Career Development eLearning

eLearning and Learning Theories

Attempting to design online or face to face courses for the adult learner without having any knowledge of the learning theories, seems to me that it is very much like attempting to fly a plane with little to no knowledge of gravity and aerodynamics forces. In order to teach, you need to know how they learn.  This is the easiest way I know to explain why instructors need to know and understand learning theories.  It comes as a surprise to all my clients (internationally trained professionals) when I explain that to teach K1 – 12 in Canada you need to take an extra one year of teacher education, but to teach at college or university level, a thorough knowledge of your subject as proven through research or publications, is more than enough to qualify you as faculty.  In the last decade , the world of traditional universities where teaching and learning was taking place around the long, dry lectures is shifting. New generations of learners are more vocal about their needs, new technology is making its’ way into the classrooms, the learning environment is changing and demanding different teaching approaches. Knowing the basics of the old learning theories and keeping informed on any new pedagogical trends and research is a mandatory requirement for the online instructor especially.

There is no one theory that I can truthfully say that I always rely on. I believe that each theory has its strengths and its limitations. It is a wise approach in my opinion to first clarify the planned learning objectives of the course, then to learn as much as possible about the learning styles, needs and preferences of the students enrolled and only then, deploy different techniques, from different theories to facilitate the achievement of those planned objectives in an efficient but enjoyable and engaging learning environment.


Behaviouristic Theory – as explained by B.F. Skinner in the video below, Learning is seen as a change in behaviour, to be rewarded with prizes or points. Something similar to Pavlov’s dog experiment. The aim of a behavioristic-oriented instructional design for eLearning must be to provide learners with the appropriate stimuli, that is with opportunities that help them demonstrate that they are able to express desired behaviors that prove that learning has actually taken place. (Keramida, 2015) Drills, repetitions and reinforcements although critiqued as being too dry and rigid, will help with replacing old cultural customs. Canadian specific salutations, first name instead of Ma’am/Sir, how to’s on shaking hands, small talk, etc.

Cognitivism Theory – considers that human mind works like a computer when processing information. Important concepts in cognitivism are learning styles, cognitive styles and metacognition.  Learning styles define how the learners perceives the learning environment and also how it interacts with and responds to it. The cognitive style refers to how the learner processes the information while metacognition is the ability to be aware of our cognitive ability. In my work, I can apply this theory in various workshops. Clients can use the information presented in the online course to draft and re-work their own resumes and cover letters. They could also create their own blogs to reflect on their experience as professional newcomers to Canada, research other people’s experiences and opinions and use new vocabulary, discuss new cultural concepts .

Constructivism Theory – Learning is an active, constructive process in which learners construct new knowledge based on past knowledge. Students need to be engaged in the learning process and create their own learning by solving real life problems, through simulation or by being actively involved in a real life situation.

In my field, this can be easily applied through simulation of real life interviews using online games and simulation, also by creating discussion boards with real interview questions to be discussed among students.





Bates, T. (2014, July 29), Learning Theories and Online Learning, Retrieved from

Constructivism Retrieved from

Keramida, M. (2015, May 28), Behaviorism In Instructional Design For eLearning: When And How To Use, Retrieved from ://


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