Learning Theories and Instructional Strategies

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Kristi Leonard, Erin Kyungwon Noh, and Michael Orey
Department of Educational Psychology and Instructional Technology, University of Georgia


This chapter is written for two books. For the Emerging Perspectives on Learning, Teaching and Technology (EPLTT) book, this chapter serves as an introduction. For the Foundations of Instructional Technology book, this chapter serves as an overview of learning and instructional theory. While each chapter of the EPLTT ebook contains a thorough description of a theory, model, or strategy along with multimedia files that support and illustrate the content, this chapter provides the necessary definitions of some of the primary terms that we are using. It is important to understand learning, cognition, and instruction. It is also useful to distinguish between theory, model and strategy.

Clarifying Theories, Models, and Strategies


We all know things. How it is that we came to know these things is learning. Learning is how we acquire knowledge. Wikipedia defines learning as, "the acquisition and development of memories and behaviors, including skills, knowledge, understanding, values, and wisdom. It is the goal of education, and the product of experience." en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Learning. The information processing chapter describes a model for how our mind works. Within this description, the process elaboration is detailed. Elaboration is a theory about learning. Its focus is on how you come to know things. Piaget described a process that involves assimilation, accommodation, and equilibration. These mechanisms together constitute a theory of learning. A few of the chapters in the book are not only instructional strategies, but also describe methods that can help a learner learn new information. The chapter on cognitive tools describes ways in which technology can expand the limitations of a learners mind, while articulation and reflection are processes that can be performed by the learner to help incorporate new knowledge into existing knowledge resulting in support of learning.


Cognition is about how our brain works or how our mind works. Most cognitive theories are more conceptual and therefore it might be more accurate to talk about how the mind works rather than a biological reference to the brain. Wikipedia defines cognition as, "(Latin: cognoscere, "to know") a faculty for the human-like processing of information, applying knowledge and changing preferences" en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognition. The information processing chapter has an animation that shows how an external stimulus is processed by the human mind. This is a cognitive theory.


While some will define instruction in ways that align to direct instruction, we will use a more broad definition. For example, Merrill (1999) states that, “instructional theory is concerned with two primary considerations: What to teach and how to teach. What to teach has two considerations: selection and representation….how to teach specifies the way that these knowledge components are presented to the student in order to engage the student in an interaction which is appropriate for promoting the acquisition of the knowledge or skill that is the goal of the instruction" (p. 400). This is clearly related to direct instruction. For our purposes, we will define instruction as anything done for or with a learner or the learner’s environment to help them acquire new knowledge or learn. Some of those things will be very direct and some will be indirect. Instruction usually implies something one person does to help another person learn. Most of the chapters in this book talk about how to structure an environment to help bring about learning. We believe that most of these ideas fall under the category of a strategy. So, this book can be considered to be largely an instructional strategies book.


A theory is a hypothesis that describes, speculates, or defines a relationship between a set of facts or phenomena through a body of principles, policies, beliefs, or assumptions. Using the information processing chapter as an example, you can consider a concept like elaboration to be a theory. It attempts to hypothesize how information is learned based on a large set of research data. Scaffolding is a concept covered in the Cognitive Apprenticeships chapter. It does not attempt to hypothesize how to describe teaching data. Rather, it is more prescriptive. It clearly suggests steps you should follow in trying to support someone while learning. This does not appear to be a theory, but rather a strategy. Some learning theories included in EPLTT are Information Processing, Piaget's Constructivism, Vygotsky's Constructivism, Situated Cognition, Social Constructivism, Motivation, Teaching and Learning in Affective Domain, and Creativity.


The term taxonomy is primarily used in the realm of biology when it comes to the classification of organisms, however it is used in many other fields as a means of dividing concepts into categories and hierarchies of ideas. Bloom's taxonomy, included in EPLTT, is probably the most well known taxonomy in education. In addition, Teaching and Learning in Affective Domain includes the Krathwohl taxonomy to categorize the levels and types of learning in the affective domain. While Multiple Intelligences are usually considered a theory about ability, it can also be thought of as a taxonomy of abilities.


A model is an example, description, or analogy that helps a person understand what is not directly observable. Saskatchewan Education’s web publication, Instructional Models, Strategies, Methods, and Skills, describes instructional models as follows: Models represent the broadest level of instructional practices and present a philosophical orientation to instruction. Models are used to select and to structure teaching strategies, methods, skills, and student activities for a particular instructional emphasis. Although the Information Processing (IP) chapter explains the theory of how the mind functions, it uses the computer as a model to illustrate the processes the mind uses when acquiring new information. So, this is interesting in that it is both a theory and a model. Cognitive Apprenticeships suggests a collection of strategies that ought to be employed in instruction. While it is not an analogy or example, it can be considered a description of a complete process of teaching. So, this may rise to the level of a model that has components that are strategies.


