Learning Theories and Higher Education
This paper offers a number of materials and resources which may
be used as teaching aids for introduction-level courses in learning
theories, especially those in higher education. The materials were
developed during our participation in a postgraduate diploma module
on the psychology of learning and learning theories in 2004, as
part of the diploma in third-level learning and teaching at the
DIT Learning and Teaching Centre.
The materials include:
- three timeline diagrams illustrating the development of learning
theories which locate key thinkers and key ideas in their historic
and socio-political contexts
- three summary diagrams of behaviourist, humanist and social
learning theories using a honey-comb image
- power-point slides summarising the five orientations of learning:
behaviourist, humanist, cognitivist, social learning and constructivist
- an introductory text to support the visuals.
The visual materials presented here should be used in conjunction
with the following two readings: Merriam, S.B. and Cafferella, R.S.
(1999) Learning in Adulthood: a comprehensive guide, second edition,
San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass (chapter 11, which includes a table/matrix
illustrating the five orientations of learning); and Gredler, M.
(2005) Learning and Instruction: theory into practice, fifth edition,
Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Merrill Prentice Hall (introductory
and final chapters). The Merriam and Cafferella table/matrix is
hotly contested as an accurate and useful representation of the
field of learning theories, and is perhaps a little naïve.
Nonetheless, it has a certain usefulness as an initial introduction
to a complex topic.
In this paper the matrix has been augmented, and a number of significant
contemporary theorists, such as Engestrom, Eraut, Boud and Illeris
have been included (see
Table 1). The aspect of adult education in the final section
of the original matrix is elaborated here to include aspects of
learning in tertiary education generally.
Using the diagrams
The theorists in the diagrams were chosen according to their perceived
relevance to the domains of learning psychology and learning theories,
and as representatives of the numerous theorists within each domain.
Their current relevance for teaching and learning in higher education
was also considered in the choice.
The five domains of learning are colour coded as shown :