Paradigms of education

There are six major paradigms of education relevant to health professions education: behavourism, cognitivism,  constructivism, sociocultural, humanism, and, transformative.

Each paradigm of education has a different perspective on the purpose of education, what it means to learn, and the roles of teachers and students in the learning process. It is important to be aware of the various paradigms of education because they influence education design and practice - how students are taught, how they are assessed, and what is valued and included in the curriculum. Awareness of the different paradigms, and how they work together, can support alignment of teaching and assessment approaches.

Paradigms of education are constantly evolving. Currently, we tend to see more education efforts based upon the first three paradigms outlined in the table below: behaviourism, cognitivism, and constructivism. In the health professions, we're seeing increased inclusion of humanist and transformative paradigms of education. At any given point in history, multiple paradigms of education can be seen in operation in our health professions curricula, some more dominant than others. The table below, adapted from Baker et al. (in press), presents the paradigms separately; but in typical practice, there is overlap across paradigms.


Baker L, Wright S,  Mylopoulos M, Kulasegaram M, Ng S. Aligning and applying the paradigms and practices of education. Academic Medicine. (in press).

For further reading

  • Ertmer PA, Newby TJ. Behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective.Performance Improvement Quarterly. 1993;6(4):50-72.
  • Mann KV. Theoretical perspectives in medical education: past experience and future possibilities. Medical Education. 2011;45(1):60-8.
  • Schuh KL, Barab SA. Philosophical perspectives. In: Spector JM, Merrill MD, Elen J, Bishop MJ, editors. Handbook of Research on Educational Communications and Technology. Abingdon: Routledge; 2007. p. 67-84.
  • Taylor DC, Hamdy H. Adult learning theories: Implications for learning and teaching in medical education: AMEE Guide No. 83. Medical Teacher.2013;35(11):e1561-72.

To cite this work: Ng S, Baker L, Friesen F. Teaching For Transformation. An Online Supplement. [Internet]. 2018. Available from

Centre for Faculty Development, University of Toronto at St. Michael's Hospital.