Learning Theories

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Learning is generally defined a relatively permanent change in behavior resulting from learning activities. Some changes in behavior are situational and transient, resulting from a change in one's state of mind or emotion, but are as fleeting as the situations from which they rise. Relatively permanent change can also arise from maturation. The development and resolution of separation anxiety are generally not fleeting conditions. Though they can be affected by learning, they are instictual, and adaptive processes that naturally occur as part of human development. In addition to being a relatively stable change in behavior, learning is an active process involving interaction with the environment. Despite a wealth of concerted effort toward promoting learning, we still don't know how learning takes place, rather we have theories about how learning takes place.
Atherton appropriately refers to the following comment by Mark Twain to describe our current understanding of learning:

“Many researchers have already cast much darkness upon this subject, and it is probable that if they continue, that we shall soon know nothing at all about it”

Despite all that is unknown and ambiguous, learning theories are important guides to educational practice. A cursory search reveals dozens of theories that purport to be theories of learning (see http://www.emtech.net/learning_theories.htm and http://tip.psychology.org/theories.html, for example). There are some theories that focus more on learning-related processes, rather than on learning specifically (some are really theories of motivation, theories of intelligence, or theories of memory). There are also theories that have low explanatory power or are focused on limited aspects of the learning process. On this site, we explore perhaps the most well-developed, best known and widely used learning theories are The Big Three:
Behaviorism (also sometimes called Conditioning),
Cognitivism (also sometimes called Information Processing), and
Constructivism.

As you explore these theories, visit the Your Emerging Theory of Teaching and Learning site to examine your thinking.