Print Page | Contact Us | Sign In | Register
April 2019 SEA-Q


Active building upon prior knowledge and/or experience is a description of which learning theory?

  • A) Constructivism
  • B) Behaviorism
  • C) Cognitivism
  • D) Humanism


A) Constructivism


Learning theories were developed as a way to conceptualize and understand how and why people learned.  The earliest but still relevant in many situations is the concept of behaviorism.

Active building upon prior knowledge and/or experience is a description of Constructivist learning theory. This theory pervades much of what we do currently in education. It emphasizes that each learner constructs his/her own understanding of the world and encourages the teacher/instructor to focus on the learner as they go through this process. This learning theory fits very well with our understanding of adult education, with the learner taking control of the learning process. This is the type of learner we look to develop within our residencies and fellowships.

Behaviorism is a theory that suggests that we learn passively through a series of exposures to different types of conditioning. Central to this learning theory is that the learner is passive and the learned responses become reflexive. The classical type of conditioning was described by Pavlov, and operant conditioning was described by Skinner. Although our understanding of learning has grown beyond behaviorism, this type of learning is still relevant in certain situations. For example, in educating our young children, we reinforce proper behavior through operant conditioning (positive and negative consequences).

Cognitivism is a learning theory that arose in part to a reaction to the concepts of Behaviorism (we simply respond reflexively). Cognitivism conceptualizes the learner as having a mind that functions somewhat like a computer and that our responses or learned actions can be understood rationally as a series of processes.  This learning theory puts forward the notion that learners passively develop responses and/or utilize a series of processes like a computer would.

Humanism is a learning theory that suggests people act with “intentionality and values”. This theory emphasizes that learning is learner-centered and the goal is to “develop self-actualized people in a cooperative, supportive environment” (1).


  2. Torre DM, Daley BJ, Sebastian JL, et al. Overview of current learning theories for medical educators. Am J Med 2006; 119:903-7.

Author Information:

J.P. Lawrence, MD, MEd, MBA
System Chair for Anesthesiology
Allegheny Health Network


The SEA is proud to be a member-driven organization, dedicated to the teaching and development of future anesthesiologists, and to the advancement of those who educate them.

Contact Info:

Society for Education in Anesthesia
6737 W. Washington St, Suite 4210 • Milwaukee, WI 53214 • (414) 389-8614