Learning Theory Tidbits


This post is overview of chapter Learning Theory Tidbits from Black Box Software Testing Instructor’s Manual by, Rebecca L. Fiedler, Cem Kaner and Douglas Hoffman. It explains and contrasts learning theories and it helps you to understand how BBST and Rapid Software Testing courses differ from ISTQB courses.

Passive Learning

We all had, in some point of our education, that type of learning. Follow the prescribed rules without questioning them for years. And after that, when you get a ton of certificates (black belt), you will be entitled by community to vary those rules. ISTQB courses are example of passive learning. Authors provide example from movie The Karate Kid, where Mr. Miyagi states:

“We make sacred pact. I promise teach karate to you, you promise learn. I say, you do, no questions.”

Multiple-choice tests are used as a mean of proof that students comply to learning material. Those tests usually involve high stakes pass/fail criteria, so teachers focus instructions to help students to pass the exam. The result often encourages students uncritical acceptance of thought material.

Active learning

In active learning, teachers ARGUE student learning by asking questions, they make students to build their own theory models and to test them. What is shocking for first time active learning students is the fact that rules are broken and pushed to the limits in order to examine student reaction.

Lets recap definition of Argue:

 1 they argued that the government was to blame: contend, assert, maintain, insist, hold, claim, reason, allege; formal aver, represent, opine.
 2 the children are always arguing: quarrel, disagree, squabble, bicker, fight, wrangle, dispute, feud, have words, cross swords, lock horns, be at each other’s throats; informal spat.
 3 it is hard to argue the point: dispute, debate, discuss, controvert, deny, question.

The best examples from software testing community are James Bach and Michael Bolton. I have personal experience with Michael, during the RST course. He asks questions, provokes discussion, debates, denies, controverts learning topics and student answers. For me it was positive shock, because I had never been taught in that way. I read a lot of James twitter discussions where he used active learning. It was shock for those people too, and some of them got offended.

Active learning is using following learning theories:

  • constructivism,
  • inquiry-based learning,
  • problem based learning,
  • case based learning,
  • active reading skills.

Adult Learning Theory

It is high probability that software testing course will be taken by adult person. There is andragogy teaching theory:

  1. Why I learn this topic?
  2. I can direct myself.
  3. Previous experience is valuable resource.
  4. How is this relevant to my job/life?
  5. Task and problems relevant to my job/life.
  6. Inner motivation.


In this theory, individuals are encouraged to construct their own understanding of the topic. Teacher is using messy defined problems, encouraging students to create their own topic questions and to come up with their own solutions. For that purpose, teacher is using:

  • open-ended questions,
  • challenging experiences,
  • higher-level experiences,
  • models,
  • social interactions,
  • manipulatives and interactive materials (example is Black Box Puzzles)


Active learning is not for everyone. I hope that this post will help you to decide should you take path by taking BBST or Rapid Software Testing courses.

References and resources

1. Beyond Constructivism: Models and Modeling Perspectives on Mathematics Problem Solving, Learning, and Teaching by Richard A. Lesh and Helen M. Doerr.
 2. In Search of Understanding: The Case for Constructivist Classrooms by Jacqueline Brooks and Martin Brooks.
 3. How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition by the Committee on Learning Research and Educational Practice and the National Research Council.

Originally published at tentamen software testing blog.