Module 8. Learning Theories

This module provides an introduction to some dominant learning theories pertinent to online educators.

This module addresses the following standards:

  • The online teacher understands concepts, assumptions, debates, processes of inquiry, and ways of knowing that are central to the field of online teaching and learning. OTE.1.K.3
  • The online teacher understands the relationship between online teaching and advancing technologies. OTE.1.K.5
  • The online teacher understands the techniques and applications of various online instructional strategies (e.g., discussion, student-directed learning, collaborative learning, lecture, project-based learning, forum, small group work). OTE.4.K.1

I am not a tabula rasa



Read the following article about constructivism, and consider:

  • What are the benefits of constructivism when thinking about learners?
  • What are the limitations of constructivism?
  • Is constructivism social/external or cognitive/internal?
Hein, G. (1991). Constructivist learning theory. Institute for Inquiry.

Note: This article is written in the context of museums, but it provides a good overview of the theory and many of the suggestions are applicable to online learning.


Read the following article about connectivism, and consider:

  • How does connectivism differ from other learning theories?
  • How do the principles of connectivism apply in our changing world?
  • How is learning a networked process?
  • What does this mean for teachers?
  • What does this mean for students?
Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning.



Watch this video on behaviorism, and consider:

  • Can the pigeon read?
  • How does behaviorial conditioning influence our everyday actions as people and learners?
  • What role should behavior conditioning play in an online classroom?
  • What are the limitations of behaviorism?

Rhizomatic Learning

Watch this video on rhizomatic learning, and consider:

  • How is this similar to or different from the concepts explored above?
  • How do online educators need to cope with complexity?
  • How do we teach students to effectively operate in uncertainty?
  • How does this differ from the connectivist (or networked) view of learning?

Discussion and Reflection Questions

  • What is learning?
  • What did you learn that was new to you?
  • Which learning theories or approaches are most valuable for online educators?
  • How do these theories influence how we design and lead online courses?