About me


Dr. P. Prince Dhanaraj

Ph.D. Education, Ph.D. Economics, Ph.D. Management

Educational Consultant,

Teaching, Research & International Collaboration
South India.

Learning

Introduction

Meaning of Learning

            The knowledge we acquire, the language we speak, the habits, attitudes and skills developed in us are all due to learning.

Psychologists define learning as “a relatively permanent change in behaviour, which occurs as a result of activity, training, practice or experience” This definition of learning has three important elements

§  Learning results in change in behaviour

§  It is a change that takes place through practice or experience.

§  Before it can be called learning, the change must be relatively permanent

Learning is often defined as a relatively lasting change in behavior that is the result of experience. Learning became a major focus of study in psychology during the early part of the twentieth century as behaviorism rose to become a major school of thought. Today, learning remains an important concept in numerous areas of psychology, including cognitive, educational, social and developmental psychology.

 

How Does Learning Occur?

Learning can happen in a wide variety of ways. To explain how and when learning occurs, a number of different psychological theories have been proposed.

Learning Through Classical Conditioning

Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov discovered one method of learning during his experiments on the digestive systems of dogs. He noted that the dogs would naturally salivate at the sight of food, but that eventually the dogs also began to salivate whenever they spotted the experimenter’s white lab coat. Later experiments involve pairing the sight of food with the sound of a bell tone.

Figure1_100311.jpg

Characteristics of Learning

The following are the important characteristics of learning:

Learning is universal.  All living beings learn.

Learning is continuous; it is a perpetual activity that takes place from ‘womb to tomb’

Learning results in improved performance.

 

 

Connections

Learning Curve

The measured results of growth in learning, especially of motor skills can be represented graphically by means of a learning curve.  Learning can be measured in many different ways.

Usually we look for either an increase in the number of correct responses or a decrease in the number of errors when we want to know how much learning has taken place or how fast it has occurred.  When we plot these measures on a graph, we have a learning curve.

 

In most cases, whether we are drawing a graph of errors or of correct responses, the steepest part of the curve will be at the left.  This is because the greatest amount of improvement comes early in the learning process.  Then, as the increases in learning on each trial become smaller and smaller the curve will gradually level off.

 

Learning curves are generally positively accelerated i.e. they show continued improvement in learning with persistent practice.  Positively accelerated learning curves exhibit certain general characteristics.

lrncrv2

In the initial stage (OA) the gain is slow and gradual.  This may be due to the fact that the individual often does not possess sufficient practice in all the basic skills needed for the learning activity undertaken.

 

After the initial slow rate, there will be a ‘spurt’ (AB) in learning, due to familiarity with the task.  It is followed by ‘plateau’ (BC) which is a period of apparently no progress in learning in spite of continued practice.  If the learner persists in his learning activity,  he makes steady progress further (CD) and reaches the maximum limit or zenith (DE) which is different for different individuals, always determined by the physiological limits of the individual.  The portion EF of the curve represents the ‘decline’ in the performance due to ‘aging’

 

Factors

Factors that influence ‘Insight’

1.     Intelligence (capacity) : The more intelligent the organism is, the greater will be the insight

2.     Experience : Past experience helps insightful solution

3.     Presentation of the problem.

4.     Initial effort : Initial efforts also develop insight. It may be called trial and error effort made by the learner.

Steps involved in insightful learning

            The following are the stages involved in insightful learning

1.     Preparation (sensing or survey of the problem)

2.     Incubation (period of apparently no action)

3.     Insight or illumination (the solution appears as a flash)

4.     Evaluation (Verifying utility of the solution)

 

Gestalt

Gestalt theory of perception

According to the Gestalt psychologists — notably Max Wertheimer (1880-1943), Wolfgang Khler (1887-1967) and Kurt Koffka (1886-1941) — certain features in visual perception are universal. In semiotic terms, these universal features can be thought of as a perceptual code.

Gestalt is a sensual theory: What we see is a result of light and dark objects, edges and contours, that we form into a whole image. Sensual theories are of a lower order of thinking than perceptual theories, such as semiotics, that are concerned with the meaning we attach to what we see.

Gestalt (the German word means form or whole) is a theory that the brain operates holistically, with self-organizing tendencies. The statement, The whole is different from the sum of its parts sums up the way we recognize figures and whole forms instead of just a collection of simple lines, curves and shapes.

 

Face or vase? When we see an image, according to Gestalt theory, we separate a dominant shape, or figure with a definite contour, from the background, or ground. This image is a version of the ambiguous figure devised by Danish psychologist Edgar Rubin.

 

Kohler’s

Kohlers’s Insight Theory

The learning theory named as “Learning by Insight” is the contribution of Gestalt Psychologists, Gestalt Psychology began with the work of German Psychologists who were studying the nature of perception. Wertheimer is generally considered to be the Gestalt Psychology’s founding father. Wertheimer, Kohler, Koffka and Lewin-all four of these men, originally German, eventually settled in America-are the leaders of what is historically Gestalt Psychology.

“Gestalt” is a German noun for which there is no English word equivalent so the term was carried over in English Psychological literature.  The nearest English translation of Gestalt is ‘configuration’ or more simply ‘an organized whole’  in contrast to be collection or parts.  Gestalt psychologists consider the process of learning as a gestalt-an organized whole.  A thing cannot be understood by the study of its constituent parts but only by the study of it as a totality-is a basic idea behind this theory.

