Learning Theories and Models


Samuel Coronado

Samuel Coronado (samuel.coronado@uoit.net)
University of Ontario Institute of Technology


Research on technology adoption and education provides us with a better understanding of what effective educators can do to enrich their learning environments with the help of digital tools and innovative pedagogies. Davis’ (1989) Technology Acceptance Model, and Rogers’ (2003) Connectivism Theory are prime examples of how research can be to used to design classrooms allowing the development of critical 21st-century skills (C21 Canada, 2012). The purpose of this chapter is to explore these two learning theories by looking at how they can help educators improve skill development in their students, what effective teaching with technology looks like, and how our philosophies of education are impacted by the ever-changing nature of technology-enhanced teaching and learning.

Keywords: connectivism, critical thinking, educational technology, knowledge, learning environments, mind map, mind mapping technology adoption, twenty-first century skills.


Educators today face the challenge of integrating new technologies in the classroom. The 21st century educator’s role is to facilitate learning; Inspiring and motivating students to see learning as a journey and encourage them to tackle new challenges. An educator’s role is to encourage their students to explore new frontiers of human endeavor, develop their skills and use and develop innovate technologies that expand the world. The modern educator must embrace learning as a philosophy of life, not only as a job which ends after post-secondary education. Exposing students to real problems reinforces their perspective “as active, intelligent, creative constructors of their own knowledge structures” (Blake & Pope, 2008 p. 62). In addition, the technological solutions they experiment with during this process will be useful for other challenges in the future.

Keeping students engaged in their own learning journey is a big challenge in the digital age. By employing the theoretical underpinnings of learning and technology theories such as Connectivism and technology adoption, educators are able to empower students to guide their own learning and to find purpose and fulfillment in their daily tasks.

Technology now occupies every aspect of our lives, creating new opportunities as well as concerns, to acquire knowledge and develop skills. The complexity of our social environments and our ability to thrive in them is now present in physical, virtual, and hybrid networks (Oblinger & Oblinger, 2005).

The Adoption of a New Technology

While some technologies are adopted with optimism and enthusiasm, others are not received with such positivity.  Davis (1989) conceptualized this phenomenon in his Technology Acceptance Model theory. In his writings, Davis states that technologies acceptance rate depends entirely on two characteristics; perceived usefulness and perceived ease of use. If users can easily interact with the technology, and if the technology can be easily connected to a real-life situation, only then are educators more likely to include this technology as part of their practice (Huntington & Worrell, 2013).

Original Technology Acceptance Model (TAM), Davis (1989).
Figure 1: Original Technology Acceptance Model (TAM), Davis (1989).

For educators, accepting or adopting a new technology is only the first step in the journey to create an engaging, relevant, and student-led learning environment. For technological tools to be a cornerstone in the development of higher-order thinking, problem-solving, and deep learning, we must ensure that educators believe that a technology will be useful and easy to use in their classrooms. These variables are one of the essential building blocks of a holistic pedagogical framework.  Vanwynsberghe et al. 2013 suggest that this framework should include elements that foster practical, cognitive, and affective competencies necessary to interact in the 21st century.

Before the start of the 21st century, researchers tried to define a framework for seamless and effective technology adoption. Moersch (1995) defined his Levels of Technology Implementation (LoTI) theory as an educator’s guide to help transition students from non-use to refined use of educational technologies. LoTI also emphasizes the importance of technology as an element of curriculum, and how the implementation of technology increases authentic learning, and deepens understanding of the individual learning processes (Moersch, 1995).

It is imperative to recognize the importance of the roles each stakeholder plays in the effective implementation of new technologies in classrooms. The whole learning community needs to have a basic understanding of the relevant characteristics of the technology and be invested in it. Rogers (2003), provides a guide to help identify students as early adopters of technology. Some of the qualities he describes are: young, well educated, well connected, and willing to take risks (Rogers, 2003). These characteristics describe the entire population of today’s grade school students, otherwise known as net-genners (Prensky, 2010).

Students need to be effectively prepared for the demands of the technology-driven future which will require them to be proficient in collaboration, communication, and digital literacy. They will need to be able to interact with the technology objects, and have software specific knowledge and procedural knowledge, to access and take advantage of these resources (Herrington & Parker, 2013).

Twenty-first-century professionals are challenged to connect various disciplines of knowledge, from history to chemistry, and literature to mathematics. They must explore these connections within their minds and across the world through technological networks. “For success in school, work and life, people must be able to use creativity in order to adapt, generate new ideas, theories, products, and knowledge” (C21 Canada, 2012, p. 10).

Connecting ideas, minds and people

In an effort to better understand students’ learning preferences, we have looked to neuroscience studies which have provided significant insights for the educational community. Most importantly, findings have shown concrete evidence which conclude that no two brains are alike. Each individual brain is sensitive to the way content is presented, delivered, and differentiated; The the more ways we introduce and review material, the more neural pathways will be created (Willis, 2007). Therefore, it is vital for educators to provide students with various opportunities for learning; The use of technology to provide students with individualized opportunities to learn is essential in 21st Century education.

In his research, Willis (2007) explicitly states how different forms of data representation (Eisner, 2003), create more connections at the cellular level, how these connections become stronger with frequent synaptic stimuli, and how they remain safe from pruning. Similarly, with the evolution of digital technologies we have access to a wide range of information, which can be presented in various ways. This provides teachers and students opportunities to build connections and engage in deep learning. This helps the brain create new communication channels, and most importantly, new ways of creating knowledge (Scott, 2016).

Siemens and Tittenberger’s (2009) theory of ‘connectivism’ views knowledge as a function of connections across an emergent network. Their theory states that information is distributed across networks of people, and conceptualizes technology as a tool to facilitate the connection, growth, and navigation of those networks (Siemens & Tittenberger, 2009). The role of the 21st Century educator is to assist students in navigating through their learning journey, providing them with personalized learning opportunities that enhance each individual’s needed area of growth and connection making. Zelenka (2007) refers to present day as ‘The Connected Age’. Sontag’s (2009) theory of Social-Cognitive-Connectedness Schemata (SCCS), suggests that learning depends on an individual’s ability to connect socially with others (social-connectedness), and how the individual is able to connect new knowledge to a larger picture (cognitive-connectedness). It is evident that online digital networks such as social media sites and online forums, play a vital role in our modern-day learning experiences. They allow learners to learn from social interaction and collaboration, and benefit them with immediate access to the diverse opinions of their network peers.

Connecting Students with the World

Today’s educators face unique challenges in the 21st Century. When planning lessons and curriculum they should focus on two questions. First, what are most relevant, and current global issues and skills students need to know about and try to tackle? Second, how do we connect this world happenings to the classroom learning experiences in the subjects of math, science, social studies, literature, etc.?

Educators should look to theory of Mind Mapping to guide their instructional practices. The foundations of Mind Mapping rest on the learning theory of Connectivism. Combined with the use of modern information and communications technology, mind mapping enhances teaching and learning with greater ease of use (Davies, 2010). Mind mapping explores and develops ideas by association. A mind map involves writing down a central theme or idea, and using this concept to generate, visualize, and organize new ideas outwards in all directions. Students can connect different ideas as they progress throughout their learning journey, thus creating a growing diagram that helps students better understand and retain information associated with the central theme or idea (The University of Adelaide, 2014).

Research indicates that if students can create, manipulate, and understand a complex set of ideas in a visual diagram, while using their own words and creating connections between them (The University of Adelaide, 2014), this process enhances learning, retention, and improves knowledge acquisition (Davies, 2010). Mind mapping helps students experience meaningful learning, where new perspectives are added to the prior knowledge structures, instead of rote learning, where new information is added but no integration is made between this and previous knowledge (Davies, 2010). Research performed in different academic environments from computer science programs  (Ismail, Ngah & Umar, 2010) to nursing education (Kotcherlakota, Zimmerman & Berger, 2013), have shown significant improvements and positive impacts of using mind mapping in relevant skill areas such as: structured thinking, problem solving skills, metacognitive knowledge, and academic motivation (Jones, Ruff, Snyder, Petrich & Koonce, 2012).

