How do learning theories manifest themselves in online courses?

Learning theories are found in online courses through the programs instructors choose to use to deliver them as well as in the instructors beliefs. Many tools that an instructor can decide to use can be adjusted to fit the instructors own learning theories. As Moore and Kearsley (2012) wrote, “If an online course is being delivered via a Learning Management System (LMS), such as Blackboard or Moodle, the content can be designed using the editing capabilities of this system. The system provides a structure for the creation of the course materials, and the instructors decide which of the options provided they want to use”. In my opinion, it really depends on the instructor on whether multiple learning theories will be used in the online courses they teach and how they will use the behaviorism, cognitive, and constructivist learning theories.

“A behavioristic approach focuses on guiding learners reach pre-established learning outcomes. Learning is considered to take place when learners manage to reach these expected outcomes designed to meet the learning objectives of the eLearning course” (Keramida, 2015). With behaviorism, learners should focus on the expected outcomes while learning. At the end of the lesson, they should analyze their learning and decide if they met the expected outcomes.

“Cognitive psychology claims that learning involves the use of memory, motivation, and thinking, and that reflection plays an important part in learning. They see learning as an internal process and contend that the amount learned depends on the processing capacity of the learner, the amount of effort expended during the learning process, the depth of the processing, and the learner’s existing knowledge structure” (Alzaghoul, 2012). Much of distance learning is cognitive because the learner needs to be motivated to complete each lesson and the course. He or she is responsible for his or her own learning and therefore must reflect on his or her own learning. It is important to think through readings and make meaningful connections to it.

“Constructivists see learners as being active rather than passive. Knowledge is not received from the outside or from someone else; rather, it is the individual learner’s interpretation and processing of what is received through the senses that creates knowledge. The learner is the center of the learning, with the instructor playing an advising and facilitating role” (Ally, 2004). I feel like this is the foundation of our courses with Lee because she wants and expects us to take an active role in our own learning and the learning of our classmates. Of course, we cannot do that without the cognitive (where we read the material and make sense of it) and behavior (achieving the expected outcomes each week).


Ally, M. (2004). Foundations of Educational Theory For Online Learning. Retrieved September 15, 2016, from Athabasca University:

Alzaghoul, A. F. (2012, April). The Implication of the Learning Theories on Implementing E-Learning Courses. Retrieved September 15, 2016, from The Research Bulletin of Jordan ACM:

Keramida, M. (2015, May 28). Behaviorism In Instructional Design For eLearning: When And How To Use. Retrieved September 15, 2016, from eLearning Industry:

Moore, M., & Kearsley, G. (2012). Distance Education: A Systems View of Online Learning. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.


9 thoughts on “How do learning theories manifest themselves in online courses?

  1. Cherie,

    You mentioned that it really depends on the instructor which learning theories will be used in online courses. My question is do more distance teachers think about this as they are planning a lesson? I’ve been teaching for fourteen years in elementary schools. I don’t remember a time when I decided which theory I should use. I usually set objectives, or use objectives from teachers guides – more often than not, and decide how best to implement that lesson to meet objectives. I must admit that sometimes I plan things without objectives, which have come into the forefront in these last couple of years, and just decide that kids need to do this or know this without clearly setting an objective. So, back to my question… I wonder how often teachers think about the different theories in planning for different classes.


    Liked by 2 people

    1. Teresa, I think we do have our philosophies in mind, because they inform our preferences; however, if we aren’t aware of that, then when faced with a choice we could make a decision that leaves us with an activity that isn’t satisfying to us (in our own evaluation – even if the objectives are met) and we may not know why or what to do to perhaps fix this so that we personally feel convinced that learning occurred. I was placed in situations in my early teaching at higher ed level where I had to teach phonics (egad – I didn’t learn to read through phonics, and resonate with the literature that says only 25% of students need phonics instruction to read). People passed the tests, and were successful but I was highly aggravated during the whole experience. Why? Because I really deeply believed that even though these students could define dipthong and phoneme, they wouldn’t be good reading teachers if they couldn’t help instill a love of the story and reading itself into their students. So being aware that I am a big picture constructivist/social constructivist/emerging connectivist lets me see how I can integrate other activities so that I am personally convinced that students will be good reading teachers. Later I was able to do that, but as a new teacher with a prescribed curriculum, it was difficult to identify the problem. Does that make sense?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes that makes perfect sense. In going back, rethinking it, and reading your response, I do think that we think about the theories when planning for lessons without realizing it. We ask ourselves what type of activity would best fit an objective – an open-ended project, rote memorization, a collaborative activity, etc. Thanks for your insight.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Lee and Teresa,
        Lee – It makes sense to me and what you said resonated to me. I have struggled teaching my students phonics, because it doesn’t teach a love of reading. I’ve had to find ways to share my love of reading and instill a love of reading with my students. Before my kindergarteners were reassigned, I was teaching them letter sounds using Lively Letters, which helps students think about the shape of their mouth and placement of their tongue when making letter sounds. However, I felt that once my students understood what they should do, they weren’t connecting the sound to the letter, so I brought out my Zoophonics cards, which use body motions and animals to learn letters and sounds. The combination of the two worked much better. My students needed to think about how to make the sounds, but they also needed to connect to the learning and be active with it.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Cherie, I think that you have touched on an issue of jumping directly to Constructivism since so often, within the framework of our educational structure, it requires prerequisite knowledge and a fundamental understanding. “Of course, we cannot do that without the cognitive (where we read the material and make sense of it) and behavior (achieving the expected outcomes each week).” I think that too many educators are abandoning tried an true methods to get on the bandwagon of contemporary theory. One is not exclusive of the other two and leaving the others behind is not what generally works best. Well said.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Cherie- That is such a goof point that you make about the instructor, and how they teach will determine which learning theories will be used. I agree that our courses are constructivist because we do take active role in our learning and the learning of others. So very true on the other part as well making sense and expecting the outcome. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Cherie,
    I loved your statement “learners should focus on the expected outcomes while learning. At the end of the lesson, they should analyze their learning and decide if they met the expected outcomes.” I have not read any peer post that has defined behaviorism his way. We all stated something like “through observation,” but you were the only one that mentioned using a measurement to analyze the student growth. Great point that we need to be able to see if the students are actually learning.


    Liked by 2 people

    1. Josie,
      To me, this can be where reflection should come into play. I think about our learning objectives each week when I write my reflection. I also write reflections on new lessons that I teach. I always ask myself “What went well?”, “What didn’t go so well?”, and “What changes would I make next time I teach this?” It helps me a lot. Planning for teaching is very cognitive, but once you put it in action, then you can see what really works in action. When I have a particularly bad lesson, I ask my students what went well and what didn’t go well. It helps them think about their actions and learning as well. Of course, with kinders and first graders, you never know what kind of answers you will get, so they need added direction. Otherwise when I ask, “What went well in our lesson today?”, I get “Lunch went really well today.” And then the entire class will agree and want to talk about lunch. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes – exactly! Ideally you would reflect over the objectives, and think about how you have met them. Ours are so global it takes some time I think, and we are focusing on moving from a lower level to an expert level of achieving them…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close