Gestalt Psychology used the term ‘insight’ to describe the perception of the whole situation by the learner and of his intelligence in responding to the proper relationships.  Kohler, first of all, used this term (insight) to describe the learning of his apes.  Kohler conducted many experiments on chimpanzees and brought out a book.  ‘Mentality of Apes’ in 1925 which was the result of his experiments, conducted during the period 1913-17 on the canary Island.  These experiments, show learning by insight.  Some of them are given below :

§  In one experiment, Kohler put a chimpanzee Sultan inside a cage and a banana was hung from the roof of the cage. A box was placed inside the cage.  The chimpanzee tried to reach the banana by jumping but could not succeed.  Suddenly, he got an idea and used the stick as a jumping platform by placing it just below the hanging banana.

§  In other experiment, Kohler made this problem more difficult. Now it required two or three boxes to reach the banana.  Moreover, the placing of one box over the other required different specific arrangements.

§  In a morecomplicated experiment, banana was placed outside the cage of the chimpanzee.  Two sticks, one larger than the other, were placed inside the cage.  One was hollow at one end so that the other stick could be thrust into it to form a longer stick.  The banana was so kept that it could not be picked up by one of the sticks. The chimpanzee first tried these sticks one after the other but failed.  Suddenly, he got a bright idea.  The animal joined the two sticks together and reached the banana.  In these experiments, Kohler used many different chimpanzees.  Sultan, who was the most intelligent of Kohler’s chimpanzees, could solve all the problems.  Other chimpanzees could solve the problems only when they saw Sultan solving them.

 

With such experiments, Kohler concluded that in the solution of problems, his apes did not resort to blind trial and error mechanism.  They solved their problems intelligently.  Kohler used the term ‘Insight’ to describe the learning of his apes.

Insight involves the following criteria

§  The situation as a whole is perceived by the learner.

§  The learner tries to see and judge the relationship between various factors involved in the situation.

§  As a result, the learner is helped in the sudden grasping of the solution of the problem.

Therefore, learning according to them is re-structuring the field of perception through insight.  As a whole, insight depends upon the following factors.

§  Experience

§  Intelligence

§  Learning Situation

§  Initial Efforts

§  Repetition and Generalization

 

 

 

Educational Implication of the Theory of Insightful Learning :

This theory brings the following important facts into limelight :

1.     The whole is greater than the parts and, therefore, the situation should be viewed as a whole.

2.     The use of blind fumbling and mechanical trial and error should be minimized. The learner should try to see relevant relationships and act intelligently.

3.     The purpose or motive plays the central role in the learning process.

Based on the appeal of this theory, teachers are required to pay attention to the following aspects.

1.     Subject matter (learning material) should be presented in Gestalt form. While teaching the topic, parts of a flowering plant or flower, it should not be started by presenting the different parts. Initially the plant or flower as a whole should be presented before them and later on the parts should be emphasized.

2.     The greater contribution of the insight theory of learning is that it has made learning an intelligent task requiring mental abilities instead of blind fumbling and automatic responses to specific stimuli.

 

Learning Curve

The measured results of growth in learning, especially of motor skills can be represented graphically by means of a learning curve.

Learning can be measured in many different ways.

Usually we look for either an increase in the number of correct responses or a decrease in the number of errors when we want to know how much learning has taken place or how fast it has occurred.  When we plot these measures on a graph, we have a learning curve.

In most cases, whether we are drawing a graph of errors or of correct responses, the steepest part of the curve will be at the left.  This is because the greatest amount of improvement comes early in the learning process.  Then, as the increases in learning on each trial become smaller and smaller the curve will gradually level off.

Learning curves are generally positively accelerated i.e. they show continued improvement in learning with persistent practice.  Positively accelerated learning curves exhibit certain general characteristics.

In the initial stage (OA) the gain is slow and gradual.  This may be due to the fact that the individual often does not possess sufficient practice in all the basic skills needed for the learning activity undertaken.

After the initial slow rate, there will be a ‘spurt’ (AB) in learning, due to familiarity with the task.  It is followed by ‘plateau’ (BC) which is a period of apparently no progress in learning in spite of continued practice.  If the learner persists in his learning activity,  he makes steady progress further (CD) and reaches the maximum limit or zenith (DE) which is different for different individuals, always determined by the physiological limits of the individual.  The portion EF of the curve represents the ‘decline’ in the performance due to ‘aging’

 

LEARNING BY CONNECTIONS OR ASSOCIATIONS

            The doctrine of associationism or knowing the world by forming connections can be traced back to Aristotle.  According to him, every experience in life is learned and remembered due to the laws of association – the law of repetition, law of contiguity and the law of similarity. Philosophers like Locke and Hume added to these laws, the principles of ‘reward’ and ‘punishment’.

The first psychological research concerned with associative learning was conducted by E.L.  Thorndike on animals.  Later Ivan Pavlov’s classical conditioning and Skinner’s operant conditioning became crutches on which the connection model stood.  Other theories like Guthrie’s contiguity theory, Hull’s drive reduction theory and Lorenz’s imprinting theory, though less popular, gave a big boost to this model because of their potentialities for application.  The above theories are explained in the following pages.

