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University of Wyoming

In this session we will talk about what learning is and look at more general information on learning orientations and learning philosophy. This week you will explore learning styles and look at the role of experience in learning.

Cognitive | Psychomotor | Affective | Conation

For additional web links concerning adult learning theory,
click here to access the resources page.

We have only been formally studying about how we learn for the past 100 years or so. . . and we still don't have all the answers about what it is and how we do it. Most of this 100 years has been spent studying teaching rather than learning. Learning is a complex process and we will probably continue to study it and refine our knowledge and ideas for a long time to come.

Most theorists believe that there are three domains of learning.

Some researchers would add another domain- conation.

Let's look at each of these four areas.


This is the thinking domain. There are many operational levels of thinking. In the mid 1950s Benjamin Bloom developed his famous taxonomy.

Check out more information on the taxonomy at and at


This is the physical domain of learning. We know from other units that age impacts our physical abilities as adults. Practitioners need to be mindful of this domain especially in the area of new skill development or learning that involves skill development. In 1972, Simpson developed a taxonomy of stages of psychomotor learning (pdf).


This is the feeling or emotional side of our learning. Over the past few years, research is discovering how very important this domain is to learning. Because adults come to learning situations with strong feelings from their experiences, it is necessary for educators to pay close attention to this area. Still another taxonomy has been developed for this area of learning.


This domain has to do with will or volition. It is a belief/motivation-related area. It is the striving to carry out purposeful actions. Some would say it is a subset of the affective domain. I think it is important enough for its own category.

Gerhard Fischer of the Center for Lifelong Learning & Design at the University of Colorado at Boulder, says that learning is affected as much by motivational issues as by cognitive issues.

While most agree that there are different domains of learning, there is no consensus about what it is. Educator Carol Twigg raised some relevant questions.

Learning- What is it?

  • Mastery of a body of knowledge?
  • Critical thinking ability?
  • Communication skills?
  • Preparation for a career?
  • Preparation for a useful, happy life?
  • Ability to find needed information?
  • Ability to interact with others?