Key elements of behavioral, cognitive, affective, and collaborative learning theories

Scholars have theorized that learning takes places through a multitude of domains, including: behavioral, cognitive, affective, and collaborative. Best practice models from throughout a variety of educational settings have confirmed the effectiveness of instructional strategies which identify these learning modes and seek to incorporate these learning processes, when applicable, into learning environments.

The behavioral or psychomotor learning domain focuses upon the processes of mastery of physical skills. Physical skills have been categorized in a variety of ways, but invariably include cognitive, psychomotor, reactive, and interactive domains (Romiszowski, 1999). Romiszowski (1999) stresses not only the general learning processes of psychomotor skill learning but also the instructional strategies necessary for skills development. The challenge for educators teaching physical skills is for learners to transfer knowledge of these skills into proficient practice.

Bloom first defined the cognitive domain of learning as one which deals with the, “recall or recognition of knowledge and the development of understandings and intellectual abilities and skills” (Reigeluth & Moore, 1999). While Bloom’s taxonomy is arguably the most well-known articulation of cognitive processes, others such as Gagne, Ausubel, Anderson, Merrill have all presented similar cognitive theories which express a variety of levels of interaction between learner and content. Therefore, the focus of cognitive learning is built upon the understanding that learners attain knowledge through a variety of interactions and processes.

The affective domain is one which, ”refers to components of affective development focusing on internal changes or processes” (Martin & Reigeluth, 1999). Or, stated another way, the affective domain relates primarily to the motivational factors involved in learning. A taxonomy of internalization from least to most includes: receiving, responding, valuing, organization, and characterization (Martin & Reigeluth, 1999). Affective components are strongly related to other elements of learning processes, and are at times not easily distinguishable.

Collaborative learning has been defined as, “a structured exchange between two or more participants designed to enhance achievement of the learning objectives” (Clark & Mayer, 2003). Collaboration has typically taken place in the classroom setting through the use of group work, etc. but has been expanded into a plethora of applications in the online learning environment. While traditional collaborative learning opportunities have typically been synchronous, many online instructional strategies now implement asynchronous collaborative exercises. These asynchronous collaborations are not dependent upon schedule constraints of learners or faculty. The undeniable fact exists that a variety of levels of structure exist among collaborative environments and that not all forms of collaborative learning prove equally effective (Clark & Mayer, 2003).

Each learning domain examined certainly clarifies important learning processes. The task for instructional designers and educators alike is to evaluate what the needs of the students are and then to employ strategies which help students meet instructional objectives.


Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2003). Learning together on the web. In e-Learning and the science of instruction. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Martin, B. L., & Reigeluth, C. M. (1999). Affective education and the affective domain: Implications for instructional-design theories and models. In C. M. Reigeluth (Ed.), Instructinoal-design theories and models: a new paradigm of instructional theory (Vol.
2). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Reigeluth, C. M., & Moore, J. (1999). Cognitive education and the cognitive domain. In C. M. Reigeluth (Ed.), Instructional-design theories and models: a new paradigm of instructional theory (Vol. II). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Romiszowski, A. (1999). The development of physical skills: Instruction in the psychomotor domain. In Instructional-design theories and models: a new paradigm of instructional theory (Vol. 2). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.