Teaching and Learning Theory
Role of the Student
| Learning to Learn | Learning Theory |

The role of the student is that of a learner, a collaborator, and a team member. There are a number of theories about learning which help us understand the role of a student or learner. For this course, we will examine only a few of these theories.

One of these theories was developed be Abraham Maslow and is called the theory of basic human needs. Maslow (1954) contended that human beings are motivated by several basic needs.

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These needs are basic and are in a hierarchical order based on human priority and necessity. Maslow presents that humans are always motivated by desires and that these desires are satisfied for only brief periods. But, we all need to have our basic needs met before we can begin to become self actualized or gain higher order skills. In simple terms, Maslow found that individuals who basic needs are satisfied are more effective learners. It is incumbant upon a teacher to insure that the first four basic needs: survival, safety, belonging, and esteem, are met before individuals become effective learners.

As Viktor Frankl discovered in the concentration camp during the second world war, even people whose physical survival is in question, who must battle for the basics of food and shelter, are still motivated by the need to make connections and find meaning in their lives. This urge or basic needs are what Frankl calls the "will to meaning" and Maslow regards as "man's primary concern."

Both Frankl and Maslow agreed that the will to meaning is based on the human need to make connections, and those connections create meaning. Linking the fulfillment of real-life needs with learning for meaning is a fundamental component of contextual learning.

Gagne (1965) provides an analysis of variables of learning and how to organize instruction to take these variables into account. Gagne's examination of these variables in learning has led to the identification of six varieties of performances that can be the result of learning.

Gagne believes that these six classes of learning form an ascending hierarchy, and before a learner can "chain" they have to learn specific responses...and so on.

Learning to Learn

The role of the learner is also to learn how to learn. In fact, the most important long-term outcome of instruction may be the students' increased capabilities to learn more easily and effectively in the future, both because of the knowledge and skill they acquire and because they have mastered the learning process (Joyce and Weil, 1966). How teaching is conducted has a large impact on students' abilities to educate themselves.

Learning Theory

In this course we will briefly examine five models of learning: behaviorist models, cognitive models, information processing models, social learning, and constructivist models.

Behaviorist Theory

There are a number of theorists related to the study and observation of behavior. A few of these include...

What these theorists pose as behaviorism that is common to the learner:

Cognitive Theory

There are a number of theorists related to the study of how the mind stores, processes and remembers information. A few of these include...

What these theorists pose as cognition that is common to the learner:

Information Processing Theory

There are a number of theorists related to the formal experimental rules of how humans study and learn. A few of these include...

What these theorists pose as information processing that is common to the learner:

Social Learning Theory

There are a number of theorists related to how we learn from each other (modeling and observation). A few of these include...

What these theorists pose as social learning that is common to the learner:

Constructivist Learning Theory

Behavioral and cognitive learning theories are objective and assumes the external world is real and thus the goal of instruction is to have the learner acquire responses and knowledge that exist in the world (Ertmer & Newby, 1993). In contrast, a constructivist approach to learning assumes that learning is subjective to the needs, disposition, attitudes, beliefs, and feelings of the learner. What these theorists pose as constructivism that is common to the learner:


For further reading see:

Duffy, Lowyck, & Jonassen (1992). Designing environments for constructive learning. New York: NATO.

Gergen, K. J. (1985). The social constructionist movement in modern psychology. American Psychology, 40, 266-275.

Glaserfeld, E. V. (1984). An introduction to radical constructivism.

Senge, P. M. (1990). The fifth discipline: The art & practice of the learning organization. New York: Currency Doubleday.

Or visit the following learning theory site on the web:


Dr. Mark L. Merickel
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School of Education
Oregon State University
Corvallis, OR