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Learning theories you can use when training your employees

Learning theories: an overview

If you were to define learning, what words would you use? Knowledge acquisition? Guided discovery? New information? Universal experience? If you think about the fact that most of us go to schools and learn more or less the same concepts during formal education, you might perceive it as universal. But that’s not quite true. Even if we learn similar concepts, there’s an impressive variety of learning approaches, which make learning as diverse as it can get. 

These learning approaches are, in fact, learning theories, “which describe how students receive, process, and retain knowledge during learning”. These learning theories appeared as an attempt by philosophers, psychologists, and later on educational theorists who wanted to understand how people learn, what triggers the learning process, and how knowledge can be found. 

Learning theories for employee training

Let’s have an overview of the learning theories and what aspects define each of them, with a focus on how employees can benefit from these approaches during their training programs. 

  1. Constructivism

This is a learning theory centered around the learner’s role in constructing meaning, along with individual experience and previous information, leading to the idea that knowledge is unique to each learner. This theory can be involved in the training programs by means of learning resources such as collaborative projects, research, and case studies. Collaboration can be fostered across an eLearning environment by means of the communities of practice tool, which allows learners to share ideas and work together. 

  1. Behaviorism 

This theory focuses on the idea that learning is acquired through interaction with the environment, which provides new associations and makes learning possible. This learning theory started as a reaction against introspective psychology, with J.B. Watson and B.F. Skinner believed that “if they were given a group of infants, the way they were raised and the environment they put them in would be the ultimate determining factor for how they acted, not their parents or their genetics”. (source)

In the eLearning field, behaviorism can be fostered by using positive and negative reinforcement in training, such as gamified-based learning. 

  1. Cognitivism

As the name suggests, this learning theory implies that learning is much more than responding to certain stimuli, highlighting the active role learners have in studying. The main training implications for constructivism are the following: learning is a process of receiving and structuring information into conceptualized models, recalling the knowledge receives is essential in internalizing concepts,  and instructions should be organized in a way that is meaningful for the learner. 

  1. Connectivism

This learning theory starts from the idea that learners process information by making valuable connections, combining previous knowledge with current information to develop new meanings, implying that “students must interact with their world to make influenced decisions using previous experiences, current digital information, and future goals”. (source)

Moreover, this learning theory accepts the idea that digital technology is a huge part of today's learning processes, the medium of technology being part of the student’s decision-making processes. To put it differently, we all browse the internet on a regular basis, which determines constant new flows of information that are integrated into the previous knowledge we’ve stored during our lives. 

  1. Experiential learning

This learning theory starts from the idea that the best way to acquire information is by actually having experiences, and designing a hands-on approach to learning, which is an effective way to gather knowledge and skills, especially when a mentor is available to supervise the training process and to come up with the feedback that can guide the learning process. 

Basically, in the corporate learning environment, employees should have experience based on the concepts they are developing, and this can be made possible by means of role-playing or real-life scenarios, which allow learners to experiment with situations specific to their work in a risk-free environment. 

Being aware of the learning theories and their approach to gathering knowledge and developing skills might be a valuable asset in designing a training strategy for your employees. 

Some (final) thoughts

All these learning theories can be fostered in an eLearning environment, having the necessary tools to encourage their appliance.

This article is part of a bigger topic called: 

Corporate training

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