Compare Two Learning Theories SAMPLE PAPER

You will research two learning theories of your choice and write a paper, in which you compare the two theories — based on five factors. These five key points are: how learning takes place, what influences learning, the role of the brain in learning, how the learner applies new knowledge, and how instruction is designed to guide learning (Schunk, 1991).


  • Briefly present the theories (no more than one and a half pages total).
  • The paper is supported by at least three primary sources. The text is not a primary resource. Primary resources are essentially scholarly sources that discuss the theory and or the theorist. They can be written by the theorist or other scholars. Sources like Wikipedia or personal blogs, etc. would not be considered as primary sources. Please consider publications that have gone through peer-review processes (e.g. journal articles, books, etc.)
  • Identify ONE researcher (per theory), who is well-known for research in the theory. Give an approximate timeframe of when the works were published and how the theorist was able to substantiate the claims.
  • Address the five key factors (approximately one full page per factor).
  • Compare the theories side by side, within the paper.
  • Stay organized and consistent.
  • Include a brief introduction and conclusion. The brief conclusion can include your opinion and reflection.

SUGGESTIONS – Compare Two Learning Theories

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  • Include a subheading for each key factor in the paper.
  • Under each subheading, address aspects of each theory which apply.
  • Provide learning task examples (if it helps to make the point).

FORMAT – Compare Two Learning Theories

  • Title page
  • Body: Theories Description and Comparison by key factor (minimal 7 pages)
  • References page
  • Two sources minimum (at least one per theory)
  • The text may be used as a tool to spark research, but not as a reference.
  • Use APA style and cite references.
  • Paraphrase wherever possible to demonstrate synthesis of the theories and critical analysis of the information.
  • Adhere to rules of grammar

SIMPLE RUBRIC (50 Points) – Compare Two Learning Theories

  1. LEARNING THEORIES (up to 10 points): Overview of the two theories
  2. SCHUNK’S FIVE KEY POINTS (up to 30 points): Compare the theories by key factor i.e. cover all 2 theories and all 5 key factors
  • RESOURCES AND MECHANICS (up to 10 points): Well researched and clearly written used two primary sources – not the text (up to 3 points); adhered to rules of grammar (up to 3.5 points); and adhered to APA format (up to 3.5 points).
  1. LEARNING THEORIES: An overview of Two theories (up to 10 points)

Each theory is clearly explained by these elements: Who is the theorist(s)?  When was the theory developed?  By what processes do learners learn, as described by the theory? How does the evaluator determine learning occurs? (No more than one and a half pages for Section I)

Theory Comparison: Cognitive Information Processing vs. Cognitive and Knowledge Development


            Within the field of cognitive psychology, there are numerous learning theories that have developed and become widely accepted across many disciplines. These theories vary greatly and can be compared and contrasted in order to come to a greater understanding of how individuals learn and develop. Namely, although both are focused on cognitive processes, Cognitive Information Processing and Cognitive and Knowledge Development are not as similar as one may assume. Through a comparison study, various similarities and differences will be revealed in order to come to a greater understanding of these learning theories.

Cognitive Information Processing

Although created collectively over time by many prominent developmental psychologists, this theory owes its credit to specific theorists. Atkinson and Shiffrin (1968) designed the memory duration model, composed of sensory, short-term, and long-term memory. They describe various properties, including the capacity, code, permanence, source, and memory loss during each stage, as well. They also developed the concept of parallel distributed processing, that information is processed simultaneously by several different parts of the memory system, not sequentially. In addition, Rumelhart and McClelland (1986) extended on this concept with the connectionist model, that memory is stored through a series of connections. In addition, Craik and Lockhart (1972) were also prominent cognitive theorists. They developed three levels at which information was processed: Structural processing, phonetic processing, and semantic processing. Since these major accomplishments, many have elaborated on the Cognitive Information Processing theory. For instance, Sternberg (1998) argued for multiple intelligences. He believed that development is skills-based and continuous, not stages of discontinuous, and argued there were three types of intelligences: componential, experiential, and contextual (Sternberg, 1998).

