How do humans learn?

Conditioning, Social learning & Information process theories

Anita Woolfolk states that learning "occurs when experience (including practice) causes a relatively permanent change in an individual's knowledge, behavior, or potential for behavior" (Woolfolk, pg. 252). In order to further understand learning, this brochure will focus on three aspects that heavily influence its process: Conditioning, and the Social learning and Information process theories

Conditioning (Classical and Operant)

Classical conditioning, coined by Russian Physiologist Ivan Pavlov, involves etching a certain stimulus into a student's mind to produce a specific response. Here is an example scenario in the form of silencing a rowdy classroom.


Step 1: Obtain desired response by clearly relaying it to the students

Step 2: Introduce the stimulus tied in with the achieved response to the students and explain that if that stimulus is used, the response should be done (i.e. teacher raising a hand means class should be quiet).

Step 3: Reiterate the rule by making the students explain the meaning of a raised hand in order to "hardwire" the scenario to their memories.

Step 4: Eventually use the scenario repeatedly thus conditioning the raised hand as a sign of silence

Operant conditioning, involves a specific behavior improving or diminishing depending on the type of consequence the student will experience after performing it.
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Social Learning Theory

This theory states that humans are able to learn through social interaction. There are two ways to apply this theory in learning.
Enactive learning, relies on actual interaction and experience the "consequence of your actions" (pg. 278). This could be confused with operant learning, however, the consequence in this context are seen as providing information rather than shaping a behavior.


Ex: Cooking meals has two possible outcomes:

1 - Meal looks and tastes decent (learn that the recipe is great)

2 - Meal is burnt and inedible (trash the recipe and create another variation)

Observational learning involves learning by watching another person's (sometimes even animal's) actions and draw knowledge from the experience.


Ex: Marine Biologists studying the noise patterns that dolphins make and find out that the sounds they produce are not just noise, it is the dolphin's form of communication.

Information Process Theory

This theory involves three factors that mainly deals with memory and how information is retained in the mind.
Sensory memory, "is the initial processing that transforms [stimuli] into information" (pg. 294) by utilizing the 5 human senses (touch, sight, hearing, taste and smell).


Ex: Cringing whenever eating lemons

Working memory, involves the processing of new information with the aid of past stored knowledge.


Ex: Solving a quadratic equation in a test and using the quadratic formula from past lectures

Long - term memory, is information that is well knows that it is stored in one's mind for a hefty amount of time during which the information turns into one of the 3 kinds of innate knowledge.



  • Declarative: Knowledge that can be declared (Ex: Color of the leaves)
  • Procedural: Knowledge in action (Ex: Using a flashlight when it is dark)
  • Self-regulatory: Knowing how and when to use your Declarative and Procedural knowledge (Ex: When and how to call 9-1-1)

Works Cited

Woolfolk, Anita. Educational Psychology. New York: Pearson, 2016. Print.