Learning Theories

The design of a successful online course is very dependent upon the teaching and learning strategies that a faculty member employs. The resources below provide a broad array of strategies that may help you with the development or refinement of a course.

Pedagogy, Andragogy, and Heutagogy Compared

Pedagogy is the teaching of children, or dependent personalities. Andragogy is the facilitation learning for adults, who are self-directed learners. Heutagogy is the management of learning for self-managed learners. Below is a table comparing Pedagogy, Andragog, and Heutagogy, recreated in an accessible format from Teach Thought.

Children’s learning
Adults learning
Self-directed learning
Dependence The learner is a dependent personality. Teacher determines what, how, and when anything is learned. Adults are independent. They strive for autonomy and self-direction in learning. Learners are interdependent. They identify the potential to learn from novel experiences as a matter of course. They are able to manage their own learning.
Resources for learning The learner has few resources — the teacher devises transmission techniques to store knowledge in the learner’s head. Adults use their own and other’s experience. Teacher provides some resources, but the learner decides the path by negotiating the learning.
Reasons for learning Learn in order to advance to the next stage. Adults learn when they experience a need to know or to perform more effectively. Learning is not necessarily planned or linear. Learning is not necessarily based on need but on the identification of the potential to learn in novel situations.
Focus of learning Learning is subject centered, focused on the prescribed curriculum and planned sequences according to the logic of the subject matter. Adult learning is task or problem centered. Learners can go beyond problem solving by enabling pro-activity. Learners use their own and others’ experiences and internal processes such as reflection, environmental scanning, experience, interaction with others, and pro-active as well a problem-solving behaviors.
Motivation Motivation comes from external sources — usually parents, teachers, and a sense of competition. Motivation stems from internal sources — the increased self-esteem, confidence and recognition that come from successful performance. Self-efficacy, knowing how to learn, creativity, ability to use these qualities in novel as well as situations, and working with others.
Role of the teacher Designs the learning process, imposes material, is assumed to know best. Enabler or facilitator, climate of collaboration, respect and openness Develop the learner’s capability. Capable people:

  • Know how to learn
  • Are creative
  • Have a high degree of self-efficacy
  • Apply competencies in novel as well as familiar situations
  • Can work well with others


Many online courses are often built upon the principles of constructivist theory which states that we construct new knowledge as we are actively engaged in learning and that learning is tied to past experiences.

As more formally described in the book, Constructivism in Practice (Kafai and Resnick, 1996, Introduction):

“Constructivism suggests that learners are particularly likely to make new ideas when they are actively engaged in making some type of external artifact—be it a robot, a poem, a sand castle, or a computer program—which they can reflect upon and share with others. Thus, constructivism involves two intertwined types of construction: the construction of knowledge in the context of building personally meaningful artifacts.”


Online Learning – Social Constructivism & Emerging Technologies

Active Learning

Being involved in your own learning is often referred to as Active Learning.

Community of Inquiry Framework

The Community of Inquiry framework is a constructivist model that focuses on the development of a community in online learning and there are three essential elements to a satisfying educational experience: Cognitive Presence, Social Presence and Teaching Presence.

Mode Neutral Pedagogy

Mode Neutral Pedagogy is a set of teaching and learning principles that shifts the control and responsibility for learning to the student. The model attempts to define and create one learning experience regardless of learner location: on-ground or online.


Connectivism has been called a ‘learning theory for the digital age.’ It seeks to overcome the perceived limitations of behaviorism, cognitivism and constructivism. The theory embraces and accounts for the utilization of technology on our learning.