Because understanding how we learn influences how we teach.
If I had to guess, I would say that most online educators don’t think of themselves as “instructional designers.” They usually view themselves as subject matter experts—they know their area very well, and are starting an online course to share their expertise with others who are interested in learning it.
However, as any good teacher will tell you, knowing something is not the same as teaching it. This is where instructional design comes in. Subject matter experts who want to know more about how to teach a better class should learn more about how to design a good course.
And to take things back yet another step, anyone who wants to know how to be a better teacher should learn more about how learning works.
Learning is one of the most fundamental actions a person—or any living thing—takes. Yet for something so basic, modern psychology hasn’t come to a consensus on how it works. Are we products of our experiences or our environments? Or do we just learn through raw mental power? Or is it something like a combination of all these things?
During the twentieth century, four major learning theories emerged, and each has lessons that online educators can learn from to design better courses.
Let’s look at what they are.
1. Behaviorism: Learning is a product of stimulus and reinforcement.
2. Cognitivism: Learning is a process of acquiring and structuring knowledge.
3. Constructivism: Learning is passed down socially and through experiences.
4. Humanism: Learning depends on motivation and self-fulfillment.