Merriam-Webster defines the term strategy as, "a careful plan or method." Instructional strategies structure instructional theories for direct application in the learning environment. They provide the instructor with a plan for implementation and are considered more prescriptive, yet flexible enough to accommodate the dynamics of any learning environment.

Several chapters included in EPLTT are categorized as strategies including Behaviorism; Constructionism, Learning by Design, and Project Based Learning; Problem Based Instruction; I-Search; Case-Based Learning; Cognitive Apprenticeship; Examples of Modeling; Scaffolding; Articulation and Reflection; Cooperative Learning; Resource-Based Learning; Six C's of motivation; Cognitive Tools; Computer Mediated Instruction; Learning Communities as an Instructional Model; Reciprocal Teaching; Reading Recovery; and Experiential Learning. The Adult Learning chapter describes the ideas and motivation brought to the learning environment by adult learners and incorporates several strategies appropriate for this unique group of learners. Conceptual Change and Transformative Learning are also unique in that they are both strategies and theories.

Given these presuppositions, we now turn to a discussion of the chapters in the EPLTT with the hopes that this also serves as an overview for students reading this chapter in the Foundations of IT e-book.

Overview of Learning, Cognitive and Instructional Theories and Instructional Models and Strategies

It might help to look at the overall structure of the EPLTT. The EPLTT ebook is organized into the following sections:
  • Section 1: Learning and Cognitive Theories
  • Section 2: Learner-Centered Theories
  • Section 3: Inquiry Strategies
    • Inquiry Strategies: Tasks
    • Inquiry Strategies: Changing Learners' Minds
  • Section 4: Tools for Teaching and Learning
    • Tools for Teaching and Learning: Changing or Encouraging Human Behaviors
    • Tools for Teaching and Learning: Technology Tools
  • Section 5: Socially Oriented Theories
  • Section 6: Direct Instruction Strategies

The first section outlines some of the most foundational theories in the field. These theories are very good for understanding how people learn, think and how they accommodate new knowledge. However, these theories are very difficult to adapt for use in the design and structure of a learning environment. The second section is dedicated to theories that focus on the learner. These learner-centered theories describe how learners are motivated, their predispositions and what they bring with them to a particular learning situation. The third section introduces instructional strategies that are much easier to use for designing instruction and has two sub-sections. The first called, Tasks represents the kinds of tasks that we expect students to engage in while learning from an inquiry strategy. Tasks include artifacts, problem-solving, research, and discussion/debate. The second sub-section covers the role of instruction in changing a learner's mind. These strategies focus on engaging the learner in some sort of disorientation while presenting an idea that is an alternative to one they already accept. Section four, entitled Tools for Teaching and Learning consists of two subsections as well: Changing or Encouraging Human Behaviors and Technology Tools. The first subsection's strategies revolve around the methods of Cognitive Apprenticeships, resource-based learning, experiential learning, the six C's of motivation, along with behaviorism. The second subsection, Technology Tools can be used to extend or support the learners mind or the instructors instruction. The theories included in section five, Socially Oriented Theories, engage the learner or situate the instruction in a social environment. The sixth section covers a few direct instruction strategies including reciprocal teaching and reading recovery, both of which are more commonly used in the K-12 setting.

Section 1: Learning and Cognitive Theories

The theories in this section are fundamental to the other theories included in this book and for many that are not included. They categorize learning and thinking, explain how the mind functions, describe how we organize what we learn, describe learning environments and how knowledge is constructed and recalled. These theories provide a common language for instructors and instructional designers and have been used as the basis for the strategies described in the rest of the book.

Bloom’s Taxonomy

In 1948, Benjamin Bloom organized and led a group of educators who, over a period of eight years, classified educational goals and objectives that were eventually named Bloom’s Taxonomy. Revised in 2003, Bloom's Taxonomy is categorized into three domains of learning: cognitive, affective (covered in a later chapter), and psychomotor. The cognitive domain is divided into six sequential levels of thinking. The first three levels or lower-order skills include: remembering, understanding and applying. The last three levels or higher-order skills include: analyzing, evaluating and creating. According to Bloom and Krathwohl (1956), the purposes for developing this taxonomy were to, “help curriculum builders plan learning experiences and prepare evaluation devices; clarify the meaning of a learning objective (what level of ‘understanding’ is trying to be achieved); and provide a framework for research on teaching and learning, in terms of remembering, thinking and problem solving (p. 2-3).”

