How Do We Learn?
by Emma Wesel
What is learning, and where does it come from?
One of the earliest definitions of learning comes from the ancient philosopher, Aristotle. He said that there are three cases in which we remember things: when they contrast, when they are similar, and when they are contagious. (Woolfolk 254). In order for something to be considered learning, experience must be the root cause of the change in behavior. Classical conditioning occurs when someone associates a response with a certain stimuli. Watching others and observing and mimicking their behavior is an example of social learning theory. And the last theory, information processing, involves sensory, working, and long-term memory working together to store and organize information.
There are two parts that influence conditioning. They are the conditioned stimulus, and the conditioned response. In the case of the dentist example, the conditioned stimulus is the sound of the dentist's drill. Your muscles tensing when hearing the dentist's drill out of your fear for the dentist is the conditioned response. (Woolfolk 254). In the "Attack of the Quack" video attached below, a younger brother is conditioned to associate the noise of "Quack" with being shot with a Nerf gun. In this case, the "Quack" noise is a conditioned stimulus and being shot with the Nerf gun is the conditioned response.
Social Learning Theory
Bandura's research didn't stop there, he made a point to differentiate between enactive and observational learning. Enactive learning is learning that you experience personally by doing and seeing the consequences of your actions. Consequences in enactive learning are not viewed as strengthening or weakening the behavior, rather as key to giving information to help someone understand what come as a result of their behavior. Observational learning is learning that occurs when watching another person or animal learn. (Woolfolk 279). For example, if a child sees another child hit someone and get punished for it, they will be more likely to realize that it is wrong to hit and there are consequences for doing so. Another example would be if a student gets caught cheating and receives a zero on an exam. When other students find out that their peer suffered this consequence, they may think twice before cheating.
Information Processing Theory
The first part of the information processing system is sensory memory. It is the processing of stimuli that we are bombarded with into information for us to make sense of. Since there is so much information coming into our sensory memory at one time, the duration of our sensory memory is less than 3 seconds (Woolfolk 294). Perception occurs when stimuli are changed into information with meaning through various stages. An example of sensory memory is seeing a dog right as it is turning a corner. Once the dog has turned the corner, you can no longer see it but for a few brief seconds, your brain has stored information relating to that dog.
The next theory in information processing is working memory. The textbook describes working memory as the "workbench of the memory system" (Woolfolk 297). Your working memory is the place where new information is paired with information from your long term memory in order to make sense of something. Our working memories use four different elements created by Alan Baddely: they are the central executive, the phonological loop, the visuospatial sketchpad, and the episodic buffer. The central executive part of working memory focuses on the attention and knowledge needed to solve problems. It makes plans and allocates resources. (Woolfolk, 294). The phonological loop serves the speech and sound systems focusing on words and sounds in short term memory. Digits are easier to remember in the phonological loop than words, as it has been suggested that we can store as much information as we can say in 1.5-2 seconds. (Woolfolk 298). The visuospatial sketchpad is the area of our brain that helps us to manipulate images. (Wookfolk 299). Lastly, the episodic buffer brings together all of the information from the different areas of working memory to create memories that then will be stored. (Woolfolk 299).
Long Term Memory
Long term memory is the last part to the information processing theory. It holds information that someone knows every well. Some examples of things in long term memory are your phone number, the name of your best friend, and your address. Long term memory is not stored instantly, but there is no known capacity to it. (Woolfolk 304). The two categories that make up long term memory are explicit and implicit memory. Explicit memory is conscious. You are aware of searching for the information in your brain, such as the book that you read last year and want to recommend to a friend. Implicit memory is made up of knowledge that we don't have to search for to find, but influences our actions without us knowing. (Woolfolk 305).
Attack of the Quack Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HfTTm-rgFFI
Social Learning Theory Photo: http://www.explorediscover.net/why-we-are-unique/social-learning.php
Textbook: Woolfolk, Anita. Educational Psychology. 13th ed. N.p.: Pearson, n.d. Print.