Personal Learning Theory

Let’s start with a review of learning theories.  According to the book How Learning Works: Seven Research-based Principles for Smart Teaching, learning is a process that involves change in knowledge, beliefs, behavior, or attitudes. Learning is something that students do rather than something that is given to them. (Ambrose, 2010).   Behaviorism is a worldview that assumes a learner is essentially passive, responding to environmental stimuli. Both positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement increase the probability that the learned behavior will happen again. In contrast, punishment, both positive and negative decreases the likelihood that the behavior will continue. Cognitivism is a view that people are rational beings that require active participation in order to learn. Actions of people are a direct consequence of thinking. This learning focuses on the inner mental processes such as thinking, memory, knowing, and problem-solving. The view of constructivism states that learning is an active, contextualized process of constructing knowledge rather than acquiring it. Knowledge is constructed based on personal experiences and hypotheses of the environment and learners continuously test these hypotheses through social negotiation. Constructivism assumes that all knowledge is constructed from the learner’s previous knowledge, regardless of how one is taught (Learning Theories).

Another view on learning that is currently concentrated in the United States is the 21st Century Skills initiative. My personal thoughts on learning theory concentrate  more on  this learning theory than any other.  The 21st Century Skills initiative is an education standard and reform movement that is focused on improving what US public school students need to learn in school so that they are better prepared to succeed in their school and career lives. Five basic groups of skill sets are included in the 21st Century Skills theory of learning. Life/career skills include adaptability and flexibility, initiative and self-direction, leadership and responsibility, productivity and accountability, social and cross-cultural skills. Core subjects refer to English/language arts, mathematics, arts, science, history, geography and other subjects. 21st century themes focus on civic literacy, environmental literacy, financial literacy (including economic, business, and entrepreneurial skills), global awareness, and health literacy. Information/media/technology skills are for media literacy and information literacy. Learning/innovation skills give students creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and problem solving abilities (Learning Thoeries).

The goal of the 21 Century Skills theory of learning, students are expected to master these skills and understand these themes while learning core subject content. Teachers, administrators, schools, and districts are expected to use these guidelines as a foundation for developing curriculum, assessments, and standards that they deem appropriate for their students. Some organizations, like the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, provide tools and resources for educators to use in supporting their students’ acquisition of these skills (Learning Theories). 21st-century skills are consistent with best practices for quality education. Challenging, inquiry-based classes not only help prepare students for the modern workplace and world, they also provide students with ways of thinking that are valuable in any century (Metz, 2011).

It is no longer enough to provide facts and figures to students. Too many students lack essential skills that will enable them to be ‘work-ready.’ Students must learn self-development, self-management, self-presentation, and effective communication. These skills will help students to convey their achievements, knowledge, and experience in a manner that is understood by potential employers outside the academic sector (Rose, 2013).



Ambrose, S. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Learning Theories, Learning Models, Learning Theory Summaries – in Plain English! (n.d.). Retrieved September 13, 2014, from

Metz, S. (2011). 21st-century skills. The Science Teacher 78(7). 6.

Rose, M. (2013). Preparing for life “Beyond Academe”: professional skills Development for graduate students in Canadian Universities. English Studies in Canada, 39(4). 4-8.