Information Processing

Information processing (IP) is a theory that explains how the mind functions (Ashcraft, 1994) by using a computer as a model for how the mind works. IP Theory is broken down into three memory stores: sensory register, short-term memory, and long-term memory. The sensory register can be triggered by five senses: hearing (echoic), seeing (iconic), tactile (touch), olfactory (smell), and gustatory (taste). When the sensory register is stimulated, the new information is processed in short-term memory, where thinking is done. Within the short-term memory new information is combined with existing information in long-term memory (LTM). This process can be enhanced through elaboration and repetition.

Piaget’s Constructivism

Piaget’s constructivism, named after Swiss cognitive psychologist Jean Piaget, is a learning theory (though he may be better known for his stage theory). He describes three mechanisms for learning: assimilation, accommodation, and equilibration. According to his theory, what is learned is organized according to schemas. Schemas are mental representations of something tangible or intangible that can be applied to an object, situation, or event. When new schemas are developed, assimilation begins. Assimilation refers to the stage in which new knowledge is processed and added to previously existing schemas. Accommodation is an adaptation process that occurs because the existing schemas are insufficient to incorporate new information. Equilibration is created when assimilation and accommodation reach a balance in the mental structures.

Situated Cognition

Situated cognition theory represents a major shift in learning theory from traditional, individualistic views to views of learning from the social perspective (Greeno, 1998; Lave & Wenger, 1991; Salomon, 1996). Brown, Collins, and Duguid (1989) are credited as the founders for situated cognition theory and define it as the notion of learning knowledge and skills in contexts that reflect the way they will be used in real life (Collins, 1988, p. 2). Situated cognition theory takes place within a dynamic learning community in which each individual can take on a variety of roles: student, teacher, coach, and expert. Learning communities can exist in many environments including the home, school, business, local community, and the electronic or virtual world community. Because of its emphasis on learning, albeit learning in a specific external context, it is still a learning theory.

Social Constructivism

Social constructivists emphasize the importance of culture and environment on the learning process. The basis of the theory of social constructivism assumes that reality is constructed through human activity, knowledge is created through interactions with others, and their environment and learning are more meaningful when the learner is socially engaged. Four perspectives of social constructivism include: cognitive tools perspective, idea-based social constructivism, pragmatic or emergent approach, and transactional or situated cognition.

Vygotsky’s Constructivism

Vygotsky, a developmental psychologist, based his constructivist theory on the fundamental role of social interaction in the development of cognition (Vygotsky, 1978; Wertsch, 1985). Two of Vygotsky’s main principles are the more knowledgeable other (MKO) and the zone of proximal development (ZPD). The MKO possesses more knowledge about a particular subject than the learner and can be a teacher, peer, or possibly a computer. The ZPD is the area between what the learner can do and cannot do, even with help. While the learner is in the ZPD, the MKO provides support or scaffolding to assist them in acquiring new knowledge. Once the learner is comfortable with the new knowledge, the MKO fades the scaffolding and the ZPD moves to a higher level of difficulty.

Section 2: Learner-Centered Theories

Learner-centered theories focus on what the learner brings to the instructional environment. They provide strategies for instructors and instructional designers to work with while considering an individual's characteristics. The adult learning and multiple intelligences sections describe unique characteristics that may exist within any learner while the creativity and motivation sections provide strategies to encourage both. Teaching and learning in the affective domain describes how the intrinsic attributes of the learner can be nurtured to help them achieve learning.

Adult Learning

Merriam & Brockett (1997) define adult education as, “…activities intentionally designed for the purpose of bringing about learning among those whose age, social roles, or self-perception define them as adults.” There are five factors used to describe an adult learner: having an independent self-concept and who can direct his or her own learning; having accumulated a reservoir of life experiences that is a rich resource for learning; having learning needs closely related to changing social roles; being problem-centered and interested in immediate application of knowledge; and being motivated to learn by internal rather than external factors (Merriam, 2001, p.5). Adults embarking on any learning experience bring with them their own life experiences, work experiences, learning experiences, performance affecters, as well as environmental factors such as the time between learning interactions and aging (Conlan, Grabowski & Smith, 2003). Several learning theories that are directly related to adult learning include action learning, experiential learning, project-based learning, and self-directed learning, although, Conlan, Grabowski and Smith (2003) believe that ” all styles of learning are applicable to both early childhood and adult learning, with differences presenting themselves in regard to the use of the style based on the learning environment.”


