Learning theories and online learning

Learning theories help us understand how adults learn, which in turn can help inform how we should design learning that is conductive to learning.

Each of the four main learning theories; Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism & Humanism are summarized in the Adult Learning Theories Cheat Sheet. This is a summary of learning burst I created on learning theories and references can be found below. eLearning community also has an interestingn article about 3 Traditional Learning Theories and How They Can Be Used in elearning.

A relatively new learning theory, connectivism, has emerged to address the changing landscape of learning with the introduction of more and more technology. I believe a quote from Karen Stephenson summarises the need for this theory well;

“Experience has long been considered the best teacher of knowledge. Since we cannot experience everything, other people’s experiences, and hence other people, become the surrogate for knowledge. ‘I store my knowledge in my friends’ is an axiom for collecting knowledge through collecting people.” (retrieved from elearnspace)

The theory focuses on the fact that the world is ever changing ,new knowledge is constantly being created and technology can hold vasts amounts of information.  What is important for learners is how to navigate this information and technology and have the skills to make connections.

As an online instructor it will be important for me to created an environment and tools that allow learners easy access to information.  The implementation of an Learning Management System (LMS) will create a hub of information and a place for learners to learn from each other.  Setting the LMS up in a way that enables learners to easily get notified about new information that is relevant to them will help learners manage the pipe of information.  Creating a social hub environment on the LMS will encourage learners to use it as a place to share their knowledge and a resource for gaining new knowledge.  In another article on connectivism, on learning theories (2015), Siemens talks about how much of learning happens across peer networks online.  The instructor needs to create the environment to allow this to happen and encourage learners to seek out more knowledge for themselves and share back with the community of learners.



Beck, C., & Kosnik, C.M. (2006). Innovations in Teacher Education: A Social Constructivist Approach. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press

Gray, A. (1995). Constructivist Teaching and Learning. Summary of a Master’s thesis The Road to Knowledge is Always Under Construction: A Life History Journey to Constructivist Teaching. Retrieved from http://www.saskschoolboards.ca/old/ResearchAndDevelopment/ResearchReports/Instruction/97-07.htm

Merriam, S.B., & Bierema, L.L. (2013). Adult Learning: Linking Thoery and Practices. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Wikibooks, Learning Theories / Constructivist Theories, https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Learning_Theories/Constructivist_Theories

Willis, J. (2009), Constructivist Instructional Design (C-ID): Foundations, Models, and Examples. Charlotte, N.C.: Information Age Publishing

Siemens, G (2005) Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. elearnspace, http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm

krist2366, “Connectivism (Siemens, Downes),” in Learning Theories, June 1, 2015, https://www.learning-theories.com/connectivism-siemens-downes.html.



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