Psychological theories of learning and their implications

13 Jan 2023


Learning theories are frameworks that attempt to explain how and why people learn. These theories provide a framework for understanding the processes of learning and can guide the development of instructional methods and materials. There are many different learning theories that have been proposed over the years, each with their own unique perspective on the learning process. Some of the most well-known and widely-used theories include behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism. These theories have been applied in various settings, such as education, business, and healthcare, to improve the design and delivery of instruction. Understanding these theories can help educators and trainers to create effective learning experiences that lead to meaningful and lasting change.
This paper discusses four psychological theories of learning with their implications.

1. Ausubel’s Learning Theory

American psychologist David Paul Ausubel made major contributions to the disciplines of educational psychology, cognitive science, and science education learning through the development and research of advance organizers for meaningful learning. Ausubel, who was influenced by Jean Piaget, thought that deductive reasoning is the key to understanding concepts, principles, and ideas. He also supported the notion of meaningful learning as opposed to mere memorization. He writes this in the introduction to his book Educational Psychology: A Cognitive View: "The most important single factor influencing learning is what the learner already knows. Ascertain this and teach him accordingly” (Ausubel, 1968, p. vi)
This led Ausubel to develop an interesting theory of meaningful learning and advance organizers.

Ausbel's Theory

According to Ausube, acquiring new knowledge depends on what is already known. In other words, our observation and recognition of events and objects through existing conceptions serves as the foundation for the formation of knowledge. By constructing a network of concepts and adding to it, we learn. By utilizing this component of the theory, Ausubel and Novac created the concept map, an instructional tool that employs relationships between ideas, visuals, and words to teach learners.
Ausubel also insists on the importance of meaningful learning over rote memorization and reception learning over discovery learning. He claims that only reception learning in academic contexts is addressed by his theory. But he didn't claim that discovery learning is ineffective; rather, he said that it was ineffective.

Meaningful learning

The focus of Ausebel's theory is similarly on meaningful learning. His hypothesis holds that for learning to be meaningful, people need to connect new information to related concepts they already know. The learner's existing body of information must interact with new knowledge.

Role-playing learning contrasts with meaningful learning. The latter can do the same, but without interacting with the pre-existing knowledge structure. Recalling lists of objects, like phone numbers, is done using rote memory. The student cannot use it to understand the relationships between the objects, though.
Meaningful learning has the advantage of being stored in long-term memory since it calls for the recognition of connections among concepts. How new knowledge is incorporated into the existing knowledge base is the most important factor in meaningful learning.

Ausubel consequently holds that knowledge is organized hierarchically and that new information only has value when it can be connected to or anchored to what is already known.

Implications Ausubel Theory of Learning

  1. Learning is more effective when new information is related to a person's existing knowledge and experiences.
  2. Meaningful learning occurs when new information is integrated into existing schemas (mental frameworks for organizing information).
  3. Learning is more effective when it is active and interactive, rather than passive.
  4. The use of advanced organizers, or providing a general overview of the material to be learned, can improve learning.

2. Jerome Bruner’s Learning theory

American psychologist Jerome S. Bruner is well recognized for his work in cognitive and developmental psychology. Children actively engage in learning in a way that reflects their stage of cognitive development, claims Bruner. Therefore, rather than concentrating on the content being taught, educators should optimize the style of presentation in order to maximize the learning experience. Bruner thought that if the presentation approach is set up in three stages—the enactive, iconic, and symbolic—children may learn difficult topics and even adult learners can pick up new ideas. 

Using a three-step process, Jerome Bruner's Theory of Development is predicated on the idea that learning occurs best when moving from the tangible to the abstract: Students first learn through "Action," then through "Images," and ultimately by "Translating" what they have learnt into "Language." We repeatedly review previously learned material throughout the experience, with teachers offering well planned help each step of the way. It also appears to work.

Implications of Bruner's theory include:

  1. Learning is a process of discovery and construction, rather than passive absorption of information.
  2. People construct their own understanding of the world through their experiences and interactions with it.
  3. Learning is most effective when it is based on a person's existing knowledge and experiences.
  4. Learning is most effective when it is active, interactive, and engaging.

3. Robert Gagne Learning Theory

Robert Gagne's theory of learning, also known as the Conditions of Learning theory, posits that learning is a systematic process that occurs in a specific sequence. According to Gagne, there are nine events of instruction that must take place in order for learning to occur:

  1. Gain attention: The learner's attention must be captured in order for learning to take place.
  2. Inform the learner of the objectives: The learner must understand what is expected to be learned.
  3. Stimulate recall of prior learning: The learner's prior knowledge must be activated in order to connect new information to existing knowledge.
  4. Present the material: The new information must be presented in a clear and organized manner.
  5. Provide learning guidance: The learner must be given guidance on how to process the new information and make connections to existing knowledge.
  6. Elicit performance: The learner must be given the opportunity to practice and apply the new information.
  7. Provide feedback: The learner must receive feedback on their performance in order to identify areas for improvement.
  8. Assess performance: The learner's performance must be formally evaluated to determine the level of learning that has occurred.
  9. Enhance retention and transfer: The learner must be given opportunities to review and practice the new information in order to solidify their understanding and be able to apply it in different contexts.

Gagne's theory emphasizes the importance of clear objectives, active engagement, and feedback in the learning process. It also emphasizes the importance of assessment and evaluation in determining the effectiveness of instruction.
Gagne's theory of learning emphasizes the importance of clear objectives, active engagement, and feedback in the learning process. It also emphasizes the importance of assessment and evaluation in determining the effectiveness of instruction and how to apply the new knowledge in different contexts.

Implications of Jean Piaget's theory of learning

The learning theory of Jean Piaget focuses on the design and delivery of instruction and has several key implications for education and training, these are:

  1. Learning objectives should be clearly defined and communicated to the learners before instruction begins.
  2. Prior knowledge and prerequisites should be assessed and taken into account when designing instruction.
  3. Instruction should begin with an attention-getting device to capture the learners' attention and focus.
  4. New information should be presented in small chunks, using a variety of different modalities such as visual, auditory, and kinesthetic.

4. Jean Piaget's Learning Theory

Jean Piaget was a Swiss psychologist and developmental biologist known for his theory of cognitive development. He proposed that children actively construct their own understanding of the world through a process of assimilation and accommodation. Assimilation is the process by which children take in new information and fit it into their existing schema (mental framework), while accommodation is the process by which children adjust their existing schema to incorporate new information. He also proposed that cognitive development occurs in a series of four distinct stages: sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational, and formal operational. Each stage is characterized by a different way of understanding and interacting with the world.

According to Piaget’s Learning Theory, learning is a process that only makes sense in situations of change. Therefore, learning is partly knowing how to adapt to these changes. This theory explains the dynamics of adaptation through the processes of assimilation and accommodation.
Assimilation refers to the way in which we receive a stimulus from the environment at a society level. Accommodation, on the other hand, implies a modification of the current society in response to the demands of the environment. Through assimilation and accommodation, we are mentally restructuring our learning throughout development. The term used for this is cognitive restructuring.

Implications of jean Piaget's theory of learning

Jean Piaget's theory of cognitive development has several important implications for education and child development. Some of the key implications include:

  1. Children should be actively engaged in their own learning, rather than passive recipients of information.
  2. Teachers should provide opportunities for children to explore and discover new information, rather than simply providing them with answers.
  3. Children have different cognitive abilities at different ages and stages of development, and instruction should be tailored to their developmental level.
  4. Children's understanding of a concept may be different from an adult's understanding, and it's important to take this into account when teaching.


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