Selecting the Theory that Effectively Helps Students Mastery a Specific Task

Students speaking around a laptop.

Please note: This blog post is a course related assessment for the Master of Arts in Learning and Technology program at Royal Roads University.

After reading Ertmper and Newby’s (2008) article “Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism: Comparing Critical Features From an Instructional Design Perspective”, I found myself captivated by Ertmer & Newby’s statement

The critical question instructional designers must ask is not “Which is the best theory?” but “Which theory is the most effective in fostering mastery of specific tasks by specific learners?” (p 6.1)

The current hybrid course I am teaching for the Winter 2019 semester requires students to learn the process of producing digital and print newspaper publications. After reflecting on the past three weeks of teaching, I was able to identify the use of Behaviorism, Cognitivism and Constructivism approaches. While teaching students to use the Adobe InDesign and WordPress software, I tend to stick with a Behaviorism approach. Students will watch me perform specific tasks in the software, followed by the students completing the same task once I have finished. While we work on creating layouts for print pages, I move away from a Behaviorist approach and use cognitive and constructivist approaches. I tend to start with lecturing on the topics, encourage students to ask questions and assist students as they are learning a new topic. As students become more comfortable, I step back and take on a facilitator role with students moving through simulations of drawing out newspaper designs and discussing their decision-making process collaboratively with peers.

Throughout the semester, I plan on setting time aside to reflect on the learning theories that are used in the online and in-class portions of my course.

As individuals who design learning experiences, do you actively put thought into what learning theory would work most effectively for the different tasks your learners must master?


Ertmer, P. A., & Newby, T. J. (2008). Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism: Comparing Critical Features from an Instructional Design Perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 6(4), 50-72. doi:10.1111/j.1937-8327.1993.tb00605.x

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