For the past several weeks I have been taking a graduate course on learning theories at Walden University. Although in this short time it hasn’t made me an expert on learning theory, it has given me a better understanding of how people learn. In the first week of the course, I was asked to describe how I thought I learned. I responded by relating my learning to the constructivist theory. Now, although I do recognize some aspects of that theory in my learning, I feel that no one theory explains how I, or others, learn.
Learning theories have contrasting ideas about how or why learning occurs. One may view the learning process as a change in behavior (behaviorist) while another views it as interactions and observations in social contexts (social learning theory) (Smith, 2003). Relating how I learn with a particular learning theory depends on my goals. For example, last year one of my horses manifested symptoms of insulin resistance. Not knowing much about the condition at the time, I searched the Internet for information about it and talked with veterinarians and other horse owners who had experience with the condition. This was a process of knowledge acquisition to understand the cause of the condition and how to manage it. I relate this type of learning to the cognitivist theory. In other situations, more than one theory can be used to explain learning. As do many people my age, I would like to lose some of the unwanted weight I have gained over the past decade or so. Viewing weight loss as an observable change in behavior relates it to the behaviorist theory. I eat less and exercise more and am rewarded with a loss of weight. It can also be related to social learning theory. I notice others who have lost weight, observe how they do it, model their behavior to lose weight, and feel pleasure when I do.
Adult learning theory can be used to explain my personal learning preferences. Several key assumptions about adult learners were published by Eduard Lindeman. These were: adults are motivated to learn when it supports the needs of their experiences and interests; learning is situated in life experiences; experience is a rich resource for learning; adults need to be self-directing; and differences among individuals with respect to how they learn increases with age (Holton, Knowles, & Swanson, 2005). I do find that my ability to learn can be explained by these assumptions. The reason I am taking a course in learning theories is an example of that. I have worked as an instructional designer for several years and find that my experience contributes significantly to my motivation to learn and interest in the subject. Being able to apply what I’m learning in my actual work context also helps me understand the topic more easily.
In my previous post about personal learning networks, I described how I use technology in my learning and related it to connectivism. I’m still grappling with some of the concepts of connectivism but I do value its emphasis on explaining how we learn through personal learning networks. In the weeks ahead, I hope to reflect on what I’ve learned about learning theories and use that knowledge to expand my PLN to better enable how I learn.
Holton, E. F., Knowles, M. S., & Swanson, R. A. (2005). Adult learner: The definitive classic in adult education and human resource development. Burlington, MA: Routledge.
Smith, M. K. (2003) Learning theory: models, product and process. infedorg. Retrieved April 13, 2014, from http://infed.org/mobi/learning-theory-models-product-and-process/.