By Vicky Lara, El Paso Community College
This module provides a series of annotated websites giving definitions,
key concepts, teaching tips and lesson plans, sources of on-line books
and magazine articles, and bibliographies for the reader’s use.
Because the sheer number of learning theories can be overwhelming, this
module presents cursory introductions to a wide variety of those theories
first. Because the process of learning itself must be understood, many
of these sites elaborate to some extent on the psychology of learning--based
on the teachings of Jung, Piaget, Erickson, Maslow, and Skinner.
1: Principal Theories and Approaches
Active learning is “a dynamic process involving continuous adjustment
and re-structuring of basic elements…(talking and listening, writing,
reading, and reflecting)…learning strategies (small groups, case
studies, and so on)… and teacher resources (outside speakers, homework
assignments, and so on).”
Meyers and Jones, Promoting Active Learning: Strategies for the College
Classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
In the article,
“Active Learning” by Gachuhi and. Matiru , the authors discuss
ways to use this technique in distance learning.
L. Dee Fink
at the University of Oklahoma’s Instructional Development Program
offers a model of active learning designed to present “a way of
conceptualizing the learning process in a way that may assist teachers
in identifying meaningful forms of active learning.”
Adult learning differs from children’s learning in that it is self-directed,
problem-centered, experience based, and more often relevant to life.
Andragogy is learning theory specifically for adults. It emphasizes process
more than content and makes the following assumptions about the design
of learning: (1) Adults need to know why they need to learn something
(2) Adults need to learn experientially, (3) Adults approach learning
as problem-solving, and (4) Adults learn best when the topic is of immediate
value. This site offers a clear, no nonsense explanation of andragogy
and includes links to other relevant sites and references.
article on “Adult vs. Child Learning” compares pedagogy and
andragogy. It would interest educators working with both groups or changing
from one group to the other.
Behaviorism is a school of psychology that focuses on the observable,
measurable aspects of experience and that, educationally, is stimulus-response
Cognitivism stresses cognition and sees learning as occurring within the
learner. It focuses on processing rather than behavior.
Constructivism acknowledges outside influences and stimuli while stressing
individual formation and interpretation. Perhaps Piaget said it best when
he said that humans are in “a process of continuous self-construction…we
create knowledge in our heads and that created knowledge may be interpreted
differently by each of us.” From William Jackson’s 1996 article,
“Survey of an Adult Learner”
Cooperative learning is an approach that requires interaction among learners
for learning to occur.
this site was primarily designed to promote cooperative learning strategies
in teaching children and adolescents, many of its examples and strategies
have a much wider application and are still useful for young adults.
basic information about cooperative learning, this site offers explanations
and examples of various strategies and techniques, including:
- Focused Listing
- Structured Problem-solving
- Paired Annotations
- Structured Learning Team Group Roles>
- Value Line
- Uncommon Commonalities
- Team Expectations
- Double Entry Journal>
- Guided Reciprocal Peer Questioning
Department of Education site presents an in-depth exploration of cooperative
learning including the following topics: Interdependence, Interaction,
Achievement, Professional Development, References, and Resources.
offers a scholarly presentation of key components of cooperative learning
which must be included in activities through careful planning, i.e., heterogeneous
groups and individual accountability.
Experiential learning is primarily significant in its emphasis on personal
involvement and personal acquisition of knowledge and skills through relevant
experiences. C. R. Rogers differentiates between “cognitive (meaningless)
and experiential (significant)” learning. This concise discussion
presents the main characteristics of experiential learning, an approach
Rogers sees as particularly applicable to adults. It includes references
and links to relevant sites.
publication includes the chapter, “Experience-Based Learning.”
Foley states that “the experience of the learner occupies a central
place in all considerations of teaching and learning.” He also sees
analysis, reflection and evaluations, as essential.
Foley, G. “Experience-Based Learning.” Understanding Adult
Education and Training. 2nd ed. Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 225-239.
Humanism is more an approach than a theory. It stresses mutual respect
and trust with learning firmly anchored in interpersonal relationships.
Learning is “the act, process, or experience of gaining knowledge
or skills.” It is physiological as it requires “the formation
of cell assemblies and phase sequences. Children learn by building these
assemblies and sequences. Adults spend more time making new arrangements
than forming new sequences.”
Social learning sees learning as a mixture of behavior and cognition including
the learner’s contribution to the process. It values modeling.
Transformative learning, according to Mezirow, is a theory that is “partly
a developmental process, but more…the process of using a priori
interpretation to construe a new or revised interpretation of the meaning
of one’s experience in order to guide future action.” See
“The Theory and Practice of Transformative Learning: A Critical
2: Useful “Umbrella” Sites
Greg Kearsley’s website “Theory into Practice” is wonderful
for both beginners and general investigators of learning theory for adults.
It offers multiple, simple explanations of many of the theories under
the heading “The Theories.” Each entry consists of the following
subsections: Overview, Scope/Application, Example, Principles, References,
and Relevant Web Sites.
This site consists of an extensive series of papers by William H. Jackson.
Not only are the various theories included, but also information regarding
the different stages of development in children and adults, practical
suggestions for preparing lectures, and even study tips.
offers twelve links to highly relevant sites for anyone interested in
adult learning theory. The site itself is interesting in that it was developed
for police officers. Its selections contain clearly written, practical
is a very good, though at times quirky, source of basic concepts. This
“Essential Guide” includes topics such as Brain and Intelligence,
Adult Learning Theory, Adult Learning Theorists, Resistance to Learning,
Lesson Plans (sidebar), and Study Tips. Each section includes links for
each of the topics discussed.
is the home of the Interactive Website for Adult Education Practitioners.
Primarily a literacy site and reading skills assessment site. http://www.nifl.gov/readingprofiles/
3: Teaching Tips
Apart from the informative series of articles it includes, this site is
a treasure trove of lesson plans, learning activities and teaching tips,
at times, categorized by discipline. An entire series of links is designed
to assist tutors.
This is the
home of the journal Focus on Basics. It offers a wealth of practical
and helpful information for applications of theoretical information.
4: Additional Resources
This site offers both links to other sites and a bibliography. The authors
of the materials are recognized experts in the field, i. e., Knowles.