Learning and Learning Theories

Elements/Components of Learning Process

Learning process includes the following elements:
1. Drive
2. Cue stimuli
3. Response
4. Reinforcement
5. Retention
6. Extinction
7. Spontaneous recovery

1. Drive
Drive arouses individuals to respond. Sometimes, it refers to strong stimulus to impel an action. Learning occurs in the presence of drive. Drives are of two types—primary or physiological drive and secondary and psychological drive. Individuals operate under many drives at the same time. To predict behaviour it is necessary to establish which drives are stimulating most.

2. Cue stimuli
They are objects existing in the environment. These cue stimuli will increase the probability of eliciting a specific response. Stimuli are of two types—Generalisation and discrimination.

(a) Generalisation
Generalization occurs when a response is elicited by a similar but new stimulus. If stimuli are exactly alike, they will evoke the same response (specified). But the stimuli are not same hence responses will be different. Generalisation has important implication for learning. Because of generalisation a person need not relearn new tasks which constantly confront him. It allows members to adapt to overall changing conditions.

(b) Discrimination
It is different from generalisation. It is a process where an individual learns to emit a response to a stimulus but avoids making the same response to some different stimulus. Discrimination has got wide applications in Organisational Behaviour.

3. Response
The stimulus results into responses. Responses may be in the physical form or may be in terms of-attitudes, familiarity, perception, or other complex phenomena. Usually, however, learning psychologists attempt measurement of learning in behavioural terms, that is, responses must be operationally defined and preferable physically observable.

4. Reinforcement
Reinforcement is a fundamental condition of learning. Without reinforcement, no measurable modification of behaviour takes place. The term reinforcement is very closely related to the psychological process of motivation. However, motivation is a basic psychological process and therefore is broader and more complex than is implied by the learning principle of reinforcement. Reinforcement may be defined as environmental events affecting the probability of occurrence of responses with which they are associated. The role of reinforcement in learning is very important. Individuals tend to retain a behavior for which they are given reinforcement.

5. Retention
The stability of learned behavior is defined as retention and opposite is forgetting.

6. Extinction
It is a specific form of forgetting. It may be defined as loss of memory.
It means that the learned response is forgotten which is not possible completely. It can take place due to loss of memory or repression or replacement for non-re-enforcement of the response.

7. Spontaneous recovery
The return of response strength after extinction, without intervening reinforcement, is called spontaneous recovery. Spontaneous recovery is not unusual among people when they are confused under stress or in other unusual states. In such situations, they sometimes will recover response tendencies that have been extinguished for many years. The original response strength of an extinguished behaviour can also be recovered when a previously extinguished response is rewarded in an isolated instance.

Hammer has listed the following elements essential in learning process:
i. It involves a change in behavior
ii. Change is relatively permanent
iii. Temporary changes do not represent
iv. Experience is necessary to occur learning
v. If the learning is not followed by reinforcement, the behavior will disappear.

Advantages of Learning

1. Learning develops mental and intellectual capacity.
2. It provides knowledge and imparts skill
3. It changes attitudes and thus behaviour.
4. It improves the performance of individuals both quantitatively and qualitatively.
5. It fosters adaptability to change and updates knowledge and experience.
6. It ensures physical safety of the learner.
7. It exerts a motivating influence and brings about satisfaction.
8. Above all, it promotes human resource development.

Factors affecting Learning

Since learning is acquired process, it is quite natural that several factors may affect the process. Understanding of these factors is important for management because it can organise its learning programmes through training or otherwise for improving the behaviour of employees at the workplace. Following are the major factors affecting learning:

1. Motivation

Learner’s motivation is one of the major conditions for learning. As we shall see later in this text, motivation is something that moves a person to action and continues him in the course of action already initiated. This course of action includes learning too. A positive behaviour developed through learning results into reward while a negative behaviour results into punishment. Thus, the degree of the learner’s motivation is positively associated with his learning. There are overwhelming evidences that support the generalisation that motivated responses tend to be repeated whereas non-motivated responses tend to be discontinued.

2. Mental Set

Mental set refers to the preparation for an action, in this context learning. If a person is prepared to act, he can do the things quickly and in no time. Without mental set, learning cannot go smoothly and easily. It happens so because the person’s mental set activates him to do the act, and due to his level of activation, he gets inclined to perform the act. Various research studies also support this view.

3. Nature of Learning Materials

Nature of learning materials affects learning by providing the clue for understanding. There are a number of features of the learning materials which affect learning.
i. if the learning material is of easy nature, it is learned quickly whereas difficult material takes time to understand.
ii. If the learner is familiar with the learning materials, he can learn more quickly as compared to when he is unfamiliar with these.
iii. serial position, shape, and meaningfulness of learning materials also affect learning. If these features are positive, learning takes place at faster rate.

4. Practice

Practice is a very basic external condition of learning and affects all types of learning. The more a person practices, more he absorbs learning contents. Most of the motor skills (like typing, swimming, etc.) are learned based on this principle.

5. Environment

Environment in which learning process occurs affects learning. Environment here refers to the situational set up for learning. Environmental factors can either strengthen or weaken the innate ability to achieve and learn. Environment with high pressure and high rate of change increases the likelihood of stress and has negative impact on learning. Environment with features of support, cohesion and affiliation has positive impact on learning.

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