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Applying Learning Theory to Instruction

Applying Learning Theory to Instruction

Author: Trisha Fyfe

In this lesson, you will revisit theories and models related to technology and teaching.

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Welcome. I'm Trisha Fyfe. And in today's video lesson we will be covering the topic, Applying Learning Theory to Instruction. As we learn about this topic we will work towards several learning objectives, and together we'll work through the following questions. What are different learning theories that can be applied to units of study? And what would units of study look like when applying each of these theories?

Today we'll start with the idea of constructivism. When developing a unit study that includes constructivist elements, you would look at incorporating these elements, making sure you have many opportunities for students to be engaged in their learning. Relevant and authentic learning tasks and activities, many opportunities for students to collaborate and communicate together. Your students should have chances to have voice and choices in their learning. This also allows them to own their learning. Understanding must be transferred and higher order thinking skills present in these lessons. The lessons need to be inquiry-based, and varied perspectives need to be understood by the students. This is where the communication and collaboration comes in. Students should also have a lot of opportunities to reflect on their learning throughout the whole process.

Let's take a look at a lesson that is constructivist-based. Here we have a habitat restoration lesson where students explore wetland habitat near their school and then come back to generate questions collaboratively like, what are basic needs of living things? Or what happens when there are changes within habitats? These are just a few questions, but your students would generate whatever comes to their mind and whatever they are thinking about after this activity. In groups, students research a habitat, and groups will create a website or a Wiki on habitat restoration for that specific habitat.

You can see that students are given choice to lead their learning, and they're able to construct their own meaning because of this. By working in groups, students are able to use higher order thinking skills and learn and understand from different perspectives. There are strong student engagement opportunities because of all of these elements.

Let's take a look at problem-based learning. In a problem-based learning unit, you would see the following. The teacher is the facilitator of the learning, no longer the director standing up and lecturing in front of the class. Students need to have opportunity to think flexibly, problem solve, and direct their own learning, as well as collaborate with each other. Intrinsic motivation is a big part of problem-based learning. Students are owning their learning and really buying into it by the self-directed learning, so they should be intrinsically motivating themselves and stay interested and motivated to move forward. It's important to have active engagement throughout this whole lesson and unit.

Let's look at an example. Here we have a lesson that is based around creating healthier lunchtime options where we give our students the problem, there are complaints from parents about lack of healthy lunch options at our school. Students will research current lunch options and explain which are healthy and unhealthy, and the standards that they are using to describe this, as well as brainstorm research suggestions for improvement in lunchtime options and create a presentation and plan for proposing these changes.

You can see that in this unit the teacher guides the initial activity by proposing a problem. The problem is there have been complaints about lunchtime options. The teacher calls on students to solve the problem with other group members by researching and creating a presentation and plan. Here the teacher is the facilitator. Problem solving and flexible thinking are essential for students, and there are many opportunities for collaboration and self-directed learning.

Let's look at cognitive flexibility theory and instruction. Here, learning is generalized to different situations and settings. Executive functions are developed and the content needs to be presented in multiple ways with no oversimplification. We want to go ahead and give students those complex ideas, and several of them, so that they can sort through them and create their own learning. Case studies are often used in this format just for this reason.

Let's look at an example. In a psychology class students are given multiple case studies, and they're asked to observe, research, diagnose, and treat these patients hypothetically. Case studies allow for construction of knowledge by the learner, and provide various sources of information that is not oversimplified. This helps learners generalize the learning from one context to another, and helps them connect ideas and assimilate knowledge.

Let's talk about social learning theory next. In a unit with social learning theory, you will see students observing, imitating, and modeling each other. The social context supports collaboration in this type of environment. Reinforcement is a huge part of social learning theory. Students will watch other students and then imitate and model those behaviors that were successful and rewarding to the students watched. Verbal instruction and live and symbolic models are key in social learning theory units.

Let's look at an example. In a high school science class, students are given the task to create a video presentation on lab safety. Groups will research safety measures, lab equipment, and proper procedures, and then make a video presentation discussing these proper techniques for safety in the lab and modeling proper use of equipment. They'll include examples of what to do and what not to do. As the class watches these presentations, they would create a lab safety manual together. Notice the verbal and video presentation that includes modeling. This will help other students learn from one another by reinforcing behaviors.

The last theory that we'll look at today is network learning theory. And this theory really is based on social interaction, and the idea that communicating and collaborating is extremely important. Authentic learning is also a huge part of network learning theory. Here's some examples. In a middle school PE class, students are taught how to play soccer. Students in a physics classroom participate in lab activity on force, mass, and acceleration by completing hands-on experience for Newton's laws. This is learning in action. Students are learning together, watching each other, collaborating, and learning from one another.

Let's talk about what we learned today. We discussed the questions, what are different learning theories that can be applied to units of study, and what would units of study look like when applying each of these theories? We discussed five important theories for teachers to really apply to their instruction, and examples of each of these. The theories we looked at were constructivism, where it's essential for learners to construct and create their own learning; problem-based learning, where the teacher is the facilitator, giving learners a problem or a challenge and guiding them through engaging inquiry-based learning activities; cognitive flexibility theory, where the focus is on students' ability to generalize ideas from one context to another. This theory is also based on the idea that students must create their own meanings. We talked about social learning theory, where students observe, imitate, and model to create understanding; and finally network learning theory, which is based on social interaction, communication, and collaboration opportunities.

Now that you have a better understanding of these theories and models, let's reflect. Which of these theories have you experienced in your education so far? What considerations must be made when deciding on various theories to implement in your units of study?

Thanks for joining me today in discussing the lesson Applying Learning Theory to Instruction. I hope you found value in this video lesson and the concepts we talked about, and you're able to apply these ideas and theories to your own teaching. To dive a little deeper and learn how to apply this information, be sure to check out the Additional Resources section associated with this video. This is where you'll find links targeted toward helping you discover more ways to apply the course material.

Notes on “Applying Learning Theory to Instruction”


(00:00- 00:22) Introduction/Objectives

(00:23- 02:10) Constructivism/Unit Example

(02:11- 03:46) PBL/Unit Example   

(03:47- 04:41) Cognitive Flexibility Theory/Unit Example

(04:42- 05:46) Social Learning Theory/Unit Example

(05:47- 06:23) Networked Learning Theory/Unit Example

(06:24- 07:21) Recap

(07:22- 08:03) Reflection  


Additional Resources

21st Century Knowledge and Skills in Educator Preparation

This white paper examines theories and pedagogies necessary in the preparation of new teachers. Appendix B also offers infographics and an overview of 21st century skills.

The Instructional Power of Digital Games, Social Networking, and Simulations and How Teachers Can Leverage Them 

This paper explores using the technology of today in the classroom. Additionally, the paper looks at changing instructional approaches to meet the needs of the 21st century learner.