Welcome to Learning Theory Fundamentals
This website is being developed as a comprehensive resource for those interested in learning theories, especially as these theories apply to instruction. The emphasis will be on understanding the major learning theories and the implications they have for instruction.

The Variety
It is simply not possible to think about learning theory as limited to any one theory because there is a rich variety of theories that attempt to account for human learning. Trying to find the best theory is sheer folly–there is not one best theory. When many people begin to study learning theory they seek to determine which theory is "accurate" as if there could only be one true theory! It's such a loss when you don't appreciate all the learning theories. All add to our understanding of human learning and all add to our ability to instruct.

We will explore the richness contained in the variety of different learning theories. These range from behavioral theories to constructivist theories. Each with a different way to look at human learning and its causes. Each learning theory suggests different instructional practices. If we wish to know how to teach, we first must understand how people learn. Only then can we understand both how we should conduct instruction and why.

The Rationale
Explaining how people learn is not a simple task. On the one hand we have developed ideas about how we learn from our years as a student, and as a learner outside of school. Yet this observation of ourselves is fraught with systematic error and bias. Many things that once seemed obvious to us turn out differently. It was not so long ago that most thought the Earth was flat, since it looked that way to everybody. At one time we thought the upper limit of speed for any object was the speed at which a horse gallops. The early automobiles were rather crude in terms of their power and puttered along at less than the speed of a horse. As automotive technology improved cars became able to achieve speeds faster than even the swiftest horse, and they did so without blowing apart as many feared. Through our observation we also hold, or held, many ideas that seemed perfectly obvious, such as the Sun revolving around the Earth. Science has disproved many such obvious things based on our limited observation.

Such also is the case with human learning. If we tired to build a learning theory based on what we "know" from years as a student or as a learner in general, we will create naive theories. If we derive ideas about instruction, especially about how to teach, from such a limited view of learning, our ideas about instruction will be similarly flawed and severely limited. Yet, this is exactly what many educators do. They assume the role of teacher without understand learning theory. They are pretenders, not teachers. A true teacher will understand the basis for their actions rather than just following convention and teaching as they were taught.

The Theories
Learning theories have evolved considerably over the past several decades, and this continues. Capturing the essence of learning theories is difficult because they are not static. Fortunately research and though about learning theory continues at an increasing pace. More people are involved and more ideas emerge about learning each month. Much like art and music, contemporary learning theory continues to sprout off in many directions. What was in favor a few years ago, might look and sound dated now. New twists on old themes evolve, but much of the recent work falls within established camps or genres. Once in a while something truly different in substantial ways will appear, but usually it is a matter of something new following from recognized styles. In this website I try to give you a flavor of the major styles or types of learning theories. I do not try to cover the entire field in all its complexity with all its players, such would be monumental. I have selected the major learning theories and the major person or persons within each. Someone covering all of art would likely include Impressionism and maybe Monet, but not all the Impressionist painters. I have done likewise with learning theory. I will be broad and comprehensive in including major theories or major categories of theory, but I will not include everyone within that category.

With this as the backdrop, here are the theories I include:

  • David Ausubel – Cognitive theory
  • Albert Bandura – Social learning theory
  • Jerome Bruner – Constructivist theory
  • Robert Gagne – Cognitive theory
  • B.F. Skinner – Behavioral theory
  • Lev Vygotsky – Social cognition theory

Explore this website to understand the fundamentals of each theory and to see how the different theories can be applied to instruction.

The Application
The point of this website is to help people understand both the variety of learning theories and their application to instruction. Thus, we focus both on the descriptive aspects of learning theories and the prescriptive aspects of applying these theories to instruction. To better understand how to apply each theory we have broken instruction down into five key aspects that encompass the major issues. These are as follow:

Goals & Objectives What should we teach and how should we communicate this to learn errs?
Individual Differences How do students differ that matter for instruction and how should we adjust instruction to take these differences into account?
Teaching Strategies How should we teach? What methods and approaches should we use?
Motivation How should we engage and motivate students?
Assessment & Evaluation How can we determine whether learning happened and how effective our teaching was?

Explore this website to understand the fundamentals of each theory and to see how the different theories can be applied to instruction.

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