This study is predicated on the belief that there does not now exist, nor will there ever exist, any single theory of learning that is broad enough to account for all types of learning yet specific enough to be maximally useful in practical application. Perhaps this dichotomy is the reason for the apparent gap between existing theories of learning and the practice of instructional design. As an alternative to any supposed grand theory of learning—and following the lead of prominent thinkers in the fields of clinical psychology and language teaching—this study proposes a shift toward principles. It presents a principle-based conceptual framework of learning, and recommends use of the framework as a guide for creating domain-specific theories of learning. The purpose of this study was to review theories of learning in the behavioral, cognitive, constructive, human, and social traditions to identify principles of learning local to those theories that might represent specific instances of more universal principles, fundamentally requisite to the facilitation of learning in general. Many of the ideas reviewed have resulted from, or been supported by, direct empirical evidence. Others have been suggested based on observational or practical experience of the theorist. The ideas come from different points in time, are described from a variety of perspectives, and emphasize different aspects and types of learning; yet there are a number of common themes shared among them regarding the means by which learning occurs. It is hypothesized that such themes represent universal and fundamental principles of learning. These principles were the objective of the present study. They have been sought through careful review and analysis of both theoretical and empirical literature by methods of textual research (Clingan, 2008) and constant comparative analysis (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). By way of textual research a methodological lens was defined to identify general themes, and by way of constant comparative analysis these themes were developed further through the analysis and classification of specific instances of those themes in the texts reviewed. Ten such principles were identified: repetition, time, step size, sequence, contrast, significance, feedback, context, engagement, and agency. These ten facilitative principles were then organized in the context of a comprehensive principles-of-learning framework, which includes the four additional principles of potential, target, change, and practice.



College and Department

David O. McKay School of Education; Instructional Psychology and Technology



Date Submitted


Document Type





principles of learning, domain-specific theories of learning, learning framework, learning theories, learning theory, learning principles, learning, principles, theory, theories