 

LEARNING THEORIES

1.     STIMULUS RESPONSE THEORIES

* Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning Theory

(Dog Experiment)

* Thorndike’s Laws of Learning

(Puzzle box  Experiment)

* Skinner’s Operant Conditioning

(Skinnner Box Experiment)

 

2.     FIELD THEORIES

*  Kholer’s Insight Learning Theory

(Chimpanzee Experiment)

* Gestalt Theory of  Insight Learning

(Configuration or pattern)

Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning Theory

Russian physiologist Ian Pavlov, during his experimental work on dog’s digestive process, accidentally noticed the secretion of saliva in the dog on the sight of food or hearing the footsteps of the caretaker.

Conditioning can be defined as “a process in which a neutral stimulus which is not associated with any specific natural response, on pairing with a natural stimulus, acquires all the characteristics of natural stimulus”  For example, if food is presented, saliva flows. Food is the ‘natural stimulus’ (or unconditioned stimulus-U.C.S.) that can elicit the ‘natural response’ (or unconditioned response-U.C.R.) ‘salivating’.  The sound of a bell which is a neutral stimulus, not associated with any specific response originally, when paired with food a number of times, acquires the characteristics of food and starts eliciting the response of salivation, even when presented alone.  Now we refer the bell sound as ‘conditioned stimulus’ (C.S.) and ‘salivation’ as ‘conditioned response’(C.R.).  ‘The classical conditioning’ of Pavlov is also called ‘stimulus substitution’ because we substitute a neutral stimulus, through the process of ‘contiguity’ (occurrence of two events in quick succession).  Symbolic representation of classical conditioning is given below:

STAGE I  (Before conditioning)

 

UCS            :UCR

(Food) (natural stimulus)                (Salivation)

CS              : No specific  or

(Ringing of the Bell)                       unique response

STAGE II  (Process of conditioning)

CS  + UCS           : CR

(Bell sound + Food)                       (Salivation)

STAGE III  (After conditioning)

CS              : CR

(Bell sound)       (Salivation)

Conditioning appears to be the simplest type of learning and the basis for further and more complex types of learning.  Most of the animal learning’s could be explained through the concept of conditioning.  Conditioning appears to be an important means of learning among human beings too, particularly in childhood.  Simple patterns of behaviour, learning of words and their associated meanings, new emotional responses may all be satisfactorily explained using the concept of conditioning.

Laws of Conditioning

From his experiments of conditioning, Pavlov derived the following five laws.

1.     Law of Causation :

According to this law, a conditioned response is established by a series of contiguous pairings of CS and UCS.

2. Law of Experimental extinction :

If the CR is elicited without reinforcement by the presentation of the UCS, then the CR gets weakened and finally disappears.

3 .Law of Generalization:

Once the C.R is established, it may be elicited by any stimulus similar to the original CS.

4 .Law of discrimination :

A selective CR can be established by selective reinforcement.

5 .Law of higher order conditioning:

The pairing of a neutral stimulus with a UCS results not only in its becoming a conditioned stimulus for the response but also in its becoming a reinforcing stimulus in its own right.

 

Concept of ‘Reinforcement’  

            Any stimulus is a reinforce if it increases the probability of occurrence of a particular desired response.  For example, in Pavlov’s experiment, food was presented immediately after the dog heard the bell sound and started salivating.  Here to increase the occurrence of the conditioned response viz.  salivating on hearing the bell sound, food was presented as a reinforce.

Thus ‘reinforcement’ could be defined as the phenomenon in which a desired response when emitted is strengthened by presenting a reinforce and thereby increasing the frequency of occurrence of that particular response.

 

Educational Implications:

1.     Classical Conditioning is used in language learning by associating

words with pictures or meanings.

2.     It can be used to develop favourable attitude towards learning,

teachers, subjects and the school.

3.     Developing good habits in children such as cleanliness, respect for elders, punctuality, etc., through the use of conditioning.

4.     Breaking of bad habits and elimination of conditioned fear, through the use of reconditioning process.

 

Thorndikes Connectionism  or Trial and Error Learning :

Thorndike propagated the theory with the help of his experiments performed on chickens, rats and cats.  Pierre Flooure (1794-1857) had proposed that conclusions drawn from animal experimentation should be equally applicable to man.  This proposition started the chain of experimentation in the field of learning with animals.  Thorndike selected chickens, rats and cats for experimentation.  He placed them under different learning situations and studied them carefully.  With the help of these experiments, he tried to evolve certain laws and propagated his theory of connectionism or trial and error learning.  It is interesting to study the type of experiments he performed with these animals. For illustration, below we narrate one of his experiment.

He put a hungry cat in a puzzle box.  There was only one door for exit which could be opened by correctly manipulating a latch.  A fish was placed outside the box.  The smell of the fish worked as a strong motive for the hungry cat to come out of the box.  As a result, he cat made every possible effort to come out of the box.

The situation is described by Thorndike (1911) himself as – “It tries to squeeze through any opening and claws at everything it reaches”.  In this way, it made a number of random movements.  In one of the random movements, by chance the latch was manipulated.  The cat came out and got its reward responses.  In due course, the cat was able to open the door without any error or in other words, learned the way of opening the door.

Thorndike named the learning of his experimental cat as “Trial and Error Learning”.  He maintained that learning is nothing but the stamping in of the correct responses and stamping out of the incorrect responses though trial and error.  In trying for the correct solution, the cat made so many vain attempts.  It committed errors and errors before getting success.  On subsequent trials, it tried to avoid the erroneous ways and repeat the correct ways of manipulating the latch.