Researchers have defined creativity as the production of both novel and appropriate work. Creativity is affected by a variety of internal and external factors that are classified into two models: process-oriented and systems-oriented. The process-oriented model describes cognitive aspects that affect creativity, while social and individual aspects are described by the systems oriented model. In 1995 and 1996, Sternberg and Lubart designated six attributes that nurture creativity: intellectual processes, knowledge, intellectual styles, personality, motivation, and environmental context. In addition, they also identified three thinking style dichotomies, some of which benefit creativity, while others depress it: legislative (invent rules) vs. executive (follow rules), conservative (old approaches) vs. liberal (new approaches), global (general aspects) vs. local (detail-oriented).


Motivation theory explains that the causes people to engage in activity and can be categorized as extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation involves the learner’s desire for earning rewards and avoiding punishment, while intrinsic motivation is related to the learner’s curiosity and desire for mastering achievement. Motivation is a goal-directed behavior. While performance goals focus on getting good grades, mastery goals focus on mastering the learning concept and knowledge. Motivation can be improved through encouraging feedback, receiving assistance from expert and non-expert models, and achieving successful experiences.

Multiple Intelligences and Learning Styles

Gardner (1983, 1999) established the taxonomy of multiple intelligences including nine intelligences: verbal/linguistic, logical/mathematical visual/spatial, bodily/kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic, and existential. Gardner’s intelligences enable the ability of an individual to, “solve problems, create products or provide services that are valued within a culture or society.” (Giles, Pitre, & Womack, 2003) Learning style is directly related to Gardner’s multiple intelligences and is defined by the National Association of Secondary School Principals as, “the composite of characteristic cognitive, affective, and physiological factors that serve as relatively stable indicators of how a learner perceives, interacts with, and responds to the learning environment.” The four most common learning styles are visual, aural, reading/writing, and kinesthetic/tactile. Most individuals utilize multiple learning styles when acquiring new knowledge, but have a predisposed preference toward one based on culture, experience, and developmental influence. This strategy can be woven into any of the tasks.

Teaching and Learning in Affective Domain

Smith and Ragan (1999) suggested that, "any 'cognitive' or 'psychomotor' objective has some affective component to it (if at no deeper level than a willingness to sufficiently interact with learning resources to achieve the learning)." Teaching and Learning in the Affective Domain focuses on the learner’s attitudes, motivation, and values (Smith & Ragan, 1999). Some of the predominant affective domain learning theories include: Festinger's cognitive dissonance theory; consistency theories such as the Affective-cognitive consistency theory; social judgment theory; social learning theory; and functional theory. The Krathwohl taxonomy, developed by Krathwohl, Bloom, and Masia in 1964 (Smith & Ragan, 1999) categorizes levels and types of learning in the affective domain into five areas: receiving/attending; responding; valuing; conceptualizing/organizing; and characterizing by value.

Section 3: Inquiry Strategies

What is Inquiry-Based Instruction? -- Colburn defined inquiry-based instruction (IBI) as “the creation of a classroom where students are engaged in essentially open-ended, student-centered, hands-on activities” (Colburn, 2000, p. 42). An alternative, more detailed definition offered by Prince and Felder (2007) states that, “in inquiry-based learning (also known as inquiry-guided learning or guided inquiry), students are presented with a challenge (such as a question to be answered, an observation or data set to be interpreted, or a hypothesis to be tested) and accomplish the desired learning in the process of responding to that challenge (p. 14).”

The inquiry strategies that have been included in Emerging Perspectives on Learning, Teaching and Technology have been further categorized into two subtopics. The first category, Tasks, includes creating an artifact, solving a problem, doing research, or preparing for a debate/discussion. The second category involves bringing about major changes in perspective as the result of learning. One of these more K-12 focused, called Conceptual Change and the other is more adult learning focused, called Transformative Learning.

Inquiry Strategies: Tasks

Problem-Based Instruction

Problem-based instruction requires students to use higher-ordered thinking skills to address and resolve real-world problems. It challenges traditional, teacher-led instruction described by Dossey, Mullis, Lindquist and Champbers (1988), Goodlad (1984), and Wood(1987) as a learning environment whose attributes such as, “orderly conduct and didactic teaching methods in which the teacher dispenses information, has greatly inhibited students' opportunities to think critically.” Problem-based instruction is grounded in the learning theories of situated cognition, constructivism, social learning, and communities of practice. The task for learners is to solve the complex problem that often takes days or weeks to solve.

