Learning Theory or Framework

Sep 20, 2012

Is there a particular learning theory or framework that E-Learning is based on?

9 Replies
Daniel Brigham

Hi, Ingrid:

A large question for sure. Not sure e-learning is radically different from other forms of learning, but here's the basic framework a lot of e-learning developers adopt, in the form of questions:

1. With what tasks are learners struggling?

2. What kind of learning activity would help them practice those tasks so they get better at them?

3. What kind of feedback would be most beneficial to the learners as they practice the tasks?

In a nutshell, make the training performance-based, as much as you can. E-learning certainly has limits in this regard.

Bob S

Hi Ingrid,

To Daniels point, e-learning is like most things.... there is good e-learning and not so good e-learning.  So the frameworks can vary.

The good e-learning however usually does revolve around a central concept of "What is it you want the learner to be able to DO when they are done  that they couldn't do before"....  Note the emphasis on DO. It's action/need based rather than asking what it is you want them to know.

This distinction then leads a designer to build instruction focused on equipping the learner to perform the task. This could be imparting only necessary knowledge for that task, allowing them to practice the task in a real or simulated way, and more.

I suppose Ingrid, that it's not unlike the age old debate between education and training. Only with e-learning's rapid deployment nature, ease of tracking, and ease of deployment, this distincition becomes even more important.

Hope that makes sense?


Ingrid Coort

Thank you Daniel and Bob for your responses.  I have done a small literature review regarding eLearning and have found that the Contructivist Learning Theory and Adult Learning Theory are commonly used as the theoretical basis for online design. 

The Constructivist LearningTheory evolved from both psychology and philosophy and holds that assimilation, accommodation, and construction are the basic components of learning.  According to Constructivism, learners construct their knowledge by actively participating in the learning process and constructing their own meanings and understanding.  Concepts that are central to the Constructivist Learning Theory include collaboration, learner autonomy, reflection, and experiential learning.  Additionally, Constructivist-based instructional principles are used for successful online adult learning.  These instructional principles include providing an interactive learning environment through online discussion, critical thinking, reflection, timely positive feedback, establishment of collaborative learning projects, facilitation of meaningful learning experiences, and applicationof real-world knowledge. Furthermore, adult learning theory based on the principle of andragogy whereby an individual achieves a self-concept of essential self-direction.

I appreciate your comments about making the learning performance and action/need based.  However, would you say these theories are also included in eLearning development? 

Bruce Graham

Hi Ingrid, and welcome to the forums:

As above - both very valid posts.

eLearning is no different from "learning", it's just another way to deploy it - albeit one that many are struggling with because the "Face to Face" nature of learning and education can been so embedded for hundreds of thousands of years.

Here's a couple of other models that I have used to think about eLearning - they crop up now and again, and you may find them useful:

Gagnes 9 Stages of Instruction and the

ARCS instructional Design Model.


Mike Taylor

One of my favorite resources on this topic is Ruth Clark & Richard Mayer's "e-Learning and the Science of Instruction: Proven Guidelines for Consumers and Designers of Multimedia Learning"  http://www.amazon.com/Learning-Science-Instruction-Guidelines-Multimedia/dp/0787986836

It is based on proven research and "offers essential information and guidelines for selecting, designing, and developing asynchronous and synchronous e-learning."

David Merrill provides the following endorsement of the book:

  "Richard Mayer is one of the most productive educational psychologist researchers in the world. Ruth Clark is perhaps the premier translator of scientific work and theory to the practical everyday world of effective learning. As a team they have produced a most important and practical book that should be read and applied by all instructional designers of online materials."

These articles give a pretty good synopsis and if they interest you at all I'd highly recommend the book.

Ingrid Coort

Thank you Bruce and Mike,

  Your information is very helpful.  I will be referencing your resources in my application paper for my Master of Science in Nursing program.  Using eLearning has become the norm for teaching nurses.  I appreciate your help in exploring the foundation of this format for learning.


Rebecca Fleisch Cordeiro

Hi Ingrid,

I want to 2nd Mike's comments about Mayer and Clark. Also, thanks, Mike for those articles, I'm printing them out now.

Way before my use of Articulate products, I was Googling articles on Multimedia learning and always ended up being impressed by those written by Richard E. Mayer. Ultimately purchased this book, which is edited by him and includes many authors: The Cambridge handbook of multimedia learning.

Melani Ward


Thanks for the great resources.

I have been a teacher for many years and while I continue to study cognitive psychology and instructional design, in theory and in practice, whenever I am asked the question regarding what e-learning frameworks are most effective I am less drawn to tests and papers and rather I immediately think about the courses I have taken that have had the greatest impact. 

These days before I take a class I ask myself the following:

1. Why am I taking this course and why have I chosen this teacher?

2. What do I need to be able to DO with the tools or information they share and is that part of their promise?

3. How will I prove to myself and my clients that I know and understand what I’ve been taught?

When I am finished with the class, I ask myself these questions:

1. Did the course description deliver on its promise? 

2. Can I apply what I learned right now to the job at hand?

3. Is it clear to those who see the work I am doing that I know what I am doing? (That's pretty important)

If the end matches up with the promise, I think the goals for instruction were achieved. The framework the teacher used, whatever it was, worked and then I take the lessons I learned about how that person delivered instruction and I apply them to the courses I design.

Good luck with your application Ingrid!!


This discussion is closed. You can start a new discussion or contact Articulate Support.