Summary: Constructivism as a paradigm or worldview posits that learning is an active, constructive process. The learner is an information constructor. People actively construct or create their own subjective representations of objective reality. New information is linked to to prior knowledge, thus mental representations are subjective.

Originators and important contributors: Vygotsky[1], Piaget[2], Dewey, Vico, Rorty, Bruner

Keywords: Learning as experience, activity and dialogical process; Problem Based Learning (PBL); Anchored instruction; Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD); cognitive apprenticeship (scaffolding); inquiry and discovery learning.


A reaction to didactic approaches such as behaviorism and programmed instruction, constructivism states that learning is an active, contextualized process of constructing knowledge rather than acquiring it. Knowledge is constructed based on personal experiences and hypotheses of the environment. Learners continuously test these hypotheses through social negotiation. Each person has a different interpretation and construction of knowledge process. The learner is not a blank slate (tabula rasa) but brings past experiences and cultural factors to a situation[3][4].




Summary: The cognitivist paradigm essentially argues that the “black box” of the mind should be opened and understood. The learner is viewed as an information processor (like a computer).

Originators and important contributors: Merrill -Component Display Theory (CDT), Reigeluth (Elaboration Theory), Gagne, Briggs, Wager, Bruner (moving toward cognitive constructivism), Schank (scripts), Scandura (structural learning)

Keywords: Schema, schemata, information processing, symbol manipulation, information mapping, mental models


The cognitivist revolution replaced behaviorism in 1960s as the dominant paradigm. Cognitivism focuses on the inner mental activities – opening the “black box” of the human mind is valuable and necessary for understanding how people learn. Mental processes such as thinking, memory, knowing, and problem-solving need to be explored. Knowledge can be seen as schema or symbolic mental constructions. Learning is defined as change in a learner’s schemata[1][2].




Summary: Humanism is a paradigm/philosophy/pedagogical approach that believes learning is viewed as a personal act to fulfill one’s potential.

Key proponents: Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, Malcolm Knowles

Key terms: self-actualization, teacher as facilitator, affect


Humanism, a paradigm that emerged in the 1960s, focuses on the human freedom, dignity, and potential. A central assumption of humanism, according to Huitt (2001), is that people act with intentionality and values[1]. This is in contrast to the behaviorist notion of operant conditioning (which argues that all behavior is the result of the application of consequences) and the cognitive psychologist belief that the discovering knowledge or constructing meaning is central to learning. Humanists also believe that it is necessary to study the person as a whole, especially as an individual grows and develops over the lifespan. It follows that the study of the self, motivation, and goals are areas of particular interest.

Key proponents of humanism include Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow. A primary purpose of humanism could be described as the development of self-actualized, autonomous people[2]. In humanism, learning is student centered and personalized, and the educator’s role is that of a facilitator. Affective and cognitive needs are key, and the goal is to develop self-actualized people in a cooperative, supportive environment[3].

Related theories include: Experiential Learning (Kolb), Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and Facilitation Theory (Rogers).



  1. Huitt, W. (2001). Humanism and open education. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved September 11, 2007, from the URL:
  2. Rogers, C., & Freiberg, H. J. (1994). Freedom to learn (3rd Ed.). New York: Macmillan.
  3. DeCarvalho, R. (1991). The humanistic paradigm in education. The Humanistic Psychologist, 19(1), 88-104.

21st Century Skills (P21 and others)

Summary: Skills necessary for students to master in order for them to experience school and life success in an increasingly digital and connected age; includes digital literacy, traditional literacy, content knowledge, media literacy, and learning/innovation skills.

Originators & Proponents: Groups – United States Department of Education, Partnership for 21st Century Skills, MacArthur Foundation; Individuals – Henry Jenkins[1], Mimi Ito, John Seely Brown

Keywords: collaboration, digital literacy, innovation, technology, work-life skills, readiness, interdisciplinary learning, problem-solving, ICT (information and communication technologies)

21st Century Skills (Partnership for 21st Century Skills and other groups and individuals)

The 21st Century Skills initiative is an education standards and reform movement, located primarily in the United States, that is focused on improving what US public school students must learn in school so that they are better prepared to succeed in their school and career lives. The term “21st century skills” includes the following skill sets:

  • Life/career skills: adaptability & flexibility, initiative & self-direction, leadership & responsibility, productivity & accountability, social & cross-cultural skills
  • Core subjects: English/language arts, mathematics, arts, science, history, geography and others
  • 21st century themes: civic literacy, environmental literacy, financial  literacy (including economic, business, and entrepreneurial skills), global awareness, health literacy
  • Information/media/technology skills: media literacy, information literacy
  • Learning/innovation skills: creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, problem solving

Students are expected to master these skills and understand these themes while learning core subject content in meaningful, interdisciplinary way. Teachers, administrators, schools, and districts are expected to use these guidelines, known as the P21 Framework, as a foundation for developing curriculum, assessments, and standards that they deem appropriate for their students.




Summary: Behaviorism is a worldview that operates on a principle of “stimulus-response.” All behavior caused by external stimuli (operant conditioning). All behavior can be explained without the need to consider internal mental states or consciousness[1].

Originators and important contributors: John B. Watson, Ivan Pavlov, B.F. Skinner, E. L. Thorndike (connectionism), Bandura, Tolman (moving toward cognitivism)

Keywords: Classical conditioning (Pavlov), Operant conditioning (Skinner), Stimulus-response (S-R)


Behaviorism is a worldview that assumes a learner is essentially passive, responding to environmental stimuli. The learner starts off as a clean slate (i.e. tabula rasa) and behavior is shaped through positive reinforcement or negative reinforcement[2]. Both positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement increase the probability that the antecedent behavior will happen again. In contrast, punishment (both positive and negative) decreases the likelihood that the antecedent behavior will happen again. Positive indicates the application of a stimulus; Negative indicates the withholding of a stimulus. Learning is therefore defined as a change in behavior in the learner. Lots of (early) behaviorist work was done with animals (e.g. Pavlov’s dogs) and generalized to humans[3].



Design-Based Research Methods (DBR)

Summary: Design-Based Research is a lens or set of analytical techniques that balances the positivist and interpretivist paradigms and attempts to bridge theory and practice in education. A blend of empirical educational research with the theory-driven design of learning environments, DBR is an important methodology for understanding how, when, and why educational innovations work in practice; DBR methods aim to uncover the relationships between educational theory, designed artefact, and practice.

Originators: A. Brown[1], A. Collins[2], DBR Collective[3], and others

Keywords: design experiments, iterative, interventionist, theory-building, theory-driven

Design-Based Research Methods (DBR)

In recent years, educators have been trying to narrow the chasm between research and practice. Part of the challenge is that research that is detached from practice “may not account for the influence of contexts, the emergent and complex nature of outcomes, and the incompleteness of knowledge about which factors are relevant for prediction”[3].

According to Collins et al., Design-based Research (also known as design experiments) intends to address several needs and issues central to the study of learning[4]. These include the following: