Educational Psychology Interactive: Overview of Learning and Development

Summary of Theories
Relating to Learning and Human Development

Citation: Huitt, W. (2019, August). Summary of theories relating to learning and development. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved from

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There are a number of theories related to how human beings learn and develop. On this website, learning is defined as "a relatively permanent change in behavior or behavior potential brought about as a result of experience" and development is defined as "as a relatively permanent change in behavior or behavior potential brought about as a result of maturation or biological function." The following table provides an overview of the major schools of thought related to learning and development.

Theories Supporting Instructivist Classrooms

Theories Supporting Constructivist Classrooms
Behavioral Information Processing Social Learning Humanistic Cognitive Constructivism Social Constructivism Social Cognition Connectivism
Observable behavior

Stimulus-response connections

Mental behavior

Acquisition of knowledge


Critical thinking

Social influences

Modeling & vicarious learning




Mental behavior

Developmental processes

Social and cultural influences

Modeling & vicarious learning

Self-efficacy beliefs


Knowledge and attitudes developed through cooperative interactions with digital networks

Learning is a result of environmental forces

Learning is a result of mental operations/ processing

Learning is a result of influences of social environment on thinking

Learning is a result of affect/emotion and goal-orientation


Learning is the result of the construction of meaning by the individual learner

Learning occurs within the Zone of Proximal Development

Learning is a result of influences of social environment on thinking

Learning is a result of cooperatively interacting with digital social networks

View of the Learner

Reactive Adaptor

Processor of Information

Observer Adaptor Autonomous Agent Inquirer Apprentice

Embedded Agent

Networked Life-long Learner

Subcategories Contiguity

Respondent (Classical)

Operant (Instrumental)
Information Processing



Critical & Creative Thinking

Observational (Social) Affect

Motivation & needs




Information processing

Focus on developing citizens for democracy

Focus on role of more expert person to provide scaffolding




None yet developed









Atkinson and Shriffin

Craik and Lockhart











N.V. Peale













Principles Time/place pairings

Biological basis of behavior


 Memory is limited

Changes in complexity

Changes over time

Good thinking requires standards

Social interaction with adults and peers


Individual uniqueness


Dreams and goals are vital for success

Diagnose learner readiness

Structure learning experiences using spiral organization

Facilitate student extrapolation and filling in his or her knowledge gaps


Social interaction with adults and peers

Learning comes before cognitive development

Language is primary facilitator of learning


Reciprocal determinism

Individual responsibility

Learning in the digital age is primarily influence by connection to digital networks through cooperative learning activities.

Learning is a function of working cooperatively to connect and develop digital networks

Personal construction of meaning is critical
Methods Experimental methods

Laboratory studies

Systematic observation
Experimental/ correlational


Experimental/ correlational Clinical method


Natural observation

Structured observation

Experimental/ correlational Experimental/ correlational

Systematic observation

Both qualitative and quantitative


Applying principles from these theories of learning and development can help you guide your own learning as well as define the task of a teacher.

Theory Principles Task of the Teacher
  • Have specific goals and objectives that state precisely what you are to learn.
  • Break the goals and objectives into manageable units.
  • Interact with the material while you are listening or reading (e.g., take notes, answer previously developed questions)
  • Reward yourself for learning activities and outcomes (e.g., listen to one song after 20 minutes of studying; go to a movie when you make an "A" on an exam)
  • Arrange the correct environment and provide the appropriate stimuli; in the case of operant conditioning this means applying the correct reinforcers and punishers.
Information Processing
  • Make sure you're paying attention during lectures and reading.
  • Overview any reading before you actually get started. Identify major terms and concepts.
  • Ask yourself different levels of questions when you study (e.g., low level -- what does this term mean; higher level -- how could I use this concept or principle; how is this concept similar or different from another)
  • Give yourself time to allow time to pass before a review
  • Define levels of knowledge and/or knowing that learners should attain and arrange the correct environment so those levels will be attained.
Social Learning
  • Identify important role models
  • Carefully observe actions and consequences of actions
  • Replicate as correctly as possible
  • Observe consequences of own actions
  • Model desired behaviors
  • Have learners repeat behaviors
  • Provide appropriate consequences
  • Think about how this learning relates to your life goals or mission.
  • Make sure you feel comfortable as you start your learning; if you feel stressed, take a few minutes to relax (close your eyes, imagine yourself in your favorite spot or activity; breath slowly and deeply)
  • Imagine how you will feel when you successfully take a test on this material.
  • Make a game out of learning the material; make it fun.
  • Assist learners to develop an understanding of personal interests and goals and facilitate the actualization of personally-important capacities.
Cognitive Constructivism
  • Before you get started, review activity or concept and reflect on how this might be similar to something you've already learned.
  • Try to apply the principle or think about how you might apply it.
  • Work with another student as you identify important terms, concepts, and principles.
  • Arrange the environment is such a way that independent and collective investigation can occur relatively unheeded by outside interference.
Social Constructivism
  • Learning occurs between what a learner already knows and what the learner could not learn even with expert support.  Therefore, think about what you already know and can do.
  • Learning occurs before cognitive development. Therefore, practice as guided by experts.
  • Language is primary means by which sociohistorical learning occurs. Therefore, listen, write, and speak, first in language as used by experts, then in your own language.
  • Identify learners' Zone of Proximal Development.
  • Model desired thinking and behavior.
  • Provide support during learning process and slowly withdraw as learner takes incremental steps toward mastery.

Social Cognition

  • Work in a study group to learn the material.
  • Take action and then reflect on how successful you have been in the learning process.
  • Set goals for learning the concepts or skills, not just making a passing score on a test.
  • Keep records of your learning activities and reflect on which ones seem to work best; talk about these with other students.
  • Model desired processes and skills and then use operant conditioning to modify those to the desired standard.
  • Model the desired process and skills and provide assistance to help the learner demonstrate task mastery (scaffolding).  Then selectively withdraw the assistance  until the learner can demonstrate mastery independently.
  • Facilitate the learner in adapting to socially-prescribed requirements as well as in establishing personal learning goals; facilitate the development of the knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary for meta-cognitive and self-regulation as the learner works to successfully master both sets of goals.
  • Actively cooperated with others to connect to various networks of knowers, inquirers, and knowledge bases.
  • Become producers of knowledge that can be accessed throughout your lifetime and connect that knowledge to others' or personally developed knowledge bases.
  • Recognize the emergent properties of knowledge, attitudes, and skills.
  • Assist the learner to connect to various networks of knowers, inquirers, and knowledgebases; empower learners to cooperate with others to be producers of knowledge that can be accessed throughout one's lifetime.

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