Thorndike called it “Learning by selecting and connecting” as it provides an opportunity for the selection of the proper responses and connect or associate them with adequate stimuli.  In this reference, Thorndike has written – “Learning is connecting.  The mind is man’s connection system”

As a result, learning is caused by the formation of connection in the nervous system between stimuli and responses.  There is a definite association between sense impression and impulses to action.  This association can be known as a bond or connection.  Since it is these bonds or connection, which become strengthened or weakened in the making and breaking of habits,  Thorndike’s system is sometimes called “bond psychology” or simply “connectionism”. Thorndike propounded the following laws of learning on the basis of his theory :

 

The Law of Readiness

            This law is indicative of the learner’s state to participate in the learning process. Readiness, according to Thorndike, is preparation for action.  It is very essential for learning.  If a child is ready to learn he learns more quickly, effectively and with greater satisfaction than if he is not ready to learn.  It warns us not to make the child learn till he is ready and also not to miss any opportunity of providing learning experience if the child is already prepared to learn.   The right movements concerning the learning situation and the learner’s state of mind should be very well recognized and maximum use of this knowledge should be made by the teacher.  He should also attempt to motivate his students by arousing their attention, interest and curiosity.

 

The Law of Effect

            In simple words, it means that learning takes place properly when it results in satisfaction and the learner derives pleasure out of it.  In the situation when the child meets failure or is dissatisfied, the progress on the path of learning is blocked.  All the pleasant experiences have a lasting influence and are remembered for a long time, while the unpleasant ones are soon forgotten.  Therefore the satisfaction or dissatisfaction, pleasure or displeasure obtained as a result of some learning ensure the degree of effectiveness of that learning.

 

The Law of Exercise

The law of exercise has two sub-parts – law of use and law of disuse which may be defined as

Law of Use

When a modifiable connection is made between a situation and response that connection’s strength is, other things being equal, increased.

Law of Disuse

When a modifiable connection is not made between a situation and response, during a length of time, that connection’s strength is decreased.

Thus, law of use refers to the strengthening of connection with practice while the law of disuse refers to the weakening of connection or forgetting when the practice is discontinued.  In brief, it can be said that the law of exercise as a whole emphasizes the need of repetition, practice and drill work in the process of learning.

 

Educational Implications of Thorndike’s Theory

            Thorndike’s theory of trial and error has enough educational significance.  It tries to explain the process of learning carefully on the basis of actual experiments performed.  Not only the animals but human learning also, to a   great extent, follow the path of trial and error.  A child  hile confronted with a mathematical problem tries many possibilities of is solution before he arrives at the correct one.  Even the discoveries and inventions in the various fields of knowledge are the results of the trial and error process.

As far as Thorndike’ laws of learning are concerned, it goes without saying that Thorndike has done a valuable service to the field of learning and teaching by providing these laws.  These laws imply the following things in general:

1.     In the process of teaching and learning, the main task of the teacher is to see what things  he wants his students to remember or forget.  After this, he must try to strengthen the bonds or connections between the stimuli and responses of those things, which are to be remembered, through repetition, drill and reward.  For forgetting, the connections should be weakened through disuse and annoying results.

2.     The child must be made ready to learn. His interest, attitude and mental preparation is essential for the smooth sailing in the teaching learning process.

3.     It is also emphasized that past experiences and learning give an adequate base for new Learning. Therefore, the teacher should try to make use of the previous knowledge and experiences of the students.

4.     The child should be encouraged to do his work independently. He must try the various solutions of the problem before arriving at a correct one.  But every care should be  taken to see that he does not waste his time and energy.

In short, Thorndike’s theory and laws of learning have contributed a lot to the educational theory and practice.  It has made learning purposeful and goal-directed and has brought motivation in the forefront.  It has also given impetus to the work of practice, drill and repetition and realized the psychological importance of rewards and praise in the process of teaching and learning.

 

SKINNER’S EXPERIMENTS REGARDING OPERANT CONDITIONING

B.F. Skinner conducted a series of experiments with animals.  For his experiments with rats, he designed a special apparatus known as Skinner’s Box.  It was a much modified form of the puzzle box used by Thorndike for his experiments with cats.  The darkened soundproof box mainly consists of a grid floor, a system of light or sound produced at the time of delivering a pallet of food in the food cup, a lever and a food cup. It is arranged such that when a rat (hungry or thirsty) presses the lever, the feeder mechanism is activated, a light or a special sound is produced and a small pellet of food (or small drops of water) is released into the food cup.  To record the observations of the experiment, the lever is connected with a recording system that produces a graphical tracing of the lever pressings against the length of time the rat is in the box

Skinner, in one of his initial experiments, placed a hungry rat in the above described box.  In this experiment pressing the bar in a certain way by the rat could result in the production of a click sound and emergence of a food pellet.  The click sound acted as a cue or signal indicating to the rat that if it responded by going to the food cup, it would be rewarded.  The rat was rewarded for each proper pressing of the lever.  The lever press response having been rewarded, the rat repeated it and when it was rewarded again, it further increased the probability of the repetition of the lever press response and so it continued.  In this way, ultimately the rat learned the art of pressing the lever as desired by the experimenter.

In his experiments with pigeons, Skinner made use of another specific apparatus called the ‘Pigeon’s box’. In this experiment if the pigeon pecked at a lighted plastic key mounted on the wall at head high, it was consequently rewarded with grain.

With the help of such Experiments, Skinner put forward his theory of operant conditioning for learning not only the simple responses like press in the lever but also for learning the most difficult and complex series of responses.

