Types of Learning Theories in Training and Development

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In simple words, sharing is learning. You share more, you learn more. Learning is a continuous process where people everyday gather knowledge through sharing his or her experience, knowledge, information with others. Therefore, learning is a relatively permanent change in human capabilities that is not a result of growth processes.


Theories of Learning

Today’s business must face huge competition in the market. Therefore, the firm always focuses to get competitive advantages. In the past, People tried to get competitive advantages through the new development of technology, idea and vast marketing. But at present, people emphasis on human capital. Human capital refers to knowledge, advance skills, system understanding, and creativity and motivation to deliver high-quality products and services.  The employee’s experience, knowledge, skills in an organization are different from others. So, these unique characteristics (called human capital) give the competitive advantage of a company. Therefore, an employer can enhance the capabilities of human capital through training and development programs. Several theories emphasize the importance of training and development in the organization and provide different alternative methods for training and development. Major theories of training and development are reinforcement, social learning, goal theory, need theory, expectancy, adult learning, and information processing theory.

Reinforcement Theory

The reinforcement theory emphasizes that people are motivated to perform or avoid certain behaviors because of past outcomes that have resulted from those behaviors. If the trainer wants to increase the positive behavior of the trainee the trainer should give positive reinforcement every time to do that behavior. Behavior which is reinforced tends to be repeated; behavior which is not reinforced tends to die out-or be extinguished.


1. A child will not go near the fire if he had an experience of burn, because of the experience he knows it is dangerous.

2. I joined the “supply chain management workshop” because I know in that program I will get a free bag. I know it from my previous experience of attending the “Total Quality Management” workshop arranged by the same institute.

Read: What is Learning? Is employee learned in training?

Several processes in reinforcement theory are:

Positive reinforcement: Positive reinforcement strengthens a behavior of the employee. If he knows that he will be rewarded for the behavior, he must do it again and again. Different types of rewards the employer can offer such as bonuses, salary raises, promotion and awarding of certificate after the training program. These rewards will generate a positive outcome.

Example: If you know that you will be joining the foreign trips every year if you can achieve the yearly target. You must try hard to reach the target.

Negative reinforcement: Negative reinforcement also strengthens behavior because it stops the unpleasant experience of the employee. The employee performs well because he knows that if he does not finish the training program successfully and unable to execute the training on the job he or she will be not considered for promotion.

Extinction: It is the process of withdrawing positive or negative reinforcement to eliminate employee’s behavior. 

Punishment: Punishment is the opposite of reinforcement. It is designed to weaken or eliminate the response of employees rather than increase it. Punishment is the final step the employer takes against the employee. It may be retrenched from the job.

types of learning theories in training and development

Benefits of Reinforcement

If the employer rewards the employee for positive behavior he or she will be motivated to perform the behavior again and again. They also learn in the training within the easy ways and execute it in the job. These reinforcements increase the opportunity for the trainee to consider a new position in the company.

The reinforcement should be on the time otherwise the receiver lost hope and unwilling to perform. If the employer does not pay for several months you may not interested in the job.  Different patterns of reinforcement had different effects on the speed of learning.

Fixed Ratio Schedule

It means one reinforcement is given after every so many correct response or correct behavior. For example, reinforcement is given after 10 successful sales of the car.

Continuous Reinforcement Schedule

It is a positive reinforcement that is given every time a specific behavior occurs. i.e reinforcement is given after the sales of a flat and it will continue.

Variable Ratio Reinforcement

Reinforcement is given after several occurrences of the target behavior. The number of times is unpredictable. The number of occurrences may define each time before reinforcement.

For example, Reinforcement (1st) is given after 10 successful sales of the juice. After 1st reinforcement, sales volume may define again for 2nd reinforcement. Reinforcement (2nd reinforcement) is given after 25 successful sales of the juice.

Fixed Interval Reinforcement

The time will be fixed when the reinforcement will be given. i.e after every 3-month, for every response the reinforcement will be given.

Variable Interval Reinforcement

If the period for reinforcement is varied it called variable interval reinforcement. It may be effective because the employee does not know when the next reward announces for the responses. Therefore, they perform a desirable way.

Social Learning Theory

People learn by observing other persons whom they believe are credible and knowledgeable. They accept the person as their role model. Learning new skills or behavior by the employee may come from directly experiencing the consequences of using a behavior or the process of observing others and seeing the consequences of their behavior.

New behaviors can be acquired by observing and imitating others that call social learning theory. Social learning theory produces high responses from the trainee because they learn from their mentors. They observe others’ behavior and try to execute in their jobs. It highly motivates the employee. It is also helpful because most of the time the trainee learns with his pleasure. As a result, they learn attentively. It is also like a practical work that makes easy the task for the trainee.

According to social learning theory, learning also influenced by a person’s self-efficiency, which means the person can judge his or her learning skills and knowledge. High self-efficiency means the person ready to take the training. As a result, the trainee can finish the training and execute the training in the job successfully.

Read: Effective Strategies for competitive advantages

Goal-setting theory

Goal influence a person’s behavior because he or she commits to attaining the goals. The trainee is being more motivated when he or she knows that they will be awarded after performing the task. The goal-setting theory involved establishing specific measurable achievable,  realistic and time targeted(SMART)  goals. The trainee here knows that what the trainer expects from the trainee. As a result, the trainee performs according to the target. It is important that the employee clearly understands and aware of the goal.


Need theory

Need theory

It is a motivational model that explains how the needs of achievement, power, and affiliation affect the action of the employee from a managerial context. All people may face needs that are a deficiency in their expectations. Maslow’s and Alderfer’s need theories focused on physiological needs, relatedness needs, and growth needs. The major difference between Alderfer’s and Maslow’s hierarchies of needs is that Alderfer allows the possibility that if higher-level needs are not satisfied, employees will refocus on lower-level needs.

In the training program, the trainer should identify the trainee’s needs and design the session based on the needs that give better results of the training program. Trainers should identify trainees’ needs and communicate how training program content relates to fulfilling these needs. Therefore, the trainee actively attends the training program and completes it successfully.


Expectancy theory


Simply, expectancy theory tells employees are learning when they believe they can learn from the training. The learning and transfer of learning will enhance only when it is linked with the outcomes. Expectancy theory suggests that a person’s behavior is based on three factors: Expectancies, Instrumentality, and Valence. 

Expectancies are the link between trying to perform a behavior and performing well. Instrumentality is a belief that performing a given behavior is associated with a particular outcome such as able to perform better in the job. Valence  is the value that a person places on an outcome (i.e how it is important to perform in the job)


Adult Learning Theory


Adult learning theory describes how adults learn (professionals). It provides an instruction to the trainer to design learning programs that will meet the needs of professionals at each phase of their career path. The aim of adult learning theory is to show how adult learning is distinct and identify which learning styles are best suitable for them.

For example, You design a training program on a basic marketing strategy where most of your learners are 3-4 years of experience in the mid-level marketing position. What’s going on? The learner will not satisfied and unwilling to join the training program.

So, as a trainer, you should understand what will be the training content for the professionals. Most of the time it is beneficial to make a training program with real-life problem solving, case study and experience sharing.


Information processing theory


It highlights how external events influence learning. It is the process like a computer where people receive information (input), store and process the information by the brain (processes) and delivery through the behavior (output). The employee gets training content in the form of verbal instruction, pictures, diagrams, maps, examples, problems, etc., code the content and store it in the memory and response when it needs.

types of learning theories in training and development types of learning theories in training and development types of learning theories in training and development types of learning theories in training and development

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