Skills Management

What Are Learning Theories?

An Introduction to Learning Theories

Learning theories seek to explain how learners gain, process, and reserve knowledge during a class. They are principles that feature different frameworks that educators utilize in adapting to the various learning styles and needs of students. A teacher will be able to manage learner behavior better and students will absorb information in the best way possible.

With a learning theory, educators can develop an enabling learning environment that is all-inclusive for the students. It does not matter if it is a traditional classroom setting or an online class. Also to boost the motivation of students, some learning theories include providing awards for the students. A classic award in the digital era is to distribute digital certificates to students. For instance, those who practice behaviorism believe in learning being a part of conditioning and advocate for a system of objectives and rewards in education. 

There are major dissimilarities between the majority of learning theories. But they all share something in common: trying to understand and describe the learning process so that teachers, lecturers, or tutors can act in line with the facts.

In this article, we will discuss concepts like behaviorism, motivation theories, self-determination theory, etc. Also, there is a subheading dedicated to understanding the effects of learning theories in classes. You are about to know the essence of these principles in education—to both the teachers and students.

Behaviorism in Learning: Pavlov, Skinner, and Classical Conditioning

Behaviorism in Learning Pavlov, Skinner, and Classical Conditioning
Behaviorism in Learning Pavlov, Skinner, and Classical Conditioning

Behaviorists are of the view that a transformation in external behavior can be attained by utilizing Rote learning (reinforcement and repetition) to mold learner behavior. American psychologist Burrhus Frederic Skinner discovered that behaviors could be formed when the reinforcement technique is applied. Skinner is referred to as the father of Behaviorism.

Behaviorism as one of the learning theories is centered on the notion that every behavior is learned by interacting with the environment. In addition, inherited and innate factors influence behavior in minor ways.

Pavlov’s view focuses on behavior being shaped by conditioning via the process of classical conditioning. Classical conditioning involves the role played by stimuli in the environment. The discovery of “experimental neuroses” is one of Pavlov’s main contributions to behavior therapy.

Skinner regarded free will as an illusion and thought that human behavior was determined by the effects of past actions. He articulated this theory as the principle of reinforcement. He stated that if the effects of an action are negative, there is a high probability that there will be no repetition of that action. Also, if the consequences are positive, the chances of repeating the action will become higher.

Skinner’s contributions to behavioral learning theory include the following:

  • Development of behavior analysis (e.g. philosophy of radical behaviorism)
  • Experimental analysis of behavior in the school of experimental research psychology
  • Invention of the Skinner box (operant conditioning chamber) to study operant conditioning

Motivation Theories: Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation

Motivation Theories Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation
Motivation Theories Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation

The behavioral theory that both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are centered on is the incentive theory of motivation which asserts that individuals are driven by the desire for incentives and reinforcement. It also states that people act in a way they think will lead to a reward and avoid acting in ways that will bring about negative consequences.

Incentive theory states that people are essentially motivated by an external factor (extrinsic). With this in mind, let us contrast between intrinsic (internal factors) and extrinsic motivation.

Intrinsically motivated actions are carried out to derive a sense of personal satisfaction as a reward. For example; joining a musician’s fan club because you like the idea of being a member of the official group that supports the artist.

On the other hand, extrinsically motivated actions are done to get something from other people or prevent bad results. For example, work bonuses or legal punishment for non-payment of taxes. Emotional and social incentives such as attention and praise can be considered as extrinsic motivators because they are offered by other people.

Extrinsic motivators are used to urge people who show little or no interest in a possibly useful project or task. The grading system in academic settings is an extrinsic motivator. Generally, students are driven to perform better because they know there will be assessments and results.

Self-Determination Theory: Autonomy, Competence, and Relatedness

Self-determination theory (SDT) connects personality, human motivation, as well as optimal functioning. It asserts that there are two major types of motivation which are intrinsic and extrinsic, and that they both influence our personalities and behaviors.

This theory originated from researchers Richard M. Ryan and Edward L. Deci through their work on motivation in the 70s and 80s. Although the theory has gone through various developments since that period.

Deci and Ryan expanded on their work to propose three major psychological (intrinsic) needs associated with self-determination. They stated that these needs drive self-initiated behavior and are the universal and natural need for autonomy, competence, and relatedness.

Implications of Learning Theories in Classroom Teaching

Implications of Learning Theories in Classroom Teaching
Implications of Learning Theories in Classroom Teaching

The following are the implications of introducing learning theories into the classroom (for both educators and learners:

  • The theories can bring clarity and direction to the learning process through their guidelines or principles.
  • Availability of a selection of strategies to manage a diverse range of learners of various backgrounds, challenges, learning paces, etc.
  • Fostering effective communication between students and teachers.
  • Boosting student self-esteem and confidence.


Several learning theories can be followed, apart from the ones mentioned in this article. New ones are expected to be postulated in the future while the old ones will become outdated or improved upon. This will be because of the need for innovative or advanced theories that will be suitable for application in modern educational settings.

It is left to educators to discover opportunities for changes to be made in the present theories after assessing their application in learning environments. Remember that individuals learn in different ways and these theories are some of the tools that can be applied to meet those diverse needs. So integrating these theories into course materials and teaching methods will help to keep learners engaged during classes.

Enis Dorlevi

I'm the Marketing Specialist at Sertifier! I'm working to grow the audience of Sertifier while sharing the most exiciting content about digital credentialing!

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