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Theories of Learning

Date of last revision September 18, 2013


  • Learning theories refers to theoretical frameworks which try to explain how people and animals learn, thereby helping us understand the inherently complex process of learning.
  • Learning refers to “a persisting change in human performance   or performance potential brought about   as a result of the learner’s interaction with the   environment”
  • There are three main categories of learning theories:
    • Behaviorism -focuses only on the objectively observable aspects of learning.
    • Cognitive theories - look beyond behavior to explain brain-based learning.
    • Constructivism - learning as a process in which the learner actively constructs or builds new ideas or concepts.


  • First explained by B. F. Skinner
  • Ivan Pavlov - Classical Conditioning Theory
  • Refers to observable and measurable behavior
  •  Three basic assumptions of behaviourism are:
    1. Learning is manifested by a change in behavior.
    2. The environment shapes behavior.
    3. The principles of contiguity and reinforcement.
  • Behaviourism includes:
    1. Classical Conditioning - Pavlov
    2. Operant Conditioning - Skinner

Cognitive Theories

  • Cognitive theories consider the thought process behind the behavior.
  • It states changes in behavior as indicators to what is happening inside the learner's mind.
  • Cognitive theories make two basic assumptions:
    1. Memory system is an active organized processor of information and
    2. Prior knowledge plays an important role in learning.


  • Jean Piaget, John Dewey
  • " learners construct knowledge for themselves from an interaction between their experiences and their ideas"
  • Constructivism explains learning as a process in which the learner actively constructs or builds new ideas or concepts based upon current and past knowledge or experience.
  • Constructivism focuses on preparing the learner to problem solve in ambiguous situations.


  • Learning theories gives a general explanation for how people learn.
  • These theories are applied in educational psychology, curriculum development, instructional methodology.


  1. Chauhan SS. Advanced educational psychology. 5th edition. New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House PVT LTD; 1993.
  2. Mangal SK. Educational psychology. 8th edition. Ludhiana: Prakash Brothers Educational Publisher’s; 1990.


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