learning

learning

[lur-ning]
learning, in psychology, the process by which a relatively lasting change in potential behavior occurs as a result of practice or experience. Learning is distinguished from behavioral changes arising from such processes as maturation and illness, but does apply to motor skills, such as driving a car, to intellectual skills, such as reading, and to attitudes and values, such as prejudice. There is evidence that neurotic symptoms and patterns of mental illness are also learned behavior. Learning occurs throughout life in animals, and learned behavior accounts for a large proportion of all behavior in the higher animals, especially in humans.

Models of Learning

The scientific investigation of the learning process was begun at the end of the 19th cent. by Ivan Pavlov in Russia and Edward Thorndike in the United States. Three models are currently widely used to explain changes in learned behavior; two emphasize the establishment of relations between stimuli and responses, and the third emphasizes the establishment of cognitive structures. Albert Bandura maintained (1977) that learning occurs through observation of others, or models; it has been suggested that this type of learning occurs when children are exposed to violence in the media.

Classical Conditioning

The first model, classical conditioning, was initially identified by Pavlov in the salivation reflex of dogs. Salivation is an innate reflex, or unconditioned response, to the presentation of food, an unconditioned stimulus. Pavlov showed that dogs could be conditioned to salivate merely to the sound of a buzzer (a conditioned stimulus), after it was sounded a number of times in conjunction with the presentation of food. Learning is said to occur because salivation has been conditioned to a new stimulus that did not elicit it initially. The pairing of food with the buzzer acts to reinforce the buzzer as the prominent stimulus.

Operant Conditioning

A second type of learning, known as operant conditioning, was developed around the same time as Pavlov's theory by Thorndike, and later expanded upon by B. F. Skinner. Here, learning takes place as the individual acts upon the environment. Whereas classical conditioning involves innate reflexes, operant conditioning requires voluntary behavior. Thorndike showed that an intermittent reward is essential to reinforce learning, while discontinuing the use of reinforcement tends to extinguish the learned behavior. The famous Skinner box demonstrated operant conditioning by placing a rat in a box in which the pressing of a small bar produces food. Skinner showed that the rat eventually learns to press the bar regularly to obtain food. Besides reinforcement, punishment produces avoidance behavior, which appears to weaken learning but not curtail it. In both types of conditioning, stimulus generalization occurs; i.e., the conditioned response may be elicited by stimuli similar to the original conditioned stimulus but not used in the original training. Stimulus generalization has enormous practical importance, because it allows for the application of learned behaviors across different contexts. Behavior modification is a type of treatment resulting from these stimulus/response models of learning. It operates under the assumption that if behavior can be learned, it can also be unlearned (see behavior therapy).

Cognitive Learning

A third approach to learning is known as cognitive learning. Wolfgang Köhler showed that a protracted process of trial-and-error may be replaced by a sudden understanding that grasps the interrelationships of a problem. This process, called insight, is more akin to piecing together a puzzle than responding to a stimulus. Edward Tolman (1930) found that unrewarded rats learned the layout of a maze, yet this was not apparent until they were later rewarded with food. Tolman called this latent learning, and it has been suggested that the rats developed cognitive maps of the maze that they were able to apply immediately when a reward was offered.

Bibliography

See T. Tighe, Modern Learning Theory (1982); B. Schwartz, Psychology of Learning and Behavior (2d ed. 1983).

In psychological theory, a change in behaviour that is controlled by environmental influences rather than by innate or internal forces. In zoology, social learning is exhibited by innumerable species of birds and mammals, who modify their behaviour by observing and imitating the adults around them. Birdsong is a socially learned behaviour.

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Process of acquiring modifications in existing knowledge, skills, habits, or tendencies through experience, practice, or exercise. Learning includes associative processes (see association; conditioning), discrimination of sense-data, psychomotor and perceptual learning (see perception), imitation, concept formation, problem solving, and insight learning. Animal learning has been studied by ethologists and comparative psychologists, the latter often drawing explicit parallels to human learning (see comparative psychology; ethology). The first experiments concerning associative learning were conducted by Ivan Pavlov in Russia and Edward L. Thorndike in the U.S. Critics of the early stimulus-response (S-R) theories, such as Edward C. Tolman, claimed they were overly reductive and ignored a subject's inner activities. Gestalt-psychology researchers drew attention to the importance of pattern and form in perception and learning, while structural linguists argued that language learning was grounded in a genetically inherited “grammar.” Developmental psychologists such as Jean Piaget highlighted stages of growth in learning. More recently, cognitive scientists have explored learning as a form of information processing, while some brain researchers, such as Gerald Maurice Edelman, have proposed that thinking and learning involve an ongoing process of cerebral pathway building. Related topics of research include attention, comprehension, motivation, and transfer of training. Seealso behaviour genetics; behaviourism; educational psychology; imprinting; instinct; intelligence.

