Cognitivism as a Learning Theory (Mod 2)

Karl Kapp, Bill Kerr, and Stephen Downes held a very interesting conversation regarding the different types of learning theories and which one(s) are best.  Each author argues his point at to the advantages and faults with a particular theory, while never truly stating which one theory he prefers.

While Downes seems to hold the idea that behaviorism has become an obsolete practice, Kapp and Kerr believe that while it has undergone some minor changes, it is alive and well.   Downes states “It remains puzzling that so much of the instructional design community remains rooted in behaviorism – this more than 30 years after the theory was abandoned everywhere else” (as cited in Kapp, 2006, Design: Behaviorism has its Place, para. 1).    Kapp then counters by providing examples of how a child touching a hot stove and  the slot machines in Las Vegas provide the stimulus-response reaction that grounds the theory of behaviorism.

As the discussion turned to cognitivisim, Downes and Kapp seemed to agree that in order to understand how learning occurs, one must first understand how information is processed in the brain.   However, they quickly find opposition in the same paragraph/post.  Kapp states that the brain is like the processing unit of a computer (as cited in Kerr, 2007) while Downes argues that computer is goverened by rules and regulations whereas a human brain is not (Kerr, 2007).

The constant agreement/disagreement of these three authors makes one thing quite clear for me…there is no one best learning theory.  Educators should pick and choose the best concepts from each theory to form their own working “theory” that helps their learners, but shouldn’t expect it to work for everyone.  I take back my earlier statement…there is one best learning theory.  It is one that is flexible and adaptive to the learner.  In 2007, Kapp posted learning theory suggestion with which I completely agree.  He says,

I suggest that lower level learning (lower cognitive load) requires a behaviorist approach (memorize, recognizing, labeling) as does the expectation of outcomes that must be measured. I then suggest that procedural and rule-based learning requires an emphasis on Cognitivism and finally, problem-solving, collaboration and creativity require a view of Constructivism (Out and About: Discussion On Educational Schools of Though, para. 4).



Kapp, K. (2006, December 21). Design: Behaviorism Has its Place [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Kapp, K. (2006, December 28). Definition: Cognitivism [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Kapp, K. (2007, January 2). Out and about: Discussion on educational schools of thought [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Kerr, B. (2007, January 1). _isms as filter, not blinker [Web log post]. Retrieved from



One thought on “Cognitivism as a Learning Theory (Mod 2)”

  1. Andrea, Great post. I agree with you that no one learning theory can fit each individual’s learning style. Instead a mix of different learning theories can be more beneficial. As Kapp (2007) pointed out it is better to create solid educational experiences for our students. As educators, our main focus should be providing our students with experiences that are meaningful to their learning development. This means we need to use different theories to provide these meaningful learning opportunities for our students. Also, building different levels of theories provides a way to tailor to the different learning styles are students’ experience. As we know, not all students learn the same way.



    Kapp, K. (2007, January 2). Out and about: Discussion on educational schools of thought [Web log post]. Retrieved from

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