Who knew I used a Learning Theory?!

“Learning is an enduring change in behavior, or in the capacity to behave in a given fashion, which results from practice or other forms of experience” (Shuell as cited in Ertmer & Newby, 2013, p. 45).

This quote stood out for me as I read Ertmer & Newby’s article about learning theories as it provides a solid definition of learning in a world where many definitions are available.  It got me thinking about how there are just as many learning theories as there are definitions of learning.  While I am not currently teaching, I do find that I am often working one-on-one with a co-worker to show him or her how to do something in specific software or helping with an issue that has appear in a project.  When I am coaching these individuals, I connect the new information with the knowledge they already possess allowing it to build on their foundation.  Before I started in this program, I did not realize that I was using the constructivist theory.  It makes sense to me to build on previous knowledge, providing a means to anchor the new information.  Given that I am not in the role of an instructor, and that I am often helping those who are, I find that I have to be careful not to teach in a systematic fashion, but to guide tactfully.  I find that if I approach the situation in such a way that builds on what they already know, they are more receptive to the new knowledge.  The benefit for those I work with is that they get to construct new knowledge by working in a live context meaning there is an increased probability of remembering the process, rather than me simply announcing how to go about completing the goal.  Jonassen (1991a), as cited in Ertmer & Newby maintain that constructivism theory is best applied when teaching advanced knowledge; in my circumstance, this is accurate.  Most of the instructors have basic to intermediate knowledge of the software and come to me when they are working with more advanced features.  The more knowledge they build, the more they will be able to problem-solve as issues arise, just as they would do with their students!

Jonassesn’s (1999) Constructivist Learning Environments, as showcased by Merrill (2002), focuses on problem solving by building on the knowledge the learner already possesses.  If learners do not come with the prior knowledge required as a foundation, they would benefit from demonstrations in order quickly construct the base on which to build the new knowledge (Jonassesn as cited in Merrill, 2002, p. 55).  When I demonstration a skill, I ensure that I explain what I am doing as I am doing it so the learner can have that information and add it to their knowledge base.  If I only demonstrate then they will not be able to absorb what I have done, which will not allow them to recreate the steps.  Since I do not teach over a long-term (yet), I use the interactions I do have to help individuals help themselves and after readings these articles I believe that constructivism is the best way to make that happen.


Ertmer, P., & Newby, T. (2013). Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 26(2), 43-71.

Merrill, M. D. (2002). First principles of instruction. Educational Technology Research and Development, 50(3), 43-59.

3 thoughts on “Who knew I used a Learning Theory?!

  1. It looks like you’re a natural when it comes to teaching! Often what I also find is that we teach/mentor/coach others the way we like to, so it can also be a challenge if we’re faced with someone who can be different from us. Have you ever coached someone who wasn’t grasping with the constructivist approach? If so, what did you do differently that helped the individual retain the information/solve the problem?

    1. Thank you! I agree that we often teach in the same method from which we learn the best.

      I suspect I have coached someone who doesn’t learn well in the constructionist approach, but I would not have realized it at the time. As I am learning more about these theories, I hope I will be able to recognize when that situation happens and come up with another way to coach the individual.

      Thank you for your thoughts.

  2. Hi Kathy – this is a very good point about demonstration of a skill – this had me reflecting back to various learning theories. In working with students in a highly applied/tactical environment, often students can struggle with learning when only demonstration is used. The explanation of what you are doing is so critical. An example of this is within the dance performance arts program – as students learn choreography, it is important that the explanation coincides with the demonstration. As you stated – this than allows for the recreation of that knowledge. Thanks for sharing!

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