Theories of learning That Can be Applied to Employee Training

There are several prominent theories of learning that attempt to explain how individuals acquire new knowledge, skills, and behaviors. Each theory offers unique insights into the learning process. Here are some of the key theories of learning:


Behaviorism, founded by B.F. Skinner and John B. Watson, emphasizes observable behaviors and their relationship to stimuli in the environment. According to this theory, learning is the result of associations between a stimulus and a response. Reinforcement and punishment play a significant role in shaping behavior. Examples of behaviorist approaches include classical conditioning (Pavlov’s dogs) and operant conditioning (Skinner’s reinforcement theory).


Cognitivism, associated with theorists like Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky, focuses on the mental processes that occur during learning. It suggests that learners actively organize and interpret information, and prior knowledge influences new learning. This theory emphasizes the role of memory, problem-solving, and understanding in the learning process.


Constructivism, influenced by Piaget and Vygotsky, posits that learners actively build their understanding of the world by integrating new information with their existing knowledge and experiences. Learning is a social and collaborative process, and learners construct meaning through interactions with others and their environment.

Social Learning Theory

Developed by Albert Bandura, social learning theory emphasizes the importance of observing and imitating others’ behaviors. Learners acquire new behaviors by observing models and the consequences of their actions. The theory highlights the role of reinforcement and the impact of social context on learning.

Experiential Learning Theory

Proposed by David Kolb, experiential learning theory suggests that learning is best achieved through a cycle of concrete experiences, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation. Learners process information by engaging in hands-on experiences and reflecting on their experiences.


Connectivism, introduced by George Siemens, emphasizes the role of technology and networks in learning. Learners are encouraged to connect with diverse sources of information and learn how to access and use knowledge effectively.

Multiple Intelligences

Developed by Howard Gardner, the theory of multiple intelligences suggests that individuals have different types of intelligences, including linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic. This theory acknowledges that people have unique strengths and learning preferences.


Coined by Malcolm Knowles, andragogy refers to the theory of adult learning. It highlights the importance of self-directed learning, relevance to real-life situations, and prior experiences in adult learning contexts.

Self-Determination Theory (SDT)

SDT, developed by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, emphasizes the role of autonomy, competence, and relatedness in motivating learners. According to SDT, learners are motivated when they feel a sense of control, competence in their abilities, and connection with others.

These theories offer diverse perspectives on how individuals learn and provide valuable insights for educators and trainers to design effective learning experiences. It’s important to note that learning is a complex process, and different theories may apply to different learning situations and contexts.

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