Learning Theory: Factors that influence learning

It wasn't very long ago that learning theory was confined to "learning by doing" and "learning by repetition" or "learning by rote". More complementary learning theories have attempted to build these into a more integrated theory of adult learning.

Related Learning Theory Pages

Instructional Design
Instructional Design (also called Instructional Systems Design (ISD)) is the practice of optimising the impact and efficiency of learning experiences.

Adult Learning Theory
Maslows Four stages of learning model provides a useful adult learning theory explanation of the key learning stages people progress through. It is a popular and intuitive approach that helps us manage our own emotions during a sometimes frustrating learning process.

Training Needs Analysis
Ever wondered how often training is touted as a solution when there isn't a clear understanding of the problem. The simple and often neglected solution is to conduct a tna or training needs analysis.

Social Learning Theory
Social learning theory is the view that people learn by observing others. Associated with Albert Bandura's work in the 1960s, social learning theory explains how people learn new behaviors, values, and attitudes.

Learning theory

In this section let’s take a look at some of the critical aspects that influence learning.

Before that four of assumptions borrowed from cognitive learning theory

1.      Individuals are actively involved in the learning process  i.e they are not just passive receivers of information

2.      Learning involves the forming of insights and mental associations that do not always lead to behaviour changes

3.      Learning is a process of relating new information to previously learned information.

4.      Learning is most likely to occur when an individual can associate and organise new learning with previous knowledge.

Read more on how online learning is revolutionizing learning theory here.


Factors that influence learning


Effectively there are three areas the internal world, the work environment and other people.


Emotional impact of past learning rewarding or de-motivating

We are emotional beings and our emotional state has a huge impact on our ability to learn. If we have anxiety about learning (like we do in many change situations) learning is more problematic.


On the job environment where most managers learning takes place

Learning theory research indicates about 70% of all learning is on the job. The question here is does your job offer you the right amount of challenge and stretch for your leaning style? Does your organisational culture, processes and rewards systems demonstrate a value in individual learning?


Managers differ in their preferred methods of learning

Regardless on your views on the theoretical underpinning of some learning theory on learning styles. It is a clear observation that we do not all have the same preferences for how we like to learn.    


Job content

Related to your working environment your job content varies in its ability to provide you with learning opportunities. Been doing the same thing for 10 years you can probably operate on auto-pilot. Job content is a stretch and continually changing you may have to focus more on adapting.



Again research indicates many of us leave bosses rather than organisations. Our Boss can exert huge power and influence on all aspects of our work experience. Clearly they can be tremendous supporter and catalyst for our learning or they can be a roadblock.



Learning theory suggests that learning at its best is a collaborative process.  Whether you compete, ignore or  or collaborate with your colleagues is influenced by your organisational culture and your personal values .



Similar to colleagues but complicated by position power and hierarchy which can get in the way of trusting relationships and effective communications.  That is assuming you think you have anything to learn from your team and have ability to create good team environments and have the confidence to ask for feedback


Skills for learning

We may want to learn but do we have the necessary skills and reflective habits to optimise our own learning? As an Executive Coach I am still regularly surprised by Senior Managers inability to recognise their blind spots, or consolidate their own learning and insights in a deeper way from work events.


More on adult learning theory here


Learning theory :Blockages to Learning


Some peoples personality can make them very eager to learn they are often optimists and associate learning as a positive experience. In the fashion that some organisations are not interested in learning and don’t provide much support some individuals  are resistant to learning or may not even recognise a learning opportunity because they ar looking the other way.


Some examples of this behaviour might be:


I’m far too busy doing the job right now to think about learning

If I take up this opportunity will it be risky will it use my past experience

I can’t see how training is going to improve that skill I just need to work on it


Following list of blockages based on learning theory work done by Temple and Boydell shows what holds some people back  


Cultural- organisation doesn’t su[port learning

Emotional: fear or insecurity

Motivational: unwillingness to take risks

Perceptual- can’t see a problem,

Physical time and place

Cognitive Intellectual previous learning experience, limited learning style, poor learning skills

Specific environment Boss/colleagues unsupportive

Expressive: Poor communication skills ‘

Situational lack of opportunities


Read more about blockages to learning here


How Can I use these Learning Theory Insights?




Do a assessment of your unique mix of factors that influence your own learning (mind map?)

Identify your own blockages to learning (why not ask others opinions as well?)

Try and develop some positive mitigation strategies that you can try to see if they will help you

Incorporate these ideas into your personal development plan




Take a holistic view to learning in your organisation.

How do your systems and processes support or hinder learning

What impact does your culture have on learning?

How effectively do you influence the 70% of learning on the job opportunities?

How well is formal learning  from training events utilised back on the job?

How can you use rewards and people development processes to optimise current learning?

Don’t have a learning and development strategy then create one it is too important to leave to chance



More on learning theories here

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