A discussion on different types of learning Essay

A discussion on different types of learning

Learning theories were developed by the Russian Scientist Ivan Pavlov (Dombeck and Wells-Moran, 2008). He has developed and documented principles on how animals including human beings learn. These theories would help people to understand how learning occurs in all animals. Since the behavior of an animal depends on what it has learned, it is possible to manipulate behaviors by applying suitable conditions of learning. Thus behavior of people can be changed by applying learning theories. It is possible to create new behaviors and throw away undesirable behaviors. Therefore it is quite necessary to understand the different learning theories. The present essay is intended to discuss in detail about three types of learning that is Classical conditional, operant conditioning and social learning.

Classical conditioning is a process by which learning occurs as a result of association between an environmental stimulus and a stimulus that naturally occurs in an animal. Ivan Pavlov discovered this while he was studying digestion in dogs. He noted that the dogs salivate upon hearing the sound of opening of food cabinet. This occurred after they were fed in the same manner for a few times. The dogs tend to associate the sound of food cabinet with the food. Such behaviors, which are learned, as a result of an association with external stimuli are called classical conditioning (Wagner, 2008).

In order to understand this better it is necessary to understand some other terms also with examples. If a person gets the smell of his favorite food, he will immediately feel hungry. Here the smell of the food is unconditioned stimulus and the feeling of hunger is unconditioned response to that stimulus. In the given example, if the same person hears the sound of a whistle at the same time he gets smell and if this is repeated a few more times, then each time he hears the sound of whistle he will feel hungry. Here the sound of whistle is the conditioned stimulus and feeling of hunger in response to sound of whistle is a conditioned response (Wagner, 2008). The sound of whistle can then be associated with hearing a particular music, so that the same person will feel hungry upon hearing that music even if there is no food there. This is called second order conditioning (Learning – Classical Or Respondent Conditioning, 2008).

Classical conditioning has much application in life. It is used to treat psychological problems like anxiety and fear in children. The conditions, which cause anxiety and fear, can be coupled with pleasant situations and this problem can be solved. This is the technique used by the trainers of dogs to train dogs as well as other animals (Wagner, 2008).

Operant conditioning is also called instrumental conditioning and it is the learning process, which occurs as a result of the happenings that occur after an organism’s behavior, and a scientist called Skinner first explained it. The happening may be a reward or reinforcement. It can also be punishments. The behavior that is followed by reward will occur at increased frequency and the behavior followed by punishments occur less frequently. The voluntary response to any stimuli is learned by this process (Huitt and Hummel, 1997). The responses, which cause increase in frequency of behavior is called positive stimuli and that which reduce frequency is called negative stimuli. The behavior in a person can be conditioned by this process in 4 ways. In order to increase a behavior, either the positive stimulus can be given or negative stimulus can be removed. In order to reduce the frequency of a behavior either positive stimulus can be removed or negative stimulus can be increased.

An example of learning using this technique is way in which dogs are taught to shake hand. In response to the command “shake”, dog is taught to raise one of its forepaws. Raising the paw is the required response. After dog raises the paw it is given its favorite food. This is repeated a few more times. Finally even when animal is not given any food, each time the owner say “shake”, the animal will give shake-hand (Operant conditioning, 2008).

Social learning is the learning that occurs in a social context. The scientist Albert Bandura developed the theory. This is the type of learning occurs from one another. People learn while living in a society and this learning is social learning.

Social learning is based on certain principles. One is that people learn by observing the behaviors of another person and by seeing its outcome. In social learning there need not be a behavior change as a result of learning. The learning occurs by observation alone. Cognition is another principle of social learning. The interpretation of human learning is highly cognitive in this theory. According to this theory behavior of people can be influenced by awareness or expectations of rewards or punishments. This theory is considered as a bridge between behaviorist and cognitive learning theories (Ormrod, 1999).

According to this theory people are rewarded or reinforced for modeling the behavior of others (Ormrod, 1999). For example if a person wants to be in a group of people wearing the same kind of dress, he will also wear the same dress. The learner can model another person also, like a person respected in a society. If another person reinforces him for that behavior through words of encouragement, then that behavior is reinforced. Sometimes there is no need for a third person to provide the required reinforcement. If the observer is seeing how another person is doing some work and getting enjoyment out of it, he would also do the same work and gets the enjoyment. Thus the reinforcement is included in the consequences of the imitated behavior. The consequences can affect the behavior explicitly. So it is also known as vicarious reinforcement. For example a group of students were shown a film clip in which a child is being praised for hitting a doll. The students began to do the same without getting reinforced by themselves. Thus according to this theory reinforcement and punishment affects the behavior of a person indirectly, or it influence the behavior which is already learned. Here attention plays an important role in learning. For example if the teacher tells that the lesson going to be taken will not be there for a test, the students pays only less attention. Thus attention and expectations of the consequences are critical factors, which affect this learning technique.

There are two types of models, which influence the behavior of a person. They are live models and symbolic models (television). Four conditions are necessary for modeling to be more effective (Ormrod, 1999). The learner must pay attention to the model, he should be able to remember the behavior of the model, he should be able to do as the model and finally he should have the necessary motivation to do what he has learned.

Modeling affects the behavior in four ways (Ormrod, 1999). It teaches an altogether new behavior, increase the frequency of certain behavior; some of behaviors, which were previously forbidden are encouraged, and it increase the frequency of similar behavior.

Social learning helps to improve self-efficacy or self-confidence of a person (Ormrod, 1999). This will in turn help them to engage in more complex activities and generally such students will be more successful. Another advantage of social learning is that a person learns self-regulation. He will have his own ideas and will set objectives and goals and act accordingly. Social learning also improves self monitoring, self reinforcement and providing self instructions.

Social learning theory has a lot of educational implications for classroom use (Ormrod, 1999). Students learn by observing others. It is possible to increase or decrease the frequency of certain behaviors by explaining the consequences. In order to teach a new behavior, modeling is a much more faster and efficient technique, compared to operant conditioning. Students learn quickly by seeing their teachers and parents as models. It improves self-confidence and self-regulation and students are also taught to have great expectations so that they will be motivated to achieve that.

Thus it is seen that basically there are three types of learning, classical conditioning, operant conditioning and social learning. The former two are basic techniques through which all animals are taught to have some behavior. The last one is more complex and the basic technique by which a human being learn from his society.


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