Cognitive and behavioral learning theories

By | July 7, 2022

Here is a brief introduction to cognitive and behavioral learning theories

Behavioral learning theories suggest that learning results from pleasant or unpleasant experiences in life, while cognitive learning theories suggest that learning is based on mental processes. As a warning against becoming too governed by one set of educational principles, Johnson (2003) suggests that a fixation on process-oriented educational theories among those involved in educational policy has not served the educational community well by alienating practitioners separately aligned bearings.

A behavioral perspective held that the exploratory analysis of cognition must begin with an examination of human behavior (William & Beyers, 2001). The theory of behavior has benefited from the work of early researchers such as Pavlov, Thorndike and later the work of BF Skinner. Work developing behavioral theories in educational psychology has enabled theorists to explore ways in which human action might be controlled through the manipulation of stimuli and reinforcement patterns.

The cognitive theory related to epistemological processes within the individual is based on the idea that learning occurs as a result of processes related to experience, perception, memory and open verbal reasoning. Since the 1970s, information processing theory has been a dominant focus of study for cognitive theorists. Although the list of theories associated with cognitive theory is extensive to say the least, for the purposes of this article it is appropriate to mention a few contemporary theories on cognition, including: information processing theory, schema theory, and situated cognitive theory.

Information processing is based on a learning theory that describes the processing, storage and retrieval of knowledge in the mind. Factors such as sensory register, attention, working memory, and long-term memory play significant roles in this epistemology. Schema theory offers that people interpret the world around them based on categorical rules or scripts; Information is processed according to how it fits into these rules or schemes. As an epistemology, schema theory focuses on meaningful learning and the construction and modification of conceptual networks. Situated cognition theory posits a social nature of learning within a community of practice where knowledge is socially constructed.

An important component of this type of learning, education, is informed by social learning theory. Situational cognition as a theory posits that the individual is not a passive vessel but rather an active self-reflective entity; as such, cognitive processes develop as a result of interaction between the self and others.

Another concept loosely associated with social cognition is the construct of reciprocal determinism. This is a behavioral theory that theorizes that the environment causes the behavior and at the same time the behavior causes the environment. According to this theory, personal factors in the form of (a) cognition, affect, and biological events, (b) behavior, and (c) environmental influences generate interactions that result in triadic reciprocality (Pajares, 2002).


Johnson, B (2003). Those nagging headaches: perennial issues and tensions in education policy. Education Administration Quarterly, 39(1), pp. 41-67.

Pajares, F. (2002). Overview of social cognitive theory and self-efficacy.

Williams, R & Beyers, M (2001). Personalism, social constructionalism and the justification of the ethical. Theory and Psychology, 11(1), pp. 119-134.

Thanks to Liston Bailey | #Cognitive #behavioral #learning #theories

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