Knowledge Base | IDE 621


This Knowledge Base has information about the three major learning theories: behaviorism, cognitivism, and social learning. Each of them have their unique ways to describe how learning occurs and their own definitions of learning. How familiar are you with those theories? What do you believe about learning? Perhaps you gravitate towards one of those three theories. Let’s check it out. Take a quick (branching) quiz below! Enjoy!


1. I believe learning is about change in people—change in knowledge, skills, attitudes. If there’s no change, there’s no learning.
Yes (go to #6)
No (continue)

2. So I believe learning is about going to school, because this is what we have to do.
Yes (continue)
No (go to #6)

3. I go to school because I have nothing else to do / because my parents become happy / because they don’t employ me without my high school diploma / because the outside world is cruel and didn’t create anything more interesting.
Yes (continue)
No (go to #5)

4. You don’t like learning theories. However, your learning experience can be described by behaviorism. The environment conditions you to do certain things for which you get some kind of reward. Take a look. Click here.

5. You go to school because you want to understand the world a bit better and to find better employment. Which means, you have to somehow change—to extend your knowledge boundaries, to learn a few useful skills, to learn how to be informed about why you think something is good or bad.
Eh.. well, yes (continue)
Nay, not convincing (go to #3 or sign up for Tiffany’s IDE_621 class next semester for free!)

6. Learning is a change as a result of experience.
Yes (go to #8)
Not sure, what do you mean? (continue)

7. We learn when we put effort to learn something, i.e., when we have some kind of experience with something. We read a textbook and learn about why there are no more dinosaurs today, we practice a sports element and win the game next time, we observe that eating less helps people lose weight and choose to do the same, before we use a washing machine we read instructions, etc. Even if we don’t do anything but we choose to play with our thoughts in thought experiments (“what would it be like to teleport in New Zealand from Syracuse?”), we still put effort into it—into thinking.
Yes (continue)
Still not convinced (You’re a nihilist or a philosophy major; I’m thrilled to know about your ideas on the nature of learning; your current learning experience, however, may be explained by a social learning theory, because you choose to construct what is meaningful for you; take a look here)

8. Well, the word “experience” needs clarification. Do you think your learning experience is best described as the acquisition of knowledge from the real world with the help of books, teachers, research studies, NatGeo or History Channel videos? After all, two and two is objectively four.
Yes (go to #10)
No (continue)

9. Do you think your learning experience is best described as the construction of your own knowledge from the information that is scattered out there in the world and that there are no two people who can experience the same piece of information in the same way? After all, two and two are four insofar as we find this information meaningful for us as a society.
Yes (Congrats! You most probably like Social Learning theory!)
No (go back to #8 or share your thoughts in the comments!)

10. Do you think that we acquire knowledge because we are encouraged to do so by the environment itself? We learn to cook, because we are hungry; we learned to use fire to keep ourselves warm in the prehistoric times; we invented sanitation because we noticed that where there is a lot of dirty water people tend to fall sick and die; we learn to solve math problems because we first mastered numbers, basic arithmetic, complex arithmetic and then algebraic equations.
Yes (Congrats! You most probably like Behaviorism!)
No (continue)

11. Do you think we acquire knowledge because it is better processed in our heads? We learned major stages of the War of Independence because we used a helpful timeline to help us memorize it; we learned to conjugate verbs in Spanish because we had ample practice and rehearsals over a period of time.
Yes (Congrats! You most probably like Cognitivism!)
No (continue)

12. This is the end of the short quiz. If you are still undecided, then maybe you think that there is a touch of all of elements that explain learning. See a short introductory table below and explore the knowledge base to find out more about each of the three learning theories. Thanks for taking the “placement test”!

The chart below provides the “passport” of each of the learning theories that are addressed in this Knowledge Base. As a true passport, it has the information about the birth date of the theory, its origin, parent(s), child(ren). Before diving into the details of each theory, I invite you to take a look at this chart.

Pavlov--Front page inforgraphic

go to behaviorism | go to cognitivism | go to social learning theory |


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Master’s Program in IDD&E (20152016)
School of Education, Syracuse University
Email:       Syracuse, NY, USA (UTC –4)