Learning Theories And Their Implications: Behaviorism, Constructivism, And Cognitive Load

For Instructional Designers

Instructional Design is the educational method of creating and designing effective learning experiences for specific learning groups. When approaching Instructional Design, the design process is led by an Instructional Designer who is responsible for targeting the multiple areas of design and instruction necessary for delivering content. These areas include addressing the needs of the learners, designing the content and activities, and evaluating overall performance and achievement. In Instructional Design, the designers are faced with many obstacles, the main one being learning theories. In relation to Instructional Design, learning theories help guide the designer toward determining the most effective and supportive direction for instruction.

3 Learning Theories For Instructional Design

Three learning theories have a significant impact on Instructional Designers and the way they approach instruction and design. By comparing and contrasting behaviorism, constructivism, and cognitive load theory, Instructional Designers can provide a comprehensive analysis of the different approaches to learning and their implications for Instructional Design.

Behaviorism

Behaviorism is the learning theory that concentrates its focus on the immediate behavior of the learner in response to specific stimuli present in an environment. This theory proposes the notion that the stimuli found in a learner’s environment influence their behavior based on their way of learning.

  • Implication 1
    To Instructional Designers, task analysis is a key procedure that must be taken to reach an instructional goal. Task analysis calls for the designer to create a list of observable steps and skills for the learner to accomplish at the end of each task of the entire lesson (Richey, et al., 2011). The designer must identify each step and the expected behaviors needed to perform each task.
  • Implication 2
    According to Richey (2011) the factors surrounding behaviorism imply that connections are strengthened through practice and weakened through disuse. This supports the idea that related forms of positive and negative reinforcement (operant conditioning and classical conditioning) help guide thinking and approach.

Constructivism

Constructivism suggests that learners use their background knowledge and past experiences as a baseline to build upon when introduced to new concepts and problem-solving scenarios. This theory emphasizes the importance of the learner acting as the driving force of their learning.

  • Implication 1
    As addressed by Richey (2011), learning is an active process occurring in realistic and relevant situations. Therefore, instructor-led delivery is a high priority to encourage a “learning-by-doing” approach to instruction.
  • Implication 2
    According to Richey (2011), learning results from an exploration of multiple perspectives. That being the case, it is the job of the designer to expose the learner to content in a way that fosters a learning experience at a social level and an individual one.

Cognitive Load Theory

Cognitive load theory refers to the occurrences in the brain that appear as a result of incoming information being processed and stored in a learner’s working memory. The central focus of this theory is its attention to the construction of new schema being stored in the brain’s short- and long-term memory.

  • Implication 1
    When presenting new or extensive content, Instructional Designers should offer goal-free problems and examples to illustrate the intent of a lesson. Depending on the complexity of the content, learners are more likely to fall victim to straining their schema due to having gaps in knowledge.
  • Implication 2
    Instructional Designers must be able to recognize when the content found in a lesson is too redundant and determine how to effectively reduce cognitive load in response to unnecessary information. When presented with nonrelevant material, learners can experience a sense of exhaustion that can affect the way they retain and recall content.

What Does This All Mean?

In conclusion, by comparing and contrasting behaviorism, constructivism, and cognitive load theory Instructional Designers are able to gain a better understanding of how their learners absorb content and retain content. To a designer, behaviorism reveals that learning is connected to behavior by addressing the relationship between stimuli found in a learner’s environment and the resulting positive or negative reinforcement. Constructivism reveals that the construction of knowledge is driven by the learner and their utilization of prior knowledge. Finally, cognitive load theory reveals to designers that the ways in which learners process and store material can be interrupted when the content is too complex and repetitious.

References:

  • Richey, Rita C., James D. Klein, and Monica W. Tracey. 2011. The Instructional Design Knowledge Base: Theory, Research, and Practice. Milton Keynes: Routledge.

Editor’s Note: If you’re looking for more ID inspiration, check out our Instructional Design Models And Theories timeline.

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