Theories of Learning

The theory of learning is the explanation of the concept of learning by any psychologist and psychological community. Under this, the extensive solution of problems related to learning has been presented. There is no need of uniformity in the learning theories. There can be different approaches in the different theories of learning. Hilgard has described more than ten theories of learning in his book ‘Theories of learning’. It is difficult to decide, which theory is right or which is wrong. The statement of Frandsen, related to it, is admirable—‘’Theory is neither right, nor wrong. They are only more or less useful for special tasks.’’
The explanatory statements, that are presented in order to explain any concept on the basis of the conclusions of perceptible uses, can be named as Theory. The conditions under which learning takes place, scientists and psychologists, after observing, analyzing, and synthesizing it scientifically, have presented their collective thoughts concluding the result of their experiments, these could be called the concepts of learning. In the words of Prof. Chauhan- ‘’Theories of learning attempt to explain the mechanism of behavior involved in learning process.’’

Theories of Learning

Different psychologists have presented different theories of learning. Some theories have similar thoughts, while others have different thoughts. On the basis of similarity and differences, the classification of the learning theory can be done. In the books of Educational psychology, the classification of learning theories has been presented on the basis of their variations. Hence it is clear that the psychologists have different opinion in relation to the classification of theories of learning. With a point of view to make the study easy and limited, the classification of learning theories has been presented in the following way:

(A) Contiguity Theory—Under it the following theories are mainly included:
  1. Pavlov’s Conditioned Reflex Theory
  2. Watson’s Theory of Learning
  3. Guthrie’s Contiguous Conditioning Theory
(B) Theories of Reinforcement—Under it, the learning theories of following group are mainly included:
  1. Hull’s theory and Theories of hull’s Traditions
  2. Instrumental Reinforcement Theory
Under it, the following theories are included:
  (i) Thorndike’s S-R Bond Theory
 (ii) Woodworth’s S-O-R Theory
 (iii) Skinner’s Operant Conditioning Theory

(C) Cognitive Theory—Under it, the important theory of following group is included:
  1. Sign Learning Theories—Mainly Tolmen’s Sign Learning Theory is in it.
  2. Gestalt Learning Theories—Under it mainly Kohler’s Insight Theory and Koffka Trace Theory are included.
  3. Dynamic Theories—Under it Levin’s Field theory and Psycho- analytical theory of Learning are included.
  4. Bandura’s Modelling Theory
  5. Piget’s Development of Learning Theory—Except the above learning theories, the description of many theories are found in the books of psychology. But here, it is not appropriate to give them place. Keeping in mind the purpose and limitations of books and not describing all the theories of learning, only the important learning theories have been described that are following:

Important Theories of Learning

  1. Thorndike’s Stimulus- Response Bond Theory
  2. Pavlov’s Conditioned Reflex Theory
  3. Skinner’s Operant Conditioning Theory
  4. Kohler’s Insight Theory

Thorndike’s Stimulus- Response Bond Theory

Edward L. Thorndike, in his book ‘Animal Intelligence’, in 1898, delivered famous connectionism. The meaning of connectionism in learning psychology is to make connection between stimulus and response. In the connectionism, connection is established between stimulus and response. So it is known by the name of stimulus response theory. In this theory along with the inborn factors of a man, there is a connection between the internal and external stimulus response. In the learning psychology ‘Stimulus- Response theory’ is an extensive theory whose researchers, Thorndike, Woodbirth, Pavlov, Waltson, Guthri, Tollman or Hull are important. According to these psychologists, there is a stimulus behind each activity, which affects a man. And he does responses according to that. Thus, stimulus is related with response. The organizer of this opinion Thorndike has forced to establish connection between stimulus and response for the learning. On account of insisting this bond, Thorndike’s learning theory is called ‘stimulus- Response bond theory’. Thorndike’s Learning Theory comes under it. And it is a part of ‘Associate Theory’. According to Thorndike, a bond is established between two or more experiences. There is a stimulus for the processing of some action, which causes response. Stimulus affects a man, according to that he responds. Thus, a peculiar stimulus is connected to response; means there is a bond between stimulus and response. Wren has defined this theory in the following way:

‘’Connectionism is the doctrine that all mental process consist of the functioning of the native and acquired connection between situation and responses."

Thorndike’s theory is basis of three factors:
  1. Stimulus or S factor, which includes in the situation of environment.
  2. Response or R Factor which exposes the activity of behavior.
  3. Stimulus, Response and Bond factor, which establish connection between stimulus and response. Or it binds stimulus with response and the development of bond between stimulus and response is the important thing of the theory of Thorndike.
According to the Thorndike—‘’Learning, in the nervous system, is a matter of reinforcement and making connection between stimulus and response.’’

According to Thorndike connection is established between stimulus and response. Symbolically it is expressed by S→R. Thorndike has presented the rules of learning on the basis of S→R bonds. In his book ‘Educational Psychology’ he has written widely about this theory in the educational field.

Thorndike did many experiments on hens, cats, monkeys, fish, dogs, and men for the establishment of his theory. Experiments done on the cats are the most important. Thorndike has delivered the ’Trial and Error theory’ as the types of basic learning, on the basis of the experiments done on the cats. Thorndike has forced on connecting and bonding of proper response with the stimulus in the explanation of learning process by the trial and error. So Thorndike’s theory is better known by the name of ‘Trial and Error’ theory, because bond is established between stimulus and response by the trial and response, so originally Thorndike learning theory is known by the Stimulus Response Bond Theory.

The chief characteristics of Stimulus-Response Bond Theory

  1. Bonding between stimulus and response is learning.
  2. The process of bond between stimulus and response is happened by trial and error. Learner tries and mistakes many times for learning the right process, but in many trials depriving mistakes and doing errorless trial he learns the right process. 
  3. By trial and response learner becomes expert in doing definite response for definite stimulus. For this he selects right response among other possible responses, so Thorndike’s this theory is also called ‘The Theory of Selecting and Connectionism’. According to Thorndike: ‘’Learning is the consequence of selecting the right responses and connecting them with stimulus.’’
  4. This process of learning is mechanistic, because the selection of right responses is possible after removing the mistakes.
  5. There is response according to stimulus, and according to that human behavior is decided. Thus this theory says that only stimulus decides and controls the behavior, and along with a peculiar stimulus is needed for a peculiar response.
  6. Thorndike’s theory has given a scientific base to the learning process in the field of education psychology.
  7. This theory is a form of associate theory.

Limitations of Stimulus-Response Bond Theory

In spite of having many qualities, stimulus response bond theory has many limitations, which can be described in the following way:

  1. Stimulus and response have not been explained properly in this theory.
  2. Mr. Miller has said ironically that it will not be wrong to call this theory, hyphen theory, because as the connection between stimulus and response have been expounded in it, but stimulus and response have not been.
  3. The structure of personality has not been specially described in it; this is the reason why the followers of this theory have considered psychoanalysis theory useful in their opinions and researches.
  4. All the psychologists have called this theory atomic and fragment.
  5. In this theory, useless efforts are forced to learn any activities.
  6. Criticizing the effect and result of the rule, the Practitioner have said that the process of learning has been incompletely explained in it.
  7. According to the followers of Gastalt, the connection happens itself between experiences and we find it in entirety, so there is no need for any kind of connection.
After throwing light on the qualities and limitations of Thorndike’s theory, it will be appropriate to throw light on the important experiments done by him, learning method by trial and error and the rules of learning for expounding Thorndike’s learning related explanation.

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