There are three theories of learning namely - classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and social learning.
1. Classical Conditioning
Classical Conditioning is a form of associative learning process proposed by Pavlov (1927). This process involves presentations of a neutral stimulus along with a stimulus of some significance. The neutral stimulus does not lead to an overt behavioral response from the organism. This is called as Conditioned Stimulus (CS). Significant stimulus evokes an innate, often reflexive, response. This is called Unconditioned Stimulus (US) and Unconditioned Response (UR), respectively. If the CS and the US are repeatedly paired, eventually the two stimuli become associated and the organism begins to produce a behavioral response to it. It is the Conditioned Response (CR).
Classical conditioning was first experimented by Russian physiologist, Ivan Pavlov, to teach dogs to salivate in response to the ringing of a bell. During his research on the physiology of digestion in dogs, Pavlov used a bell before giving food to his dog. Rather than simply salivating in the presence of meat (a response to food – unconditioned response), after a few repetitions, the dog started to salivate in response to the bell. Thus, a neutral stimulus (bell) became a conditioned stimulus (CS) as a result of consistent pairing with the unconditioned stimulus (US – meat). Pavlov referred to this learned relationship as a Conditioned Response.
2. Operant Conditioning
The operant conditioning theory is proposed by B.F. Skinner (1953, 1954). This is based on the idea that learning is a function of change in overt behavior. Changes in behavior are the result of an individual's response to stimuli. When a particular Stimulus-Response (S-R) pattern is reinforced (rewarded), the individual is conditioned to respond. Reinforcement is the key element in Skinner's S-R theory. A reinforce is anything that strengthens the desired response.
Principles of operant conditioning are as follows:
1. Behavior is learned.
2. Behavior that is positively reinforced will reoccur.
3. Information should be presented in small amounts so that responses can be reinforced ("shaping")
4. Reinforcements will generalize across similar stimuli ("stimulus generalization") producing secondary conditioning.
5. Rewards are most effective if they immediately follow the desired response.
3. Social Learning
The social learning theory was proposed by Bandura. It recognizes the importance of observing and modeling the behaviors, attitudes, and emotional reactions of others. According to Bandura (1977), most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action. Social learning theory explains human behavior in terms of continuous reciprocal interaction between cognitive, behavioral, and environmental influences.
“Learning would be exceedingly laborious, not to mention hazardous, if people had to rely solely on the effects of their own actions to inform them what to do. Fortunately, most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action.” – Albert Bandura, Social Learning Theory, 1977
Social learning has four processes:
1. Attention processes – People learn from a model only when they recognize and pay attention to its critical features. In order to learn, it is required to pay attention. Anything that detracts the attention is going to have a negative effect on observational learning. If the is model interesting or there is a novel aspect to the situation, it is more likely to dedicate the full attention to learning.
2. Retention processes – A model‟s influence will depend on how well the individual remembers the model‟s action after the it is no longer readily available. The ability to store information is also an important part of the learning process. Retention can be affected by a number of factors, but the ability to pull up information later and act on it is vital to observational learning.
3. Motor reproduction processes – After a person has seen a new behavior by observing the model, the watching must be converted to doing. The ability to store information is also an important part of the learning process. Retention can be affected by a number of factors, but the ability to pull up information later and act on it is vital to observational learning.
4. Reinforcement processes – Individuals will be motivated to exhibit the modeled behavior if positive incentives or rewards are provided. Finally, in order for observational learning to be successful, you have to be motivated to imitate the behavior that has been modeled. Reinforcement and punishment play an important role in motivation. While experiencing these motivators can be highly effective, so can observing other experience some type of reinforcement or punishment. For example, if you see another student rewarded with extra credit for being to class on time, you might start to show up a few minutes early each day.
Principles of social learning are as follows:
1. The highest level of observational learning is achieved by first organizing and rehearsing the modeled behavior symbolically and then enacting it overtly. Coding modeled behavior into words, labels or images results in better retention than simply observing.
2. Individuals are more likely to adopt a modeled behavior, if it results in outcomes they value.
3. Individuals are more likely to adopt a modeled behavior, if the model is similar to the observer and has admired status and the behavior has functional value.