructional design and will assist you with the Gagné’s 9 Events of Instruction assignment this week.
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Culatta, R. (n.d.-c). 

Learning theories

 Links to an external site.


· This webpage lists several learning theories commonly used in instructional design with concise pages for each theory presenting an overview, application, example, and principles of the theory. This webpage will assist you in your Learning Theories discussion forum this week.
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Schwartz, M. (2018, March 9). 

The implications of 3 adult learning theories on instructional design

 Links to an external site.

. eLearning Industry.

· This webpage discusses behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism adult learning theories with a perspective of how they can affect instructional design.This webpage will assist you in the Learning Theories discussion forum this week.
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