Ertmer, P. A., & Newby, T. J. (2013). Behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 26(2), 43-71. doi:10.1002/piq.21143

A great overview of three learning theories. The word “digital natives”/ “digital immigrants” was absolutely new for me. A digital native has a hypertext mind, has a unique ability to learn visually and socially, prefers to learn by doing (doing is more important than knowing). Therefore, conversation should become the driver in learning these days. They have instant and effective access to information, prefer high level of interactivity, and key skills are problem solving, creativity, and critical thinking, working collaboratively. However, the core of how learning occurs hasn’t changed much, though we see a change in learners, technologies, and teaching methods. Constructivist theories are in play (situated learning/cognition, connectivism, social constructivism, mobile learning). “[L]earning designs for today’s students must be highly contextualized, personal, and collaborative” (p. 69).

Why research and learning theories? Because when limited time and resources, we want the selected instructional solutions to have the highest success. Research-based selections are more reliable than heuristics. It gives room for flexibility, spontaneity, creativity.

What is learning? “Learning is an enduring change in behavior, or in the capacity to behave in a given fashion, which results from practice or other forms of experience” (definition by Schunk, 1991).

Empiricism: “experience is the primary source of knowledge”. Instruction: “how to manipulate the environment in order to improve and ensure the occurrence of proper associations.”

Rationalism: “knowledge arises through the mind.” Instruction: “how best to structure new information in order to facilitate (1) the learners’ encoding of this new information, as well as (2) the recalling of that which is already known.”

How should instruction be designed?

  • Behaviorism: cues + reinforcement
  • Cognitivism: organize and structure information + relate it to the existing knowledge + arrange feedback
  • Constructivism: show students how to construct knowledge + promote collaboration + help arrive at self-chosen positions

“[C]onstructive learning environments are most effective for the stage of advanced knowledge acquisition, where initial misconceptions and biases acquired during the introductory stage can be discovered, negotiated, and if necessary, modified and/or removed” (p. 57). “That is, behavioral approach can effectively facilitate mastery of the content of the profession (knowing what); cognitive strategies are useful in teaching problem-solving tactics where defined facts and rules are applied in unfamiliar situations (knowing how); and constructivist strategies are especially suited to dealing with ill-defined problems through reflection-in-action” (p. 60).


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