Learner, Learning Models ‘n’ Learning Theories

Learner is anyone who wants to learn and gain knowledge. What is learning? and what is knowledge? Though most of the times these two words are used interchangeably they mean two different things though interlinked.

Learning is a process of acquiring new mental schemata, competencies etc. which could be used to solve problems, enhance decision making and achieve effective understanding of knowledge (Alonso et al.,2005). Kolb(1984,pg.41) cites that learning is “the process whereby knowledge is created through transformation of experience and knowledge results, from the combination of grasping and transforming experience”. Hence knowledge could be said as a collection of facts, concepts and processes which the learner can use to solve problems in the future (Alonso et al.,2005).

There are different learning models available, but the widely used learning model is provided by Kolb (1984) ‘experiential learning’ model. Kolb(1984) conceptualizes ‘experiential learning’ in four components which requires learners to engage specific abilities: Concrete experience drawing upon experience of new things; reflective observation to look at a particular context from different perspectives  to gather meaning out of it; abstract conceptualization to analyze and integrate the new idea and the made concepts, making logical conclusions by reflecting on the new experiences and active experimentation for re-engagement with the environment using the new learning , putting it into practice , solving problems and making decisions based on it, leading to the beginning of another learning cycle. 

Experiential Learning model

Figure 1. Experiential Learning model. Kolb(1984)

Another learning model which is contemporary and used widely is based on the work done by Schulman(2002) who points a six stage learning process

Schulman Model

Figure 2. Schulman Model Adpated from http://cte.umd.edu/teaching/newsletter/2008-09/April-May/sb_april09_fig2.jpg

According to Schulman(2002), the learning process begins with student engaging with materials, classroom environment, peers etc. to gather knowledge and an understanding. Based on the knowledge/understanding, the student becomes capable of performing or carrying out an action. A critical reflection on ones action could lead to high order thinking taking the form of developing the ability to be able to make judgments in uncertain situations and create designs within the remit of constraints/unpredictability. Finally based on the judgment made in a particular context the learner is able to develop commitment wherein he/she is capable of professing his/her understanding/values which becomes an integral part of his basic attributes and in turn forms his/her identity.  And once again the whole cycle begins with new engagements and the motivation to carry one.

Based on both the models, students learning experience could be summarized as learner motivation, learner-centric content with which the student interacts and from which a meaningful, memorable experience is derived.

Student Learning Experience

Figure 3. Student Learning Experience Pie  Adpated from http://www.suddeninsight.com/

During the learning process, student gathers knowledge moving from a lower order to a high order. These are the words of Blooms Taxonomy represented in the figure below:

Blooms revised Taxonomy

Figure 4. Bloom’s revised Taxonomy, adapted from http://edorigami.wikispaces.com/Bloom%27s+Digital+Taxonomy

To gain knowledge and to undergo learning cycle the student has to engage in different learning activities in and out of a classroom. Some of the activities, based on which Kolb (1984) developed the ‘experiential learning model’ are shown in the table below:

 Kolb Learning Cycle activities

Table 1 : Activities associated with Kolb Learning Cycle, Adapted from Kolb(1984)

All of the activities outlined in the table 1, are used to this day but the difference is some of it is done through a computer in a virtual environment. Most of the activities in todays classroom are aided by computer for day to day activities, this is not only the fact for classrooms but also for the students who engage in different contemporary learning systems to gather knowledge. The contemporary knowledge environment of a typical student could be cited with an example below:-

elements of personal learning environment

Figure 5. Students current Personal Learning Environment, adapted from Nair(2015)