 

Mechanism of Operant Conditioning:

            Operant conditioning as emphasized earlier is correlated with operant behaviour.  An operant is a set of acts that constitutes an organism’s doing something.  Hence, the process in operant conditioning may start with the responses as they occur naturally or at random.  In case they do not occur naturally, then attempts may be made for shaping them into existence.

The important thing in the mechanism of operant conditioning is the emission of a desired response and its proper management through suitable reinforcement.  Here, the organism is to respond in such a way so as to produce the reinforcing stimulus.  The subsequent reinforcement gradually conditions the organism to emit the desired response and thus learn the desired act.

 

Implications of the Theory of Operant Conditioning :

Theory of operant conditioning has revolutionized the field of training or learning by bringing forward the following practical ideas and implications.

1.     A response or a behaviour is not necessarily dependent upon a specific known stimulus. It is more correct to consider that a behaviour or response is dependent upon its consequences.  Therefore, for training an organism to learn a particular behaviour or response, he may be initiated to respond in such a way so as to produce the reinforcing stimulus. His behaviour should be rewarded and in turn, he should again act in such a way that he is rewarded and so on.

2.     Operant conditioning lays stress on the importance of schedules in the process of reinforcement of beahviour. Therefore, in trying to train or learn behaviour, great care is to be taken for the proper planning of the schedules of reinforcement.

3.     This theory advocates the avoidance of punishment for unlearning the undesirable behaviour and for shaping the desirable behaviour. Punishment proves ineffective in the long run.  It appears that punishment simply suppresses behaviour and when the threat of punishment is removed, behaviour returns to its original level. Therefore, operant conditioning experiments suggested rewarding the appropriate behaviour and ignoring the inappropriate behaviour for its gradual extinction.

4.     In its most effective application, theory of operant conditioning has contributed a lot towards the development of teaching machines and programmed learning.

 

 

2.FIELD THEORIES

Kohlers’s Insight Theory

The learning theory named as “Learning by Insight” is the contribution of Gestalt Psychologists, Gestalt Psychology began with the work of German Psychologists who were studying the nature of perception. Wertheimer is generally considered to be the Gestalt Psychology’s founding father. Wertheimer, Kohler, Koffka and Lewin-all four of these men, originally German, eventually settled in America-are the leaders of what is historically Gestalt Psychology.

“Gestalt” is a German noun for which there is no English word equivalent so the term was carried over in English Psychological literature.  The nearest English translation of Gestalt is ‘configuration’ or more simply ‘an organized whole’  in contrast to be collection or parts.  Gestalt psychologists consider the process of learning as a gestalt-an organized whole.  A thing cannot be understood by the study of its constituent parts but only by the study of it as a totality-is a basic idea behind this theory.

Gestalt Psychology used the term ‘insight’ to describe the perception of the whole situation by the learner and of his intelligence in responding to the proper relationships.  Kohler, first of all, used this term (insight) to describe the learning of his apes.  Kohler conducted many experiments on chimpanzees and brought out a book.  ‘Mentality of Apes’ in 1925 which was the result of his experiments, conducted during the period 1913-17 on the canary Island.  These experiments, show learning by insight.  Some of them are given below :

§  In one experiment, Kohler put a chimpanzee Sultan inside a cage and a banana was hung from the roof of the cage. A box was placed inside the cage.  The chimpanzee tried to reach the banana by jumping but could not succeed.  Suddenly, he got an idea and used the stick as a jumping platform by placing it just below the hanging banana.

§  In other experiment, Kohler made this problem more difficult. Now it required two or three boxes to reach the banana.  Moreover, the placing of one box over the other required different specific arrangements.

§  In a more complicated experiment, banana was placed outside the cage of the chimpanzee.  Two sticks, one larger than the other, were placed inside the cage.  One was hollow at one end so that the other stick could be thrust into it to form a longer stick.  The banana was so kept that it could not be picked up by one of the sticks. The chimpanzee first tried these sticks one after the other but failed.  Suddenly, he got a bright idea.  The animal joined the two sticks together and reached the banana.  In these experiments, Kohler used many different chimpanzees.  Sultan, who was the most intelligent of Kohler’s chimpanzees, could solve all the problems.  Other chimpanzees could solve the problems only when they saw Sultan solving them.

With such experiments, Kohler concluded that in the solution of problems, his apes did not resort to blind trial and error mechanism.  They solved their problems intelligently.  Kohler used the term ‘Insight’ to describe the learning of his apes.

Insight involves the following criteria

§  The situation as a whole is perceived by the learner.

§  The learner tries to see and judge the relationship between various factors involved in the situation.

§  As a result, the learner is helped in the sudden grasping of the solution of the problem.

Therefore, learning according to them is re-structuring the field of perception through insight.  As a whole, insight depends upon the following factors.

§  Experience

§  Intelligence

§  Learning Situation

§  Initial Efforts

§  Repetition and Generalization

Educational Implication of the Theory of Insightful Learning :

This theory brings the following important facts into limelight :

1.     The whole is greater than the parts and, therefore, the situation should be viewed as a whole.

2.     The use of blind fumbling and mechanical trial and error should be minimized. The learner should try to see relevant relationships and act intelligently.

3.     The purpose or motive plays the central role in the learning process.

Based on the appeal of this theory, teachers are required to pay attention to the following aspects.

