Learning Theories




Alearning theory is defined as a rational framework of incorporatedprinciples and constructs, which explicate, illustrate or foretellhow individuals learn. Educational psychologists offer differentperspectives and theories concerning the learning process as well asindividual motivation to learn and transform (Snowman &amp Biehler,2006). Through the creation and analysis of learning theories,psychologists have been able to understand how people obtainknowledge and modify how they conduct themselves, their attitudes,feelings, thoughts as well as ways of thinking. The current paperseeks to compare and contrast four learning theories and discuss howthey apply to education.

SocialLearning Theory

Sociallearning theory was founded by Albert Bandura. In the theory,learning considers various aspects including individual features ofthe learner, the environment, as well as behavioral patterns(Berggren &amp Severinsson, 2006). The theory has undergone a numberof “paradigm shifts”. Initially, Bandura stressed on behavioralcharacteristics and simulation of role models. This was followed bycognitive considerations, and lastly, the interest shifted to theeffect of social factors as well as social setting where learningtakes place. The model views the learner as fundamental “humanagency”. As such, the perceptions, interpretation, and response ofthe learner to social situations require to be identified. Thehealthcare setting is considered a social situation therefore, shouldbe given cautious consideration. According to the theory, learning isa social process whereby role models offer a good platform of how tobehave, feel or think. A key notion of the model is role modeling.In a healthcare setting, skilled nurses who reveal attractivebehaviors and attitudes acts as a role model for less skilled nurses(Berggren &amp Severinsson, 2006). Another notion is vicariousreinforcement that entails the determination of whether the mentorsare recognized as punished or rewarded for their behavior. In sociallearning theory, learning takes place in four phases which includethe attentional phase, the retention phase, the reproductive phase,and the motivational phase.

Innursing education, social learning theory is used to addresspsychological issues as well as maximize the employment of supportgroups (American Psychological Association, 2001). Studies show thatmanagers who acknowledge the responsibilities in enhancing a positivework setting promote competence, learning, as well as satisfaction(Berggren &amp Severinsson, 2006). Besides, the theory has beenapplied by nurses while dealing with alcoholism and working withyoung mothers.

HumanisticLearning Theory

Onlearning, the humanistic learning theory argues that every person isdistinctive and that everybody has the aspiration to grow (Barnard,Hollingum, &amp Hartfiel, 2006). However, various societalexpectations and values have harmed constructive psychologicalgrowth. The theory is well-matched with patient centeredness and thefocus of nurses to care for patients. The stress in healthcare andmedicine on technology, time pressures, bureaucratic organizations,and cost efficiency has greatly challenged this orientation. Inhumanistic theory, transfer of learning is aided by open situations,curiosity, as well as a constructive self-concept. Thesecircumstances enable transfer to be prevalent, promoting creativityand flexibility. A key contributor of the theory is Maslow, whoidentified the hierarchy of needs, and argues that they play a majorresponsibility in human motivation. They include self-actualization,esteem, safety, belonging and love, and physiological. According tohumanistic psychology, emotions and feelings are paramount incommunication, learning as well as understanding.

Thehumanistic theory is believed to have changed the education approachby offering fundamental focus to personal feelings and desires of thelearner. It has also redefined the responsibility of the instructor.Wellness programs, self-help groups and palliative care dependgreatly on humanistic principles. The theory also works well withteenage patients and children who go through separation anxiety as aresult of surgery or illness, and mental health (Barnard, Hollingum,&amp Hartfiel, 2006). A major emphasis of humanistic theory is thedesire for health experts and nursing students to experienceemotional growth from their experience in health care.

BehavioristLearning Theory

Behavioristlearning theory generally focuses on what can be observed directly.According to behaviorists, learning is the end result of stimulusconditions (S) and the subsequent responses (R). Occasionally, it isreferred to as the S-R model of learning (Bush, 2006).The learningprocess entails observing responses and manipulating the setting inorder to obtain the anticipated modification.

