Blog Post #1 The Psychology of How People Learn

As we discussed during the class learning is a process of connecting between what is already known or understood and new information. Merriam Webster defines learning as “gaining knowledge or understanding of or skill in by study, instruction, or experience”. So, learning happens when people use their experience to deal with new situation, develop their knowledge.

In other words, we can say people construct information from experience, build on prior knowledge, and organize their own learning. As an instructional designer, I have been taught to concentrate on developing quality classes, to achieve this goal, we strive to develop classes based on sound of instructional design and planning using systematic models and learning theories.

These learning theories provide a basis to understand how people learn and a way to explain, describe, analyze and predict learning. Thus, first let’s start talking about how learning occurs based on learning theories.

According to Behaviorist Theory: learning occurs when proper response is demonstrated following the presentation of a specific stimulus. The focus is to maintain and strengthen the relationship between the stimulus and response. Learning occurs when there is reactive with the environment (Ertmer & Newby, 1993). Also, when there is promotion of desirable behavior and discourages of undesirable behaviors. So, external stimulus and response are important to learn.

According to Cognitive Theory: Learning is an active process where meaning and understanding built from experience (Wildman & Burton, 1981). Learning occurs when the learner is very active in the learning process (Ertmer & Newby, 1993). Moreover, learning takes place when information is absorbed through sensory memory, sent to working memory, processed, and encoded into long term memory for storage.

According to Constructivist Theory: learning happens by creating a meaning from experience. What the learner knows is based on his/her own experiences. Knowledge is constructed by the learners. Learners strive to know, so the experience should be examined as it is in constant change (Ertmer & Newby, 1993).

According to Social Learning Theory: learning is a social process. Learning occurs when each learner is engaged in social activities. Knowledge is culturally and socially constructed (Kim, 2001).

Second, which factors influence learning? According to psychology, there are many factors that influence learning, some of them associated with learner and other connected with learning process. First, psychological factors: readiness, intelligence, motivation, mental health, nature ability to learn, and individual differences, fear to failure, etc. Then, biological factors: physical health, self-concept, maturity, needs, proper sleep, proper nutrition, etc. Next, environment factors: learner beliefs, culture demands, family background, physical conditions, achievement, social expectation etc. Finally, instructional factors: teacher’s personality, learning strategy, curriculum, teaching aids, etc.

According to Behaviorist Theory:  Strength of stimulus. Chaining and shaping. Environment of the learner. Reinforcement (positive and negative) increase the behavior and punishment to decrease the chances of the behavior happening again. All these can influence learning.

According to Cognitive Theory: Extrinsic and intrinsic components.  Rehearsal, encoding, chunking, selective attention, pattern recognition, interference, failure to encode or retrieve.

According to Constructivist Theory: Both the learners and the environments influence learning. The content must be embedded in the situation. Real setting and tasks are relevant to the learner’s experience (Ertmer & Newby, 1993).

According to Social Learning Theory: Learning influences through social interactions with more knowledgeable learners. Collaborating with other learners through community of practice is important (Kim, 2001).

Finally, what is the role of both learners and teacher in learning process based on learning theories?  In general, learners have responsibility for their learning. They should engage activity, shape and review own learning throughout self-assessment, and develop skills for further learning. On other hand, teacher primary goal is to inform a learner through explicit instruction, supplemented by textbook and other materials. Teacher can also facilitate learning, provide learners with the information and tools they need to master a subject, and involve interaction with students.

The role of teachers according to Behaviorist Theory:  Providing students with instructional cues, practicing, and reinforcement. Helping in determining goals and outcomes. Using activities that offer rewards, quizzes that offer feedback or online activities that again offer feedback and allow the students to go back over the material.

The role of teachers according to Cognitive Theory: Teaching the learners how to learn. Discussion group/questions. Demonstration of working knowledge through projects or models. Presentations in front of the class. Brainstorming in class about a topic in order to allow students to link new ideas to anchoring one schema.

The role of teachers according to Constructivist Theory: Providing opportunities to learners who can deal with unstructured and complex problems (Ertmer & Newby, 1993).

The role of teachers according to Social Learning Theory: Providing learners with problem-based learning, shared teaching, peer collaboration and learning with others.

In conclusion, although these theories differ in some ways such as general assumptions and guiding principles, there is no one best learning theory. They have a common foundation which explains how learning and teaching processes should be or should take place.

Thank you!!


Ertmer, P.A. & Newby, T. J. (1993). Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism: Comparing Critical Features from an Instructional Design Perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 6(4).

Kim, B. (2001). Social constructivism. Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology, 1(1), 16.

Wildman, T. M., & Burton, J. K. (1989). Integrating learning theory with instructional design. Journal of Instructional Development, 4(3), 5–14.


3 Replies to “Blog Post #1 The Psychology of How People Learn”

  1. Rania, I really enjoyed reading this overview of different learning and teaching theories. It really helped me think about the role of a teacher versus a student and the line that is drawn between them regarding responsibility and effectiveness. When I notice students in my class dozing off or seeming really bored, I often question my teaching content and take it personally. However, it is not always my fault and I try to reflect on my overall class to gauge interest and effectiveness. I think your overview highlights the importance of feedback from students in a class to ensure both teacher and student are doing their part.

  2. I appreciate you sharing an overview of the various learning theories. I am curious to know if in your experience you have come across research on social-emotional learning (SEL). There is research that supports the importance of social-emotional learning and many schools are incorporating SEL into their instruction. I would be curious to know if SEL is incorporated in institutions of higher education? The importance of creating a safe and nurturing learning environment plays a significant role in students resadiness to learn. There have been several researchers who have shared the idea of “Maslow before Bloom” when discussing the learning of students, espciallythose who may be part of a marginalized or oppressed group. Thank you for sharing your perspective and understanding that there is no one way learning takes place.

  3. The discussion in your post was very interesting to me. As a teacher, I do not think that it works to use only one approach, such as only lectures, only discussion, only readings, only answering questions, etc. My view is that mixing in different types of activities during a class helps to engage these different ways of learning, and that the synthetic result is better than the result obtained by only one approach. If one is to take these theories seriously, perhaps there is an element of truth to all of them, and our varied learning experiences can work together to have a cumulative effect of increased understanding. I would even venture to say that a learning approach that focused on only one of these styles of learning would likely be incomplete. If students only practice activities such as reading or answering multiple choice questions which are about organizing information cognitively, they may not be integrating this information with their other experiences (social or constructivist learning) in a way that would yield deeper learning. However, if students are only interested in how new information relates to their experiences or to the knowledge formed in a social network, they may not be practicing certain important types of critical thinking which are more abstract and cognitive but nonetheless important. Anyways, thanks so much for the food for thought.

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