The Human Learning Process

Conditioning

There are two types of conditioning: classical and operant. Generally, conditioning is a type of behavioral learning that involves associations between a stimulus in one’s environment and some behavior.

Classical Conditioning

Classical conditioning is a type of learning where an automatic emotional or physiological response occurs in response to a previously neutral stimulus that is conditioned to elicit that behavior. The way this works is through the repeated pairing of an unconditioned stimulus with a conditioned stimulus over time that eventually leads to a conditioned response. Furthermore, after repeated associations, the conditioned stimulus alone will produce the conditioned response. For example, say you get pulled over while driving. The unconditioned stimulus would be receiving a ticket which would naturally elicit some nervous or upset behavior from the recipient. So, upon seeing the lights of the police car (the conditioned stimulus), one will become nervous or upset (now a conditioned response) as a result of the association between the lights and potentially receiving a ticket.

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Operant Conditioning

Operant conditioning is a type of learning that also comes about from associations. With this type of learning, the consequences of a behavior determine whether that behavior will be repeated or not in the future. This occurs through the uses of reinforcement and punishment. Reinforcement is when the consequence of the behavior increases future likelihood of that behavior whereas punishment is when the consequence decreases future likelihood of the behavior. Reinforcement and punishment can either be positive or negative, meaning something is either introduced (positive) or taken away (negative). For example, say a child has just finished putting away his toys and the parent says to the child “you did a really great job of cleaning up, thank you for doing that,” this praise will likely increase the future likelihood that the child will put things away after using them. This would be an example of positive reinforcement because something was introduced (praise) in order to encourage that behavior in the future (reinforcement).

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Social Learning Theory

Social learning is a learning process where one learns by simply experiencing or observing something. Social learning can be divided into two forms: enactive and observational learning. Enactive learning is when we learn by doing something and experiencing the consequences of what we have done. For example, someone may take something out of a microwave with their bare hands and experience pain and thus learn to use an oven mit or towel next time. Observational learning is when we learn by observing someone else doing something and observe the consequences that arise from their actions. For example, if there was another person present in the previous example they would learn the same lesson from merely observing the actions and consequences of the other person.

Information Processing Theory

The information processing theory explains human cognition much like a computer to encode, save, and retrieve information. This model is comprised of three main parts: sensory memory, working memory, and long term memory. Sensory memory is the first information from one’s environment to enter the sensory register. This type of memory is extremely brief and registers every single thing you see, hear, feel, taste, and smell. Sensory memory is responsible for then selecting what is worth transferring into short term or working memory for further processing. For example, you can feel the chair you are sitting on right now but you were probably not aware of it until reading this sentence because this information was not of use to you beforehand. Working memory is where ongoing mental activity takes place in addition to the information required for these activities. For example, when reading something, whatever you just read is kept in your working memory and then the meaning of the words you have read are retrieved from long term memory in order to give meaning to a sentence or a collection of sentences. The information in your working, or short term, memory is then encoded and transferred into long term memory where everything you know is stored for an unlimited amount of time; this includes facts, personal events, and skills. Encoding is very important because it determines how well information can be retrieved in the future. Specifically, information is better retrieved when it is encoded in a way meaningful to that person.

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References

Woolfolk, Anita. Educational Psychology. Thirteenth ed. N.p.: Pearson Education, 2016. Print. 254-5, 278-9.