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or adult education

Any form of learning provided for adults. In the U.S. the University of Wisconsin was the first academic institution to offer such programs (1904). Empire College of the State University of New York was the first to be devoted exclusively to adult learning (1969). Continuing education includes such diverse methods as independent study; broadcast, videotape, online, and other forms of distance learning; group discussion and study circles; conferences, seminars, and workshops; and full- or part-time classroom study. Remedial programs, such as high-school equivalency and basic literacy programs, are common. In recent years the variety of subject matter has expanded greatly to include such topics as auto repair, retirement planning, and computer skills. Seealso Chautauqua movement.

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In the fields of neuropsychology, personal development and education, Learning is one of the most important mental function of humans, animals and artificial cognitive systems. It relies on the acquisition of different types of knowledge supported by perceived information. It leads to the development of new capacities, skills, values, understanding, and preferences. Its goal is the increasing of individual and group experience. Learning functions can be performed by different brain learning processes, which depend on the mental capacities of learning subject, the type of knowledge which has to be acquitted, as well as on socio-cognitive and environmental circumstances.

Learning ranges from simple forms of learning such as habituation and classical conditioning seen in many animal species, to more complex activities such as play, seen only in relatively intelligent animals and humans. Therefore, in general, a learning can be conscious and not conscious.

For example, for small children, non-conscious learning processes are as natural as breathing. In fact, there is evidence for behavioral learning prenatally, in which habituation has been observed as early as 32 weeks into gestation, indicating that the central nervous system is sufficiently developed and primed for learning and memory to occur very early on in development.

From the social perspective, learning is the goal of teaching and education.

Conscious learning is a capacity requested by students, therefore is usually goal-oriented and requires a motivation.

Learning has also been mathematically modeled using a differential equation related to an arbitrarily defined knowledge indicator with respect to time, and dependent on a number of interacting factors (constants and variables) such as initial knowledge, motivation, intelligence, knowledge anchorage or resistance, etc. Thus, learning does not occur if there is no change in the amount of knowledge even for a long time, and learning is negative if the amount of knowledge is decreasing in time. Inspection of the solution to the differential equation also shows the sigmoid and logarithmic decay learning curves, as well as the knowledge carrying capacity for a given learner.

Physiology of learning

"Thought," in a general sense, is commonly conceived as something arising from the stimulation of neurons in the brain. Current understanding of neurons and the central nervous system implies that the process of learning corresponds to changes in the relationship between certain neurons in the brain. Research is ongoing in this area.

It is generally recognized that memory is more easily retained when multiple parts of the brain are stimulated, such as through combinations of hearing, seeing, smelling, motor skills, touch sense, and logical thinking.

Repeating thoughts and actions is an essential part of learning. Thinking about a specific memory will make it easy to recall. This is the reason why reviews are such an integral part of education. On first performing a task, it is difficult as according to current theory synaptic modification is necessary for the task to be acquired. After several repetitions it is believed that structural changes occur in relevant synapses, thus rendering the task easier. When the task becomes so easy that you can perform it at any time, these structural changes have likely ceased.

Types of learning

Simple non-associative learning

Habituation

In psychology, habituation is an example of non-associative learning in which there is a progressive diminution of behavioral response probability with repetition of a stimulus. It is another form of integration. An animal first responds to a stimulus, but if it is neither rewarding nor harmful the animal reduces subsequent responses. One example of this can be seen in small song birds - if a stuffed owl (or similar predator) is put into the cage, the birds initially react to it as though it were a real predator. Soon the birds react less, showing habituation. If another stuffed owl is introduced (or the same one removed and re-introduced), the birds react to it again as though it were a predator, demonstrating that it is only a very specific stimulus that is habituated to (namely, one particular unmoving owl in one place). Habituation has been shown in essentially every species of animal, including the large protozoan Stentor Coeruleus.

Sensitization

Sensitization is an example of non-associative learning in which the progressive amplification of a response follows repeated administrations of a stimulus (Bell et al., 1995). An everyday example of this mechanism is the repeated tonic stimulation of peripheral nerves that will occur if a person rubs his arm continuously. After a while, this stimulation will create a warm sensation that will eventually turn painful. The pain is the result of the progressively amplified synaptic response of the peripheral nerves warning the person that the stimulation is harmful. Sensitization is thought to underlie both adaptive as well as maladaptive learning processes in the organism.

