Theories of Learning

There are many theories that have been evolved to describe the different aspects of learning.

These theories are as follows:

Theories of Learning

Classical Conditioning Theory

This theory explains that an individual usually reacts differently to a certain stimulus that he would not react to in a normal stimulus.

A Russian physiologist named Ivan Pavlov performed various experiments to train dogs to salivate after hearing the ring of bells.

Pavlov applied a simple logical mechanism to measure with utmost accuracy the amount of saliva secreted by a dog.

In this experiment, Pavlov provided a part of the meat to the dog and noticed that there was a substantial increase of salivation in the dog’s mouth.

When Pavlov rang the bell but did not provide the meat to the dog, the dog did not secrete saliva.

Then, Pavlov came up with the new idea of linking the meat and ringing the bell. After that, the dog became accustomed to the ringing of a bell.

As a result, no sooner did the bell ring, the dog began to secrete saliva.

Then, gradually the dog became accustomed to this phenomenon, and whenever the bell rang, it would salivate even if there was no meat offered.

As an outcome of the experiment, the dog had become accustomed to responding to the stimulus, i.e., salivate to the sound of the bell.

The meat was just an unconditional stimulus to the dog, and the reaction on the dog’s part was the unconditioned response. The bell acted as an artificial stimulus or conditional stimulus, as termed by the people.

So, the last, conditioned response, is the key concept. This portrays the behavior of the dog, i.e., the ringing of the bell acted as instigation, and the dog salivated in reaction to the sound of the bell.

Classical conditioning theory is shown in the figure given below:

Classic Conditioning Theory

Classical conditioning helps in understanding human behavior effectively. An important form of classical conditioning is higher-order conditioning, in which conditioned stimulus having the ability to generate conditioned response may be used as the unconditioned stimulus.

As higher-order conditioning for learning by human beings is important hence, its application should be enhanced.

For example, higher-order conditioning explains clearly how to link learning with stimuli. The other application of higher-order conditioning is that it helps in the attainment of reinforcement.

Operant/Instrument Conditioning Theory

Operant conditioning involves rewarding an intended behavior or avoiding disciplinary action. The behavior of people is motivated by something that they want or something that they want to avoid.

Operant behavior is intended or learned behavior, unlike reflective or learned behavior. This repetition of learned behavior is because of its reinforcement or even by repeating avoidance of unwanted behavior.

Thus, reinforcement helps in repetition and strengthening the Iearned behavior.

Research for operant conditioning was carried out by Harvard psychologist B.F. Skinner. Skinner believed that positive outcomes of behavior increase its frequency of repetition.

If people are sure that they will get positive results, they would definitely engage themselves in that sort of behavior. Rewards have a useful impact if they are given instantly after the desired result.

It should be kept in mind that the behavior lacking reward or prone to punishment has a very little chance of repetition.

Operant Behaviour and their Consequences

Behaviors Consequences
Doing job Getting payment
Talking to other Knowing others
The Individual Entering a coffee shop Getting coffee
Asking questions to teachers Obtaining answers and enhancing knowledge
Increases production Receiving merit pay
Accomplishing a challenging task Receiving recognition and reward

Operant conditioning examples are found everywhere in our day-to-day lives. A simple example of operant behavior is the applying of brakes by the driver of the vehicle in order to prevent an accident.

In this case, an encouraging situation is that by the application of brakes, the possibility of an accident is avoided. So, in this scenario, the application of brakes is the behavior, and avoidance of accident is the reaction to that behavior.

Human beings can judge which behavior is good rewarding and follow up those behaviors in their day-to-day lives their personal well-being by using operant conditioning mechanisms.

Difference between Classical and Operant Conditioning

Classical Conditioning Operant Conditioning
Reactions are obtained from a person (reactive) Reactions are given by a person. (proactive)
Reactions are attached to the stimulus (no choice) Reactions are fluctuating (choice)
CS is a stimulus such as sound, an object, a person. CS is a situation such as an office, a social environment, a specific set of conditions.
Conditioning is implemented before the reaction. Conditioning is implemented after the reaction.
The first stimulus is produced and then desired behavior is expected. First, a behavior pattern is obtained, and then the behavior is strengthened either by reward or punishment.

Social Learning Theory

Social learning theory is a social, behavioral approach that lays stress on the “correlative synergy between intellectual, behavioral and conditional factors” of human behavior.

Social learning theory which is also known as observational learning, usually happens when an observer molds his behavior after observing or attentively examining the model’s behavior.

The behavior of an observer is greatly influenced by the positive or negative results known as vicarious reinforcement or vicarious punishment, which are part of the model’s behavior.

People acquire knowledge either through observation or by directly experiencing it. A person acquires knowledge mostly by keenly observing the behavior of models whom he admires, from counselors who advise them, colleagues at the workplace, theatre and television actors, superiors who supervise his actions, etc.

