Inspiration for Students of Instructional Design and Technology

–what I’ve learned about how I learn

puzzle brainAs I reviewed my Week 1 Discussion post, I realized that I have found the missing pieces of the learning puzzle since our class began. In Week 1, we learned about behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism and described how we personally learn in relation to those theories. At that time, I identified myself as primarily a cognitive learner. I also discussed Ertmer and Newby’s (1993) idea of a learning continuum in which learners gain introductory knowledge through the behaviorist theory, enhance their skills using cognitive theory, and ultimately become constructivist learners by adapting their knowledge and experience to real-world situations. As an example, I cited my sailing experience. Since that time, our class has delved into the theories of social learning, connectivism, and adult learning. With those missing pieces, the puzzle is complete. Returning to my original example of sailing, I now see how I have used all of these theories at some point.


Behaviorist theory states that learning is prompted by a stimulus in the environment (Standridge, 2001) and results in an observable behavior (Davis, Edmunds, & Kelly-Bateman, 2008). Learning is accomplished through repetition and reinforced by positive or negative feedback (Standridge, 2001). Going back to the sailing example, the behaviorist theory explains how I acquired the fundamental skills. I learned by taking a class and repeatedly performing basic skills: raising and lowering sails, tacking and jibing, and docking the boat. The instructor offered feedback (sometimes loudly—tack NOW!), and the boom (heavy metal pole that swings across the cockpit) provided negative reinforcment by thunking me on the head if I accidentally jibed the boat. Ouch! However, I remembered those lessons.


Cognitive theory explains how the human brain processes information using the computer as a metaphor (Ormrod, Schunk, & Gredler, 2009). We receive information into our short term memory, where the knowledge resides briefly before either being cataloged into our long-term memory or lost. When the information is meaningful or useful to us, we are more likely to retain it. The cognitive theory explains activities that advanced my knowledge of sailing: reading about weather, examining nautical charts, and consulting tide tables.


Constructivist theory asserts that learning is internal and subjective, and that each of us creates a unique reality based on our experiences (Ertmer & Newby, 1993). When learners adapt and apply knowledge to real-life situations, they have advanced along the continuum to constructivism. As my husband and I sailed through the Caribbean islands, we synthesized all of our prior learning to navigate through reefs, respond to changing weather conditions, and set the proper anchor for the current location.

Social LearningSocial Learning

Social learning theory states that we acquire knowledge through collaborating with others (Ormrod et al., 2009) and modeling observed behavior (Social learning theory, n.d.). The sailing community provides a very social learning environment, from yacht club events, to seminars, to casual get-togethers. So the next time I’m enjoying a “sundowner” on a friend’s boat and discussing the merits of this anchor or that teak treatment, I will be happy to know that I am engaging in social learning, not merely having a cocktail.


Connectivism is a theory for learning in the digital age whereby we develop information networks built on a diverse set of human and non-human resources (Siemens, 2004). Connectivism recognizes that one person cannot retain all the knowledge that might be required, so knowing where to find current information is the key. The Internet and social media are key drivers for this theory. Returning to my example, the sailing community is well connected with discussion forums, product Web sites, personal blogs, and weather forecasting services.

Adult LearningAdult Learning

Adult learning theory explains the self-directed nature of adult learning, which builds on prior experiences and focuses on solving real-life problems (Conlan, Grabowski, & Smith, 2003). Key factors are the adult’s motivation, self-esteem, and culture. The physical and cognitive decline that comes with aging is another factor influencing adult learning—ah, if only it were not so! Learning for the owner of a sailboat is typically focused on solving a problem, such as how to arrive at an upwind destination or how to fix an engine.

As I was contemplating how these various learning theories had advanced my knowledge of sailing, I couldn’t resist throwing together a mind map. Here it is:

Learning theories mind map

Now that all the pieces of the puzzle are in place, has my view of my own learning changed? Yes, it has. I realize that the social learning and connectivist theories have emerged as my predominant methods of acquiring new knowledge. Spurred by our class assignments (like keeping this blog), I have added new nodes to my learning network (connectivism). Likewise, our weekly class discussions have been enlightening, exposing me to other perspectives and the knowledge gained from my classmates’ research (social learning).

Connectivism and social learning are both supported by technology, which as we all know is constantly advancing. I realize that I cannot afford to become stagnant, to define my learning style as something fixed and unalterable. When technology becomes the focal point for acquiring knowledge, we can be assured that the manner in which we learn will always be changing.Puzzle


Conlan, J., Grabowski, S., & Smith, K. (2003). Adult learning. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from

Davis, C., Edmunds, E., and Kelly-Bateman, V. (2008). Connectivism. In M. Orey (Ed.). Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from

Ertmer, P. A., & Newby, T. J. (1993). Behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 6(4), 50–71.

Ormrod, J., Schunk, D., & Gredler, M. (2009). Learning theories and instruction (Laureate custom edition). New York: Pearson.

Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. Retrieved from

“Social learning theory-Bandura” (n.d.). Retrieved from

Standridge, M. (2001). Behaviorism. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from

Comments on: "Fitting the Pieces Together" (1)

  1. Deanna,

    I could not resist the urge to comment on the professionalism of this Blog entry. It has a great look about it, is chock full of information, and overall left me feeling like I have had a sneak peek into the brain of a true Instructional Design professional.


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