I remember when I started my career in Learning and Development, I was given several learning theories to study; they were pretty tiring to read, to be honest. They can be really boring, especially if you are reading for just knowledge and not for a learning project.
This may be because some of these theories were designed before the use of technology and are now currently used for digital learning. Some will argue that such theories are not useful when designing digital learning, others will argue that learning theories, in general, are outdated and not really important, the big question is: Are they really important? Are they still needed in this digital age? In this brief article, I would like to share my view on the following subheaders, and maybe I will be able to answer the question (to the best of my ability) if learning theories are still important.
- What exactly are learning theories?
- How important are learning theories?
- When can we use learning theories?
What Exactly Are Learning Theories?
This kind of question will help us understand what learning theories are all about. I love this definition by the National Cancer Institute: “A theory presents a systematic way of understanding events or situations.” As simple as it sounds, that is exactly what I feel theory means. Theories help us to dissect situations, to better understand how best to solve them in a systematic way. Also, a theory is like a step-by-step guide on what and when to take action.
Learning theories are not different in terms of the above definition. According to (Wikipedia), “Learning theories describe how students receive, process, and retain knowledge during learning.” Over the years, even in the early twentieth century, researchers have always wondered how learners assimilate and how best to address various learning challenges. This has brought about various learning theories, these learning theories have somewhat molded the learning processes and strategies we currently use.
How Important Are Learning Theories?
Learning theories can be confusing at times, especially in the age of digital learning and social learning. Why is this so? It may seem as if some of the learning theories are outdated due to the date of development. Notwithstanding, if you look closely; some of our training methods are strangely aligned to some of these learning theories, and outcomes can be predicted even before you implement them. I remember using a learning theory to design training, and when I met with the training sponsors and explained my fears about using a certain method, the sponsors refused to follow my recommendations, and in the end, the outcome resulted in what I predicted. (LOL! I felt like a psychic, whereas, it was just me following a theory). I will say, various learning theories can immensely transform our training programs even for the digital learning programs.
When Can We Use Learning Theories?
As the definition of learning theory clearly states that it can be used to “describe how students receive, process, and retain knowledge during learning,” the following are a few situations I try to use learning theories in, but they are not limited to the below list:
- When you want to know how best to train a specific demographic of learners
- When you want to influence your learners
- When you want to ensure retention in your learning design
- When you want to understand how your learners use your information
I would like to conclude with, theories are important and there is no one best learning theory. Do we need learning theories, the answer for me is “Yes”! Do we need to use all of them? For me, the answer is “No”! Theories are designed for various occasions and they are sometimes mixed with assumptions and facts. As a learning designer, you need to know what exactly you want to achieve when designing training, then you can now decide on the best theory that suits your goal. I believe strongly in the importance of learning theories. Also, I will be sharing various learning theories in future articles, I hope you will love to read about them. Feel free to share your experience and knowledge on learning theories.
Bye for now!
- Learning theories for the digital age by Steve Wheeler
- Definition of Learning Theory by Wikipedia
- Why we need Learning Theories by Taruna Goel
- What are Theories by National Cancer Institute