What are the Theories of Learning?

Learning theory defines how pupils absorb, process, and remember knowledge during learning. Understanding, or a world perspective, is gained or altered, and information and skills are kept, all of which are influenced by cognitive, emotional, and contextual factors and past experience.

Learning is viewed as a form of conditioning by behaviourists, who argue for a reward and target system in education. Educators who believe in cognitive theory argue that learning as a change in behaviour is too restrictive and instead focuses on the learner rather than the environment, especially regarding the complexity of human memory.

Teachers that are familiar with learning theories can employ a variety of approaches in their classes to accommodate various types of learning. This can assist all pupils in achieving academic achievement.

Although education theories did not begin in earnest until the early twentieth century, the ancient Greek philosophers Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle were interested in how people learn. They investigated whether knowledge and truth might be discovered internally (rationalism) or outside (observation) (empiricism).

Psychologists began to answer this topic with scientific investigations in the 19th century. The idea was to investigate how people learn objectively and then build teaching methods to match.

The argument between educational theorists in the twentieth century was concentrated on behaviourist theory vs cognitive psychology. Or, to put it another way, do humans learn by reacting to external stimuli or by constructing knowledge from external facts using their brains?

What are the 4 Theories of Learning?

The 4 theories of learning are classical conditioning, operant conditioning, cognitive theory, and social learning theory.

Learning is defined as a person’s personal development resulting from cooperative engagement with others. Understanding allows learners to operate better in their environment, develop and adjust their behaviour, form and sustain healthy relationships, and achieve personal achievement.

If an individual behaves, interacts, and responds differently from others due to experiences, that individual has learned something. Some of these theories are:

Classical Conditioning

Classical conditioning is conditioning in which a person reacts to stimuli that would not usually elicit such a reaction. It is the process of learning to link a specific object in our surroundings to a prediction of what will occur next. Classical conditioning, or the connection of one experience with another desired occurrence that results in behaviour, is one of the most straightforward learning processes. When we think of classical conditioning, the first person who comes to mind is Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov.

The flavour of food is a common stimulation for saliva flow. However, the sheer sight of juicy peach, hearing it described, or even thinking about it may make the mouth water. To induce action, one set is swapped with another. A conditioned stimulus and an unconditioned stimulus are used in classical conditioning. The meat served as an unconditioned stimulus, causing the dog to behave predictably.

The unconditioned response was the reaction that happened anytime an unconditioned stimulus occurred. The bell served as a conditioned stimulus in this case. When the bell was delivered alone, it finally elicited a reaction combined with the meat. This is a learned behaviour.

Operant conditioning

Operant conditioning is the second form of conditioning. According to operant conditioning, one’s conduct will change depending on the situation. People will continuously act in a certain way to reap the rewards.

On the other hand, they will endeavour to avoid any activity that may result in their receiving nothing. Skinner suggested that by associating pleasant consequences with certain types of conduct, the frequency of that activity will grow. B.F. Skinner, a psychologist, trained rats to press a lever to acquire food in one famous operant learning experiment. In this experiment, a hungry rat was placed in a box with a lever linked to some hidden food.

At first, the rat scurried about aimlessly in the box. The lever was accidentally pressed during this operation, and the food fell into the box. The falling of food reinforced the act of pressing the lever. The rat learnt to push the lever for food after several repetitions of pressing the lever and falling food.

If desired actions are favourably rewarded, people are more inclined to engage in them. When rewards are given right after the intended reaction, they are most effective. In addition, non-rewarding or punishing conduct is less likely to be repeated.

Consider the following scenario: you work for ‘X’ Bank Limited. Your Branch Manager mentioned in a meeting that you will receive a bonus if you can deliver the bank a $100,000,000 deposit. You put forth a lot of effort and discovered that you were successful.

Cognitive Theory

Cognition is a term that describes a person’s thoughts, knowledge of interpretations, understandings, or ideas about himself and his surroundings. This learning method entails engaging in active and productive mental processes, such as practising or recalling information.

Cognitive theorists contend that visible behaviours alone cannot represent learning since interior cognitive processes are also involved. The cognitive approach was strongly impacted by the advent of computer technology and telecommunications, and it uses the computer as a metaphor to explain what occurs in the human mind. The definition of learning is the mental storage and organisation of knowledge and concepts.

Social Learning Theory

Social learning theory is the process of shaping behaviour through the interplay of an individual’s cognitions, behaviour, and environment. Bandura refers to this as the process of reciprocal determinism. This concept argues that individuals control their own environment (by quitting a job, for instance) as much as the environment controls individuals (for example, being laid off). Consequently, learning is viewed as a more active, participatory process over which the student exercises at least some control.

The essential components of social learning theory are attention, retention, reproduction, and incentives. Before a person may learn something, he or she must observe or pay attention to the subject matter.

Attention process

People can only learn from a model if they notice and pay attention to its key characteristics. The student will not be able to learn anything if they are not paying attention. We are most influenced by beautiful models who are frequently available and whom we believe are significant or similar to us. As a student, you would likely not learn much if you did not pay attention to the information delivered by the text or instructor.

Retention process

Retention is the process of encoding what has been observed into memory. The observer’s memory of the modelled behaviour is the most important part of the retention process. Bandura says that visual imagery and verbal coding are the most important ways to remember things. Visual imagery is especially important early in development when verbal skills are limited. Once modelled behaviour has been turned into visual and/or verbal codes; these memories can help guide the behaviour at the right time. When the observer re-enacts the observed behaviour, the so-called production process, or re-enactment, can be broken down into the cognitive organisation of the responses, their initiation, their monitoring, and then the refinement of the behaviour based on user feedback.


Reproduction entails the transformation of mental information into overt acts or behaviours. Clearly, the better the reproduction of what was learnt, the higher the level of attention and retention.


Lastly, incentives can affect each of the three processes. If you are rewarded (for example, commended) for paying attention, you will pay greater attention. You will retain more information if you are rewarded for remembering what you have studied (for example, with good grades). If you are rewarded for replicating what you have learnt (for example, a promotion for encouraging your subordinates well), you will repeat that action more often.

How to apply Theories of Learning in Teaching?

Applying theories of learning in teaching is an essential part of effective teaching. Here are some steps to apply theories of learning in teaching:

Understand different learning theories: Familiarize yourself with various theories of learning, such as behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism, social learning theory, and humanism. Each theory has a different view of how learning occurs, and understanding these theories can help you develop effective teaching strategies for different types of learners.

Identify the needs of your students: As a teacher, you should identify the individual needs of your students, such as their learning styles, interests, and abilities. This information will help you develop a teaching approach tailored to each student’s needs.

Create a positive learning environment: A positive environment encourages students to participate and engage in learning. Incorporate activities that are interesting and engaging, encourage collaboration and discussion, and provide constructive feedback.

Use active learning strategies: Active learning strategies involve students in learning, rather than just listening to lectures. Incorporate activities that require critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity, such as case studies, group projects, and simulations.

Use assessment as a tool for learning: Assessment should not just measure learning but also be used as a tool for learning. Provide students with feedback on their progress, and use assessments to identify areas where students may need additional support.

By applying theories of learning in teaching, you can develop a teaching approach tailored to your students’ needs and promotes active engagement in the learning process.

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Hi, My name is Kartik. I have expertise in Technical and Social Domains. I love to write articles that could benefit people and the community.

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