Philosophy of learning

Just taking in information does not equal knowledge development.  In addition to information we must take in experiences, thoughts, and feelings.  This adds a context to the information and allows us to evolve.  We develop new knowledge and grow old concepts.  Knowledge must develop for learning to happen.  This explanation of knowledge could make a case for behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism.  Behaviorism believes that the actual response to the learning stimuli shows that learning has happened.  It fails to account for any physical changes happening in the brain or how a higher level of thinking is developed.  Cognitivism focuses on the process taking place in the brain when information is taken in.  Ertmer & Newby (2013) suggest that learning happens when the acquired information is organized and stored in the working memory.  Constructivism takes the theoretical underpinnings of both behaviorism and cognitivism.  Ertmer & Newby (2013) notes that although constructivism is closely related to cognitivism it differs in believing more in an individual’s interpretation of the world, placing individual and environment as important.  Behaviorism and cognitivism believe the environment has a large role in influencing the individual.

My personal philosophy of learning is closer to a cognitivist view.  Ertmer & Newby (2013) describe this as a mental process “that entails internal coding and structuring by the learner.” (p51) Learning happens when outside stimuli is taken in, then applied, challenged, and disseminated into other contexts.  Ultimately the stimuli are constructed into new uses that can innovate and problem solve in unique ways; not for the sake of doing it but because it is an appropriate solution. 

Ertmer & Newby (2013) note that in constructivism “Prior knowledge is used to establish boundary constraints for identifying the similarities and differences of novel information.” (p52) I disagree, if the goal is to not only recall, but problem solving with new knowledge there should not be boundaries.  Innovative thinking comes from developing new ways to apply knowledge instead of staying in a box.  Having prior knowledge is valuable. The knowledge transfer process is most successful when new information is able to attach to existing knowledge.  This process is how we grow our thoughts, feelings, and views.   This makes a case for empiricism, in the context that we start with less knowledge and continuously build.  The thought of our mind starting as an empty slate does not account for physical brain development which happens prior to birth and all the way into adulthood.  Cognitivists align more with rationalism.  Knowledge transfer has successfully happened when we are able to recall existing information.  When knowledge transfer happens, then learning has occurred.

In looking for examples of cognitive learning theories I came across this example presented by Stanković et al. (2018). They quote the works of Piaget and Vigotski that influenced the cognitive learning theory of multimedia learning.  This theory activates the functions of sensory memory, working and long-term memory. 

The cognitive learning theory of multimedia encompasses the stages of:

  • Multimedia learning: words and images are presented.
  • Sensory stimulation: Audio and visual senses are stimulated as the multimedia is received.
  • Working memory: temporarily holds and processes the audio and visual cues from the multimedia.
  • Long term memory: permanent holding for future retrieval.

There is a need to slightly edit this model, since that the version Stanković et al. (2018) discussed is more passive.  My revised model would fall under active learning and include stages of:

  • Multimedia learning: review old content and work in new content using words, images, and animation.
  • Sensory stimulation: Audio and visual senses are the first to receive information.
  • Working memory: Information is processed through the hippocampus and temporarily held in the working memory, but this will dissipate in roughly 6 seconds.  Although this time can slightly vary by learner (for me it is roughly 3 seconds).
  • Practice: Interactive activity to experience new information to a deeper level and enforce previous learning.
  • Multi-sense stimulation: audio, visual and kinetic functions are stimulated.  Information will again travel through the hippocampus but now it is also coming from executive functions in addition to sensory.  This second journey to the working memory will promote recall of new information before purging.
  • Long-term memory: Some of the multimedia learning attached permanently, however the practice offers a second opportunity for attachment.

My revised model should promote a higher level of attachment to the working memory since it has two chances to attach during the learning process.  In the past this type of multimedia development was not easy to achieve.  More recently the tools Instructional Designers use have advanced, allowing the ability to include a large variety of interaction. Cognitivists and behaviorists alike believe practice promotes the learning changes, and constructivists place a high value in the actual experience. 


Ertmer, P. & Newby, T. (2013) Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism: Comparing critical features from an Instructional Design perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 26(2) 43-71.

Stanković, Z., Maksimović, J. & Osmanović, J. (2018) Cognitive theories and paradigmatic research posts in the functions of multimedia teaching and learning. International Journal of Cognitive Research in Science, Engineering and Education 6(2) 107-114

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