3.1 Learning theories and principles

learning theories and strategies

In our teaching and learning design, we typically use a combination of pedagogical approaches based on a range of foundational theories, methodologies, strategies and/or constructs.  Generally, theories or philosophies of learning behaviours end with the suffix “…ism”, and the study of common learning strategies include the suffix “…ogy” (Sankey, 2020).  This is a good way to easily identify theories versus strategies.

These theories often overlap and in general explain how people learn or what educators can do to enhance students’ learning. Pedagogic strategies are typically based on the following general learning theoretical or philosophical concepts (Sankey, 2020):

  • Behaviourism  – the idea that all behaviours are learned through interaction with the environment.
  • Instructivism – knowledge is transferred directly from the instructor (learning agent) to the learner (passive information absorber).
  • Cognitivism – how learners actively receive, organise, store and retrieve information; educators help to refine and elaborate information so students can refine their thinking.
  • Constructivism – typically a hands-on or active learning approach where learners construct their own knowledge based on their experiences.
  • Socio-constructivism  – learners make sense of information and new knowledge by collaborating with others.
  • Connectivism – learning is a process of interacting, collaborating and sharing information via social networks to construct knowledge.
  • and more…

There are also theories about teaching different cohorts of students (e.g. Andragogy, the teaching of adult learners) and those focused on online learning such as Heutagogy (self-directed learning) and Paragogy (peer-assisted learning).

Your pedagogical approach/es will largely be determined by factors such as your student cohort, discipline practices, available resources, learning modes, platforms, learning outcomes and competencies required.


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