Many Learning Theories have been developed over a long period of time, though a majority of those now in use have arisen in the last century or so.
These theories apply to many different levels of educational learning.
Several theories and theorists stand out among this group, many for quite different reasons. Not all theories or theorists are covered on this page.
For information on Learning & Teaching Styles, related methods and further information, go to this page.
This page covers major theorists and their theories. Information includes biographies, information, further sources and an increasing number of videos.
Bandura and his Social Cognitive Theory. The theory views people as active agents who both influence and are influenced by their environment. A major component of the theory is observational learning : the process of learning desirable and undesirable behaviours by observing others, then reproducing learned behaviours in order to maximise rewards.
‘Bloom’s taxonomy is a set of three hierarchical models used to classify educational learning
objectives into levels of complexity and specificity. The three lists cover the learning objectives in cognitive, affective and
sensory domains. The cognitive domain list has been the primary focus of most traditional education. The models were named after
Benjamin Bloom, who chaired the committee of educators that devised the taxonomy’.
‘Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory views child development as a complex system of relationships affected by multiple levels of the surrounding environment, from immediate settings of family and school to broad cultural values, laws, and customs’ [Simply Psychology, 9 Nov. 2020]
‘Dylan Wiliam has described cognitive load theory as the single most important thing for teachers to know. Grounded in a robust evidence base, cognitive load theory provides support for explicit models of instruction’ [Cognitive load theory : Research that teachers really need to understand Poster. Source, ]. Information about Emeritus Professor John Sweller, including a bibliography of works, is found here.
‘An approach to learning that holds that people actively construct or make their own knowledge and that reality is determined by the experiences of the learner’ [Elliott et al., 2000, p.256]. See also sections on theorists such as Jerome Bruner, Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky.
De Bono ‘originated the term lateral thinking, wrote the book Six Thinking Hats and is a proponent of the teaching of thinking as a subject in schools. is regarded by many as the leading authority in the field of creative thinking, innovation and the direct teaching of thinking as a skill’.
‘Educator John Dewey originated the experimentalism philosophy. A proponent of social change and education
reform, he founded The New School for Social Research’
Siegfried “Zig” Engelmann, ‘Dr. Wesley Becker, and their colleagues believe, [and have proved,] that correctly applied DI can improve academic performance as well as certain affective behaviours. It is currently in use in thousands of schools across the nation [USA] as well as in Canada, the UK and Australia’.
An approach rather than an individual’s theory. Developed in the town of Reggio Emilia in the north of Italy after World War 2. It is based on learning concepts far different to those current at the time.
‘He developed a psychosocial theory to understand how we each develop our individual identities.
He believed people develop through 8 stages. At each stage, there is one important problem or issue to solve in order to
develop a healthy sense of self’.
[Aussie Childcare Network]
‘A Brazilian educator and philosopher who was a leading advocate of critical pedagogy.
He is best known for his influential work Pedagogy of the Oppressed, which is generally considered one
of the foundational texts of the critical pedagogy movement’.
‘Friedrich Froebel changed the way we think about early childhood education. He designed balls, wooden
blocks, tiles, sticks and rings to demonstrate that children learn by playing. Known around the world as the Froebel Gifts or Gaben,
these objects were an important part of his Kindergarten’.
Gagné is best known for his ‘Conditions of Learning’. He is also known for his work on the science of instruction during WWII. Further development centred around what he, among several theorists, believed to be the basis of good instruction. His influence on the area of instructional design has been significant.
Gardner argues that there is more than one single type of intelligence, initially suggesting eight and later suggesting a possible ninth. Having strength in one area develops specific abilities in these [e.g. musical]. Individuals have an individual profile based on multiple factors. There are critics of the concept though the theory is reasonably well accepted among educators. See additional information on Multiple Intelligences on the Learning & Teaching Styles page.
‘Gestalt theory emphasises that the whole of anything is greater than its parts. That is, the attributes
of the whole are not deducible from analysis of the parts in isolation. The word Gestalt is used in modern German to mean the way a
thing has been “placed”, or “put together”. Gestalt theory originated in Austria and Germany as a reaction
against the associationist and structural schools’ atomistic orientation [an approach which fragmented experience into distinct
and unrelated elements]’.
