How People Learn: (2) What Factors Influence Learning?

This is the second part of a series on how people learn through the lenses of the various learning theoris. The first part was on How Does Learning Occur. This post explains the factors that influence learning, again through the lenses of the learning theories “Behaviorist, Cognitive, Constructivist, Social Learning, Connectivism and Adult Learning”

Behaviorist Theory

Classroom with an instructor facing students

The factors that influence learning under the behaviorist theory are: environmental conditions, the use of assessment and reinforcements, and the arrangement of stimuli and consequences (Ertmer & Newby, 1993). Other factors are: positive and negative reinforcements, extinction and punishments.

Cognitive Theory

Environmental conditions and instructional explanations should be built on the learners’ attitude; in addition previous experiences and beliefs are also factors to consider (Ertmer & Newby, 1993). Ormord, Schunk, and Gredler (2009) explained that meaningfulness, elaboration, organization and links to schema structure are influential learning under the cognitive theory.

Constructivist Theory

Both the learner and the environment influence learning. The content must be embedded in the situation. Furthermore, real settings and the tasks should be relevant to the learner’s experience (Ertmer & Newby, 1993).

Social Learning Theory

Learners learn through social interactions with other knowledgeable learners. Collaboration with other learners happens through a community of practice (Kim, 2001).


Image for a laptop, sell phone, tablet and a hand all connected virtually by dotted linesThe factors that affect learning through Connectivisem are based on developing connections between ideas, concepts and fields. For example, the learning happens through working with others and staying current in a specific field or discipline (Davis et al., 2008).

Adult Learning

Past life and work experiences, previous knowledge, and learning experiences are the main factors that influence adult learning. Learning could happen because of a life-changing event, (Conlan, Grabowski & Smith, 2003); for example, a need for promotion. Another crucial factor in adult learning, is motivation, which depends on the level of engagement in the learning process, and how learning is applied (Russell, 2006).



Davis, C., Edmunds, E., & Kelly-Bateman, V. (2008). Connectivism. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from

Ertmer, P.A. & Newby, T. J.  (1993). Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism: Comparing Critical Features from an Instructional Design Perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 6(4).

Kim, B. (2001). Social constructivism. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from

Ormrod, J., Schunk, D., & Gredler, M. (2009). Learning theories and instruction (Laureate custom edition). New York: Pearson.

Russell, S. S. (2006). An overview of adult learning processes: Adult-learning principles. Retrieved December 18, 2011 from


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