2.2. Learning Theories

Learning Theories: How do adult learners actually learn best? What are the characteristics of learners and the appropriate selection of instructional methods to create effective, targeted training solutions that meet the learners needs and business goals? (AOE 2. Instructional Design; 2.2. Learning Theories) Connect with the podcast host on Twitter: @laurapasquini Or LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/laurapasquini/ Are you studying for the CPLP? Want more learning & performance ideas? Subscribe to the pod for the next study session: https://learnperform.transistor.fm/subscribe

AOE 2. Instructional Design; 2.2. Learning Theories

Learning Objectives for Section 2.2.
  • Summarize the role adult learning theories play in the design of learning solutions 
  • Discuss Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
  • Discuss Malcom Knowles’ concept of andragogy and its importance to instructional design
  • Explain the difference between teaching and facilitating learning
  • Describe the individual characteristics of learning, including the roles that motivation, goals, experience, and culture play.
  • Define the various theories of learning and memory, including behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism.
  • Describe the concept of the learning brain model and how it relates to adult learning
  • List six external and environmental influences that affect an adult’s ability to learn
  • Explain Howard Gardner’s concept of multiple intelligence theory
The Role of Adult Learning Theories in Instructional Design
Learning theories explain why some training techniques may work better than others; and this helps talent development professionals design effective learning solutions. Trainers help improve performance by facilitating learning in a traditional or virtual classroom, one-on-one, or on-the-job in an organization. Knowledge of adult learning theories help talent development professionals to:
  • Consider the learning strategies, tactics, experiences, and learning environments that support the theories
  • Relate the design of materials to the differences in the ways adults learn
  • Explain why training is designed as it is
  • Assess designs to ensure that it meets the needs of learners
  • Outline how learning theory influences knowledge acquisition, retention, and application of information.
Theories of Learning and Memory:
This is the HOW learners internalize information and identifies ways to increase the successful transfer of learning for retention. Essentially it will be to understand how humans access, treat, and retrieve information with these three classic learning theories:
  1. Behaviorism: concerned with the relationship between stimuli and response to predict and control behavior; advantages:
    • Establishes objectives that are clear and unmistakable
    • Ensures behavioral practice, not just theory
    • Works best for helping learners to acquire behavioral skills
    • Is highly specific
    • Is observable (learners know when they have succeeded)
  2. Cognitivism: focuses on what is happening to the learning internally; trying to “understand understanding” specifically how people perceive, think, remember, learn, solve problems, and attend to one stimulus over another; advantages:
    • Treats people as adults
    • Focuses on thinking skills
    • Emphasizes foundational knowledge 
    • Builds a base of information, concepts, and rules
    • Provides the rationale upon which action is based
  3. Constructivism: the focus is on how learners internalize what they learn; advantages:
    • Is discovery orient
    • Centers on learner understanding
    • Builds learner understanding with real-world relevance
    • Allows for differences in learner backgrounds and experiences
    • Has facilitators guide learners through the learning process
READ MORE: Epistemology and theories of learning; Objectivism and behaviorism; Cognitivism and Constructivism from Chapter 2: The nature of knowledge and implications for teaching by Tony Bates

Maslow’s HIerarchy of Needs: explains the foundations of motivation and offer a logical leveling from physiological to psychological needs:
  1. Physiological
  2. Safety
  3. Belongingness
  4. Esteem
  5. Self-Actualization
Malcom Knowles’s Adult Learning, or Andragogy: the way adults learn are different from children; often more self-directed, internally motivated, and ready to learn; unlike pedagogy (traditional style of teaching based on lecturing or a didactic model), this is learner-centered rather than content-centred or instructor-led.
Andragogy (Knowles, 1984): contends that five key principles affect the ways adults learn: 
  1. Self-concept of the learner:
  2. Prior experience of the learner
  3. Readiness to learn
  4. Orientation to learning
  5. Motivation to learn
Individual Characteristics of Learning: adults learn only when they need or want to learn, no matter how good the talent development professional or training experience is -- here are the four key characteristics of learning:
  1. Motivation
  2. Goals
  3. Experience
  4. Culture
Approaches to Motivating Learners: 4 foundational principles to motivate adult learners are:
  1. Inclusion
  2. Attitude
  3. Meaning
  4. Competence
How Culture May Influence Learning: this might impact the training experience and ability for participants to learn, specifically related to these differences:
  • Verbal and nonverbal messages that don’t match
  • Reluctance to speak
  • Limited eye contact
  • Proximity to others
  • Power distance
Questions the learning designer should ask before developing training:
  • What cultural norms or values might exist?
  • How do they differ among all learners?
  • What implications do these norms or values have in designing the content?
  • What adjustments need to be made in the design?
Adult Development and Age: Does our learning change or capacity to learn change as we age? Not necessarily. Neuroplasticity, the ability of our brains to change and adapt, does not decline with age. We are able to continually learn, adapt, and grow -- this includes building new neural connections to receive, process, and transmit information. Confronting ideas that are contrary to one’s own helps to stimulate the development of new neural pathways -- keep adult learning programs going!

The Whole Brain Thinking Model
: we use the whole brain (both sides/hemispheres) to process information. These are complementary, not competitive to make a decision, analyze a problem, compare solutions, and support long-term learning. The left side of the brain is associated with time orientation; sequential processing of events; language; logic; mathematics; analysis; and awareness of cause and effect. The right side of the brain specializing in the following functions: emotion; intuition; visual-spatial orientation; music; art, imagery, and pattern awareness; synthesis of information; simultaneous processing of events; timelessness; and divergent thinking.

This model of whole brain thinking was analyzed by the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI) developed by Herrmann (1988) to study how individuals' thinking preferences, or brain dominance, affect the way we work, learn, and communicate. The HBDI classifies learners in terms of thinking in four modes or quadrants of the brain:
A. Rational/Intellectual: logical, quantitative, analytical, technical factual 
B. Lower-Left Limbic = Practical/Instinctive: sequential, controlled, detailed, organized, conservative
C. Upper-Right Cerebral = Experimental/Intellectual: metaphoric, integrative, visual, synthesizing, conceptual
D. Lower-Right Limbic = Relational/Instinctive: emotional, musical, humanistic, expressive, sensory

External and Environmental Influences:
these factors can impact or influence how professionals/employees learn, like in more informal training environments or a relaxed atmosphere. Different aspects can impact motivation to learn and the transfer of training specifically these external or environmental factors: stress, time pressures, job status, learning environment, peers, supervisor, family, and/or company conditions.

Multiple Intelligences: Howard Gardner (1983) has suggested that there are multiple ways to measure and account for intelligence; he developed the Multiple Intelligence Theory which states that there's no single way in which everyone thinks and learns. Gardner created a list of intelligences that includes: 
  • Linguistic/Verbal
  • Logical/Mathematical
  • Spatial/Visual
  • Bodily/Kinesthetic
  • Musical
  • Intrapersonal
  • Naturalistic
  • Existential
  • Emotional
All of these intelligences will impact how people process information when learning. Gardner believes that most people are comfortable in three to four of these intelligences and avoid the others. He also defines intelligence as a measurable aptitude that people use to create and solve problems and valued by the culture; however, intelligence is not fixed.
Difference Between Teaching and Facilitating Learning: teaching is the “teller” of information whereas facilitating is the “guide” of bringing learning to participants to they understand concepts, skills, and information. Teaching is pedagogical vs. facilitating is more andragogical. Teaching methods might be more lectures, presentations, webinars, etc. vs. facilitating might involve brainstorming, small-group discussion, role play, case studies, debates, teach backs and other interactive ways to learn.

A couple of books I mentioned for learning theories
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