Learning Orientations




Use learning orientations (e-Learning Orientations for online learners) to describe key primary sources for individual learning differences and help explain the powerful, guiding effects of higher-order psychological factors on learning outcomes and performance.

As a long-term goal, the researchers hope to contribute to revitalizing the interest in affective (emotions), conative (intentions), and social influences on successful learning and performance.


In the study of individual learning differences, too many investigators are ignoring the complete set of higher-order psychological factors in their constructs, theories, and solutions. They are especially omitting the more dominant conative (intentions), affective (emotions), and social factors in the explanations that describe how individuals individually approach learning and performance. Instead, we are treating learners as a "one-size-fits-all" mass without adequately distinguishing primary sources of differences in learning.

  As a result, these investigations often produce "no significant results," a dilemna summarized by Russell (1997). New directions and paradigms are clearly necessary. Until we adequately address the diverse effects of the higher-order influences and match it with sound theoretical foundations, this field of research will remain ambiguous, lack reliable solutions, and continue to yield disappointing results.

Learning orientation is a new perspective that adds the higher-order psychological dimension to differentiate learning audiences and guide analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation of learning environments and instructional solutions. Learning orientation is how an individual intentionally approaches learning. The learning orientation construct identifies three primary learner-difference variables: (1) CONATIVE AND AFFECTIVE ASPECTS, (2) COMMITTED LEARNING EFFORT, (3) LEARNING AUTONOMY. The construct presents a comprehensive, human view that examines the dynamic flow between (1) deep-seated psychological factors (conative, affective, social, and cognitive), (2) learning orientations, (3) responses to treatments and subsequent choices for learning preferences, styles, strategies, and skills, and (4) learning and performance outcomes.

The interplay between these sources for learning differences and outcomes suggests that a complex conceptual structure exists with a sequential order of influence. A clearer definition of this structure would explain or predict how learning orientation strongly influences and guides solutions and outcomes in differentiated learning audiences. It is learning orientation at the top of the hierarchy that cultivates subordinate differences in learning, such as preferences, styles, and abilities, and at even lower levels, our choice and use of cognitive strategies and skills.

As a researcher, I constantly ask myself what can we do to help individuals become more successful, lifelong learners. Reeves (1993) suggests that we need stronger, more reliable theoretical foundations. To accomplish this challenging task, this researcher seeks to understand learning orientation as (1) a comprehensive representation for individual learning differences and (2) the means to determine solutions that foster successful learning outcomes.

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Created by the Successful Learning Research Team.
Some projects were funded in part by the Society for Technical Communication
(STC Research Award, 1997-1998).
Updated June 2000 by Margaret Martinez & The Training Place.
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Copyright Margaret Martinez 1996-2000