Cognitive Knowledge Development

Cognitive Knowledge Development discusses how human cognition is developed from birth based on a series of stages. This theory of development derives mainly from the psychologist, Jean Piaget (1936). He has been characterized as a biologist, philosopher, and child psychologist (Driscoll, 2015). Piaget believed knowledge is invented and reinvented as the child develops and interacts with the world surrounding them. He was able to distinguish among three types of knowledge that children acquire, which are physical, logical-mathematical, and social knowledge (Driscoll, 2015). Within those three types of knowledge on how we gain information to be processed, there are four stages to cognitive development: sensorimotor stage, pre-operational stage, concrete operational stage, and the formal operational stage. Piaget took a step further with only the sensorimotor stage, which was categorized into six sub stages for the first two years of a child’s life. These sub stages consist of reflexes, primary circular reactions, secondary circular reactions, coordination of reactions, tertiary circular reactions, and early representational thought. Not only does Piaget distinguish on how we learn and the stages we reach to the appropriate developed levels, but he categorizes the process of how we learn into assimilation, accommodation, and equilibration. In order to determine whether learning occurs, Piaget believes that children must experience these processes in order to build and continue to build upon our existing schemas.



Schunk’s Five Key Factors

            According to Dale Schunk (1991), there are five key factors that help explain each learning theory. These five key points are: how learning takes place, what influences learning, the role of the brain in learning, how the learner applies new knowledge, and how instruction is designed to guide learning (Schunk, 1991).

Factor One: How learning takes place

Cognitive Information Processing Theory argues that learning occurs through the progression of three stages: sensory memory, short-term memory, and long-term memory (Atkinson & Shiffron, 1968). Sensory memory represents the first stage of information processing and is associated with the five senses, hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, and touching. It functions to hold information within one’s memory quite briefly, just long enough for the information to be processed further (Driscoll, 2015). Through selective attention, when one chooses to concentrate on one task or piece of information, the data moves towards long-term, or working, memory. At this stage, the information is selected for further processing and will allow the individual to study and focus on the data (Driscoll, 2015). Specifically, through rehearsal and encoding, the information will likely progress towards the long-term memory, is the storage of information over a long period of time. This type of memory is divided into two categories, episodic memory and semantic memory. The former refers to remembering details related to specific events, while the latter is signifies knowing general information. Through retrieval, recall, and recognition strategies, the goal is that this information stays in the long-term memory, otherwise it will be forgotten.

Through the cognitive knowledge development process, learning takes place by experiencing the processes of assimilation, accommodation, and equilibration through the three types of knowledge as stated previously. Learners, specifically young children, are able to manipulate and determine new information in order to build upon their existing schemas. As these learners begin to use types of knowledge and use processes of development, they experience the stages that Piaget had laid out for the psychological world. While the theory of cognitive information processing argues that learning occurs through specific memory processes, the cognitive knowledge development theory states that learning happens by the learner acquiring knowledge through experience. Piaget’s theory includes two major parts, an “ages and stages” component that predicts what children can and cannot understand at different ages, and a” theory of development” that describes how children develop cognitive abilities (Amineh & Asl, 2015). In addition, learning through experience tracks back to the idea of constructivism, which was considered one of Piaget’s strongest belief.

Factor Two: What influences learning

According to Cognitive Information Processing theory, learning is influenced by elaboration. When an individual deems information significant enough to elaborate on it, they should practice using various strategies to process and memorize the information. According to Lutz and Huitt (2003),  “As proposed by Hummel and Huitt (1994) if students are not required to demonstrate the results of elaboration on meaningful tasks such as examinations or projects, they are not likely to adequately develop the skills required for higher-level thinking” (Lutz and Huitt, 2003, pg. 15).”In other words, in order to use critical thinking skills, individuals must first have the opportunity to practice the material. Elaboration can occur through practice and review activities that require individuals to rehearse and encode the information. Of course, time also influences learning. It takes time to retain knowledge and over time, individuals are more likely to forget the information if it is not elaborated on or retrieved.

