4 Learning & Motivational Theories

Learning Theories

Now that you have gotten to know who your learners are, it’s time to consider how they think, process, and learn. You will also want to look at what motivates them. By understanding this, you can implement teaching strategies to better ensure transfer and retention of knowledge and skills. To do this, you will rely on learning theories and motivational theories. These will be used later to help us determine what teaching strategies to use as well. Though our authors talk about these in our text, they don’t really emphasize these components in their visual model. So, just for fun, I added an additional ring to where I think they would go. Just like the components in the outer rings are ongoing, the components I added as an additional inner ring (data, learning theories, motivational theories, and teaching strategies) are underlying principles that we must keep in mind at all times.

Though there are several learning theories, each theory can be categorized as either behaviorism, cognitivism, or constructivism.

Learning theories take into consideration how the brain receives and processes information, and several of the theories overlap. For example, cognitive theory, constructivism, and neuroscience all consider how the brain processes information and relates it to new or existing information to form connections in the brain (meaning making), which moves the information from short term memory to long term memory. When information, feelings, smells, visuals, etc. have moved into long term memory, they are considered to be “learned.”

The brain has approximately a billion neurons with branches that connect. This is sometimes referred to as the “cognitive web.”  The more often that learners reinforce the “paths” that connect between neurons, the more likely that they will be able to recall the information in the future.

Remember that all learning theories, in essence, try to explain how a person learns. As an instructional designer, one of the tools in your toolbox is to understand multiple learning theories and to explore how some may work better in certain instructional situations than others. While behaviorism is the old standby and foundation for direct instruction, which is highly utilized in K-12, blending or utilizing other learning theories is appropriate and achieves better results.

If you are teaching adults, it’s important to understand that adults have different learning needs. Malcolm Knowles came up with Principles of Andragogy that summarize how adults learn.

In this module, you are going to explore a variety of learning and motivational theories and reflect on how you might use them in your project. As you read through the chapter and other materials in this module, please consider the following questions:

  • How will you apply adult learning theories to your portfolio project?
  • How will you apply motivational theories to your target audience?
  • What learning theories do you align with and why?
  • How do task analysis and learner characteristics affect the learning theory employed, if at all?

Learning Styles

Your textbook does point out that not all learner characteristics will or should affect the design of instruction. For example, would a learner’s preference for learning by doing (kinesthetic learning) affect how you teach a class a set of definitions? If you had a class full of all kinesthetic learners, then probably it would affect how you design the activity. However, you are more likely to have a mixed group of auditory learners, visual learners, and kinesthetic learners which would make tailoring the instruction to their preferred learning style a difficult task.

Whether it is important to address learning styles is still controversial in the ID field. Those who argue that learning styles are important often link learning styles to the multiple intelligences theory by Howard Gardner, as they do at this website, Overview of learning styles. Hear Howard Gardner explain the 8 Intelligences in the first video below.

So, how do we use this information in our instructional design? The second video talks about putting learning styles and intelligences to work in the classroom by providing strategies for each. As you watch, think about the importance of variety and choice in your design? Can you see any of these strategies being used in this course? Which of those strategies align with the way you learn?

ID Competencies

For our Industry Chat during Weeks 2 and 3, we explored different instructional design models. Knowing different models, will help you approach projects more holistically with more tools in your toolbox. But, what else do instructional designers need to know? What skills do they need to have? In this module, we will explore the knowledge, skills, and abilities instructional designers need to have. However, Instructional Design is a big field, and organizations utilize instructional designers differently. Let’s look at some general roles and responsibilities instructional designers have by watching a short video.

The video provides a great overview. However, to help us get a more holistic look at what designers do, we will be exploring job announcements within different industries.  As we explore, think about the different types of work, the competencies needed to perform that work, and where you might best fit in.

  • Are you one who likes building e-Learning courses?
  • Do like you teaching courses on how to teach?
  • Do you prefer more of a consultant role where you collaborate with subject matter experts?
  • Do you enjoy managing projects, organizing resources, and holding teams to deadlines?
  • Do you like it all and want a job where everyday is different with a variety of these responsibilities?

The best part about being an instructional designer is that the possibilities are endless. You just have to know how to look for keywords and what questions to ask during an interview. Will be addressing some of these things in this module, while focusing on more the interview part later in the class.


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