Learning theories

what insights can be drawn from them for the practice of corporate learning?

It can be assumed that due to the increasing complexity and dynamics of operational challenges, computer-aided, collaborative work and learning are to become the most important form of action in companies. The company training area’s task (corporate learning) is to develop learning systems and create framework conditions that enable employees and managers to optimally organize their individual value and competence development processes.

Every single human-being is unique. This uniqueness also applies to learning. The goal is to focus on the findings of pedagogy and developmental psychology while explaining and designing learning processes. If someone analyzes the current in-company training’s pedagogy, we can notice that elements from four learning theories play a role in it.


Behaviorism is an older learning theory which pictures the learner as a “black box”. According to this, the behavior of people is primarily determined by the consequences that their behavior generates. Positive consequences have a reinforcing effect, negative consequences lead to a reduction in previously learned behavior. Behaviorism is based on a teaching model according to which capable, and knowledgeable people bring unqualified, ignorant people to behave in a certain way. In this approach, the focus is on the teacher, who has objectively knowledge (about his subject), which he conveys the simplest way possible. Learners tend to be more passive.


The learning theory of cognitivism describes learning as a process based on active perception, learning and experiencing. The newly acquired knowledge is the result of existing knowledge structures, in which the brain absorbs and processes knowledge in a similar way to a computer. The knowledge is then detached from the respective learners. Learning occurs through insight. The learner takes an active role in the learning process by solving given tasks. The teacher initiates, controls and supports the learning processes, provides prepared learning material and gives his learners constant feedback.

The findings on behaviorism and cognitivism are somehow still valid nowadays. However, they can no longer do justice to the dynamic changes within society and the economy. These are based on the wrong assumption that the learners can be prepared for the challenges the future holds (which are not yet known) with their current knowledge and that learning is primarily due to external influences they follow.

In the future, the importance of the ability to learn in complex, less predictable and rapidly changing contexts will drastically increase. As a result, work and learning are designed and implemented in an increasingly agile manner and the learners learn much closer to the work context in terms of time and content. Therefore, they must network more and more in order to develop further in line with requirements.

This leads to a significant increase in learning formats such as bar camps, working out loud or design thinking. Learning always takes place in interaction with other people. At the same time, self-organized learning is becoming more and more possible through digital learning support, increasingly AI-based.


According to this theory, learning is an active, situational, and social process in which knowledge is interpreted and reconstructed in a self-directed manner in each situation, so that ways of acting are determined by the situation. Therefore, the main question in this learning model is how the learners can be led to independently identify and solve problems. For constructivism, the current changes mean that learning should not only take place through one’s own experience, but also through the consistent use of other people’s experiences.


According to George Siemens’ pragmatic approach of connectivism, learners improve their own learning exponentially when they integrate themselves into networks. The ability to acquire actual knowledge becomes more important than a person’s personal knowledge. Therefore, learning takes place in networks (“learning as a network creation”). Connectivism assumes that just learning from your own experiences is not enough. The traditional learning theories primarily consider the learning process in the narrower sense and neglect the fact that learners need the meta-competence to form networks. This basic ability consists of identifying, assessing and describing relevant knowledge for the learning process and developing it further in a joint process with learning partners.

The “new connectivism” is characterized by the fact learning becomes more agile in line with the development of the working world. The consequence of increasingly agile and thus connectivistic learning is a new learning culture that is characterized by self-organization, collaborative work and learning and the significantly increasing speed of learning.

Basically, the model of learning theories is retained, but it integrates the newly developed and used methods, instruments and ways of acting as well as attitudes of self-organized, collaborative learning in the changed forms.

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