Pub. date: 2006 | Online Pub. Date: September 15, 2007 | DOI: 10.4135/9781412939584 | Print ISBN: 9780761930877 | Online ISBN: 9781412939584| Publisher:SAGE Publications, Inc.About this encyclopedia
Learning, Theories of
Judith A. Ponticell
Learning theory is characterized by two different conceptions of learning: (1) learning as a permanent change in behavior—the behaviorist perspective, and (2) learning as a permanent change in mental associations—the cognitivist perspective. Behaviorists believe that learning is the result of environmental stimuli that “condition” behavior responses. Behaviorists assume that human beings and animals learn in the same way, so principles derived from research with animals are applied to human learning. Learning is studied by observing and measuring an organism's responses to environmental stimuli. From his studies of cats trying to get out of a puzzle box, Edward Thorndike posited that learning generally involves trial-and-error behavior. When responses are followed by satisfying consequences, those responses are strengthened, but when responses are followed by discomfort, those responses are weakened. Practice facilitates the learning of responses. Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist, developed the theory of classical conditioning as he was studying salivation in ...