This theory is an extended form of operant conditioning, i.e., it has a presumption that behavior is the result of consequences.

It also recognizes the presence of knowledge through observation of other’s behavior and the significance of perception that forms a part of the learning process.

Two important social learning theories are modeling theory and social cognition theory.

Modeling Theory

The social learning theory formulated by Bandura lays great stress on the observation and modeling of the behaviors, attitudes, and emotional outbursts of others.

Modeling is the process in which the behavior of others is copied. Sometimes, there is a change in the behavior of workers, the worker may copy a distinct style of a model, or he may copy the behavior of an observed individual.

For example, a young executive might imitate to dress like his CEO, or a junior might like to smoke or drink in the same manner as his superior or manager does.

If positive results are originating from observation, the observer would definitely opt for it. Generally, people who are energetic and successful become role models for others.

As stated by Bandura, learning would be time-consuming and full of risks if people depend only on the impact of their own activities to decide their future course of action.

But luckily, human behavior is mostly learned by observing others’ behavior. An individual gets a notion about the new behavior to be performed through observation, and this concealed information ultimately results in subsequent actions.

There are four processes through which a model influences an individual. These are as follows:

1. Attention Process: People are able to learn from models only when they precisely pay attention to the model’s traits.

People are greatly influenced by models possessing charming and pleasing personalities, who are socially and readily available and have the desired characteristics.

2. Retention Process: A model’s influence can be judged by analyzing how much an individual remembers about the model in their absence.

3. Motor Reproduction Process: When a person observes a model and notices a new pattern of behavior, then the person should practically implement it.

This process of implementing the observed behavior shows that the person can perform the activities learned from the model.

4. Reinforcement Process: If there is a provision to provide positive perks or rewards, people will willingly exhibit the acquired behavior.

This means that if acquired behavior is supported affirmatively, the learner will perform it on a regular basis.

Social Cognition Theory

Vygotsky developed the social cognition learning model. This model emphasizes that the foundation of individual growth originates from culture.

Vygotsky assumed that children’s thinking is primarily influenced by their knowledge about social community (which is learned either by professional or psychological mechanisms).

Vygotsky advocated the use of language for accumulating this knowledge. People can teach the child about the culture by means of language only.

So, language is an essential medium for gaining cultural knowledge. Culture contributes in two ways to the psychological progression of a child:

  1. Culture helps the children to acquire knowledge.
  2. The existing culture equips children with the tools of thinking. Vygotskian named these tools intellectual adaptation.

The social cognition learning model states that culture inculcates hour ways of introspection in the children, i.e., what to introspect and how to introspect.

Children are more prone to learning through communication. Therefore, educational timetables should be designed in such a way that emphasis should be laid upon the synergy between the learners and the tasks which are to be learned.

A child quite often undergoes a situation in which he is unable to perform tasks on his own, but if an adult assists him in his endeavors, the tasks are performed in an effective manner.

Keeping this in mind, the process of scaffolding is applied in teaching.

Scaffolding means a range of instructional techniques which are used to direct the child gradually towards effective understanding and, ultimately, better independence in the learning process.

It not only helps in delivering instant outcomes but also inculcates the children with the required skills for solving problems independently.

Cognitive Learning Theory

Cognitive theorists lay more stress on the significance of perception problem-solving and intuition rather than believing that learning acts as the bridge between stimulus and response.

This view truly points out that learning is not only an outcome of trial and error or practice, but it is also the exploration of meaningful patterns which enable the learner to find out a solution to the problem.

Cognitive learning usually includes learning facts, notions, viewpoints, and information that enhance our ability for reasoning, solving problems, and learning relationships.

It avoids direct experience or reinforcement. Thus, cognitive learning has a wide scope, i.e., it can vary from simple information procurement to more complicated and imaginative problem-solving.

The figure given below elaborates some conclusions of cognitive learning:

Cognitive Learning Theory

Step 1: This view states that generally, people learn from their experiences and use previous learning as the foundation for their existing behavior. These experiences are a symbol of knowledge or understanding.

For example, an employee facing a dilemma in choosing his project will rely on past experience while taking the decision.

Step 2: People are generally inclined towards choosing the right behavior. The employee has a notion that he has two options to select from, and he chooses the more suitable one for attaining knowledge.

Step 3: People are generally well aware of the result of their choices. Thus, when the employee gets the preferred project which is both rewarding and fulfills the criteria of his satisfaction, he or she concludes that the choice was a wise one. He would also understand the reason behind it.

Step 4: People analyze those results and connect them with their previous knowledge. This becomes a guide for their future endeavors.

In the times to come, if the same type of project arises again, the employee will have a preference for the same.

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