Constructionism, Learning by Design, and Project Based Learning

According to Papert (1993), constructionism is both a learning theory and an educational strategy, although it is categorized as a strategy for the purposes of our book. Based on Piaget’s constructivist theory, Papert (1991) explained the difference between constructivism and constructionism by stating that, "the word with the v expresses the theory that knowledge is built by the learner, not supplied by the teacher. The word with the n expresses the further idea that happens especially felicitously when the learner is engaged in the construction of something external or at least sharable” In a learning environment in which constructionism is implemented, the teacher acts as a facilitator and guide. When constructionism is implemented in the classroom it can take on two forms: learning by design (LBD) and project-based learning (PBL). LBD requires groups or individual learners to create an artifact that represents their new-found knowledge while PBL is a, “teaching and learning strategy that engages learners in complex activities,” that require learners to, “…choose and organize their activities, conduct research, and synthesize information (Han and Bhattacharya).” The task in all three of these models is to build some sort of artifact.

Case-based Instruction

“Case-based instruction has been defined as an active-learning pedagogy designed for problem analysis and problem-solving, stressing a variety of viewpoints and potential outcomes (Cranston-Gingrass, Raines, Paul, Epanchin, & Roselli, 1996).” Merseth (1996) established three essential elements required of cases used in case-based instruction: (1) they are real, (2) they rely on careful research and study, and (3) they foster the development of multiple perspectives by users. Case-based instruction is an instructional method commonly used in teaching law, business, engineering, education, and medicine; however, it can be modified to most any curriculum (Online Teaching Activity Index (OTAI)). Students who participate in case-based instructional activities will develop the ability to apply theoretical concepts; work in groups; solve problems; gather and analyze information; utilize higher order decision making skills; articulate and present information; and manage time (OTAI). The primary task for the learner is to prepare for a debate or discussion around the case.


Choi, Garg, and Kilroy define the I-search strategy as, “the process of searching for answers to questions, which have personal meaning to the writer combined with a metacognitive review of the search process.” As compared to the traditional research paper, I-search is the, “story of the search rather than the summary of answers (Choi et al.).” Duncan and Lockhart (2005) introduced I-search to the classroom. They stated that, “through the I-Search unit, teachers can provide an opportunity for students to develop questions, research the answers, record their findings, and illustrate their learning through products while reflecting on and evaluating their learning.” The four major steps of the I-search process include choosing a topic/generating a question; developing a search plan/gathering information; using the information; and developing the final product. The primary task is to do research to answer self-generated questions.

Inquiry Strategies: Changing Learners' Minds

Conceptual Change

The conceptual change strategy is generally defined as learning that changes an existing conception (i.e., belief, idea, or way of thinking) (Davis, 2001). Based on Piaget’s theory of disequilibration and accommodation, teachers uncover, “students' preconceptions about a particular topic or phenomenon,” and use, “various techniques to help students change their conceptual framework (Davis, 2001).” Students fundamentally change their conceptual framework by solving problems, explaining phenomena, and functioning in their world. Whether you are utilizing conceptual change in education, professional development, or business and industry the standard structure for implementation as defined by Nussbaum and Novick (1982) is as follows: reveal student preconceptions; discuss and evaluate preconceptions; create conceptual conflict with those preconceptions; and encourage and guide conceptual restructuring.

Transformative Learning

Cognitive apprenticeship (CA) is a strategy that is derived from situated learning theory and engages learners in authentic problem-solving. CA encourages participation in a community of practice that is developed through goal-oriented activity and social interaction in ways similar to that in craft apprenticeships (McLellan,1994). There are six recursive characteristics in cognitive apprenticeship: modeling, scaffolding, coaching, exploration, articulation, and reflection. One of the benefits of cognitive apprenticeship is that learners are involved in real-world activities that motivate them to experience the knowledge through interaction with expert models possessing a higher level thinking process. The primary concept is to make internal thinking processes external. All the methods use this idea.

Section 4: Tools for Teaching and Learning

To support any instruction, you can make use of the theories in this section. Some of the theories focus on what you might call soft technology. That is, these are theories and strategies that you as a teacher might employ to help bring about learning. The second section is about hard technology. Hard technology is essentially computer-based tools to support learning.

Tools for Teaching and Learning: Changing or Encouraging Human Behaviors

This first tools section is the soft technology tools. Cognitive apprenticeship is a theory that details a collection of strategies to support learning. Besides the methods of Cognitive Apprenticeship, we also describe theories such as Resource-Based Learning, Experiential Learning, the Six C's of Motivation, and Behaviorism. Each of these theories describe strategies you might employ while implementing an inquiring strategy and often can be employed with other more direct approaches to teaching and learning as well.