Inthe present time, behaviorist theories are used alongside otherlearning theories such as cognitive theory in education (Bush, 2006).In healthcare setting, behaviorist theory is extremely useful.Individuals’ responses and attitudes are modified by altering thestimulus conditions. Motivation is explained as a drive reduction andas a result, satiated persons have minute motivation to learning andmodifying. Transfer of learning from the primary setting to otherenvironments takes place through practice. Learning is founded on twoprocedures which are operant and respondent conditioning. Behavioristlearning theory promotes objective and apparent investigation ofobservable stimulus conditions, the response of learners, as well asthe impacts of reinforcements on the behaviors of individuals.

CognitiveLearning Theory

Cognitivelearning theorists emphasize on the significance of inner learningdynamics, unlike their counterpart behaviorists. Cognitive theoryconsists of various subtheories and it is extensively employed ineducation. Personal cognition is considered as the key to changingand learning. These include thought, insight, and memory. Cognitivelearning is an individual directed process. It entailsidentification, interpretation, and reorganization of informationinto novel perceptions (Hunt, Ellis, &amp Ellis, 2004). Unlikebehaviorists, cognitive theorists put forth that learning does notessentially require a reward. The most important things are theexpectations and objectives of learners through which tension anddisequilibrium is created. In turn, these motivate the learners toact. The theory entails various perspectives including informationprocessing, social constructivism, and human development (Hunt,Ellis, &amp Ellis, 2004).

Inhealth education, the theory encourages the recognition anappreciation of diversity and individuality in the manner in whichindividuals learn. Cognitive theory is used in the formulation ofexercise programs intended for patients suffering from breast cancer.Educators should categorize the degree of cognition development ofevery learner as well as the social factors which impact learning.

TabularComparison of

Learning Procedures

Assumptions About the Learner

Sources of


Transfer of Learning

Behaviorist Theory

  • Modifications and response are promoted by reinforcement and stimulus conditions.

  • Behavior is modified by altering the environment

  • Both reactive and passive learners react to environmental conditions.

  • Drive reduction

  • Practice

  • Similarity of setting.

Cognitive Theory

  • Learning and modification is promoted by thought processing and inner perception.

  • Behavior is modified by altering cognitions.

  • Active learner is swayed by attributions and he establishes the blueprint of experiences.

  • Goals

  • Disequilibrium

  • Expectations

  • Common patterns.

  • Physical and mental activity.

  • Understanding

Social Learning Theory

  • Learning is promoted by reinforcement of role models and learners inner influences.

  • Behavior is changed by changing role models, reinforcement as well as self regulating mechanisms of the learner.

  • Active learner directly examines other people and standardizes decisions in order to imitate behavior.

  • Self-reactive controls

  • Socialization experiences

  • Role models

  • Behavior of role models

  • Similarity of setting.

Humanistic Theory

  • Learning is influenced by internal feelings of self, needs, and the capability to formulate sensible choices.

  • Behavior is changed by modifying needs and feelings.

  • Active learner is creative and spontaneous. The learner works to ensure constructive self-growth.

  • Needs

  • Aspiration for constructive self-growth

  • Affirmation of self-concept

  • Freedom to learn

  • Negative or positive feeling concerning oneself.


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Barnard,A., Hollingum, C., &amp Hartfiel, B. (2006). Going on a journey:Understanding palliative carenursing. InternationalJournal of Palliative Nursing,12, 6–12.

Berggren,I., &amp Severinsson, E. (2006). The significance of nursesupervisors’ different ethical decisionmaking styles. Journalof Nursing Management,14, 637–643.

Bush,G. (2006). Learning about learning: From theories to trends. TeacherLibrarian, 34, 14–18.

Hunt,R. R., Ellis, H. C., &amp Ellis, H. (2004). Fundamentalsof cognitive psychology(7th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Snowman,J., &amp Biehler, R. (2006). Psychologyapplied to teaching(11th ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin.