Introduction to Learning
July 7th, 2014
In modern psychology, learning is an important topic. To understand learning, one must also understand the role of behavior in relation to learning. In psychology, classical conditioning, and instrumental conditioning are two types of learning that explain changes in behavior. The relationship between learning and cognition is necessary and their relationship helps to understand learning. With a definition of learning along with an understanding of behavior, the types of learning, and cognition, one can understand what learning is. The breadth of learning unfortunately results in no agreed upon definition of learning. There is no definition of learning in which theorists agree that includes the phenomena they want to call learning that excludes other phenomena. The following definition is a fairly good definition: Learning is a relatively permanent change in behavioral potentiality resulting from the occurrence of reinforced practice (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2013). Further examination of this definition can provide more details about what learning is. This definition begins with a relatively permanent change that refers to learning as a relatively stable change in behavior occurring within an organism; in opposition to more transient states like moods (Mikulas, 1977). This behavioral change is neither transitory nor fixed, and this change may occur immediately or may not; therefore it occurs at a later time. When the definition of learning is a change in behavior potential, this pinpoints the distinction between learning and performance. Learning is always translated into measurable behavior. As for performance, this refers to the translation of this potentiality into behavior or what an organism does. The last part of the definition refers to reinforced practice. A change in behavior or behavior potentiality is the result of either an experience or practice (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2013). The reinforcement of an experience or practice must occur to learn a behavior; therefore if reinforcement does not occur learning will not occur. Olson and Hergenhahn (2013), “a science requires an observable, measurable subject matter, and in the science of psychology, that subject matter is behavior” (p. 2). Expression of what is of study in psychology occurs through covert or overt behavior; although not all behavior of study is learning (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2013). Studying behavior occurs so to make inferences in regard to the process thought to be the observable behavioral changes. This process is learning. Many learning theorists are in agreement as for the study of the learning process that may not occur directly; instead only inferences may occur as for its nature from changes in behavior (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2013). Taking exception to this contention was B. F. Skinner, who thought behavioral changes are indeed learning, therefore no need to infer a further process, although other theorists thought behavioral changes are indeed a result of learning. Except for Skinner and the followers of Skinner, the majority of learning theorists think that learning is a process that mediates behavior, therefore learning occurs as the result of particular experiences and comes before changes in behavior. Learning, of course, is a term used to describe the changes in behavior potentiality, which result from experience; however, conditioning is a more defined term used to describe procedures which modify behavior (Olson& Hergenhahn, 2013). Therefore, there are two types of conditioning, which are instrumental and classical conditioning, several theorists determined that at a minimum there are two types of learning. These two types of learning are understood in the same terms of instrumental and classical conditioning. In instrumental conditioning there is the relationship between behavior and...
References: Olson, M. H. & Hergenhahn, B. R. (2013). An introduction to theories of learning (9th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Mikulas, W.L. (1977). Psychology of Learning. Chicago, IL: Nelson-Hall.
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