Cognitive Apprenticeship

Cognitive apprenticeship (CA) is a strategy that is derived from situated learning theory and engages learners in authentic problem-solving. CA encourages participation in a community of practice that is developed through goal-oriented activity and social interaction in ways similar to that in craft apprenticeships (McLellan,1994). There are six recursive characteristics in cognitive apprenticeship: modeling, scaffolding, coaching, exploration, articulation, and reflection. One of the benefits of cognitive apprenticeship is that learners are involved in real-world activities that motivate them to experience the knowledge through interaction with expert models possessing a higher level thinking process. The primary concept is to make internal thinking processes external. All the methods use this idea.

Examples of Modeling

Modeling strategy, an important aspect of cognitive apprenticeship must be complete, direct, and logical. Because the thought process is not observable, models must think out loud to enable students to understand the thinking process. The model must include a complete description of the demonstrated process, choose words and phrases that cannot be misinterpreted and ensure that the process does not require the performance of two incompatible actions at the same time. When designing a modeling strategy, the process of cognitive tasks must be organized into steps and described in words that use direct action verbs so that learners can monitor the reasoning process.


The most important and best-known characteristic of cognitive apprenticeship is scaffolding which is a type of coaching. Scaffolding is a strategy that is based on Vygotsky’s constructivism. In scaffolding, the MKO provides support to a learner to promote learning a concept or mastering a skill. When the learner successfully grasps the knowledge, the MKO gradually removes the support so that the learner can perform on one’s own without assistance, increasing the actual development level. “Scaffolding is actually a bridge used to build upon what students already know to arrive at something they do not know. If scaffolding is properly administered, it will act as an enabler, not as a disabler” (Benson,1997).

Articulation and Reflection

Articulation explains how to express one’s thought process either in writing or verbally. Reflection enables students to compare the route by which they find answers to the route taken by experts and peers. Articulation is the actual process that a learner goes through to explain to other learners what problem solving activities have occurred. The benefit of articulation and reflection is that it encourages learners to use one’s critical thinking skills to communicate their learning process in writing and verbally with others. The challenge is that it is difficult to prove the effectiveness of articulation and reflection due to a lack of research in this field.

Resource-Based Learning

Resource-based learning is an instructional strategy that engages students through multiple resources. Resources are used to support the instruction, encourage students’ motivation, and increase understanding of the subject. Although this strategy is more teacher-centered, the teacher plays the role of coach and uses resources to facilitate instruction in a student-directed learning environment. Resource-based learning can easily be implemented into constructionism, learning by design, and project-based learning environments. When designing resource-based instruction, it is important to thoroughly plan the instruction by identifying the lesson goal, determining acceptable student artifacts, and gathering various resources such as guest speakers, videos, hypermedia presentations and unlimited others. Also planning the timeline for the instruction and providing a rubric and evaluation of the lesson is necessary. Resource-based learning motivates students to explore the subject by enhancing students’ usage of encyclopedias, atlases, databases, technology tools and other resources. This strategy can be woven into any of the tasks.

Experiential Learning

Oxendine, Robinson, and Willson (2004) define the experiential learning strategy as a, “cyclical process that capitalizes on the participants' experiences for acquisition of knowledge. This process involves setting goals, thinking, planning, experimentation, reflection, observation, and review. By engaging in these activities, learners construct meaning in a way unique to themselves, incorporating the cognitive, emotional, and physical aspects of learning.” Within an experiential learning environment, Baker, Jensen, and Kolb (2002) state that there are, “two distinct modes of gaining experience that are related to each other on a continuum: concrete experience (apprehension) and abstract conceptualization (comprehension). In addition, there are also two distinct modes of transforming the experience so that learning is achieved: reflective observation (intension) and active experimentation (extension). There are currently many applications of experiential learning theory such as internships, student teaching, and field experiences. Oxendine, Robinson, and Willson (2004) provide steps to integrating Experiential Learning in the classroom, including: introducing the topic; engaging the learner; discussing the experience; formulating concepts and hypotheses; experimentation with newly formed concepts and experiences; furthering reflection on experimentation.

Six C’s of Motivation

The six C’s of motivation, termed by Turner and Paris (1995), is a strategy for promoting motivation. The six C’s include choice, challenge, control, collaboration, constructing meaning, and consequences. Students’ motivation increases by choosing a meaningful project that is feeling-related and value-related (selecting the construction of meaning). Students who are constantly challenged and who are in control of their project are more intrinsically motivated. Collaborative learning can increase motivation through communication and social interaction. Group members will learn to encourage each other and avoid team conflict by working together towards a common goal and by achieving rewards through group performance. After the assignment is completed, students should have an opportunity to share their work, increasing recognition and encouraging articulation. Positive feedback, sense of ownership, and achievement can enhance students’ self-efficacy and motivation in learning. This strategy fits in with the artifacts and research tasks because Choice is a part of these tasks.


