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Old Tuesday, August 25, 2009
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Default Theories Of Learning

you are right. It is not written in Morgan, Zimbardio, Feldman, Morris, Hillguard's, and not even Weiton. I have searched these theories from internet. I hope, it will be helpful for you.


Early in the 20th century, some psychologists believed that it might be possible to develop a single, general theory that could explain all instances of learning. For instance, the so-called one-factor theory proposed that reinforcement was the single factor that controlled whether learning would or would not occur. However, latent learning and similar phenomena contradicted this theory by showing that learning could occur without reinforcement.

In recent years, psychologists have abandoned attempts to develop a single, all-purpose theory of learning. Instead, they have developed smaller and more specialized theories. Some theories focus on classical conditioning, some on operant conditioning, some on observational learning, and some on other specific forms of learning. The major debates in learning theory concern which theories best describe these more specific areas of learning.

In studying learning, psychologists follow two main theoretical approaches: the behavioral approach and the cognitive approach. Recall that learning is acquiring knowledge or developing the ability to perform new behaviors. Behavioral psychologists focus on the change that takes place in an individual’s behavior. Cognitive psychologists prefer to study the change in an individual’s knowledge, emphasizing mental processes such as thinking, memory, and problem solving. Many psychologists combine elements of both approaches to explain learning.

A. The Behavioral Approach

The term behaviorism was first used by John B. Watson in the early 1910s. Later, B. F. Skinner expanded and popularized the behavioral approach. The essential characteristic of the behavioral approach to learning is that events in the environment are understood to predict a person’s behavior, not thoughts, feelings, or other events that take place inside the person. Strict behaviorists believe that it is dangerous and unscientific to treat thoughts and feelings as the causes of a person’s behavior, because no one can see another person’s thoughts or feelings. Behaviorists maintain that human learning can be explained by examining the stimuli, reinforcers, and punishments that a person experiences. According to behaviorists, reinforcement and punishment, along with other basic principles such as generalization and discrimination, can explain even the most advanced types of human learning, such as learning to read or to solve complex problems.

B. The Cognitive Approach

Unlike behaviorists, cognitive psychologists believe that it is essential to study an individual’s thoughts and expectations in order to understand the learning process. In 1930 American psychologist Edward C. Tolman investigated cognitive processes in learning by studying how rats learn their way through a maze. He found evidence that rats formed a “cognitive map” (a mental map) of the maze early in the experiment, but did not display their learning until they received reinforcement for completing the maze—a phenomenon he termed latent learning. Tolman’s experiment suggested that learning is more than just the strengthening of responses through reinforcement.

Modern cognitive psychologists believe that learning involves complex mental processes, including memory, attention, language, concept formation, and problem solving. They study how people process information and form mental representations of people, objects, and events.

C. Evaluation of the Two Approaches

During the first half of the 20th century, behaviorism was the dominant theoretical approach in the field of learning. Since the 1950s, however, cognitive psychology has steadily gained in popularity, and now more psychologists favor a cognitive approach than a strict behavioral approach. Cognitive psychologists and behaviorists will continue to debate the merits of their different positions, but in many ways these two approaches have different strengths that complement each other. With its emphasis on memory and complex thought processes, the cognitive approach appears well suited for investigating the most sophisticated types of human learning, such as reasoning, problem solving, and creativity. The behavioral approach, which emphasizes basic principles of conditioning, reinforcement, and punishment, can provide explanations of why people behave the way they do and how they choose between different possible courses of action.
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