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Learning Theory Fundamentals


when it comes to designing educational curriculum: Behaviorist,
cognitivism, and constructivism. All three are relevant and play an
important role in the field of educational technology.


Behaviorist design is based on the presumption that human behavior is predictable.

An example of structured learning is found in most "structured (or programmed) curriculum".

Structured learning has predetermined objectives for what is to be learned, as well as

predetermined reinforcer's when objectives are met. The end-goal is defined up front, and each step
necessary to achieve the goal is given to the student.

Click on button to see an example of "Programmed Instruction"

In the example shown, the professor illustrates the particular steps necessary for the students to
achieve the final goal, and the student then progresses through the steps. Once the student achieves
the desired end-result, s/he is reinforced by getting a good grade.

Behaviorist approaches:

• Rely on overt behavior,

• Are outcome based, and
• Rely on frequent reinforcement of responses.


Cognitive theory says that learning is a process that is dictated by the students previous
experiences, and how the information is presented to the student.

Cognitivists are more concerned with the way information is represented in memory, schemata,
and mental models.

An example of a Cognitive approach is "associative " learning.

Click on button to see an example of "Associative Instruction"

The cognitive school of thought says that we all organize knowledge and meaning by modifying
mental representations. We select information from the environment and store it short-term
memory. At that point, we decide to either forget it or process it and store it into long-term
memory. Essentially, cognitivists believe we learn by association.

Cognitive approaches:

• Rely on the student's schema's, attitudes, and experiences.

• Believe the new information has to fit into what currently exists.


Constructivism dominates the environmental design of

education. Constructivists believe the environment needs to be
highly adaptive to the student. A constructivist designer might
provide all information necessary for learning but will allow the
student to learn the materials and information in the manner that
is most comfortable to the student.

Another way of thinking about constructivism is by thinking of

it as being very similar to a teacher asking his or her class to
build a house. The instructor would provide a rudimentary
picture of a house. Tools would be available, and the teacher
would be available for guidance when needed, but for the most An example of "Constructivist"
part the students are on their own as to how they want to go teaching.
about building the house.

Constructivist approach:

• Relies heavily on the students initiative

• Allows students to learn at their own speed

Authored by:
Julie Moore,
Instructional Designer,
EdTec Graduate Student