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Lifelong learning for
a fairer Australia

Lifelong learning for
a fairer Australia

Learning theories


We all learn in different ways. Learning theories explain how people learn and help us better understand complex processes. A lot of research has been done in terms of what motives learners and how they process information. We will explore three major learning theories.


With behaviourism, learners focus on and remember key points, rather than absorbing the information as a whole. Learning is a response to particular stimuli. With behaviourism, instruction is repetitive and reinforced. Remember that old adage: practice makes perfect.

This model assumes the learner passively receives information. The idea being that the learner begins as ‘a clean slate’ and adopts behaviours through positive or negative reinforcement. The underpinning idea with this learning theory is that all behaviours are acquired through conditioning.


Cognitivism rejects the idea that all behaviour is merely a response to external stimuli (refer Behaviourism). With cognitivism, learners actively process information, by linking old and new information together in a meaningful and cumulative way.

Cognitivism theory assumes that learning takes place as a results of mental or cognitive processes, not simply due to external stimuli. For example, mental processes include thinking, remembering, knowing, problem-solving, observing, categorising and making generalisations. The focus of cognitivism is on the human mind and how people think and understand.


With constructivism, learning is a process of building your own subjective reality. Learning is an active, constructive process. Learners create their own interpretation of reality. Learning is considered an active process, where new information is linked to old information and contextualised rather than acquired. Knowledge is developed through the process of contextualisation.

The learner is not ‘a blank slate’. They bring their own interpretation, experiences and cultural factors to a learning experience. The constructivist approach is a learner-centred approach.

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Adult Learning Australia

Adult Learning Australia