Learning is influenced by a variety of factors that Jean Piaget suggests, which are a human’s physical knowledge, logical-mathematical knowledge, and social knowledge. Each type of knowledge contributes to how the child learns based on their interactions with the world surrounding them. Physical knowledge focuses on the objects in the world, which can be gained through their perceptual properties (Driscoll, 2015). For example, a child experiencing the interaction with toy blocks will influence how that child categorizes information to develop at an increasingly deeper level. Logical-mathematical knowledge is abstract and must be invented, but through actions on objects that are fundamentally different from those actions enabling physical knowledge (Driscoll, 2015). For example, observing two different glass shapes full of water will appear to look as if they have different volumes, but in reality they have the same amount of water in each glass. Piaget suggests that children need to develop and acquire the logical-mathematical knowledge by experiencing the transition between one glass to the other to show that in fact it’s the same amount of water. The third type of knowledge that influences learners is social knowledge. Social knowledge is culture-specific and can be learned only from other people within one’s cultural group (Driscoll, 2015). Physical and logical-mathematical can only be influenced by other objects, but social knowledge is solely influenced by people and the interactions that the learner has with people. Examples of how a learner can develop through social knowledge is through language, moral rules (norms), values, culture, history, symbol systems, etc. While it’s argued that the cognitive information process learns through memorization, Piaget’s cognitive knowledge development theory states that learners learn through the experience of objects and interactions with people.

Factor Three: The role of the brain in learning

Cognitive Information Processing theory argues that the brain is responsible for each of the three stages. Although the individual has control over how the material is accessed, encoded, and stored, much of the process is dictated by the brain, especially during the first stage. Sensory information is processed through the brain and there it is decided whether or not to be selected for attention. Then, the data is stored briefly in the working memory. The amount of cognitive attention one gives towards these processes, such as encoding, storing, and retrieving information, the more success they will have retaining that information for a great length of time. The individual can take measures to manage and retain the information but, ultimately, the brain controls the properties of each stage, namely the capacity, code, permanence, source, and loss (Driscoll, 2005). These characteristics are dictated by the brain and out of control of the individual.

Based on the cognitive information process, the brain’s focus is to filter and store pertinent information that the human brain feels is worthy of knowing. On the other side, Piaget’s cognitive knowledge development theory suggests that the brain goes through a series of stages in order to help the cognitive mind of the learner. Recent research and theory in cognitive neuroscience have produced insights into how the development of the brain, especially the cerebral cortex, relates to thinking and learning (Boddington, 2009). During the cognitive development process, the brain experiences the four stages of development: sensorimotor, pre-operational, concrete operational, and formal operational. Each stage proceeds in a consecutive order and cannot be attained without the prior stage being achieved. For example, a child cannot develop to the pre-operational stage without their brain being developed enough from the sensorimotor stage. Each stage must represent a qualitative change in children’s cognition (Driscoll, 2015). This also relates to the learner’s schema, meaning their current knowledge based on the interactions and experiences the child has learned thus far. Through the cognitive development, Piaget reinforces that the mind continues to add more information and skills to the learner’s schemata, much like files being added to the filing cabinet.

Factor Four: How the learner applies new knowledge

Within the Cognitive Information Processing theory, it is believed that the learner must apply the knowledge in order to store the information for any length of time. Specifically, during the working memory stage, individuals can use various strategies to practice and apply the new material. For instance, one should practice and elaborate on the information through various activities, such as chunking. By categorizing the data, one is more likely to remember it. Similarly, during the long term stage, one should use the information in a meaningful way and continuously assess the knowledge in order to achieve permanence. For example, individuals could apply their long term knowledge on a final exam. It is through this process that learning is occuring.

As the cognitive information processing theory enforces the application of stored information to new skills, the cognitive knowledge development stage works similarly. As stated previously, Piaget believed that children use their schema to build upon current skills as well as apply their schema to learn new skills. Learners access prior knowledge in order to generate new information. Learners also use the three processes of development to apply new knowledge. Assimilation will occur when a child perceives new objects or events in terms of existing schemas or operations (Driscoll, 2015). Essentially, the child or learner will fit in new information into their filing cabinet. In addition, the accommodation process is when existing schemes or operations must be modified to account for a new experience (Driscoll, 2015). In order to develop new skills or variations of certain skills, the brain must modify current schemas to continue to apply new knowledge. The brain will eventually come to a hiccup in the learning process, which causes the brain to feel confused or disconnected. When the learner has overcome the disconnect and has made sense of the new knowledge presented to them, the learner will achieve equilibration. Piaget emphasizes these processes of development are critical to the brain of human development.