Mind mapping along with the use of technology helps educators connect real world experience to learnings in class while also looking the the most important issues and skills students need to be successful in the 21st Century.

Connecting Curriculum to the World

With a thorough understanding of the mind mapping method, educators can present students with personalized challenges for students to develop their skills, while learning how to navigate important technologies and make lasting connections.

Opportunities such as assigning students to utilize reliable news sources, i.e. The Washington Post, to look for articles or images that they can relate to a newly acquired concept help students create strong neural connections because they are connecting real world issues to their own learning, in a personalized way (every student uses their own knowledge and methods of research). Educators can use the following driving questions for the selection of a central theme or idea: Why is this relevant to you? How does it relate to you on a personal level? How does it relate to you on an academic level? Why is it relevant today? How is it relevant outside of our learning environment? What connections can you draw between this subject and your recent learning experiences? Educators should be sure to model how to create connections and make mind maps for students before expecting them to do it on their own.

Connections between the world and student learning may be explicit or implicit. Educators can facilitate this as a progression by asking students to choose multiple concepts or topics they want to explore and and trying to connect them visually through a mind map. The objective is for students to discover the central theme or idea for the construction of their mind map using a technology such as MindMeister. Students should be given time to brainstorm, write down their ideas, and create their mind map online, choosing to work individually, or collaborate in small groups, keeping in mind that each student’s learning journey will be unique and they should have the freedom to choose what level of collaboration will allow them to be most successful. Next, students should complete a formative peer review in pairs or small groups, by explaining their mind map, comparing interpretations, exploring concepts employed, establishing explicit or implicit connections, and finding or suggesting improvements to each other’s work.

Finally, students should have the opportunity to share their mind maps with the class, explaining their research, analysis and creation process. The goal of which will be to build on previously shared information and identify differences and similarities to their peer’s work. The educator’s role is to prompt students to think more deeply about the concept and connections that can be made.


It is important to consider the multifaceted nature of employing technology in the classroom. There is a basic level of digital literacy required for the efficient use of technology, policy constraints, privacy, and security, which are unique for each school and should be collaboratively reviewed by educators and the educational technology team in each learning environments.

Following the principles of the Technology Acceptance Model (Davies, 1989) and Diffusion of Innovations Theory (Rogers, 2003), educators need to identify the benefits of the inclusion of educational technology in their classroom. In addition, providing thorough training for educators is essential to ensure that they are prepared and feel confident with the ease of use and usefulness of each adopted technology before using it for students learning in their classrooms.

To effectively align educational technologies with desired learning outcomes in each learning environment, it is imperative to use the affordance’s three evaluation criteria as defined by Evans, Pearce, Vetak, and Treem (2017). First, the proposed affordance must be neither the object nor a feature of the object. Second,  the proposed affordance cannot be an outcome. Third, the proposed affordance must have variability. Then, the affordances identified in MindMeister, as follows.

Treem and Leonardi (2012), define persistence as communication that “remains accessible in the same form as the original display after the actor has finished his or her presentation” (p. 18). This affordance is of relevance considering the ease of use of digital technology and online storage available through MindMeister, in contrast to the traditional pen and paper method, which lifespan is much shorter.

Finally, visibility, as defined in Evans et. al (2017) “refers to whether a piece of information can be located, as well as the relative ease with which it can be located” (Treem & Leonardi, 2012). MindMeister offers online storage of mind map files which can be saved using a document name with relevant concepts but also, allowing for metadata to be associated with them to improve the information retrieval process.

As professionals working in this field, we have the opportunity to employ these valuable theories and literature resources, to improve our learning environments, and to better shape meaningful interactions with technology for our students. It is the educators’ responsibility to explore, experiment, and test the different digital technologies available before sharing them with the classroom.


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Technology and the Curriculum: Summer 2018 Copyright © 2018 by Samuel Coronado is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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