Comparing Learning Theories

The following table shows the similarities and differences between five widely recognised learning theories.

This table is best viewed on a desktop computer.

Behaviourism Constructivism Cognitivism Connectivism Andragogy
Major contributors
Believes that...
* The learner is a blank slate or a vessel to be filled with knowledge.

* The learner is an instinct-driven individual.
* The learner constructs their own knowledge & learning.

* Learning occurs when the individual is supported by a more knowledgeable individual.

* The learner is a conscious individual.
* The learner’s mental processes – how information is received, processed and organised into existing schema and then retrieved.

* Learning = what the student knows and how they acquired the knowledge.

* The learner is a conscious individual.
* Knowledge is everywhere.

* Knowledge is learned when the learner connects with a community and feeds information into the community.

* The learner is a conscious individual.
* Learning is a life-long process.

* The learner is an active participant in the construction of learning outcomes.

* The learner wants to learn and immediately apply their new knowledge to real contexts.
Motivation for learning
A mix of intrinsic and extrinsic
Influences on Learning
Rewards & Punishment



Social & Cultural environments

Existing knowledge

Previous experiences

Social learning network;

Communities of Practice

The interest of the learner

Transferability of the content to their current experience

The learner...
* Learns through repetition, memorisation, question & response and external motivators to produce a pre-determined response
* Learns by making connections between current knowledge and new learning.

* The learner is an active participant in a social learning environment.
* Learns through the mental processing of information and redefines prior knowledge.

* Is an active participant in the learning process.
* Makes choices about their learning.

* Participates in group collaboration & discussion.

* Considers others’ viewpoints in relation to the content.

* Recognises and interprets patterns.
* Brings their own background & experiences to the learning.

* Wants to acquire knowledge and skills that can be immediately applied.
The instructor
* Determines the learning. The judge of right and wrong.
* Becomes 'a guide on the side' who tailors their facilitation to the student's responses allowing for differences in learner background and experience.

* Creates learning objectives the focus on reasoning, reflecting and justifying.
* Focuses on the transfer of knowledge and the ability to apply knowledge in different contexts.

* Simplifies and standardises the learning materials to support knowledge transfer of complex information (e.g. chunking information)
* Focuses on blending their expertise with the learner’s construction of knowledge
* Acknowledges the experience, knowledge and skills that the learner brings to the learning environment.

* Focuses on making individualised learning experiences (ie. facilitates learning)
Best used...
* Instruction where there is only one correct answer. For example, learning a language, math (times tables), remembering predictable cause and effect.
* Problem solving, inquiry-based learning, case-based learning, social interaction and collaboration.

* Experiential learning.

* Constructivism builds the learner’s understanding of concepts.
* Explaining complex concepts in ways that the learner can make connections with previously learned material.

* Reasoning-based learning activities, problem solving, clear objectives.
* Experiential learning where the process is prioritised over the result e.g. simulation training in medical resuscitation.
* When content can be delivered in several different ways and tailored to the individual.

* For self-motivated learners.

* The focus is more on the process of learning rather than the content.

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