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Chapter 1
Theories of Learning







*  What learning is?  (How would you define learning)  Change in behavior (visible)


*  How it occurs?       (In your opinion, how does it occur) Experiences we encounter


*  What factors are necessary for it to take place?   Experience satisfying, and rewarding






In order to survive Human must learn to Adapt to their environment, or if they cant adapt to the environment they must Migrate from it, or Die in the environment.  (Winter)


Learning allows an individual a greater degree of flexibility and adaptability than is true for any other species on earth.








Many species seem to have it easy compared to Humans because they are born with instinct to accomplish certain task.   Birds are born knowing how to fly, build homes/nests, care for their young, when to fly South and how to get there. This is all by instinct.


Unlike birds, humans have to Learn how to frame or build homes, how to care for their young, how to get from one place to another.  We are not born with these skills.


Because so little of our behavior is instinct and so much is learned, we are able to benefit from our experiences.  We pass on our experiences to our children and each generation is more capable of behaving more intelligently. (It is humans who are getting ahead)





Theorists have come up with two definitions to define learning.  There is a Behaviorists definition and a Cognitive definition.  Lets look at each separately.


Behaviorists define Learning as a relatively permanent change in behavior due to experience.  (In this definition the learning is Visible). Examples:


Learning to tie your shoe:  Not eating spicy Foods:  buckling seatbelts:  not touching a hot stove



Cognitive Psychologists define Learning as a relatively permanent change in mental associations due to experience (In this definition the learning is Unseen). Examples:


 Finding or understanding a  relationship between addition and Subtraction.  Using memory gimmicks to remember Spanish.  (Boy ah La Casa)




Thousands of experiments have investigated how people and animals learn.  These experiments have led psychologists to generalize about the learning process through the formation of both Principles and Theories of learning.


Principles of learning identify specific factors that consistently influence learning and describe the particular effects of these factors.  Example


A behavior that is followed by a satisfying state of affairs (a reward) is more likely to be learned than a behavior not followed by such a reward.  Example


   A pigeon is given a small pellet of food every time it turns its body in a complete       

   Circle. Consequently, it begins turning more and more frequently.


   Dolphins given fish for speaking quickly become quite chatty.


   A high school girl who receives compliments on her new hairstyle continues to style    

   her hair in the same way.


When principles such as these are observed over and over again and. and when it stands the test of is sometimes called a Law.


Theories of learning provide explanations about the underlying mechanisms involved in the learning process.  Consequently it can be said:


Principles tell us What factors are important for learning.


Theories tell us Why those factors are important.  Example:


      People learn what they pay attention to.  Reward increases learning when it makes   

      People pay attention to the information to be learned. 


In the example above, What caused the learning?  THE REWARD   (Principle) 

Why did the learning occur?  PAYING ATTENTION   (Theory)   

Now lets look at some Advantages and Disadvantages of Theories





Theories have several advantages over principles:


  • Theories are often very concise ( Psychologists use the term parsimonious)
  • Theories provide starting points for conducting new research.  For example, the theory that attention is more important than reward leads to the following prediction or hypothesis:


           When instruction draws an individuals attention to the information to be learned,

           Learning occurs in the absence of a reward.


  • Theories help us to make sense of research findings






  • No single theory explain everything that researchers have discovered about learning


  • Theories affect what new information is published therefore biasing the knowledge that we have about learning.  Researchers are reluctant to publish findings that are totally opposite of theories they have purposed.







One should think of learning theories as changing models of the learning process.  Each theory is based on several decades of research results and each has some validity.  However, as research continues, theories of learning will undoubtedly change or be revised to account for new information or evidence that emerges.  In this sense, no single theory can be considered FACT.


Principles generally maintain their validity longer than theories do. 


Both principles and theories provide a means to predict the conditions under which learning is likely to occur.  To the extent that principles and theories are usefulimperfect and temporary as they may bewe are better off with them than we would be without them.




Learning is the means through which we acquire not only skills and knowledge, but we also develop Values, attitudes, and emotional reaction through learning.


Learning allows human beings a greater degree of flexibility and adaptability than is true of any other species.  Currently, two major theoretical perspectives help us to understand how people learn.




  • Defines learning as a relative permanent change in behavior
  • Emphasizes the relationship among stimuli and response
  • Learning is visible





  • Defines Learning as a relative permanent change in mental association due to experiences
  • Emphasizes the role of internal mental processes involved in learning
  • Learning is Unseen







Each of these perspectives can help educators optimize learning environments and facilitate student achievement.



1.      Students respond to stimuli or Teachers expectations (rewards)


2.      In many cases. Teacher can observe learning taking place


3.      Mental Association, making a topic interesting so student will want to learn and will pay attention







I might talk about how old I am, what I look like, and what I do for a living. (I'll try to be truthful!)

I might also include some information about my personal history: where I grew up, where I went to school, various places I've lived. If I have one, I'll include a picture of myself engaging in an activity I enjoy, such as a sport or hobby.

Backpacker taking a drink; Size=180 pixels wide
Taking a break from work

What a job!

I might describe my job in a little more detail here. I'll write about what I do, what I like best about it, and even some of the frustrations. (A job with frustrations? Hard to believe, huh?)


Here's a list of some of my favorite movies:

Jules and Jim, Manhattan, Breaking the Waves

Here's a list of some of my favorite music:

Nirvana, Frank Sinatra, Ibrahim Ferrer