18 Mar 2020


As a product of experience, psychologists often describe learning as a comparatively permanent change in behavior. Learning psychology focuses on a range of subjects relating to how people learn and communicate with their environments. The psychologist John B. Watson, who claimed that all actions are a consequence of the learning process, was one of the first thinkers to research how learning affect behaviour. The school of thought arising from Watson’s research was referred to as behaviorism. The behavioral school of thought argued it was too difficult to research inner thoughts, memories and other mental processes. Psychology should be the systematic study of observable behaviour, the behaviorists claimed. Behaviorism thrived during the first half of the twentieth century and greatly contributed to our understanding of some critical aspects of learning.


Learning can be described in many ways, but most psychologists can agree that what comes from experience is a fairly permanent change in behavior. The school of thought known as behaviorism came to influence psychology during the first half of the twentieth century, and tried to clarify the learning process. The three main forms of learning that behavioral psychology defines are classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and observer learning.

Classical conditioning is a learning process in which there is a connection between a previously neutral stimulus and a stimulus which naturally evokes a response. In Pavlov’s classic experiment, for example, the smell of food was the naturally occurring stimulus combined with the bell’s previously neutral ringing. Having formed a connection between the two, the bell’s sound alone could lead to a response.

Operant Conditioning is a learning process in which reward or punishment increases or decreases the likelihood of response occurring. Studied first by Edward Thorndike, and then by B.F. Skinner, the fundamental concept behind operant conditioning is that willful behavior is influenced by the consequences of our actions. Skinner explained how reinforcement could result in behavioral increases where punishment will result in decreases. He also found that how easily a behavior was taught and how powerful the response would be affected by the timing of when reinforcements were delivered. The pace and rate of strengthening is known as the reinforcement schedules.

Observational Learning is a mechanism where learning takes place through observation and emulation of others. Albert Bandura’s theory of social learning suggests that, besides learning by conditioning, people also learn through watching and imitating other people’s actions.

The consequences of your actions can also be influential in deciding how and what you are doing. Behaviorist B.F. Skinner acknowledged that while classical conditioning could be used to describe some forms of learning, it could not account for all. Instead, he indicated that some forms of learning were responsible for rewards and punishments. When something immediately follows a behavior, the probability that the behavior will occur again in the future can either increase or decrease. This process is called conditioning by the operant. Imagine, for example, you’ve just got a new puppy, and you’d like to start training it to act in a particular way. Whenever the puppy does what you want it to do, with a little treat or a gentle hug, you praise her. You scold him when the dog misbehaves, and don’t show love. The reward ultimately leads to an increase in positive habits and a decrease in undesirable behaviours. Although classical conditioning and operating conditioning may help explain certain learning circumstances, you can immediately think of situations where you have learned something without being conditioned, reinforced or punished. Psychologist Albert Bandura observed that many learning forms do not require any training, and in reality, proof that learning has occurred may not even be immediate. Observational learning happens through observation of the behaviors and effects of the acts of others (such as with latent learning).). Bandura was able to demonstrate the power of that empirical learning in a series of popular experiments. Kids watched adult video clips playing with a huge and inflatable Bobo doll. In some instances the adults simply ignored the doll while the adults would beat, kick and scream at the doll in other video. Later, when children were given the opportunity to play with a Bobo doll in a house, those who had witnessed the adults abusing the doll were more likely to take similar actions.Training as you can see is a complex process involving multiple factors. Today, psychologists are not only researching how learning takes place, but also how psychological, cognitive, cultural and biological factors can affect the learning process.

The learning process is not one-dimensional. It happens in many different ways and a wide variety of factors can affect how and what people learn. Although people frequently concentrate on the visible and measurable ways in which learning occurs, it is also important to note that we cannot always identify what has been learned immediately. People are able to learn things that can not be seen straight away. The repertoire of learned behaviors includes the learning of discrimination (where a subject learns to respond to a limited range of sensory characteristics, such as a specific color shade), habituations (the cessation of responses to repeated stimulation), idea forming (the process of sorting experiences by similar characteristics), problem solving, perceptual learning (the effects of past e) Certain forms of learning reflect association, conditioning, imitation, knowledge and imprinting. During the early part of the twentieth century learning became a major focus of research in psychology as behaviorism rose to become a mainstream school of thought. Today, learning in many fields of psychology, including cognitive, educational, social, and developmental psychology, remains an important concept. One important thing to remember is that learning will include good behaviors as well as negative ones. Learning is a constantly occurring normal and continuing part of life, both for better and for worse. Often people learn things that help them to become better informed and lead better lives.

Many times, people can learn things that are harmful to their general well-being and wellbeing. Learning new things process isn’t always the same. Learning can occur in a great variety of ways. A number of different psychological theories have been suggested for understanding how and when learning happens. Learning theorists from the 17th through the mid-20th century tried to develop a scientific evidence of certain principles which regulated all learning processes. Rigorous, “objective” methodology was attempted so that all organisms ‘ actions could be interpreted in a single system of laws based on those in the physical sciences. By the’ 70s, nevertheless  the limitations and inconsistencies in these systematic theories led other psychologists to believe that a single universal theory could not reflect learning.


VJ Granito

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