The Way We Learn

and the many theories about it

So what is learning?

Learning is defined as the process through which experience causes permanent change in knowledge or behavior, but many theories exist about the ways in which we actually learn.


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Classical Conditioning

First Discovered in the 1920’s by Ivan Pavlov, classical conditioning is the learning of either a physiological or emotional response to a stimuli. Pavlov used a tuning fork to signal dogs that it was time to eat. They would salivate expecting food to arrive. Even when Pavlov did not give the dogs food the sound of the tuning fork still made them salivate because now the associated that noise with food. Repeating a stimulus over and over again can evoke a natural response as a form of learning. In the television series, The Office, Jim recreates Pavlov’s experiences in a more modern way.


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Pavlov Theory

Operant Conditioning

This kind of conditioning involves a positive or negative reinforcement to a behavior. By negatively enforcing a bad habit and positively enforcing a good one, we learn to strengthen that behavior. Consider putting a shock collar on a dog. After running outside the boundaries of the shock fence the dog will no longer want to do it because he will associate that behavior with pain. Similarly rewarding a child with a sticker for doing well on an assignment will encourage them to continue to do well.


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Social Learning Theory

While conditioning is more about experiencing learning hands on, the Social Learning Theory refers more to learning from observing others. It claims that behavior, personal factors, and environmental factors work together allowing us to learn. A certain individual can learn from watching the consequences of others actions. Take for example two siblings. The younger learns so much from the older simply by observing what they do, and what happens to them when they do it. If the see their sibling scolded for not finishing their dinner, then they will no better and will not want the same negative consequence.


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Information Processing Theory

This theory deals with how our memory works. To begin the Information Process, we transform incoming stimuli into some kind of information we understand. This is our sensory memory. These incoming stimuli our senses like seeing, hearing, tasting, etc. At this point our senses are in our short-term memory. From here our brain encodes what should stay and go to long term or what should be removed. Our brains would explode if we moved all of our senses into long-term memory. Imagine if you paid attention to every detail of every car that drove by. It would be useless information that we do not need. It is important for us to pay attention to some stimuli while ignoring others. The second part of the Information Processing Theory is our working memory! This is an where short-term and long-term memory combine to allow our brain to actually process and use the information. The last part of the Information Processing Theory is our long-term memory. With work you can go back and retrieve information and bring it back to your working memory, but over time memories and brain connections can whether away and information can be forgotten.


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