What are the three learning theories and their merits?

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webbed | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

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The three main categories of learning are behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism. Behaviorism focuses on learning that is observable. Cognitivism centers on brain-based learning. Constructivism considers learning as a process of construction, with the learner actively involved in building new ideas and concepts from his or her own knowledge and experience.

The website Learning-Theories.com (http://www.learning-theories.com/) provides an overview of the three main categories as well as several other theories and models.

Behaviorism learning is a process manifested by changes in the way an individual behaves. Such changes occur through classical and operant conditioning. Classical conditioning refers to reflex responses to a stimulus, such as a cat’s response to the opening of a can. Operant conditioning refers to reinforcement of a behavior through rewards and/or punishment, such as placing a child in “time out” for disrupting a class or offering “extra credit” for work that goes beyond what’s required. In an education setting, behaviorist theory feeds directly into the way teachers establish behavior objectives, encourage skill development, and measure competency.

Cognitivism proposes that an individual’s memory is actively involved in processing information and that prior knowledge is an important component of learning. Cognitivist theory feeds into instructional design models that build intelligence, including learning how to learn.

Constructivist theory requires active involvement in the learning process. Students explore material through activities that promote discovery within a specified framework. Teachers are more facilitators than lecturers. Constructivism has led to such learning models as self-directed, experiential, and transformational. Details on these models are available at the referenced website.


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