1.     Subject matter (learning material) should be presented in Gestalt form. While teaching the topic, parts of a flowering plant or flower, it should not be started by presenting the different parts. Initially the plant or flower as a whole should be presented before them and later on the parts should be emphasized.

2.     The greater contribution of the insight theory of learning is that it has made learning an intelligent task requiring mental abilities instead of blind fumbling and automatic responses to specific stimuli.

 

Gestalt Theory of Insight Learning

Meaning of Gestalt :

            ‘Gestalt’ the German word means ‘Whole’, ‘pattern’ or ‘configuration’.  According to Gestalt psychology, the whole is always greater than the sum of the parts.  The parts do not have any meaning outside the whole.  For example when we analyses the following figure in terms of its components, it may appear to consist of a straight line, two dots two arcs and a triangle.

But immediately becomes meaningful by reminding us the picture of a human head.  We organize the individual parts so as to form a meaningful pattern and the ‘whole’ conveys a new meaning.  In this process our past experience play a leading role. To understand or learn a task means to perceive the whole with the structure of its components and their functional relationship.  Thus learning, according to Gestalt psychologists, involves the reorganization of experience into systematic and meaningful pattern.

Insight Learning and its Educational Implications

            Insight learning stresses learning as a cognitive process.  ‘Insight’ is the mental process by which new and revealing combinations of data are suddenly perceived. Insight is restructuring the perceptual field resulting in the immediate comprehension of previously unseen relationship.  The greatest contribution of Gestalt psychology to education is the emphasis on meaning in education.  The world of classroom in which the student finds himself is not a body of independent stimuli.  There is organization and meaning and the child reacts with understanding. History is not a set of dates and events.  It is a logical sweep of events through space and time.  Similarly mathematics is not just a collection of unconnected formulae.  There is organization and meaning in it.  In the working of a problem, each step is related with the next.  Thus education is to equip an individual with meaningful subjective experiences so as to perceive the situations with more clarity.

Factors that influence ‘Insight’

1.     Intelligence (capacity) : The more intelligent the organism is, the greater will be the insight

2.     Experience : Past experience helps insightful solution

3.     Presentation of the problem.

4.     Initial effort : Initial efforts also develop insight. It may be called trial and error effort made by the learner.

Steps involved in insightful learning

            The following are the stages involved in insightful learning

1.     Preparation (sensing or survey of the problem)

2.     Incubation (period of apparently no action)

3.     Insight or illumination (the solution appears as a flash)

4.     Evaluation (Verifying utility of the solution)

 

Pavlov’s

STIMULUS RESPONSE THEORIES

* Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning Theory

(Dog Experiment)

* Thorndike’s Laws of Learning

(Puzzle box  Experiment)

* Skinner’s Operant Conditioning

(Skinnner Box Experiment)

 

2.     FIELD THEORIES

*  Kholer’s Insight Learning Theory

(Chimpanzee Experiment)

* Gestalt Theory of  Insight Learning

(Configuration or pattern)

Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning Theory

Russian physiologist Ian Pavlov, during his experimental work on dog’s digestive process, accidentally noticed the secretion of saliva in the dog on the sight of food or hearing the footsteps of the caretaker.

Pavlov.jpg

Conditioning can be defined as “a process in which a neutral stimulus which is not associated with any specific natural response, on pairing with a natural stimulus, acquires all the characteristics of natural stimulus”  For example, if food is presented, saliva flows. Food is the ‘natural stimulus’ (or unconditioned stimulus-U.C.S.) that can elicit the ‘natural response’ (or unconditioned response-U.C.R.) ‘salivating’.  The sound of a bell which is a neutral stimulus, not associated with any specific response originally, when paired with food a number of times, acquires the characteristics of food and starts eliciting the response of salivation, even when presented alone.  Now we refer the bell sound as ‘conditioned stimulus’ (C.S.) and ‘salivation’ as ‘conditioned response’(C.R.).  ‘The classical conditioning’ of Pavlov is also called ‘stimulus substitution’ because we substitute a neutral stimulus, through the process of ‘contiguity’ (occurrence of two events in quick succession).  Symbolic representation of classical conditioning is given below:

 

STAGE I  (Before conditioning)

 

UCS                     : UCR

(Food) (natural stimulus)                 (Salivation)

CS              : No specific  or

(Ringing of the Bell)                       unique response

STAGE II  (Process of conditioning)

CS  + UCS           : CR

(Bell sound + Food)                        (Salivation)

STAGE III  (After conditioning)

CS              : CR

(Bell sound)                                   (Salivation)

 

Conditioning appears to be the simplest type of learning and the basis for further and more complex types of learning.  Most of the animal learning’s could be explained through the concept of conditioning.  Conditioning appears to be an important means of learning among human beings too, particularly in childhood.  Simple patterns of behaviour, learning of words and their associated meanings, new emotional responses may all be satisfactorily explained using the concept of conditioning.

 

Laws of Conditioning:

From his experiments of conditioning, Pavlov derived the following five laws.

1.     Law of Causation :

According to this law, a conditioned response is established by a series of contiguous pairings of CS and UCS.

2.Law of Experimental extinction :

If the CR is elicited without reinforcement by the presentation of the UCS, then the CR gets weakened and finally disappears.

3 .Law of Generalization:

Once the C.R is established, it may be elicited by any stimulus similar to the original CS.

4 .Law of  discrimination :

A selective CR can be established by selective reinforcement.