Factor Five: How instruction is designed to guide learning

Cognitive Information Processing theory argues that proper instruction should guide this process and prompt students to apply new knowledge. One way for teachers to facilitate the learning process is to implement  Bloom’s Taxonomy, a system that encourages different levels of analytical and cognitive application (Bloom et al, 2003). For each daily assessment, students should be using increasing more challenging activities in order to eventually demonstrate mastery and critical thinking skills. It is only through application and practice that this new knowledge will can significance and become permanently storage. Another way for teachers to guide learning is to make thematic connections to previous material. This will make the information more meaningful and encourage elaboration ( Bloom et al, 2003).

As cognitive information processing focuses on the traditional instructional methods such as memorizing, demonstrating, and imitating, are considered incompatible (). This refers back to Piaget’s view on constructivism. He believes that learners need to develop new skills and learn new knowledge based on experience. Children must participate in hands-on activities in the classroom in order to gain meaningful learning. Strategies that guide learning consist of emphasis on learning rather than teaching, emphasis on active learning, use of discovery learning approaches, use of cooperative or collaborative learning activities, use of purposeful or authentic learning activities, support learner reflection, and support learner ownership of activities (Alessi & Trollip, 2000). These are few among the many strategies that Piaget enforces to his cognitive knowledge development theory.


Based on various psychologists and their interpretation of learning theories, this paper compared and contrasted cognitive information processing and cognitive knowledge development. Through Schunk’s five key factors, each theory was explored and analyzed to determine what and how learning takes places. Even though each theory is based on cognition, they are separately known for their differences and how they have contributed to the magnitude of cognitive psychology.

Compare Two Learning Theories Rubric


(0-1 points)


(2-3 points)


(4-5 points)

Average to Above Average 

(6-8 points)


(9-10 points)

The section does not describe all required elements. The paper has some or all required elements, but does not adequately describe them. The paper has all required elements, but does not completely describe them. The paper has presented all required elements with some analysis and synthesis of the theories/research. The paper has presented all required elements with a critical analysis and synthesis of the theories/research.

    : Comparison of the theories by key factors (up to 30 points)
Factor One: how learning takes place
Compares 0-1 theories (0-2 points) Compares theories poorly (3-4 points) Compares theories well (5-6 points)
Factor Two : what influences learning
Compares 0-1 theories (0-2 points) Compares theories poorly (3-4 points) Compares theories well (5-6 points)
Factor Three : the role of the brain in learning
Compares 0-1 theories (0-2 points) Compares theories poorly (3-4 points) Compares theories well (5-6 points)
Factor Four: how the learner applies new knowledge
Compares 0-1 theories (0-2 points) Compares theories poorly (3-4 points) Compares theories well (5-6 points)
Factor  Five : how instruction is designed to guide learning
Compares 0-1 theories (0-2 points) Compares theories poorly (3-4 points) Compares theories well (5-6 points)



III.            RESOURCES: The paper is supported by at least two primary resources – i.e.  One per theory. The text book is not a primary source.

MECHANICS: Well researched and clearly written (up to 10 points)


RESOURCES: The paper is supported by at least two primary resources (no text)

Unacceptable (0 points) Acceptable (1-2 points) Exemplary (3 points)
Fewer than 2 primary resources. No evidence the sources were used in the paper. Two  primary resources. Resources were used adequately. Two  or more primary resources. Resources are integrated and utilized well.


GRAMMAR: The paper is written with clarity and attention to the rules of grammar

Unacceptable (0 points) Acceptable (1-2 points) Exemplary (3 – 3.5 points)
The paper is unclear.  Student did not adhere to the rules of grammar. The paper is unclear in spots and or has “broken” several rules of grammar. The paper is written with clarity and with attention to the rules of grammar.


APA: The paper is written in APA format.  The paper is submitted in Microsoft format.

Unacceptable (0 points) Acceptable (1-2 points) Exemplary (3 – 3.5 points)
Student did not adhere to APA format. The paper has a few APA format errors. Paper is written well with APA format.