The E-Learning Domain
  E-Learning Theory
Theories Explaining Human Learning
1) Stimulus-Response Theory (Skinner, 1957)
This theory is based on the belief that learning is the result of responding to particular stimulus or events. The desire to respond is strengthen when there is reinforcement such as praise, good grades. Through a schedule of reinforcement, certain behaviour or responses can be encouraged or extinguished.

Implication: Providing learners with reinforcements such as feedback can encourage them to continue exhibiting the desired response. Information presented in small amounts and given immediate feedback will encourage learners to continue studying until the desired outcome is achieved.
2) Level of Processing Theory (Craik and Lockhart, 1972)
According to this theory, information that is received by the learner is processed at different levels depending on its characteristics. The ‘deeper’ the processing, the more likely the information will be remembered. ‘Deeper’ means that the information is processed at the ‘meaning’ level. When the learner gives meaning to the information learned, it more likely to be remembered. For example, information that has strong visual cues or has many associations with existing knowledge will be processed at a deeper level.

Implication: The greater the processing at the meaning level during learning, the more it will be retained and remembered.
3) Dual Coding Theory (Paivio, 1971)
The theory proposes that human cognition is specialized to simultaneously deal with language (speech) and nonverbal information (such as pictures, objects).  Experiments indicate that subjects reported better recall when words are paired with pictures compared to words alone.

Implication: Recall or recognition is enhanced by presenting information in both visual and verbal form.
4) Capacity of Short Term Memory (Miller, 1965)
Short term memory can hold seven plus and minus 2 chunks of information where chunk is any meaningful unit (eg. digits, words, people’s faces). However, if the information is rehearsed or repeated it will remain active in STM or elaborated upon by making connections with Long Term Memory.

Implication: Short term memory has a limited attention span and so learners must be encouraged to act on the information so that it will remain in STM or stored in LTM. So, information will have to be presented in manageable chunks.
Over the decades, several theories have been proposed explaining how humans learn. Below are several of these theories which may explain how e-learning should be designed and developed.

5) Situated Learning (Brown & Collins, 1989)
Enable learners to acquire, develop and use cognitive tools in authentic situations through collaborative social interaction leading to the social construction of knowledge.

Implication: Knowledge needs to be presented in an authentic context. i.e. setting and applications that would normally involve the knowledge learned.

Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning
T. Brown, A. Collins & P. Duguid (1989)
Educational Researcher, 18(1).

7) Subsumption Theory (Ausubel, 1968)
A primary process in learning is subsumption in which new material is related to relevant ideas in existing cognitive structure of the learner. Cognitive structures represent all the learning experiences that the learner has accumulated.

Implication: Instructional materials should attempt to integrate new material with previously learned material through comparisons and cross-referencing of new and old ideas.
Advance organisers – are introduced in advance of learning and presented at a higher level of abstraction and generality. Its purpose is to explain, integrate and interrelate new with old information. Eg. story, analogies, overviews, graphic organisers, pictures, animation, sound, mind maps.

Ausubel's Theory on Learning
by Barbara Bowen
6) Cognitive Flexibility Theory
(Spiro, Feltovitch & Coulson, 1990)
According to this theory, learners have the ability to restructure their knowledge in order to adapt to changing situational demands. Emphasis should be on the presentation of information from multiple perspectives and context-dependent.

Implication: Learning activities must provide multiple representations of content to exploit the cognitive flexibility of learners. Information should be connected rather than compartmentd.