Learning Theories and Higher Education
The timeline in the diagrams spans the period 1850–2005
with the rationale that in the 1850s psychology emerged as a discipline
independent from biology and philosophy, leading to the development
of the specific field of learning psychology/learning theories.
– 5 Orientations of learning – outlines the emergence
of the five orientations during the twentieth century and notes
some significant historic events.
– Theories of learning – extends the information from
the first diagram and includes the names of a selected number of
learning theorists from the Merriam and Cafferella (1999) table.
– Theorists – illustrates the distribution of learning
theories throughout the twentieth century, with lifespans of nineteen
selected, influential theorists.
For the purpose of the presentation of the materials, the concept
for the timeline is presented as a narrative – a series of
interpretative panels. In placing the emerging theories within the
structure of a narrative, the rationale is to support an understanding
of the essential differences, complementary aspects, and overlapping
features of the theories – a more dynamic representation of
their relationship to each other than a static, linear image as
in the Merriam and Caffarella table.
Building on the colour theme, a ‘patterned’ grid structure
is introduced as a backdrop for the presentation of the theories.
The pattern also acts as a metaphor (beehive) accommodating the
different theories within a single framework. At the stage of writing,
the visual language have been developed to communicate the essentials.
However, the research was not sufficiently progressed to explore
hybrid relationships and we concede that further development is
required in this area.
Commentary on timelines
The timelines indicate the emerging trends in psychology in general
and in the psychology of learning. Psychology was initially tied to
philosophy and biology, until, in the mid 1800s, it became a separate
discipline. Learning psychology emerged initially with the development
of behaviourism by Watson with his 1913 paper ‘Psychology as
a behaviourist views it’. Researchers such as Thorndike and
Skinner built upon these foundations. The development of behaviourism,
the first domain, was brought about because psychologists were able
to carry out experiments in laboratories under strict conditions and
thus observe behaviour as never before. These laboratory experiments
were possible due to growing culture of tolerance for such activities,
reflecting the developing industrialisation of society and advances
In broad linear development terms, Behaviourism was followed by
Humanism, Cognitivism, Social Learning Theory, and Constructivism.
A brief explanation of each of these terms follows, with an indication
of how the associated concepts impact on third-level learning and