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3 Traditional Learning Theories and How They Can Be Used in eLearning

October 11, 2017 | By Asha Pandey


Micro Blog-Traditional Learning Theories

Learning Theories are frameworks that are extensively used by Instructional Designers to meet the requirements of the target audience and the situation.

To do justice to this mandate, an Instructional Designer must first understand the Learning Theories in order to apply them. Once they understand the strengths and weaknesses of each Learning Theory, they can optimise their use.

In this blog, I provide an introduction to three traditional Learning Theories, namely:

  1. Behaviourism
  2. Cognitivism
  3. Constructivism

Furthermore, I show examples that illustrate how they can be used in designing eLearning courses.

Before I outline how Learning Theories can be used in designing eLearning courses, let me highlight a couple of foundational aspects on:

  • Why we need Learning Theories
  • How Learning Theories influence learning.

Why do you need Learning Theories?

Learning Theories are conceptual frameworks that describe the manner in which the information is absorbed, processed and retained during learning. Often, the same content can be presented in different ways. Learning Theories provide a framework for such learning solutions.

What factors influence learning and how do Learning Theories help influence it?

The factors that influence learning are:

  1. Cognitive
  2. Emotional
  3. Environmental
  4. Prior experiences

Learning Theories impact learning practices by:

  • Prescribing the right methodology and formats of learning
  • Making it effective, meaningful and engaging for all types of learners

What are the key traditional Learning Theories?

From the range of options that you can pick from, I will focus on three key traditional Learning Theories, namely:

  1. Behaviourism
  2. Cognitivism
  3. Constructivism


  • Behaviourism is based on observable changes in behavioural patterns.
  • It focuses on a new behavioural pattern being repeated until it becomes automatic.
  • The learner depends on an instructor for acquisition of knowledge.

Example: In an online learning course that required learners to memorise the capital cities of states:

  • Learning outcomes tested how effectively learners imbibed the information.
  • Practice opportunities were provided to the learner using a simple game-based approach.
  • Appropriate feedback was provided.


  • Cognitivism is based on the change in behaviour through sequential development of an individual’s cognitive abilities.
  • It indicates the thought process inside the learner’s mind.

Example: In an online learning course that involved two sets of audiences with varied knowledge levels taking the same application training:

  • A pre-test was used to define the appropriate learning path for each learner profile.
  • A visual organiser was designed, which allowed the learners to explore the topics relevant to their knowledge levels.
  • The cognitive flow was determined as per the existing skill-sets and the content was accordingly chunked into relevant topics/lessons.


  • Constructivism explains the manner in which knowledge is constructed.
  • It focuses on construction of knowledge when the information obtained comes in contact with the knowledge acquired by experiences.

Example: In an online learning course for Instructional Designers on how to write effective storyboards:

  • A real-life perspective was provided through the use of a character who is an ID.
  • A “story” was created, and the character was placed in real-life situations where she had to understand and tackle different aspects of storyboarding.
  • Practical tips and guidelines were provided to help learners apply their learning in actual work-environments.


Typically, one Learning Theory may not be adequate as a stand-alone framework and often strategies promoted by different theories would inevitably overlap.

You can pick from a wide range of options to test the learner’s knowledge and decide on the most appropriate strategies and solutions to meet a variety of learning situations.

I hope this blog provides a glimpse of traditional Learning Theories and more significantly, how they can be used in designing eLearning courses. If you have any queries, do contact me.

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