Behavioral Learning Theories
The 3 main behavioral learning theories are behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism. These are classical theories that were developed to understand how we learn from infants through adulthood. As teachers, it is important to understand how students learn as individuals in order to convey course curriculum in a way that students will acquire and process the material. These theories all have valid points and can be used at different times for different age levels. Behaviorism is used with younger children mostly to build a foundation of knowledge. Then, cognitivism and constructivism are used for expanding the knowledge base and processing.


Behaviorism comes from the observable aspects of learning. New behaviors are learned through conditioning, either classical or operant. Classical conditioning is in response to a positive stimulus. If a student completes a problem correctly they will receive a reward. Operant conditioning is controlling behavior either by a system of reward or punishment. This is done through changing the environment that surrounds the child.

Activities in classroom:
  • Games
  • Flash cards
  • Lectures
  • Demonstrations
  • Constant reinforcement

Cognitive learning is how information is processed. When a student learns a new fact they process, store, locate and provide information from what they have learned. When new information is acquired it must be linked to prior knowledge. Learning is within the students own mental processing.

Activities in the classroom:
  • Graphic organizers
  • Concept map
  • Summarizing

Constructivism happens when the learner is constantly building new ideas and concepts. Information is moved from long term memory and is used while creating a knowledge base for a new experience. The student is encouraged to discover in place of the teacher making the connections for the student. The teacher takes a facilitator role within the classroom.

Activities in classroom:
  • Group work
  • Experimentation
  • Research projects
  • Field trips
  • Films
  • Class discussion

The following chart displays behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism with the theorists that are associated with them.


Video Link:

Theories of Learning

Created by Tara McNulty on February 2, 2013