Competency K

Design instructional programs based on learning principles and theories


For library professionals, particularly those who work in school or academic libraries, understanding the principles and theories behind learning provides an excellent background for creating engaging and meaningful instruction. Whether the library professional is teaching a patron, one-on-one, how to download an eBook or instructing a college class on how to get the most out of a premium database, implementing the lessons inherent in these theories and principles makes a great difference in the reception and usefulness of an instructional session. The three primary schools of thought behind learning are the Behaviorist Model, the Cognitive Model, and the Humanist Model. Although certainly more detailed and descriptive models, theories, and principles have been developed throughout the study of instruction and learning, these three models act as a base for much, if not all, other concepts in this field.

The Behaviorist Model came about through the research of psychologists such as B. F. Skinner and John Watson. The concept of conditioning, as exemplified in Pavlov’s famous study with his salivating dogs, is a chief component of the Behaviorist Model. When presented with stimuli, if the subject reacts in the desired way, the subject should be rewarded to reinforce and encourage that outcome. Many teachers and instructors have taken advantage of this principle by “rewarding” students with points in the form of grades. For more immediate gratification, some instructors may reward students with candy for providing a correct answer during the instruction period. Because the Behaviorist Model relies on the ability to shape behaviors, the belief that nurture is favored over nature is evident. The Behaviorist Model works only when the behaviors performed are visible (Grassian and Kaplowitz, 2009, p. 28-29).

Additionally, this model favors testing to determine the effectiveness of instruction and the ability of the student. Grassian and Kaplowitz (2009, p. 29) remark, “A major component of behaviorism is that the learner must be actively engaged in the process.” Therefore, the Behaviorist Model is best applied to topics that are concrete in nature. Instructional design that emphasizes hands-on learning finds an excellent place in the Behaviorist Model and enables the instructor to assess the learner’s progression through observable achievements.

The Cognitive Model relies on a more internal process within the student. In short, the Cognitive Model sees the learner consider information through thought to develop further understanding and draw connections, patterns, and other conclusions among these pieces of information. Because the Cognitive Model requires a somewhat developed ability to process thoughts, it may be best applied to individuals of at least elementary school age. Infants and toddlers will likely struggle with instructional design based on the Cognitive Model. Where the Behaviorist Model may use visual examples of tasks to complete, the Cognitive Model may instead utilize stories and analogies to explain a concept. The goal of the Cognitive Model, ultimately, is to reduce or eliminate ambiguity in the understanding or comprehension of a concept (Grassian and Kaplowitz, 2009, p. 32-35).

Where the Behaviorist Model generally serves well in math, sciences, and craft, the Cognitive Model often works better in subjects like literature and history. Because information professionals frequently teach skills rather than abstract concepts, the Behaviorist Model is likely more useful in many instructional scenarios for this profession. This may not always be the case – if, for example, a public librarian held a book club and one of the purposes of that book club was to gain a deeper understanding of the literature in hand, then the Cognitive Model would absolutely be appropriate.

The third of the three primary models is the Humanist Model, which has a greater focus on the understanding that the learners are not just learners, but human beings who have worlds outside of the “classroom.” Grassian and Kaplowitz (2009, p. 36) describe the concept as follows: “The humanist emphasized that we must teach to the whole person and stressed the importance of recognizing that our learners’ emotional, affective, or feeling states influence their educational successes.”

With a greater understanding of students as whole people, instructors can teach to better fulfill students’ motivations for learning the material. Adjusting lesson plans to address these motivations will often mean increased learning in students. When strategies do not align with motivations, students may have more trouble connecting with the material or simply have less interest. Instruction methods that have more one-on-one time with students fit this model well. Not only does this strategy help the instructor better understand the learner as a whole person, but it also enables the instructor to assess the learner’s achievement of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Grassian and Kaplowitz (2009, p. 37) write, “Basic needs must be satisfied before self-actualization or working to the learner’s full potential can be accomplished.” There’s some evidence that Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is not entirely accurate, but most instructors will agree that a learner who has not had something to eat in quite some time will often be less focused than if the learner is learning with a full stomach. Acknowledging these needs can help instructors determine not only the how of teaching, but the who, what, when, where, and why, as well.


INFO 250 Learning Activity 1

Learning Activity 1 assesses an existing pieces of instruction based on questions posed by the instructor of INFO 250. This particular assignment responds to a video tutorial on understanding call numbers as they are used at the San José Public/State University Library and a similar video on the use of the library’s catalog. Each assessment determines the learning goals of the videos and lists the prerequisites for learners to understand the material. In an additional section of the assignment, I briefly discuss best practices present in the two videos. The beginnings of my own instructional design are additionally presented at the end of the assignment. As an evaluation of instructional design using best practices and principles, this assignment fulfills Competency K.


INFO 250 Learning Activity 2

Learning Activity 2 lays out the groundwork for the instructional plan to teach the basic actions required to download an eBook from OverDrive. With an explanation of the characteristics of the expected learners, existing instructional materials on the subject, an appropriate instructor, instructional goals, an analysis of the goals, and an outline of the proposed tutorial, the assignment provides the beginning for implementing the instruction. Reasons why this material is important or worth learning are also included, which particularly appeals to the Humanist Model. Implementing learning principles and models, this assignment demonstrates my mastery of Competency K.




Regardless of the kind of library or position an information professional works in, instructional and learning theories can assist individuals in forming lesson plans for everything from a course on information literacy at an academic library to training for public library staff members. While no one model or theory is perfect, combining elements from all can improve instructional design. Like all endeavors, constant evaluation and adjustment will ensure learning materials are relevant and effective. While not all information professionals may teach on a regular basis, this skill can be immensely helpful in a variety of situations and ultimately provide for a well-rounded and valuable information professional.


Cherry, K. (2015, June 8). Updating Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. About Health. Retrieved from

Grassian, E. S. & Kaplowitz, J. R. (2009). Information literacy instruction: Theory and practice. New York, NY: Neal-Schuman.