Learning About Learning

I remember reviewing learning theories ‘way’ back in the ‘day’ (think there were still VCR/TV Combos in a school near you back then for those doing A/V in the classroom haha) when I was in university.  The names Skinner, Bruner, and Piaget were ones we studied in EPS classes.  It was important to review these theories then as an aspiring teacher and it is just as important to revisit as a more ‘veteran’ educator as well. But sadly, the examination of learning theories is hard to be found in educational technology.

Less than two percent of the courses offered in university curricula in the general area of educational technology emphasize “theory” as one of their key concepts.


Learning is a beautiful but very complex part of being human. Three of the main reasons I became a teacher are:
1) my love of learning,
2) my curiosity around how I and others learn,
3) my quest to help people become life long learners

I was fortunate to find a great post on Twitter that lead to a very good resources on breaking down the theories found on this chart.

Here are a couple of the learning theory summaries by Terry Heick (founder of TeachTought (which is one of my best follows on Twitter) that helped me out.

Instructivism The premise behind ‘Instructivism’ is that teachers take on a central role in the learning process and transfer that knowledge directly to the students.

Constructionism The underlying principle of Constructionism as a learning theory is that the learner is not a passive ‘vessel,’ but must actively participate in their own learning. It requires learners to build on existing knowledge when acquiring new knowledge.

Social Constructivism A learning theory founded on the idea that meaning is both built and socially-negotiated through interactions with others.

De-schooling Society School is damaging to education: “The pupil is thereby ‘schooled’ to confuse teaching with learning. grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence, and fluency with the ability to say something (well) or new.”


These summaries helped to clarify my understanding of these learning theories. I also found the ‘de-schooling society’ very interesting as I question the effectiveness of schools in today’s society a lot. Do students simply ‘put up with’ or ‘play school’ instead of becoming the thought incubators and factories of innovation we should be? Another one of readings also pointed out the danger in trying to create a learning theory that attempts to summarize learning in one all-encompassing chart or summary such as Dale’s Cone of Learning.

How people learn is a complex topic, complicated by advances in neuroscience and cognitive psychology research.


Therefore it is important to examine many schools of thought. I found a very good summary of learning theories on Twitter that rekindled my good old ESP 100 days and provided many examples of how these theories apply in the classroom.

I believe that my understanding and application of learning styles has evolved during my teaching (and learning) career. I find myself exploring and using many theories in my craft. But based on what I have read on connectivism and my journey with educational technology, I feeling this describes the learning theory I find I’d adhere to the most.

Connectivism is the integration of principles explored by chaos, network, and complexity and self-organization theories. Learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements – not entirely under the control of the individual.Learning (defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database), is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing. Connectivism is driven by the understanding that decisions are based on rapidly altering foundations. New information is continually being acquired. The ability to draw distinctions between important and unimportant information is vital. The ability to recognize when new information alters the landscape based on decisions made yesterday is also critical.


For more information on connectivism, I recommend reading What is connectivism a section from Dr. Tony Bates‘ book Teaching in A Digital Age. I also like the Dr. Bates chart for helping chose a design model. This helped me reflect on the choices I make in my own classes both face to face and online.

Figure 4.8.1 Choosing design models

Finally, I found a great video on YouTube where Dr. Bates shares his insights on Theories of Learning.

This video really made me think about my current situation as a connected and online educator. Here are a few main take-a-aways:

  • The teaching method should drive the purpose not technology.
  • The method should relate to the kind of knowledge / skills to be taught.
  • The quality of the experience relies on how you employ the method (whether online or face to face).
  • Can use a different method depending on the purpose of the experience.
  • The skill of teacher is matching the method to the purpose.

I know when I was younger a behaviorist/instructivist approach was the method of choice for many of the teachers/professors I had. I was fairly successful in learning this way, but I feel my understanding of learning and knowledge has grown and with the use of technology has become more fluid and connected. I think of learning theories more now like a ‘swiss army knife’ and agree with Bates that you should understand the methods and use the best ‘tool’ for the job at hand. There’s still a lot for me to learn about learning … definitely about the journey not the destination.


One thought on “Learning About Learning

  1. Hey Dean! I enjoyed reading your post and I loved the visual you noted in your blog. Like you, I used this visual to help me understand where I thought my teaching journey was in terms of learning theories. Your question “Do students simply ‘put up with’ or ‘play school’ instead of becoming the thought incubators and factories of innovation we should be?” I think yes. Many of them do, even if there is a greater point to what we are teaching or trying to engage them in. Some just have to mentality to go through the motions because that is what they have always done and expected to do. It’s unfortunate but hopefully aas educators we can continue to strive for a more connected approach and force students out of tht comfort zone and into a more rewarding and innovative system. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


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