Anthony F. Gregorc is best known for his theory of a Mind Styles Model and its associated Style Delineator.
The model tries to match education to particular learning styles.
‘John Hattie became known to a wider public with his two books Visible Learning and Visible Learning for
Teachers. Visible Learning is a synthesis of more than 800 meta-studies covering more than 80 million students. According to John
Hattie, Visible Learning is the result of 15 years of research about what works best for learning in schools’.
‘Malcolm Shepherd Knowles was an American educator well known for the use of the term Andragogy as
synonymous to adult education. According to him, andragogy is the art and science of adult learning, thus andragogy refers to
any form of adult learning. The term andragogy can be supposedly equivalent to the term pedagogy. Andragogy in Greek means
man-leading in comparison to pedagogy, which in Greek means child-leading’.
‘The concept of experiential learning explores the cyclical pattern of all learning from Experience
through Reflection and Conceptualising to Action and on to further Experience. Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle now forms
the heart of many training and learning events. David Kolb has extended his original work to explore the different ways in which
we all learn’.
[Reviewing Skills Training]
‘Abraham Maslow is one of the most influential psychologists of the twentieth century. His biggest
contributions to psychology were his contributions to humanistic psychology as well as his development of the hierarchy of
‘Jack Mezirow is credited with developing the Transformative Learning theory. He indicated
Transformative Learning is the process of using a prior interpretation to a construe a new or revised interpretation of
the meaning of one’s experience in order to guide future action’. A core component was a ten phase transformation
process. It was often linked to adult education.
‘Montessori is an approach to education based upon the principle that schooling should work
with the nature of the child, instead of against it. Therefore, education should be based upon scientific study of the
child and a resulting understanding of the processes of development and learning’.
‘Constructionism as a learning theory emphasises student-centred discovery learning, and educators are
currently expanding its reach to the field of educational robotics in order to engage students. Seymour Papert took
Piaget’s theory of
constructivism and adapted it into his theory of constructionism’.
‘Jean Piaget was a philosopher and a natural scientist who was famous for the work he did studying cognitive
development and learning theories encompassed in his view of “genetic epistemology”. Piaget’s theory of constructivism
argues that people produce knowledge and form meaning based upon their experiences. Piaget’s theory covered learning theories,
teaching methods, and education reform’.
‘Carl Rogers, the creator of client-centred therapy and counselling, student-centred
education and person-centred approaches to human relations and community building, is arguably the most influential American
psychologist of the 20th century. From the speeches of presidents, … , to the work of parents and teachers who have learned to
align with rather than stifle the child’s inborn capacity for healthful growth, Rogers’ simple, elegant and life-affirming
values now permeate the culture’.
‘B.F. Skinner [1904-1990] is one of the most famous and influential figures in twentieth century psychology.
A best-selling author, inventor and social commentator, Skinner was both a renowned scientist and a public intellectual known for his
controversial theories of human behaviour’.
‘Charles Edward Spearman was an influential psychologist who developed commonly used statistical
measures and the statistical method known as factor analysis. His studies on the nature of human abilities led to his
“two-factor” theory of intelligence’.
‘Rudolf Steiner was an Austrian scientist, philosopher and artist who lived from 1861-1925. His
interests were not only in education [Steiner/Waldorf Education] but also in a wide range of fields such as medicine,
agriculture, nutrition, social renewal, the environment. The approach to education is based on Steiner’s educational
insights, specifically those that relate to child development. These form one aspect of what Steiner called ‘anthroposophy’,
literally, ‘human wisdom’ or ‘knowledge of the human being’’.
[Steiner Education Australia]
‘Social constructivism is a variety of cognitive constructivism that emphasises the collaborative
nature of much learning. Social constructivism was developed by post-revolutionary Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky. Vygotsky was
a cognitivist, but rejected the assumption made by cognitivists such as Piaget and Perry that it was possible to separate learning
from its social context. He argued that all cognitive functions originate in [and must therefore be explained as products of]
social interactions and that learning did not simply comprise the assimilation and accommodation of new knowledge by learners’.
[GSI Teaching & Resource Centre, Berkeley]
Embedded Formative Assessment.
‘Dylan Wiliam stresses the importance of formative assessment as a key process for increasing teacher
quality for the biggest impact on student outcomes’.