Associative learning

Operant conditioning

Operant conditioning is the use of consequences to modify the occurrence and form of behavior. Operant conditioning is distinguished from Pavlovian conditioning in that operant conditioning deals with the modification of voluntary behavior. Discrimination learning is a major form of operant conditioning. One form of it is called Errorless learning.

Classical conditioning

The typical paradigm for classical conditioning involves repeatedly pairing an unconditioned stimulus (which unfailingly evokes a particular response) with another previously neutral stimulus (which does not normally evoke the response). Following conditioning, the response occurs both to the unconditioned stimulus and to the other, unrelated stimulus (now referred to as the "conditioned stimulus"). The response to the conditioned stimulus is termed a conditioned response.

Imprinting

Imprinting is the term used in psychology and ethology to describe any kind of phase-sensitive learning (learning occurring at a particular age or a particular life stage) that is rapid and apparently independent of the consequences of behavior. It was first used to describe situations in which an animal or person learns the characteristics of some stimulus, which is therefore said to be "imprinted" onto the subject.

Observational learning

The most common human learning process is imitation; one's personal repetition of an observed behaviour, such as a dance. Humans can copy three types of information simultanesouly: the demonstrators goals, actions and enviironmental outcomes (results, see Emulation (observational learning)). Through copying these types of information, (most) infants will tune into their surrounding culture.

Play

Play generally describes behavior which has no particular end in itself, but improves performance in similar situations in the future. This is seen in a wide variety of vertebrates besides humans, but is mostly limited to mammals and birds. Cats are known to play with a ball of string when young, which gives them experience with catching prey. Besides inanimate objects, animals may play with other members of their own species or other animals, such as orcas playing with seals they have caught. Play involves a significant cost to animals, such as increased vulnerability to predators and the risk or injury and possibly infection. It also consumes energy, so there must be significant benefits associated with play for it to have evolved. Play is generally seen in younger animals, suggesting a link with learning. However, it may also have other benefits not associated directly with learning, for example improving physical fitness.

Multimedia learning

The learning where learner uses multimedia learning environments (Mayer, 2001). This type of learning relies on dual-coding theory (Paivio, 1971).

e-Learning and m-Learning

Electronic learning or e-learning is a general term used to refer to Internet-based networked computer-enhanced learning. A specific and always more diffused e-learning is mobile learning (m-Learning), it uses different mobile telecommunication equipments, such as cellular phones.

Approaches to learning

Rote learning

Rote learning is a technique which avoids understanding the inner complexities and inferences of the subject that is being learned and instead focuses on memorizing the material so that it can be recalled by the learner exactly the way it was read or heard. The major practice involved in rote learning techniques is learning by repetition, based on the idea that one will be able to quickly recall the meaning of the material the more it is repeated. Rote learning is used in diverse areas, from mathematics to music to religion. Although it has been criticized by some schools of thought, rote learning is a necessity in many situations.

Informal learning

Informal learning occurs through the experience of day-to-day situations (for example, one would learn to look ahead while walking because of the danger inherent in not paying attention to where one is going). It is learning from life, during a meal at table with parents, Play, exploring.

Formal learning

Formal learning is learning that takes place within a teacher-student relationship, such as in a school system.

Non-formal learning is organized learning outside the formal learning system. For example: learning by coming together with people with similar interests and exchanging viewpoints, in clubs or in (international) youth organizations, workshops.

Non-formal learning and combined approaches

The educational system may use a combination of formal, informal, and non-formal learning methods. The UN and EU recognize these different forms of learning (cf. links below). In some schools students can get points that count in the formal-learning systems if they get work done in informal-learning circuits. They may be given time to assist international youth workshops and training courses, on the condition they prepare, contribute, share and can proof this offered valuable new insights, helped to acquire new skills, a place to get experience in organizing, teaching, etc.

In order to learn a skill, such as solving a Rubik's cube quickly, several factors come into play at once:

  • Directions help one learn the patterns of solving a Rubik's cube
  • Practicing the moves repeatedly and for extended time helps with "muscle memory" and therefore speed
  • Thinking critically about moves helps find shortcuts, which in turn helps to speed up future attempts.
  • The Rubik's cube's six colors help anchor solving it within the head.
  • Occasionally revisiting the cube helps prevent negative learning or loss of skill

See also

References

  • Paivio, A (1971). Imagery and verbal processes. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.
  • Holt, John (1983). How Children Learn. UK: Penguin Books. ISBN 0140225706

External links

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