In contrast with the predominately objective approaches to learning summarized in the previous three sections, some theorists have approached learning from a very human point of view. This view is based on the perspective that human beings act with intentionality and are guided by values. According to this view, learning is promoted by understanding the whole person (the learner as a thinking, feeling agent in his own learning), his motives (the reasons for which he may or may not engage with learning), and his goals (or intentions).
Motivation is a major component in human learning theory. However, it is not the only component. In a special issue of The Elementary School Journal devoted to the topic of motivation, Stipek (1984) described a history in which, up until the 1970s “reinforcement theory dominated the motivation literature” (p. 1), with the general belief being that “a child exerts effort on academic assignments to obtain a reward (e.g., a high grade) and to avoid punishment (e.g., a low grade)” (p. 1). She notes that by the 1980s, the prominent theoretical framework was “not so simple” (p. 1). For example, some children “who purposely do not try to attain a good grade…would be pleased to receive an ‘A,’ but they do not perceive an ‘A’ as a realistic goal” (p. 1). This illustrates two other important components of human learning: affect and agency. In this section eleven theories of human learning will be reviewed. They are (a) Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs, (b) Fuller’s biological motivation, (c) achievement motivation, (d) attribution theory, (e) self-worth theory, (f) self-efficacy, (g) self-determination theory of motivation, (h) self-regulation, (i) ARCS, (j) Rogers’ freedom to learn, and (k) Bandura’s agentic theory of the self.
Most of these theories have a much narrower explanatory scope than other theories of learning that have been reviewed. Some of them are intended only to address the motivational aspects of learning, some only the affective or agentic aspects, and others a variable combination of the three. Because of this, summaries of theories in this section will be somewhat shorter than in the behavioral, cognitive, constructive, and social theory sections.