How do people learn?

by Moises Jafet — on
Tiempo de Lectura aprox.: 3 minutes, 57 seconds

Some New Ideas for e-Learning Designers One of the most vital questions in e-Learning is seldom asked, How DO people learn?, and yet many of us build careers on somebody elses answer. The problem is that there is more than one answer, and people have a hard time with that idea. In this weeks issue of The eLearning Developers Journal, you will begin to discover the details of some surprising new answers to this ancient question.

For those developing e-Learning who dont have a degree in instructional design or instructional technology, author Bill Brandon starts the series describing the basics of the most common schools of thought on instructional design. In the article, How Do People Learn? Some New Ideas for e-Learning Designers, he writes:

How do people learn? If you search on the Web for answers to the question of how people learn, the amount of information is staggering. For example, a Google search for learning theories brings back links to over six and a half million related Web pages. Martin Ryder, at the University of Colorado at Denvers School of Education, compiled a list that contains dozens of links to Web pages explaining learning theories and related instructional design models. These pages describe learning, and methods to facilitate learning, for humans from early childhood to old age. For a simpler view, in a recent book on using technology in education, David Jonassen and his co-authors listed thirteen different theories to explain learning.

However, all of the learning theories seem to fall into one or another of three basic perspectives that have been articulated since early in the early 20th century and continuing up to today. Two of these, behaviorism and cognitivism, are very well-known, and in fact these two are the foundation for most of the e-Learning applications and tools in use today. The third perspective, constructivism, is newer, not often used by e-Learning designers (although this is changing), and it differs in important respects from the first two. 

Bill then goes on to define the three major perspectives: Behaviorism, Cognitivism, and Constructivism. An abridged definition of the three are:

Behaviorism, as a learning theory, is an outgrowth of behavioral approaches to psychology as they developed beginning in the mid-twentieth century. Much of the instruction created under the behaviorist model is based on B. F. Skinners work, and especially on his ideas about schedules of reinforcement. The basic idea is to build an association between making a particular response to a stimulus and receiving a reward, or reinforcement. The positive and negative reinforcement techniques are effective for teaching particular kinds of behaviors. Behaviorism has had a long and enduring influence and even though the behaviorist view is no longer dominant, it still affects the instructional design process.

Most designers are familiar with the ADDIE model (Analysis  Design  Development  Implementation  Evaluation). This is a design model with behaviorist roots. Within ADDIE, needs assessment, task analysis, and audience analysis all have their origin in behaviorism. So does the emphasis on determination of performance objectives and criterion testing, development of instructional strategy, and evaluation of the design and results of instruction.

Behaviorisms major weakness is that it ignores mental activities and so cannot explain or facilitate all kinds of learning. In the middle 1950s, researchers began to publish their findings on a number of problem areas that were not adequately addressed by behaviorism, including attention, memory, and problem-solving. These studies, over time, developed into cognitive psychology and Information Processing Theory  the roots of the learning perspective known as cognitivism. Cognitivism is currently the dominant influence in instructional design. Robert Gagni, Dave Merrill, Richard Mayer, and Ruth Clark are probably the best-known exponents of cognitivism.

Both behaviorism and cognitivism view the learner as a receptacle of knowledge and meaning from the outside world. The teacher or instructional system is the authority prescribing a methodology from which learners receive correct information and guidance. This notion is the basis for much of teaching, e-Learning, and guidance. It shapes the way designers create drill-and-practice applications, tutorials, help systems, electronic performance support, and online references, as well as instructor-led programs.

The constructivist view is that learning is an active process of constructing knowledge, where the learners are doing the construction. Learning is not acquisition of knowledge. Learning is a change in meaning, ideas, or concepts, constructed from prior knowledge and experience. The instructors job is not to instruct as such, but to support the construction process, mainly by creating an environment in which the construction can take place. Technology, especially computer technology and the Web, offers many resources that have proven successful over the last two decades as supplements to constructivist practices in the classroom, in adult education, and in distance learning.

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Moisés Jafet Cornelio-Vargas

About Moisés

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Physicists, award-winning technologist, parallel entrepreneur, consultant and proud father born in the Dominican Republic.
Interested in HPC, Deep Learning, Semantic Web, Internet Global High Scalability Apps, InfoSec, eLearning, General Aviation, Formula 1, Classical Music, Jazz, Sailing and Chess.
Founder of and
Author of the Sci-fi upcoming novel Breedpeace and co-author in dozens of publications.
Co-founder of, Jalalio Media Consultants and a number of other start-ups.
Former professor and Key-note speaker in conferences and congresses all across the Americas and Europe.
Proud member of the Microchip No.1 flying towards Interestellar space on board NASA's Stardust Mission, as well as member of Fundación Municipios al Día, Fundación Loyola, Fundación Ciencias de la Documentación and a number of other non-for profit, professional organizations, Open Source projects and Chess communities around the world.
All opinions here are his own's and in no way associated with his business interests or collaborations with third-parties.