Behaviorism is a strategy that emphasizes the structuring of environments. In fact, Skinner’s Teaching Machine is the prototype of the ubiquitous computer-based tutorial. Behaviorism focuses on the measurable and observable changes of behaviors caused by stimuli. B. F. Skinner, one of the principal behaviorists, developed a view of operant conditioning, concluding that both animals and humans would repeat acts that led to favorable outcomes, and suppress those that produced unfavorable results (Shaffer, 2000). Behaviors can be learned, unlearned, and changed by immediate consequences including: positive and negative reinforcement, punishment, modeling, shaping, and cueing. Modeling is the act of demonstrating a skill or disposition while the learner observes. Shaping is a process that results in the gradual change in behavior. Cueing is the act of providing learners with verbal or non-verbal prompts that reinforce or deter behavior.

Tools for Teaching and Learning: Technology Tools

Computer Mediated Instruction

The advent of online learning and computer-mediated communication has, “created a major shift in how educators and students think about teaching and learning (Daniels & Pethel, 2005)." The learning strategy, online learning, is defined as, “any learning experience or environment that relies upon the Internet/WWW as the primary delivery mode of communication and presentation.” (Fowles, n.d.) Computer mediated communication is defined as, “any human communication in which digital hardware is used as a medium. Email, Usenet newsgroups and web pages are all forms of CMC.” (Women’s/Gender Studies Programs University Partnership, n.d.) CMC can happen asynchronously and synchronously. Asynchronous communication is flexible and can accommodate learner’s who work or have other obligations that would otherwise deter them from pursuing further education. Synchronous communication allows learners to get immediate feedback and to ask questions as they arise.

Cognitive Tools

In the 1980’s intelligent tutoring systems (ITS) used computers to deliver direct instruction through tutoring. As the field matured and research of ITS defined its lack of impact, computers began to be used as tools to support constructivist learning theories instead of direct instruction and behaviorist theories. Learners began to, “learn ‘with’ as opposed to ‘from’ computers.” (Robertson, Elliot, & Washington) In 1993, Lajoie and Derry suggested that, “…the appropriate role for a computer is not that of a teacher/expert, but rather, that of mind-extension ‘Cognitive Tool.’” Pea (1985) defines cognitive tools as, “Cognitive technologies are tools that may be provided by any medium and that help learners transcend the limitations of their minds, such as memory, thinking, or problem solving limitations. Cognitive tools support learners through five major roles: information seeking, information presentation, knowledge organization, knowledge integration, and knowledge generation. Jonassen (n.d.) described the potential impact of cognitive tools on learners by stating, “When students work WITH computer technology, instead of being controlled by it, they enhance the capabilities of the computer, and the computer enhances their thinking and learning.” This strategy can be woven in with any of the four tasks.

Section 5: Socially Oriented Theories

Social oriented theories are based on the theory of social constructivism. These theories focus the process of learning on the individuals working together within the learning environment. Cooperative learning encourages groups to work together toward a common goal, while learning communities begin at the curriculum level and bring together students and faculty to work collaboratively through a program of study.

Cooperative Learning

Cooperative learning is defined as students working together to “attain group goals that cannot be obtained by working alone or competitively.” (Johnson, Johnson, & Holubec, 1986). Students work in small groups to achieve a common goal through an active involvement of understanding, analyzing, and applying the subject in real-life learning. The success of cooperative learning can be determined through motivational and cognitive perspectives, by encouraging other group members and acquiring critical thinking skills in discussions to find the best problem solution. The benefits of cooperative learning are that it enhances social interactions, reasoning skills, and oral communication skills through group discussion. It also develops positive attitudes and self-efficacy by learner’s receiving encouragement from the instructor and peers in a cooperative environment.

Learning Communities as an Instructional Model

“Simply enrolling students in common courses does not create learning communities. Creating learning communities is an intentional process of redesigning curriculum and bringing faculty and students together to create more coherent and collaborative learning environments.” (Levine, n.d.). Gabelnick, MacGregor, Matthews and Smith (1990) suggest that a common definition of learning communities is: “Any one of a variety of curricular structures that link together several existing courses---or actually restructure the material entirely---so that students have opportunities for deeper understanding and integration of the material they are learning, and more interaction with one another and their teachers as fellow participants in the learning enterprise” Two approaches of learning that can be implemented within a learning community include: the top-down structure in which the hierarchical structure of teacher (boss, leader) and student (employee, follower) stays intact and the bottom-up structure in which the hierarchical structure is dissolved and all participants can take on the role of teacher or learner at any given time. Buffington explains that, “a bottoms-up approach provides workers and students more control over their environment with the potential of leading to improved results and more efficient decision making practices.”

