To learn is to acquire knowledge or skill. Learning also may involve a change in attitude or behavior. Children learn to identify objects at an early age; teenagers may learn to improve study habits; and adults can learn to solve complex problems. Pilots and aviation maintenance technicians (AMTs) need to acquire the higher levels of knowledge and skill, including the ability to exercise judgment and solve problems. The challenge for the aviation instructor is to understand how people learn, and more importantly, to be able to apply that knowledge to the learning environment. This handbook is designed as a basic guide to educational psychology. This chapter addresses that branch of psychology directly concerned with how people learn. Learning Theory
Learning theory may be described as a body of principles advocated by psychologists and educators to explain how people acquire skills, knowledge, and attitudes. Various branches of learning theory are used in formal training programs to improve and accelerate the learning process. Key concepts such as desired learning outcomes, objectives of the training, and depth of training also apply. When properly integrated, learning principles, derived from theories, can be useful to aviation instructors and developers of instructional programs for both pilots and maintenance technicians. Over the years, many theories have attempted to explain how people learn. Even though psychologists and educators are not in complete agreement, most do agree that learning may be explained by a combination of two basic approaches: behaviorism and the cognitive theories. Behaviorism
Behaviorists believe that animals, including humans, learn in about the same way. Behaviorism stresses the importance of having a particular form of behavior reinforced by someone, other than the student, to shape or control what is learned. In aviation training, the instructor provides the reinforcement. Frequent, positive reinforcement and rewards accelerate learning. This theory provides the instructor with ways to manipulate students with stimuli, induce the desired behavior or response, and reinforce the behavior with appropriate rewards. In general, the behaviorist theory emphasizes positive reinforcement rather than no reinforcement or punishment. Other features of behaviorism are considerably more complex than this simple explanation. Instructors who need more details should refer to psychology texts for a better understanding of behaviorism. As an instructor, it is important to keep in mind that behaviorism is still widely used today, because controlling learning experiences helps direct students toward specific learning outcomes. Cognative Theory
Much of the recent psychological thinking and experimentation in education includes some facets of the cognitive theory. This is true in basic as well as more advanced training programs. Unlike behaviorism, the cognitive theory focuses on what is going on inside the student's mind. Learning is not just a change in behavior; it is a change in the way a student thinks, understands, or feels. There are several branches of cognitive theory. Two of the major theories may broadly be classified as the information processing model and the social interaction model. The first says that the student's brain has internal structures which select and process incoming material, store and retrieve it, use it to produce behavior, and receive and process feedback on the results. This involves a number of cognitive processes, including executive functions of recognizing expectancies, planning and monitoring performance, encoding and chunking information, and producing internal and external responses. The social interaction theories gained prominence in the 1980s. They stress that learning and subsequent changes in behavior take place as a result of interaction between the student and the environment. Behavior is modeled either by people or symbolically. Cultural influences, peer pressure,...
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