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Theories of learning and curriculum design
Key positionalities and their relationships

Author - Tony Cunningham, Julie Gannon, Mary Kavanagh, John Greene, Louise Reddy, Laurence Whitson

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Explanation of terms


Describes different assumptions regarding the nature of knowledge and alternative perspectives of how knowledge is understood.

Origin of learning goals

Refers to the identification of the locus for learning to be achieved by the student and is closely linked to motivation and stimulus. A learning goal is the type of learning one hopes to achieve consistent with the nature of discipline being taught.


The influence of needs and desires on the intensity and direction of learning. This may be intrinsic or extrinsically driven.

Learning theory

Each model stems from one or more theories of learning. A learning theory is a set of principles that explains and relates certain learning phenomena.


Individuals strongly associated with each model or whose theory of learning can be situated within a given model.

Learning and teaching approach

Describes the learning tendency likely to be adopted by the student within a particular learning model that emanates from the teaching approach promoted by the lecturer.

Importance of environment

The domain where learning occurs – in some cases the environment may be considered critical to student learning. In contrast, some models place less emphasis on the environment and more on inherited traits and experience.

Importance of external stimulus

Determines whether an external driver is necessary within the environment for learning to take place.

Methods of learning

Describes how learning is manifested within a particular environment and identifies the source of the impetus for the learner.


Identifies the dependencies that may exist for the learner within particular learning models.

Pedagogical approach

The teaching approach applied to a specific learning environment and the nature of learning that exists within that particular environment

Learning approach

Refers to the scope of learning provided to the learner within a particular learning environment.

Thinking process

Highlights thought processes likely to be adopted as learning occurs. They may be specific or a fusion of different processes.

Type of learning

Identifies the extent of group, team or peer learning within a particular model.

Type of model

Identifies whether the learning theory adopts an objective, process or capability model.

Metaphor/s of learning

Describes the different perspectives on how learning occurs within a particular model.

Implications for Higher Education

Efficacy and relevance of pedagogical approaches derived from learning models and their value when considered in the context of higher education.

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