Adding to this example when it comes to understanding the relation between the learners and computer aided virtual LE there are different theories, which are relevant. Historically a behaviorist learning theory with emphasis on observable, measured behavior and based on these measurements modifications made, formed the basis for the design of early computer aided instruction delivery system. Towards the late 70’s and 80’s cognitive theories of learning focusing on the mental process of a learner took importance and replaced the behaviorist theory of learning(Wasson,1996). Shuell(1992,pg 23-25 ) points out in “existing cognitive theories, learning is an active, constructive, cumulative,self-regulated and goal oriented process”. In addition to this  diagnosis and self-reflection element of learning was pointed by Simons(1993).  Over the years in addition to cognitive theories, constructive theories and socio-cultural approach to learning have become popular and has influenced the design and development of computer-based learning systems. Constructivist theories of learning points out the need to have different tools to enhance the mental process in a learner enabling him/her to ‘create’ a rich learning experience by themselves (Reiber,1994; Piaget,1971).The socio-cultural approach to learning focus on a two way communication, and combined activity between the teacher and learner  working together to share knowledge(Jones et al.,1993; Vygotsky,1978).

All these learning theories are subject to debates on the merits and de-merits on the design of LEs and their impact on the leaner (Wasson,1996). But all of these theories do recognize learner at the center. Hence in any educational setting, design development and implementation of learning systems these learning theories and the learning environment of the learners should be kept in mind and, based on the experience of the audience over the use of these learning systems, its success should be determined (Vrasidas,2000).

Taking different learning theories (mentioned above) into perspective and the contemporary ways in which students engage with the virtual environment to gather knowledge (figure.5). It is for Universities to recognize the current technological needs, the way students learn, activities they engage in and map them into the current LE to be able to provide the learners with a LE which would not only engage them but also motivate the students to learn new things. Thereby maintaining a learner-centric impression away from traditional teacher-centric domain.



Alonso,F., Lopez,G., Manrique,D.,Vines,J.M., (2005), An Instructional model for web-based e-learning education with a blended learning process approach, British Journal of Education technology, Vol.36,No.2, pp 217-235.

Jones, A., Mercer, N., (1993), Theories of learning and information technology, In P.Scrimshaw(Ed.), Language,Classrooms & computer (pp 11-26),Routledge,London.

Kolb,D.A.,(1984), Experiential Learning : Experience as the source of learning and development . Englewood Cliffs : Prentice-Hall.

Nair,U.,(2015), Soft Systems Methodology for personalized learning environment, E-Learning and Digital Media, Vol.12,No.1,pp.34-56.

Piaget, J., (1971), Genetic epistemology. New York: W. W. Norton Press.

Reiber, L. P., (1994), Computers, graphics, and learning, Dubuque, IA: W. D. Brown Communications.

Schulman,L.S.,(2002), Making differences : a table of learning, Change Magazine, Vol.34,pp 36-44.

Shuell, T. J., (1992), Designing instructional computing systems for meaningful learning, In M. Jones & P. Winne (Eds.), Adaptive LEs (pp. 19- 54). New York: Springer.

Simons, P. R. J., (1993), Constructive learning: The role of the learner, In T. M. Duffy, J. Lowyck, 8r D. H. Jonassen (Eds.), Designing environments for constructive learning (pp. 291- 314). Heidelberg, Germany: Springer.

Wasson, B., (1996), Instructional planning and contemporary theories of learning: Is this a self- contradiction?, In P. Brna, A. Paiva L J. Self (Eds), Proceedings of the European Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Education (pp. 23-30). Lisbon: Corbri.

Vrasidas,C.,McIssac,M.S.,(2000), Principles of Pedagogy and Evaluation for Web based learning, Education Media International,[online access 17 May 2012],http://vrasidas.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/07/webasedemi.pdf

Vygotsky, L. S.,(1978), Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes, (M. Cole, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner & E. Souberman, Eds. and Trans). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

About the Author
Author: Uday NairWebsite: http://www.pretsels.co.uk
Consultant with over 15 years of experience in the field of 'Business Analysis', 'Strategic Growth', 'Training and Coaching', 'e-Learning', 'Data Analytics', ' Research and Development of Ubiquitous Technologies', ' Project Management', 'Social Entrepreneurship' and 'Innovation'. Worked across UK, India, Europe and the Middle East.

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