Section 6: Direct Instruction Strategies

This chapter is also used as the introduction to the book, "Emerging Perspectives on Learning, Teaching, and Technology." Most of the "emerging" theories are not direct instruction. However, there are some newer ones and these are not all of the theories that might be placed in this section. However, they do seem to be some of the more recent ones.

What is Direct Instruction?

In 1968, as part of a Project Follow Through grant, Siegfried Engelmann developed the Direct Instruction (DI) model under the trade name DISTAR. Grounded in Skinner’s behaviorist strategy, Engelmann’s theory of instruction states that learning can be greatly accelerated if instructional presentations are clear, rule out likely misinterpretations, and facilitate generalizations (Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory (NREL), 2005). Direct Instruction is highly interactive, exposes essential content via an active presentation of information (Rosenshine, 1995), and the lessons are fast-paced, carefully scripted, and tightly sequenced (NREL, 2005). Through the implementation of the DI model, teachers learn to define tasks clearly, preteach subconcepts and skills, work toward more complex concepts, present highly interactive lessons to large and small groups, elicit frequent oral responses, ensure a high rate of teacher praise for responses, monitor and correct errors immediately, and periodically review skills and concepts (NREL, 2005). While this definition aligns with the computer-based tutorial (Skinner’s Teaching Machine), these theories are a bit more contemporary. There are four direct instructions strategies /models included in this book: reciprocal teaching, reading recovery, conceptual change and transformative learning.

Reciprocal Teaching

In 1989 Palincsar, Brown, and Campione defined reciprocal teaching as, “a dialogue between teacher and student. This dialogue is described as reciprocal because each learner acts in response to another.” Four basic strategies are used to structure dialogue in reciprocal teaching: predicting, questioning, clarifying, and summarizing. Reciprocal teaching’s foundation is grounded in Vygotsky’s theory of social interaction. Think aloud, scaffolding and modeling, among other strategies, are necessary for making a reciprocal teaching environment successful. The goal of reciprocal teaching is to use discussion to enhance students' reading comprehension, develop self-regulatory and monitoring skills, and achieve overall improvement in motivation (Borkowski, 1992 as cited in Allen, 2003).

Reading Recovery

Reading Recovery is a strategy that was developed to enable learners to become independent readers. Clay (2005a) who stated reading is a “message getting, problem-solving activity,” and a, “message sending, problem-solving activity,” developed the program. Cox and Hopkins suggested that Reading Recovery is based on two theoretical principles: reading and writing are connected processes and should be performed in conjunction with each other and children learn how to read and write by participating in authentic reading and writing tasks on continuous texts. Clay (2005b), and Hobsbaum and Peters (1996) define the process of implementing a Reading Recovery lesson as follows: the child rereads familiar books from previous days; the child reads a book that was introduced and read once the day before; then, for no longer than 2 or 3 minutes, the child works on letters and, as lessons progress over time, words; the child and the teacher compose a story of a sentence or two in a journal; the teacher takes the message and constructs a cut-up sentence from it; the teacher introduces a new text to the student; and the child engages in reading the new book.


The Emerging Perspectives on Learning, Teaching, and Technology ebook discusses a number of ideas that are frequently described as learning or instructional theories. While the first section might be described as a collection of learning theories and models, there were some exceptions. The latter part of the book would be best described as a collection of instructional strategies that have been designed with the learning theories in mind. If you initiate an Internet search using the terms “learning theory” or “instructional theory,” literally hundreds of documents are immediately available. This book does not attempt to include all theories or intentionally exclude any theories. Its intention is to provide readers with a strong foundation of learning and instructional theories. Our approach has been to try to do this with a more instructional tone when possible, so the narrative style is a bit less academic on purpose.

There are many people who are interested in working the general area of technology as it relates to learning, teaching and education. One area is called, The Learning Sciences, and many of the people in this area immerse themselves in the theories of learning and instruction that have been outlined in this chapter and their ability with design and development comes from other areas such as Computer Science or Journalism. Another area is called Instructional Technology hopes everyone in the field really understand the theories that were outlined here. They then learn about design and development in the context of Instructional Design (see the Branch chapter). We believe either of these approaches is equally valid, but both of them require a strong understanding of the theories we have only introduced in this chapter.


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APA Citation: Leonard, K., Noh, E.K., & Orey, M. (2007). Learning Theories and Instructional Strategies. In M. K. Barbour & M. Orey (Eds.), The Foundations of Instructional Technology. Retrieved <insert date>, from http://projects.coe.uga.edu/itFoundations/