How Students Learn


Biggs and Tang (2011 p.21) make the point that while research into learning by psychologists has been actively pursued for well over a century the use of this research to improve teaching has been limited. The authors go on to assert that one reason for this was that a 'grand theory' of learning was being sought. This grand theory would explain how learning occurs across all contexts. More contemporary approaches to researching how learning occurs are context dependent. The lack of a grand theory means we don't really know definitively how students learn, but we do know it is incredibly complex. To get the best results from your teaching, it therefore helps to have an idea of a range of theories and behind student learning.

This module on 'How student's learn' is a discussion about the importance of learning theories whose principles should guide us in determining what we are going to teach and how we are going to teach it.

Learning Objectives

By the end of this module you should be able to:

  • Know key theorists and features of behaviourist, cognitivist and constructivist learning theories and social-emotion approaches to learning
  • Explain how each theory builds on the previous theory
  • Describe why knowing how students learn is important for making pedagogical decisions