5 .Law of  higher order conditioning:

The pairing of a neutral stimulus with a UCS results not only in its becoming a conditioned stimulus for the response but also in its becoming a reinforcing stimulus in its own right.

 

Concept of ‘Reinforcement’  

            Any stimulus is a reinforce if it increases the probability of occurrence of a particular desired response.  For example, in Pavlov’s experiment, food was presented immediately after the dog heard the bell sound and started salivating.  Here to increase the occurrence of the conditioned response viz.  salivating on hearing the bell sound, food was presented as a reinforce.

Thus ‘reinforcement’ could be defined as the phenomenon in which a desired response when emitted is strengthened by presenting a reinforce and thereby increasing the frequency of occurrence of that particular response.

 

Educational Implications :

1.     Classical Conditioning is used in language learning by associating

words with pictures or meanings.

2.     It can be used to develop favourable attitude towards learning,

teachers, subjects and the school.

3.     Developing good habits in children such as cleanliness, respect for elders, punctuality, etc., through the use of conditioning.

4.     Breaking of bad habits and elimination of conditioned fear, through the use of reconditioning process.

 

 

Skinner’s

·        Image by Andreas1 / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

·        Updated December 15, 2015.

·        Skinner box, also known an an operant conditioning chamber, is an enclosed apparatus that contains a bar or key that an animal can press or manipulate in order to obtain food or water as a type of reinforcement.

·        Developed by B. F. Skinner, this box also had a device that recorded each response provided by the animal as well as the unique schedule of reinforcement that the animal was assigned.

·        Skinner was inspired to create his operant conditioning chamber as an extension of the puzzle boxes that Edward Thorndikefamously used in his research on the law of effect. Skinner himself did not refer to his device as a Skinner box, instead preferring the term “lever box.”

·        How Is a Skinner Box Used?

·        The design of Skinner boxes can vary depending upon the type of animal and the experimental variables. The box is a chamber that includes at least one lever, bar, or key that the animal can manipulate.

·        When the lever is pressed, food, water, or some other type of reinforcement might be dispensed.

 

 

Thorndike’s

Thorndikes Connectionism  or Trial and Error Learning :

Thorndike propagated the theory with the help of his experiments performed on chickens, rats and cats.  Pierre Flooure (1794-1857) had proposed that conclusions drawn from animal experimentation should be equally applicable to man.  This proposition started the chain of experimentation in the field of learning with animals.  Thorndike selected chickens, rats and cats for experimentation.  He placed them under different learning situations and studied them carefully.  With the help of these experiments, he tried to evolve certain laws and propagated his theory of connectionism or trial and error learning.  It is interesting to study the type of experiments he performed with these animals. For illustration, below we narrate one of his experiment.

He put a hungry cat in a puzzle box.  There was only one door for exit which could be opened by correctly manipulating a latch.  A fish was placed outside the box.  The smell of the fish worked as a strong motive for the hungry cat to come out of the box.  As a result, he cat made every possible effort to come out of the box.

The situation is described by Thorndike (1911) himself as – “It tries to squeeze through any opening and claws at everything it reaches”.  In this way, it made a number of random movements.  In one of the random movements, by chance the latch was manipulated.  The cat came out and got its reward responses.  In due course, the cat was able to open the door without any error or in other words, learned the way of opening the door.

Thorndike named the learning of his experimental cat as “Trial and Error Learning”.  He maintained that learning is nothing but the stamping in of the correct responses and stamping out of the incorrect responses though trial and error.  In trying for the correct solution, the cat made so many vain attempts.  It committed errors and errors before getting success.  On subsequent trials, it tried to avoid the erroneous ways and repeat the correct ways of manipulating the latch.

Thorndike called it “Learning by selecting and connecting” as it provides an opportunity for the selection of the proper responses and connect or associate them with adequate stimuli.  In this reference, Thorndike has written – “Learning is connecting.  The mind is man’s connection system”

As a result, learning is caused by the formation of connection in the nervous system between stimuli and responses.  There is a definite association between sense impression and impulses to action.  This association can be known as a bond or connection.  Since it is these bonds or connection, which become strengthened or weakened in the making and breaking of habits,  Thorndike’s system is sometimes called “bond psychology” or simply “connectionism”. Thorndike propounded the following laws of learning on the basis of his theory :

The Law of Readiness

            This law is indicative of the learner’s state to participate in the learning process. Readiness, according to Thorndike, is preparation for action.  It is very essential for learning.  If a child is ready to learn he learns more quickly, effectively and with greater satisfaction than if he is not ready to learn.  It warns us not to make the child learn till he is ready and also not to miss any opportunity of providing learning experience if the child is already prepared to learn.   The right movements concerning the learning situation and the learner’s state of mind should be very well recognized and maximum use of this knowledge should be made by the teacher.  He should also attempt to motivate his students by arousing their attention, interest and curiosity.

The Law of Effect

            In simple words, it means that learning takes place properly when it results in satisfaction and the learner derives pleasure out of it.  In the situation when the child meets failure or is dissatisfied, the progress on the path of learning is blocked.  All the pleasant experiences have a lasting influence and are remembered for a long time, while the unpleasant ones are soon forgotten.  Therefore the satisfaction or dissatisfaction, pleasure or displeasure obtained as a result of some learning ensure the degree of effectiveness of that learning.

The Law of Exercise

The law of exercise has two sub-parts – law of use and law of disuse which may be defined as

Law of Use

When a modifiable connection is made between a situation and response that connection’s strength is, other things being equal, increased.

