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Studying Theories In Our Digital Age

Learning theories in our digital age

I remember when I started my career in learning and development, I was given various learning theories to study. They were pretty exhausting to read, to be honest. They can be very boring, especially if you are reading for knowledge only and not for a study project.

This may be because some of these theories were developed before technology and are currently used for digital learning. Some will argue that such theories are not useful in shaping digital learning, others will argue that learning theories are generally out of date and not really important. The big question is: do they really matter? Are they still needed in this digital age? In this short article I want to share my thoughts on the following sub-headings and maybe I can answer the question (to the best of my knowledge) if learning theories are still important.

  • What exactly are learning theories?
  • How important are learning theories?
  • When can we apply learning theories?
  • Conclusion

What exactly are learning theories?

This type of question helps us understand what learning theories are about. I love this National Cancer Institute definition: “A theory provides a systematic way of understanding events or situations.” As simple as it sounds, that’s exactly what theory means in my opinion. Theories help us analyze situations and better understand how they can best be solved systematically. A theory is also like step-by-step instructions on what and when to take action.

Learning theories do not differ in terms of the above definition. According to (Wikipedia) “learning theories describe how students receive, process and retain knowledge while learning”. Over the years, even into the early 20th century, researchers have always wondered how learners assimilate and how best to address various learning challenges. This has led to various learning theories. These learning theories have somewhat shaped the learning processes and strategies we are currently using.

How important are learning theories?

Learning theories can be confusing at times, especially in the age of digital and social learning. Why is that? It seems like some of the learning theories are out of date due to the development date. Still, if you look closely; Some of our training methods are strangely aligned with some of these learning theories, and the results can be predicted even before you even implement them. I remember using a learning theory to design training courses. When I met with the training sponsors and explained my concerns about using a particular method, the sponsors refused to follow my recommendations and in the end the result was what I had predicted. (LOL! I felt like a clairvoyant while just following one theory). I’ll say different learning theories can change our training programs immensely, even for the digital learning programs.

When can we apply learning theories?

Since the definition of learning theory clearly states that it can be used to “describe how students obtain, process and retain knowledge while learning,” the following are situations where I would like to apply learning theories, but they are not to that limited list below:

  • If you want to know how best to train a specific demographic of learner
  • If you want to influence your learners
  • When you want to make sure your study design is preserved
  • When you want to understand how your learners use your information


I would like to end by saying that theories are important and there is no such thing as a best theory of learning. Do we need learning theories? For me the answer is “yes”! Do we have to use all of them? For me the answer is “no”! Theories are designed for different occasions and are sometimes mixed up with assumptions and facts. As a learning designer, you need to know exactly what you want to achieve when designing training courses. Then you can now decide on the best theory that fits your goal. I firmly believe in the importance of learning theories. I will also introduce various learning theories in future articles. Hope you will love reading about it. Share your experiences and knowledge about learning theories.

Goodbye for today!


  • Learning Theories for the Digital Age by Steve Wheeler
  • Definition of learning theory by Wikipedia
  • Why we need learning theories from Taruna Goel
  • What are the National Cancer Institute theories?

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