Learning Theory

In psychology and education, learning is commonly defined as a process that brings together cognitive, emotional, and environmental influences and experiences for acquiring, enhancing, or making changes in one's knowledge, skills, values, and world views (Illeris, 2004; Ormrod, 1995). It is also thought of as the way in which information is absorbed, processed, and retained. "Learning Theories" are elaborate hypotheses that describe how exactly this procedure occurs. Learning theories have two chief values according to Hill (2002). One is in providing us with vocabulary and a conceptual framework for interpreting the examples of learning that we observe. The other is in suggesting where to look for solutions to practical problems. The theories do not give us solutions, but they do direct our attention to those variables that are crucial in finding solutions.

There are three main categories or philosophical frameworks under which learning theories fall: behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism. Behaviorism focuses only on the objectively observable aspects of learning. Cognitive theories look beyond behavior to explain brain-based learning. And constructivism views learning as a process in which the learner actively constructs or builds new ideas or concepts.

Merriam and Caffarella (1991) highlight four approaches or orientations to learning: Behaviourist, Cognitivist, Humanist, and Social/Situational. These approaches involve contrasting ideas as to the purpose and process of learning and education - and the role that educators may take.