Law of Disuse

When a modifiable connection is not made between a situation and response, during a length of time, that connection’s strength is decreased.

Thus, law of use refers to the strengthening of connection with practice while the law of disuse refers to the weakening of connection or forgetting when the practice is discontinued.  In brief, it can be said that the law of exercise as a whole emphasizes the need of repetition, practice and drill work in the process of learning.

Educational Implications of Thorndike’s Theory

            Thorndike’s theory of trial and error has enough educational significance.  It tries to explain the process of learning carefully on the basis of actual experiments performed.  Not only the animals but human learning also, to a   great extent, follow the path of trial and error.  A child  hile confronted with a mathematical problem tries many possibilities of is solution before he arrives at the correct one.  Even the discoveries and inventions in the various fields of knowledge are the results of the trial and error process.

As far as Thorndike’ laws of learning are concerned, it goes without saying that Thorndike has done a valuable service to the field of learning and teaching by providing these laws.  These laws imply the following things in general:

1.     In the process of teaching and learning, the main task of the teacher is to see what things  he wants his students to remember or forget.  After this, he must try to strengthen the bonds or connections between the stimuli and responses of those things, which are to be remembered, through repetition, drill and reward.  For forgetting, the connections should be weakened through disuse and annoying results.

2.     The child must be made ready to learn. His interest, attitude and mental preparation is essential for the smooth sailing in the teaching learning process.

3.     It is also emphasized that past experiences and learning give an adequate base for new Learning. Therefore, the teacher should try to make use of the previous knowledge and experiences of the students.

4.     The child should be encouraged to do his work independently. He must try the various solutions of the problem before arriving at a correct one.  But every care should be  taken to see that he does not waste his time and energy.

In short, Thorndike’s theory and laws of learning have contributed a lot to the educational theory and practice.  It has made learning purposeful and goal-directed and has brought motivation in the forefront.  It has also given impetus to the work of practice, drill and repetition and realized the psychological importance of rewards and praise in the process of teaching and learning.

 

 

2. Self-Test

Learning - Choose the Correct Answer

1. The permanent changes that occurred in one’s behaviour through experience’ is called

a.Intelligence  b. Personality  c. Learning  d. Transfer of learning

2.Stimulus-Response refers to

a.Learning                    b. Behaviour                     c. Motivation         d. Thinking

3.What persists in our mind for a long time?

a.Learning through senses                           b. Learnt through reading

c.Learnt through hearing                              d. Learnt through seeing

4. Kohler’s learning theory is

a. Trial and Error learning                b. Classical conditioning

c. Instrumental conditioning             d.  Insightful learning

5. Pavlov’s learning theory is

a. Stimulus-Response learning     b. Classical conditioning

c. Operant Conditioning                   d.  Insightful learning

6. Operant conditioning learning theory was propounded by

a. Skinner          b. Pavlov         c.  Thurstone          d. Torrence

7. The theory of learning by insight was propounded by

a. Kohler          b. Adler              c. Klausmeir           d. Miller

8. Classical conditioning learning theory was propounded by

a. Maslow            b. Pavlov         c. Skinner           d. Bandura

9. The learning based on reasoning is

a. Trial and Error learning               b. Classical Conditioning

c. Operant Conditioning                  d. Learning by Insight

10. Which learning does not require intelligence and practice?

a. Trial and Error learning               b. Classical Conditioning

c. Operant Conditioning                  d. Learning by Insight

11. Gestalt means

a. Insight              b. Whole              c. Part                  d.  System

12. For attraction and attention towards learning, the teacher adopts

a. Audio-visual aids     b. Memory aids       c.  Teaching aids     d.  Learning aids

13. Self-learning through sensory experience was introduced by

a. Guthrie             b. Montessorie       c. Elizabeth Hurlock   d. Piaget

14. “You can bring the horse to the water but you can not force him to drink” This proverb refers to

a. Law of readiness      b. Law of effect       c. Operant conditioning    d. Insight learning

15 Thorndike’s basic laws of learning are

a. Two           b. Three               c. Four                    d. Five

16.  Who said – “Learning is the modification of behaviour through experience and  training.

a. Gates        b. Boaz            c. Hobbs              d. Ross

17.The last stage in memory is

a. Retention            b. Recognition              c. Recall               d. Learning

18. Theory of mental discipline of transfer of learning was formulated by

a.  William James           b. Judd             c. Thorndike           d. Bagley

19. Theory of identical elements of transfer of learning was formulated by

a. Thorndike                  b. Judd             c. Bagley            d. William James

20. The rate of learning is uniform on a learning graph. It shows

a. Positive acceleration           b. Negative acceleration

c. Zero acceleration                  d. Uniform acceleration

21. The rate of learning is fast in the beginning and become slow latter due to training. It  shows

a. Positive acceleration                      b. Negative acceleration

c. Zero acceleration                           d. Uniform acceleration

22.  When there is no progress in the training, the learning process becomes constant. This means

a. Initial stage         b. Middle stage        c. Final stage          d. Plateau stage

23. Forgetting curve experiment was done by

a. Bartlett              b. Ebbinghaus           c. Wallace          d. Gagne

24. Theory of interference or inhibition is related to

a. Thinking            b. Memory             c. Forgetting            d. Learning

25. The part of memory which retains what we have learnt until we need them is

a. Learning             b. Retention           c. Recognition        d. Recall