Implications of Learning Theories on Instructional Design — from by Jon-Erik Oleyar-Reynolds
Are you interested in becoming an Instructional Designer? Or are you just starting out in the world of learning theories? The focus of this article is to inform the reader of 3 unique learning theories while discussing the implications they have had in the field of Instructional Design (ID).


Behaviorist Learning Theory
Behavioral learning theory can be summarized as learning that occurs through the behavioral response to environmentally sourced stimuli. The foundation of this theory is built upon assumptions that “have little regard for the cognitive processing of the learner involved in the task”.

The focus of behavioral learning theory resides in the use of reinforcement to drive behavior. Instructional Design can benefit from the use of reinforcement as a means to train learners to complete instructional objectives that are presented to them.

Cognitive Learning Theory
The primary focus of learning is on the development of knowledge by the creation of schemas. Schemas are like catalogs of information that can be used to identify concepts or experiences through a complex set of relationships that are connected to one another. In short, the catalogs act like a database of knowledge for the learner. 2 prominent theories that will be discussed are Gestalt theory and information processing theory; these 2 have paved the way for cognitivism and its impact on the field of Instructional Design.

Information processing theory further supports cognitive learning theory. Similar to Gestalt theory, the focus of learning is on the individual. The processing of information by the learner is similar to the way a computer processes information. The memory system is broken into 3 stages based on this approach:

  • Sensory memory
  • Working memory
  • Long-term memory

…the working memory may require more rehearsal to establish a clear connection to the concept and store it in long-term.

One of the most widely used strategies could arguably be a rehearsal. The expression “practice makes perfect” may seem cliché, but it does fit very well when discussing cognition and development. As one rehearses, the working memory is exercised.

While working memory has a limit of 7 (plus or minus 2), creating a chunk of information increases the amount that can be worked with.

Instructional Design shifted in the presence of cognitivism and includes a more system-like design approach with a focus on the learners.


Social Learning Theory
Social learning theory focuses on the impact of learning based on factors related to the social environment. In other words, learning occurs in the context of a social situation that the learner is placed in.

Think of the expression “perhaps it rubbed off on me”. This has a direct relationship to social learning theory. Self-efficacy can be influenced by the design of lessons that allow for learners to view others of similar ability succeeding at instructional tasks. This could be achieved in a number of creative ways, but generally is most effective in collaborative activities where learners work in small groups. Overall, self-efficacy is the belief that one can be successful at particular tasks.

Collaborative learning groups and the use of peer review are widely used in many settings in which learning occurs.



From DSC:
I wanted to briefly relay an example that relates to the Cognitive Learning/Processing Theory — and more specifically to a concept known as Cognitive Load.  The other day I was sitting at the kitchen table, trying to read an interesting blog posting. But at the very same time, the radio was (loudly) relaying an item re: Virtual Reality (VR) — which also caught my ear and interest.

Which “channel” do I focus on? My visual channel or my auditory channel?

For me, I can’t do both well — perhaps some people can, but our visual and auditory channels can only handle so much at one time. Both channels request our attention and processing resources. I ended up getting up and shutting off the radio so that I could continue reading the blog posting. But for me, I think of it like a traffic jam. There are only so many cars that can simultaneously get through that busy highway that leads downtown.

So another application of this is that it’s helpful NOT to have a lot of auditory information going on at the same time as a lot of visual information. If you have PowerPoint slides, use graphics, photos, and/or graphs and use your audio voiceover to speak to them…but don’t list a long paragraph of text and then simply read that text and then also ask the learner to absorb other visual information at the same time.