Learning theories in the eyes of an Instructional Designer

Although I have limited experience in teaching, one year almost 15 years ago, however, the readings helped me reflect on my own experience as an Assistant Instructional Designer for four years.

Teachers and IDs are both in a perpetual quest to create a successful learning experience for students, and to meet their learning needs. They both use different technologies to achieve their objectives, and they must have a clear understanding of learning theories as it would help them in selecting the best teaching strategies and techniques.

Learners and their demands have changed over time.  Here is a table that provides a quick comparison.

Criteria Boomers Generation X Millennials
Age range 42-60 years old 26-41 years old Up to 26 years old
Learning style Traditional, group effort, expert-driven, self-driven

“lead me to information”

Team driven, collaborative, peer-to-peer

“connect me to people”

Give context and meaning, make it fun, search and explore, entertain me

“connect me to everything”


Beside each generation’s learning style, there are basic needs which I assume every student will like and appreciate. For example, increasing student motivation in learning and the material they are about to study, making abstract learning more interactive and concrete, and allowing students to become a part of the learning experience.

The table below also provides a quick, certainly not comprehensive, comparison of technology tools usage over the years.

pre-computers Tech affordance during the digital age Affordances with the internet
Papers Portable computers Wiki
Printing press Interactive whiteboard Ipads
Blackboard LMS Google classrooms
CreditCC BY-SA 3.0

Education technology has evolved over time to cope with changes in learning needs. The affordance of technologies captures this change, especially that using web 2 applications in the internet era made a significant progress and expanded the options in the concept of affordances.

We can think of many examples of the affordances of social software:

  1. Collaborative information and sharing, such as a group blog.
  2. Connectivity, like Facebook, Myspace or Instagram.
  3. Content creation: Like using Wiki

These affordances will help design and create suitable content that is genuine and encourage engagements.

In spite of technological advancements, the theories of learning remain constant;

Criteria Behaviorism Cognitivism Constructivism
knowledge The repertoire of behavioral responses to environmental stimuli Knowledge systems of cognitive structures are actively constructed be learners based on existing structures Human create meanings as opposed to acquiring it
Learning Passive absorption of a predefined body of knowledge be learner. Promoted be repetition and positive reinforcement Active assimilation accommodating of new information to existing cognitive structures. Discovery be learners. Integration of students into knowledge community. Collaborative assimilation and accommodation of new information.
Instruction Correct behavioral responses are transmitted by the teacher and absorbed by the students The teacher facilitates learning by providing an environment that promotes discovery and assimilation/accommodation Collaborative learning is facilitated and guided by the teacher. Group work.

Note Retrieved from: here

Behaviorism, generally results in a learning experience that is characterized by an effective presentation, tutorials, and structured assessment. Activities should include reading, writing, and assignment that is directly linked to the subject, learning objectives and outcomes, which has to be connected with immediate changes in behavior.

On the other hand, the constructivist learning experience is characterized by constructing a learning environment and trying to direct students to explore topics by designing their own experience. Students should be encouraged to collaborate. Activities should be in a form of presentations, group project or interaction among the learners.

From a bird’s eye, it’s easy to assume and make direct linkages between the type of learner’s and the different theoretical approaches; Behaviorism seems to be the prominent theory with the baby boomer’s generation because of their main characteristic feature of “Lead me to information”. We could also assume the same with Constructivism, with the chosen learner type as the millennia generation.

However, as mentioned in the Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism: Comparing Critical Features From an Instructional Design Perspective reading article, the critical question instructional designers must ask is not “which is the best theory?” but “which theory is the most effective in fostering mastery of specific tasks by specific learners?”. From my point of view, this is much true.

Knowledge and learning theories are to help instructional designers identify the most efficacious methods for any given situation. Instructional design methods are situational not universal, which means that one theory may work best for a specific group of learners considering their level of knowledge, the nature of learning tasks, and every other criteria, while a different theory may work best in another situation for a different group of learners.


2 thoughts on “Learning theories in the eyes of an Instructional Designer

  1. Pingback: LOGO: A Maker’s Coding Language – Nataly Moussa

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