Theories of Learning

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Ma. Margarita C. Medina
2SPED2
What are Theories and Models?
* What is a theory?
* A theory provides a general explanation for observations made over time. * A theory explains and predicts behavior.
* A theory can never be established beyond all doubt.
* A theory may be modified.
* Theories seldom have to be thrown out completely if thoroughly tested but sometimes a theory may be widely accepted for a long time and later disproved. (Dorin, Demmin & Gabel, 1990) 
* What is a model?
* A model is a mental picture that helps us understand something we cannot see or experience directly. (Dorin, Demmin & Gabel, 1990)
 
Behaviorism, Cognitivism and Constructivism - The Basics
Behaviorism: Based on observable changes in behavior. Behaviorism focuses on a new behavioral pattern being repeated until it becomes automatic. Cognitivism: Based on the thought process behind the behavior. Changes in behavior are observed, and used as indicators as to what is happening inside the learner's mind. Constructivism: Based on the premise that we all construct our own perspective of the world, through individual experiences and schema. Constructivism focuses on preparing the learner to problem solve in ambiguous situations.

(Schuman, 1996)
The Basics of Behaviorism
Behaviorism, as a learning theory, can be traced back to Aristotle, whose essay "Memory" focused on associations being made between events such as lightning and thunder. Other philosophers that followed Aristotle's thoughts are Hobbs (1650), Hume (1740), Brown (1820), Bain (1855) and Ebbinghause (1885) (Black, 1995). The theory of behaviorism concentrates on the study of overt behaviors that can be observed and measured (Good & Brophy, 1990). It views the mind as a "black box" in the sense that response to stimulus can be observed quantitatively, totally ignoring the possibility of thought processes occurring in the mind. Some key players in the development of the behaviorist theory were Pavlov, Watson, Thorndike and Skinner.  

Pavlov (1849 - 1936)
For most people, the name "Pavlov" rings a bell (pun intended). The Russian physiologist is best known for his work in classical conditioning or stimulus substitution. Pavlov's most famous experiment involved food, a dog and a bell. Pavlov's Experiment

* Before conditioning, ringing the bell caused no response from the dog. Placing food in front of the dog initiated salivation. * During conditioning, the bell was rung a few seconds before the dog was presented with food. * After conditioning, the ringing of the bell alone produced salivation

(Dembo, 1994).
 
Stimulus and Response Items of Pavlov's Experiment

Food| Unconditioned Stimulus|
Salivation| Unconditioned Response (natural, not learned)| Bell| Conditioned Stimulus|
Salivation| Conditioned Response (to bell)|
 
Other Observations Made by Pavlov
* Stimulus Generalization: Once the dog has learned to salivate at the sound of the bell, it will salivate at other similar sounds. * Extinction: If you stop pairing the bell with the food, salivation will eventually cease in response to the bell. * Spontaneous Recovery: Extinguished responses can be "recovered" after an elapsed time, but will soon extinguish again if the dog is not presented with food. * Discrimination: The dog could learn to discriminate between similar bells (stimuli) and discern which bell would result in the presentation of food and which would not. * Higher-Order Conditioning: Once the dog has been conditioned to associate the bell with food, another unconditioned stimulus, such as a light may be flashed at the same time that the bell is rung. Eventually the dog will salivate at the flash of the light without the sound of the bell. Thorndike (1874 - 1949)

Edward Thorndike did research in animal behavior before becoming interested in human psychology. He set out to apply "the methods of exact science"...
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