Learning theory (education)

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In psychology and education, learning is commonly defined as a process that brings together cognitive, emotional, and environmental influences and experiences for acquiring, enhancing, or making changes in one's knowledge, skills, values, and world views (Illeris, 2000; Ormorod, 1995). Learning as a process focuses on what happens when the learning takes place. Explanations of what happens constitute learning theories. A learning theory is an attempt to describe how people and animals learn, thereby helping us understand the inherently complex process of learning. Learning theories have two chief values according to Hill (2002). One is in providing us with vocabulary and a conceptual framework for interpreting the examples of learning that we observe. The other is in suggesting where to look for solutions to practical problems. The theories do not give us solutions, but they do direct our attention to those variables that are crucial in finding solutions.

There are three main categories or philosophical frameworks under which learning theories fall: behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism. Behaviorism focuses only on the objectively observable aspects of learning. Cognitive theories look beyond behavior to explain brain-based learning. And constructivism views learning as a process in which the learner actively constructs or builds new ideas or concepts.



Behaviorism as a theory was primarily developed by B. F. Skinner. It loosely encompasses the work of people like Edward Thorndike, Tolman, Guthrie, and Hull. What characterizes these investigators are their underlying assumptions about the process of learning. In essence, three basic assumptions are held to be true.[original research?] First, learning is manifested by a change in behavior. Second, the environment shapes behavior. And third, the principles of contiguity (how close in time two events must be for a bond to be formed) and reinforcement (any means of increasing the likelihood that an event will be repeated) are central to explaining the learning process. For behaviorism, learning is the acquisition of new behavior through conditioning.

There are two types of possible conditioning:

1) Classical conditioning, where the behavior becomes a reflex response to stimulus as in the case of Pavlov's Dogs. Pavlov was interested in studying reflexes, when he saw that the dogs drooled without the proper stimulus. Although no food was in sight, their saliva still dribbled. It turned out that the dogs were reacting to lab coats. Every time the dogs were served food, the person who served the food was wearing a lab coat. Therefore, the dogs reacted as if food was on its way whenever they saw a lab coat.In a series of experiments, Pavlov then tried to figure out how these phenomena were linked. For example, he struck a bell when the dogs were fed. If the bell was sounded in close association with their meal, the dogs learned to associate the sound of the bell with food. After a while, at the mere sound of the bell, they responded by drooling.

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