Learning theories? No thanks! But wait…

I rely on learning theories to build my e-course every. single. time.

I didn’t always, which is weird considering I am an academic. I found theories too abstract, and blah, blah, blah… meaningless. Then, I saw their real gem. Read on to learn what that is.

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The Gem of Theories

You see, many dudes and ladies spent years developing learning theories based on real people and their reactions and RESULTS to the way courses were delivered. They did all the leg work figuring out how people learn and what they need – I just use their course design strategies.

For every course blueprint I create (I’ve created tons since providing this service last year), I handpick a learning theory that perfectly matches the intent of my client or student’s course. It’s pretty cool as I can miles out of these theories and create course plans that WOW my clients.

Where do you find learning theories?

Of course, you can Google learning theories and get tons of results or you can follow my lead here.

There are about a dozen theories I love using to build unique and rock solid courses that bring learning results to students. For now, I will offer two of the biggies:

(1) Theory for building the brain (aka knowledge)

(2) Theory for building the heart and soul (aka emotions and attitudes)


Here is what each means and how to use them to plan your next e-course.


This theory talks about a cognitive domain (category) and suggests we need to start with certain steps to build knowledge before expecting our learners to create something awesome. It goes something like this…

learning theory_cognitive


If your course is about building understanding around a method or topic, then you might want to consider how to help build that knowledge.

The brain building theory suggests we have to understand the basics first (i.e. terminology, facts, pieces of the puzzle) before we can move to a higher order of thinking to apply it, analyze it and build it.

Sort of makes sense.

However, if you have a more mature or experienced group of students you might be able to gloss over the fact-building section and get to working with the method, ideas, steps, etc. In that case, provide a wee refresher for those who may need it.

Yet, if you have newbies, such as with a course on growing bonsai trees, you need to start with some basics, such as

  • the type of plants to get
  • the best pots to use
  • the soil that is needed
  • the overall trimming goals
  • etc.

Then you can launch into how to create and maintain these sweet little plants as well as study their growth and challenges. You could start with all that first, but I guarantee you there will be confusion and questions so you might as well start with the basics.

More important, you want your students to succeed so provide all the info they need.



This theory addresses how to help with the development and changing of feelings, values, appreciation, enthusiasms, motivations, and attitudes. Like the brain building theory, it also suggests to start slow when helping people to develop such personal things as emotions and beliefs. Here is their hierarchy:

learning theory_affective


If your course is to help people transform for the better by working on their feelings, etc. then consider following the learning sequence of this theory. It claims we can’t expect people to embrace a new way or perception right away but need time to:

  • learn about
  • reflect on it
  • try it on for size
  • ask questions
  • clear out old feelings
  • etc.

If there is one thing we CANNOT do is push people to feel a certain way. Transformational courses are difficult enough to deliver in person and see RESULTS … it gets tougher online.


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