Theories about human learning

Theories about human learning can be grouped into four broad”perspectives”.

These are

Behaviorism: focus on observable behavior

2. Cognitive: learning as purely a mental/ neurological process

3. Humanistic: emotions and affect play a role in learning

4. Social: humans learn best in group activities

1. Behaviorism: focus on observable behavior

Applied behavior analysis, a set of techniques based on the behavioral principles of operant conditioning, is effective in a range of educational settings. For example, teachers can alter student behavior by systematically rewarding students who follow classroom rules with praise, stars, or tokens exchangeable for sundry items.

2. Cognitive: learning as purely a mental/ neurological process

Among current educational psychologists, the cognitive perspective is more widely held than the behavioral perspective, perhaps because it admits causally related mental constructs such as traits, beliefs, memories, motivations and emotions. Cognitive theories claim that memory structures determine how information is perceived, processed, stored, retrieved and forgotten.

Problem solving, regarded by many cognitive psychologists as fundamental to learning, is an important research topic in educational psychology. A student is thought to interpret a problem by assigning it to a schema retrieved from long term memory. When the problem is assigned to the wrong schema, the student’s attention is subsequently directed away from features of the problem that are inconsistent with the assigned schema.

3. Humanistic: emotions and affect play a role in learning

Education aims to help students acquire knowledge and develop skills which are compatible with their understanding and problem-solving capabilities at different ages. Thus, knowing the students’ level on a developmental sequence provides information on the kind and level of knowledge they can assimilate, which, in turn, can be used as a frame for organizing the subject matter to be taught at different school grades.

Second, the psychology of cognitive development involves understanding how cognitive change takes place and recognizing the factors and processes which enable cognitive competence to develop. Education also capitalizes on cognitive change, because the construction of knowledge presupposes effective teaching methods that would move the student from a lower to a higher level of understanding.

Finally, the psychology of cognitive development is concerned. with individual differences in the organization of cognitive processes and abilities, in their rate of change, and in their mechanisms of change.

The principles underlying intra- and inter-individual differences could be educationally useful, because knowing how students differ in regard to the various dimensions of cognitive development, such as processing and representational capacity, self-understanding and self- regulation, and the various domains of understanding, such as mathematical, scientific, or verbal abilities, would enable the teacher to cater for the needs of the different students so that no one is left behind.

4. Developmental Tasks

The concept of developmental tasks is important for considering human needs for the purpose of Curricular Planning. Havighurst (1950) identified tasks for the infancy and early child-hood, middle child-hood and adolescence which are helpful to the curriculum planner to plan the curricular meeting basic human needs of children during their school going age.

The developmental tasks identified by Havighurst are as follows:

Infancy and Early Childhood:

  • Learning to walk.
  • Learning to take solid food.
  • Learning to talk.
  • Learning to control the elimination of body wastes.
  • Learning sex difference and sexual modesty.
  • Achieving physiological stability.
  • Forming simple concepts of social and physical reality.
  • Learning to relate oneself emotionally to parents, siblings, and other people.
  • Learning to distinguish right and wrong.

Middle Childhood

  • Learning physical skills necessary for ordinary games. Building wholesome attitudes towards oneself as a growing organism.
  • Learning to get along with age mates.
  • Learning an appropriate masculine or feminine social role.
  • Developing fundamental skills in reading, writing and calculating.
  • Developing concepts necessary for everyday living.
  • Developing conscience, morality and a scale of values.
  • Achieving personal independence.
  • Developing attitudes towards social groups and institutions.


  • Achieving new and more mature relations with age mates ofboth senes.
  • Achieving a masculine or feminine social role.
  • Achieving one’s physique and using the body effectively.
  • Achieving emotional independence of parents and other adults.
  • Achieving assurance of economic independence.
  • Selecting & preparing for an occupation.
  • Preparing for marriage & happy life.
  • Developing intellectual skills and concepts necessary for civic competence.
  • Destining and achieving socially responsible behavior.
  • Acquiring a set of values and an ethical system as a guide to behavior.

If curriculum Planner keeps above stated developmental tasks in their mind, they can frame better curriculum. These tasks indicate the readiness of the students for a particular task at a particular age group.

Social cognitive perspective (Social cognitive theory)

Social cognitive theory is a highly influential fusion of behavioral, cognitive and social elements that was initially developed by educational psychologist Albert Bandura.

In its called social learning theory. Bandura emphasized the process of observational learning in which a learner’s behavior changes asa result of observing others’ behavior and its consequences.

The theory identified several factors that determine whether observing a model will affect behavioral or cognitive change. These factors include the learner’s developmental status, the perceived prestige and competence of the model, the consequences received by the model. the relevance of the model’s behaviors and consequences to the learner’s goals, and the learner’s self-efficacy

The concept of self-efficacy, which played an important role in later developments of the theory, refers to the learner’s belief in his or her ability to perform the modeled behavior.

Constructivism (learning theory)

Constructivism is a category of leaming theory in which emphasis is placed on the agency and prior ‘knowing’ and experience of the learner, and often on the social and cultural determinants of the learning process. Educational psychologists distinguish individual (or psychological) constructivism, identified with Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, from social constructivism.A dominant influence on the latter type is Lev Vygotsky’s work on socio-cultural learning, describing how interactions with adults, more capable peers, and cognitive tools are internalized to form mental constructs.

Elaborating on Vygotsky’s theory, Jerome Bruner and other educational psychologists developed the important concept of instructional scaffolding, in which the social or information environment offers Supports for learning that are gradually withdrawn as they become Internalized.

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