How do learning theories manifest themselves in online courses?

After 25 years in public education, I have come to the realization that all too often, even in light of the research, as well as a professional desire to move students away from Rote memorization and the basics of behaviorism, and into the interpretive and the analytical, the behaviorist model becomes the standard by which students are taught and evaluated.  I say this reluctantly because I would like to believe that I have mastered the art of higher level engagement, but the behavior / reward model is easy to fall back on.

Rubrics are absolutely a tremendous evaluation tool that is used to present the task and to guide its development.  The problem faced in the secondary level though is that the interpretation of rubrics introduces the subjective and in the competition for grades and the higher GPA, there are those, often with parental support that choose to challenge rather than accept the expertise of the evaluator if the score is less than their perceived acceptable level.  Debates rising from this subjectivity often end up with the administrator who may or may not be versed in that particular subject matter and given the pressure they are subjected to, will sometimes cave under parental pressure.  The behaviorist model tends to be objective even though it is not the optimum learning method.  Objectivity erases the debate and students and parents alike tend to accept the result whether it is good or bad.

Teachers at the secondary level that have established themselves and their methods over time generally have far fewer challenges to subjective evaluation methods and therefore are much more able to drive the learning from a cognitivist or a constructionist theory.  This is fortunate for those students involved and over time, the establishment of expertise  and fair evaluation allow those veteran educators the autonomy to take their classes away from just rote memorization of facts and definitions, and into the interpretive and the analytical.

The other reason that the behaviorist model still so prevalent is due to the fact that there is so little time to do a really good job with lesson preparation and evaluation due to the number of students typically seen in a day and the idea within most school districts that student contact time is more costs efficient.

Harasim, L. (2012). Learning Theory and Online Technologies. [VitalSource Bookshelf Online]. Retrieved from

Learning Theories. (n.d.). Retrieved September 12, 2016, from

Wicks, D. J. (n.d.). Emerging Theories and Online Learning Environments for Adults. Retrieved September 12, 2016, from




3 thoughts on “How do learning theories manifest themselves in online courses?

  1. Dan,
    Great post, thank you for your expert insight and your 25 years of service. I do think that the behavior model is the most often used approach. I have been a parent for over 20 years and I often find myself using the reward system as well. This system seems to be the one that works the best in my house. We often do not even have to tell both of our young boys the same thing. We can just tell one to put their shoes away, then he knows that later in the evening before bedtime he will get a “marble in his jar.” The other boy will see what he is doing and will begin to pick up his things as well. What a wonderful system!



  2. Dan,
    I love rubrics, but you made me think of them in a different light. I can see how they could be challenged and how frustrating it would be to have to explain why a specific grade was given. I see the need for objectivity. It is true that every education level has their own unique challenges and benefits.


  3. Dan,

    Either a new teaching approach, or new tools would be an option. This would make our teaching activities more efficient and fuller. There is no need to throw the old methods and tools away. The funny thing is, memorization and reciting is the most important teaching approach that Confucius used 2,500 years ago, and we still use it a lot even now.


    Liked by 1 person

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