Learning Theories Overview

By: Anum Sidhu, MS Clinical Psychology

Kolb (1984) considered experience as the Source of Development and Learning. His experiential learning theory (ELT) is based on the work of noticeable twentieth century scholars who believed that experience plays a fundamental role in human learning and development. These scholars were: John Dewey, Kurt Lewin, Carl Rogers, William James, Carl Jung, Paulo Freire, Jean Piaget, and others who developed a universal model of the experiential learning process [1]. Following are propositions upon which Experiential learning theory (ELT) is based:

  • Learning is best comprehended when considered as a process rather than of outcomes. In order to improve learning at higher education level, the chief focus should be on engaging students in processes that enriches their learning.
  • Learning is always relearning. Learning can be facilitated by processes that helps draw out students’ philosophies and concepts about a topic so that they can be tested, examined, and integrated with refined and new ideas.
  • Resolution of conflicts in opposing models of adaptation to the world is necessary for learning. Clashes, disagreement, and differences drive the learning process.
  • Learning is a complete process of adaptation to the world. Learning is the result of thinking, behaving, perceiving, feeling and above all cognition.
  • Learning involves synergistic transactions among the person and his environment. According to Paiget, learning results from equilibration of assimilating novel experiences into existing notions and thus accommodating the previous concepts to new experiences.
  • Learning is a process of generating knowledge. ELT proposes a constructivist model of learning where social knowledge is repeatedly formed in the personal knowledge of the learner.

Learning Styles

People have different experiences, preferences and motivation in their learning processes. Individual differences in learning do exist. Learning styles refer to the method of educating a person that is presumed to be in the best interest of the individual. Learning styles of the learner must be determined in order to adapt the instructional material that best suits his learning styles. For detecting learner’s learning style the most common method employed is that of questionnaires or scales. An alternative approach is to track the student’s responses and behavior; therefore, make inferences about their learning styles, cognitive traits and general competence level [2]. There are some models of learning styles in literature like Kolb [3], Dunn & Dunn [4], Honey & Mumford [5], Myers-Briggs [6]. The coordination between the learning styles which a course supports and actual learning styles of the learners help in magnifying the productivity of the learning process. Teachers need to be aware of the appropriateness of their courses for students having different learning styles and also for improving their courses for supporting more learners [7]. Many models of learning styles consist of following types:

  • Auditory learning, which occurs through hearing the spoken word.
  • Kinesthetic learning that occurs through performing and interacting.
  • Visual learning, which occurs by looking at images, demonstrations, mind maps and body language.

Multifaceted Science

Learning is a complex process and the factors that affect it are frequent and interrelated: overall IQ, drive, socioeconomic background, time, effort, fitness, reinforcement, class environment etc. Furthermore, because of the complex nature of learning, it is difficult to isolate the effect of any given factor; due to the numerous overwhelming variables, the results obtained in an experiment cannot be carefully attributed to any particular cause [8].

Digital technologies functions in a variety of ways for supporting collective learning in classrooms. However Zahn & Krauskopf (2012) found that social-interaction-based guidance in students was more effective in terms of learning outcomes as compared to cognitive-task-related guidance. For example, student’s skills in history [9].

History of Learning Theories

The history of learning theory of behaviorism goes back to Aristotle times, who write an essay on relationship being made between events such as lightning and thunder. The school of adult learning theory that adopted these principles has become known as the school of behaviorism. Constructivism is a fresh learning theory which explains how adult learners learn by constructing knowledge for themselves. Constructivism is the assimilation of both cognitive and behaviorist ideals. Postmodernism is a difficult movement to define. It differs from other approaches in following important ways. First is that rationality is not important for getting knowledge. The second is that knowledge can be opposing. Because of the contextual nature of knowledge, individuals can hold two completely incongruent views of one subject at the same time. The factors for collecting and managing information are many and diverse within a learning organization According to Rumizen (2002), “knowledge management is a systematic process by which knowledge needed for an organization to succeed is created, captured, shared and leveraged” (as cited in Wikibooks contributor)  [10].


  1. The Kolb Learning Style Inventory—Version 3.1 2005 Technical Specifications Alice Y. Kolb Experience Based Learning Systems, Inc. David A. Kolb Case Western Reserve University May 15, 2005. Web address: http://www.whitewater-rescue.com/support/pagepics/lsitechmanual.pdf
  2. Simsek, O., Atman, N., İnceoğlu, M.M., & Arikan, Y.D. Diagnosis of Learning Styles Based on Active/Reflective Dimension of Felder and Silverman’s Learning Style Model in a Learning Management System. ICCSA 2010, Part II, LNCS 6017, pp. 544–555. Web address: http://www.academia.edu/631418/Diagnosis_of_Learning_Styles_Based_on_Active_Reflective_Dimension_of_Felder_and_Silvermans_Learning_Style_Model_in_a_Learning_Management_System
  3. Kolb, A.Y., Kolb, D.A.: The Kolb Learning Style Inventory – Version 3.1, Technical Specification. Hay Group, Boston (2005). Web address: http://www.whitewater-rescue.com/support/pagepics/lsitechmanual.pdf
  4. Dunn, R., Dunn, K., Price, G.E.: Learning Style Inventory, Lawrence, KS. Price Systems (1996)
  5. Honey, P., Mumford, A.: The Learning Styles Helper‘s Guide. Peter Honey Publications Ltd., Maidenhead (2006)
  6. Myers, I.B., McCaulley, M.H.: Manual: A Guide to the Development and Use of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Consulting Psychologists Press, Palo Alto (1998). Web address: http://personalityinstitute.tripod.com/mbtiresearchreport.htm
  7. Bishouty, M.M., Chang, T.W., & Graf, S. A Framework for Analyzing Course Contents  in Learning Management Systems with Respect to Learning Styles City for Scientific Research & Technological Applications, Egypt. Web address: http://sgraf.athabascau.ca/publications/elbishouty_etal_ICCE12.pdf
  8. Popescu, E. Addressing Learning Style Criticism: The Unified Learning Style Model Revisited. M. Spaniol et al. (Eds.): ICWL 2009, LNCS 5686, pp. 332–342, 2009. Web address: http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F978-3-642-03426-8_40
    1. Zahn, C & Krauskopf, K.  How to improve collaborative learning with video tools in the classroom? Social vs. cognitive guidance for student teams. Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning (2012) 7:259–284 doi 10.1007/s11412-012-
    2. Learningtheories by Wikibooks contributor From Wikibooks, the open- 9145-0. The current version of this Wikibook may be found at: http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Learning_Theories