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Reading Research Guide

How and Why Learning Occurs: Educational Philosophy & Learning Theories

Talking About the How and Why of Learning

Learning Theories

  • Generally, learning theories can be described as models or approaches designed to explain how "humans learn new skills, concepts and knowledge." These ideas about how learning happens have developed out of studies over time by psychologists, doctors, educational researchers and scientists from around the world (LSU Shreveport, 2017, "Understanding learning theories").
  • The exact number of existing learning theories identified in education literature and other sources can differ greatly and often depends on whether some theories are seen as distinctly separate or are grouped together as variations of the same underlying approach or philosophy.
  • Examples of learning theories, models, and frameworks include
    • BehaviorismInfographic showing three learning theories: Behaviorism, Cognitivism, and Constructivism
    • Constructivism
    • Cognitivism
    • Experiential Learning
    • Social Learning Theory
    • Situated Learning Theory
  • Some learning theorists you may study are
    • Lev Vygotsky
    • Maria Montessori 
    • John Dewey
    • Jerome Bruner
    • Albert Bandura
    • Jean Lave
    • Gloria Ladson-Billings

"Learning Theories" diagram by Paul Fulbrook at labeled "click to share"


  • defines pedagogy as the "study of teaching methods, including the aims of education and the ways in which such goals may be achieved. The field relies heavily on educational psychology, which encompasses scientific theories of learning, and to some extent on the philosophy of education, which considers the aims and value of education from a philosophical perspective."

Learning Theories

Need to Reference Learning Theories: Search or Browse the Following Resources

Pink sky with branches and shadow of bird behind title: Educational Learning TheoriesEducational Learning Theories, 2nd Edition: This open textbook was developed by Zhou & Brown (2017) from Dalton College as part of Galileo, a repository for open educational resources created through OpenGeorgia. This text includes twelve chapters, many illustrations of concepts, and reference lists at the end of each chapter

  • Search by an educational theorist's name or by the name of the theory you are seeking information about.
  • Pay attention to the author of the results you find. JSTOR can be very useful in finding primary source documents written by specific theorists. If possible, you want to cite the theorist directly rather than use a secondary interpretation of the theorist's work.

Video Resources on Learning Theories