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Chapter 10
Theories of Learning





A professor made the following comments, At least once a semester, a student comes to my Office after receiving a poor score on an examination stating, but I studied so hard.


I studied twice as long as my roommate, yet, he only missed one question and I missed seventeen.


Storing information in Long term memory and then retrieving it can be a tricky business.


If the two roommates referenced above were equally motivated to learn, the difference between them may be due to storage and retrieval process.


What people see or hear may not necessarily be what they store in Long term memory.


Unfortunately, our minds are not accurate recorders of life events.  We quickly lose most of what we have stored in our sensory register.  In a manner of speaking, much information goes in one ear and out the other.


Because we can save so little information for any length of time, many learning theorists believe that long term memory involves a process of construction whereby we use bits and pieces of information we do retain to build a reasonable understanding of the world around us.








Consider how much we miss from the spoken language:  For example, lets say you are in a noisy room and hear someone say:


I ant  - ear a thing in this lace!


Although you havent heard everything the person said, you may have enough information to perceive the sentence:


I cant hear a thing in this place!




An example of visual construction follows:  What do you see in this picture?













Most people perceive the picture on the left as being a woman even though many of her features are missing.


The other two figures are a bit more difficult to see or figure out but it can be done with a little time and concentration.


We should remember that people dont always construct the same interpretation of any given event.


What do you see in the figure below?













The picture above is an example of ambiguous stimulus.  An ambiguous stimulus is something that readily lends itself to more than one possible construction.  Some people perceive the figure as a bald man with overbite and a backward tilt to his head.  Others instead perceive a rat or mouse with a very short front leg and a long tail curling beneath its body.


As you can see then, people often perceive the world in their own unique ways, and all may arrive at different conclusion about what they have seen and heard.  As a result, several people witnessing the same event often store very different things in their long term memory.





Individuals knowledge about the world, their priorities and their predictions about what environmental input is likely to be used affect what they pay attention to and hence also affect what information moves from the sensory register into working memory.


A student who has learned that a teachers lecture content will probably reappear on an upcoming exam is likely to pay attention to what the teacher is saying.  A student who has learned that a teachers exam questions are based entirely on outside reading may instead attend to something more relevant or interesting, perhaps the flattering sweater worn by the student on his right.





You should recall from the preceding chapter that rehearsal provides a means of maintaining information in working memory indefinitely.


Yet a number of theorists have argued that rehearsal leads to storage in long term memory only if, in the process, the learner associates the new information with existing knowledge.







Look at this list of 15 words.




And now look at this list of words






Both lists are the same length, and both contain exactly the same letters. Which list is easier to learn?  No doubt you will agree that the second list is easier because you can relate it to words you already know.


By relating new information to knowledge already stored in their long term memories, people find meaning in that information.  Hence, this process is frequently known as meaningful learning.


We learn information meaningfully by storing it in long term memory in association with other similar pieces of information.  Meaningful learning appears to facilitate both storage and retrieval.  The information goes in more quickly and is remembered more easily.





Again let me reiterate that we not only store verbal or spoken information but also visually.  Visual Imagery is the ability to capture a mental picture of how a figure actually looked.


Researchers disagree regarding the exact nature of visual imagery.  Nevertheless, research indicates that forming visual images can be a powerful means of storing information in long term memory.  Numerous research studies have shown that people have a remarkably accurate memory for visual information.





Several factors influence the specific way in which learners store information in long term memory.


Verbalization (spelling a word: visualize it, pronounce it, write it, syllables)



Prior Knowledge (when you can connect new information to what you are learning)





Before we leave our discussion of long term memory storage, we should note a few final points about storage processes:


  • Long term memory storage is idiosyncratic:  Any two people store different information from the same situation.


  • Storage of new information sometimes affects previously learned information as well:  Consistent with the process of elaboration, learners sometimes distort new material to fit their existing beliefs.  Yet, in other situations, a new piece of information may help learners recognize that something they stored earlier is inaccurate.


  • The ways in which people store new information affect both the nature of the knowledge they posses and the ease with which they can retrieve that knowledge later on.



We typically store less than what we have sense, because our working memories cannot hold all of the input that our sensory registers temporarily record.  At the same time we also store more than what we have sensed, using the often incomplete data we receive to construct a logical understanding of the events around us.






Selection: which is the process of determining what information we should process further and what information is irrelevant.


Rehearsal: which is repeating something over and over again in a relatively meaningless fashion.


Meaningful Learning:  which entails connecting new material with similar ideas already stored in memory. 


Internal organization:  involves integrating various pieces of new information into a cohesive, interrelated whole.


 Elaboration:  involves imposing ones own previously acquired knowledge and beliefs on new information. 


Visual imagery: which is encoding information in a mental picture that maintains its physical appearance to some extent.






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