How Do Different Learning Theories Guide an Elearning Project?

Designing Digitally


How Do Different Learning Theories Guide an Elearning Project?

The process of how people learn has been studied for a long time, and there are quite a few theories. Elearning projects can be approached with these different learning theories in mind.

Four main educational theories in terms of elearning are:

  • Behaviorist
  • Cognitivist
  • Constructivist
  • Experiential

While this is certainly not an exact science, it can offer suggestions for what components of games correspond to different  learning theories.


Learning theories and their compatible game components

Certain components of elearning games are compatible with varying learning theories.

  • Behaviorist. The key principle of this theory is that a change in observable behavior indicates learning has taken place. It is characterized by the reward or punishment of a new behavior. A reward reinforces the desired behavior.

    A designer approaching an elearning project from a behaviorist would want to include the elements of achievements, appointments (a player is expected to perform a certain action at a predetermined time or place), behavioral momentum (players have a tendency to keep doing what they’re doing), bonuses, challenges, countdowns, goals, levels, loss avoidance (players have to avoid losing points, etc.), penalties, races, rewards, and turns.   

  • Cognitivist. This theory states that learning is demonstrated through a change in knowledge and understanding.

    The game elements a cognitivist would want to focus on are action points (control what action a player performs during each turn), auction or bidding (players compete in the form of bids to earn a prize), Cascading Information Theory (the minimum of information should be released at any given time), catch-up (makes success harder to attain the closer a player gets to it), challenges, collaboration, combos (reward for doing a certain combination of things), dice or lottery (randomizes the game), discovery, levels, movement (moving tokens), progression (completion of itemized tasks), puzzle guessing, quests, ownership (management of one’s resources), risk and reward, structure building, and tile laying (players lay down objects in order to gather points).

  • Constructivist. In this theory, the learner takes an active role in constructing his own understanding rather than receiving it from someone who knows.

    An elearning project designer would focus on the elements of the Cascading Information Theory, challenge, collaboration, combos, levels, movement, piece elimination (winner captures or destroys other player’s pieces), progression, ownership, role playing (determines how effective the player’s actions are in the game depending on how well the player acts out the role of a fictional character), structure building, territory control (controlling the most playing area), tile laying, and turns.

  • Experiential. This theory holds that learners have to do something, think about it, pull out its key points and apply them to work or life.

    The game components that correspond to this theory are action points, auction or bidding, bonuses, capture/eliminate, cards, Cascading Information Theory, combos, discovery, levels, quests, ownership, risk and reward, role-playing, territory control, toy/endless play (games that don’t have an end).

This list can serve as a helpful guide for an elearning game designer who wishes to approach the development of their game from the point of view of a certain learning theory.