6 Learning Psychology Principles Every L&D Pro Should Know

6 Learning Psychology Principles Every L&D Pro Should Know
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Summary: How can psychology help L&D professionals engage their learners? Discover 6 learning psychology principles for successful training!

Boosting Learner Engagement With Learning Psychology Principles

The concepts of psychology and learning are no strangers to each other. Thousands of years ago, Greek philosophers like Plato and Aristotle were concerned with the inner workings of the mind in relation to learning. In more modern history, theorists such as Pavlov and Vygotsky tried to explain how humans acquire knowledge and which factors affect the learning process. Although we won’t be talking about how to condition your learners to salivate when hearing a bell, there are many lessons we can derive from the learning psychology principles that have been formulated by educational psychologists of recent—or not so recent—years.

In this article, we explain 6 psychology principles that all Learning and Development professionals must know. Knowing the theory behind the way training courses are developed will help you understand how to boost learner performance and knowledge retention.

Psychology Principles For L&D Professionals

1. Prior Knowledge Affects Learning

If there is one thing we can say negatively affects learner engagement, it is when instructors misjudge the learners’ level of prior knowledge. If they think that they know nothing about the subject, the training material becomes too basic for trainees and adds no value to their development. In the opposite case, the instructor omits data that is essential for learners to gain a deep understanding of the training material. To avoid finding yourself in any of the two positions, start with an assessment of baseline level. Then use those results to identify strengths and weaknesses and formulate the training material in a way that is engaging and non-repetitive for learners.

2. Learning By Doing

If your goal is to create a stimulating and educational training environment, then the “sit and git” model is not the way to go. Research has shown that learners are able to retain more information when they are active participants in the learning process. This would mean engaging in hands-on activities, simulations, group discussions and quizzes, and any other activity that gets them moving and reflecting on the subject at hand. As one could imagine, such activities keep learners engaged, cultivate their confidence and creativity, and successfully encode new information in their long-term memory.

3. Driving Motivation

Another learning psychology principle you must consider is that successful training equals motivated learners. Indifferent trainees will do the bare minimum and probably forget most of what was taught to them right after the program. Thankfully, there are many ways to motivate learners. One is explaining the importance and real-life application of the training so that they’re not left wondering if there is something better they could be doing with their time. Another useful tool is motivation through goal-setting. Specifically, you can encourage learners to set personal mastery goals so that they feel like they’re working towards an achievement that is important to them.

4. Keeping It Social

This principle comes from social psychology, but we can use it for our purposes as well, as learning is a fundamentally social process. Create a training environment that promotes collaboration and teamwork, and watch as your learners benefit from the insights and diverse opinions of the team. Just remember to encourage healthy competition, as you don’t want participants to become intimidated and withdrawn. Instead, cultivate a culture of collaboration that aims to help everyone move forward.

5. Providing Feedback

An instructor is there to impart knowledge, explain concepts, and lay down the arrangements for training sessions. But there is another thing that learners expect from them, and that is feedback on their progress. Feedback allows learners to assess their performance by identifying their strong suits and areas for improvement. As an instructor, it’s essential to remember to offer clear, positive, and time-appropriate advice. This way, you’re helping them apply it and make a positive change in their learning progress.

6. Promoting Self-Regulation

An instructor’s role is undoubtedly important, but this learning psychology principle reminds us that learners need to be in charge of their learning experience. When we talk about self-regulation, we refer to skills such as organization, self-control, attention, memory strategies, and more, which can be encouraged through modeling or direct instruction. Some examples are encouraging learners to set personal goals, choose their preferred learning method, organize their schedule, refrain from distractions, or break up training material into smaller chunks. It could also mean empowering them to take adequate breaks to maintain their engagement and attention at high levels.


As training programs become more learner-centric, insights from other principles, such as psychology, will definitely become a subject of debate. Although there are many more learning psychology principles we could talk about, we believe that these capture the main elements that will make your training program successful.