learning theory (gestalt theory)

Kohler (1925) The Mentality of Apes (cited in Alhassan, 2000), explained learning as a perceptual process with the major emphasis being on the study of relationships and how people learn to see relationships among various items of experience. Learning of relationships can be clearly seen in the phenomenon of insight.

Sometimes, pupils work for a long time on a problem or skill with little apparent progress. All of a sudden, there will be a flash of understanding (eureka) in which the pupil or student sees through the problem or re-forms his responses into a more complex habit. This phenomenon was first widely published by the famous German psychologist, Wolfgang Kohler, who found that apes, when confronted with a different problem, might act as if they were surveying the situation and would then go directly to the goal object (banana) by putting two sticks together, or by piling, one box on top of another.

Alhassan (1985:17) opines that learning is the totality of the acquisition of factual information, the mastering of skills and means to aid further study (understanding); the entire socialization process, the acquisition of behaviour patterns, the styles of tackling problems of everyday life and more. Learning is a dynamic process whereby, through interactive experience, insights or cognitive structures of life spaces are changed and so become more useful for future guidance.

Kingsley and Garry (1957) defines learning as a process by which behaviour changes through practice or training.

Learning process

In order for learning to take place in the school, the teacher plays a significant role in guiding the learner by motivating him towards learning activity through which he can achieve a purposeful goal. To achieve this, there are defined and clear processes of learning through which the desired changes will take place. These include:

  1. Sensation – This is the process of receiving, translating and transmitting message from the environment to the brain. This process normally goes through bodily senses of sight, hearing, feeling, touching, smelling, tasting etc. These bodily senses are 10 generally referred to as gateways to knowledge.
  2. Perception – This is the process of organizing and interpreting information received from the outside world. The sensitive organs (eye, ear, nose, skin, tongue) by means of which the learner becomes aware of the forces, objects or changes in the world around him are called receptors. Perception is the internal analysis of the sensation by the brain or the information processing unit. Sensation and perception are closely interrelated. Sensation causes the individual to turn his head, eyes or body in a particular direction while perception maintains the length of attention or consideration focused upon the direction of thing. Thus perception is the process of extracting information instantly and unconsciously from the environment.
  3. Association – This is the third stage in learning process. It is the ability of connecting one’s new experience with his previous experience.
  4. Generalization –. This is the fourth stage in learning which involves the establishment of principles, theories, inferences, laws, conclusions or rules which summarize some findings.
  5. Application – This is the final stage in the learning process. It is the process of using the established principles of learning to solve problems in actual life situation.

There is  Need for the Study of Psychology of Learning which are alighted as follows:

  • To understand Individual differences: There is the need to understand the individual differences in learning among learners so that the teaching methods selected by the teacher can care take care of the individual differences existing among the learners.
  • To master the concept of motivation: There is the need for the teacher to master the concept of motivation developed by various theorists of learning in order to understand the needs and motives of the learners at different age levels and be able to organize those activities which create interest and motivation in them.
  • To understand the process of remembering and forgetting: The teacher needs to understand the process of remembering and forgetting so that he can utilize efficient methods to minimize the percentage of forgetfulness.
  • To help the learner to transfer skills: With the knowledge gained from the study of psychology of learning, the teacher can help the learners to transfer skills and information acquired in classroom to life situations outside the school.


Insightful theory

under this theory I will like to talk about gestalt theory. The word ‘gestalt’ means a configuration, shape, or form. The Gestatltists – Wertheimer, Koffka, Kohler, Lamin, Combs and Snygg – reject learning as the formation of a bond between stimulus and response. They believe that learning occurs by insight: there is a sudden reorganisation of the person’s field and he understands. These psychologists argue that since all events in nature occur within some field, it is the totality of the field, its properties and structure, that explains all events happening within the field. It is important to note that of all the experiments conducted by the Gestaltists, Kohler’s seems most instructive and he is a basic reference in Gestaltists psychology.

Kohler’s approach considers man’s inner processes as a ‘whole’ instead of seeing them as tiny pieces like those of jigsaw puzzle. In addition, Kohler and his fellow Gestaltists assume that our perception of the whole world is of meaningful whole and that (this) is different from, and more than, an accumulation of sensations, images or ideas. The Gestaltists rejected the simple stimulus – response (S – R) connections as the explanation of behaviour. The concept of organisation between stimulus – response was introduced by the Gestaltists. It is important for you to note that this means we learn, not by associating bits of expressions but by forming new Gestaltists – by seeing new patterns and by organising them into a meaningful whole in the total situation.

It may be said that insightful theory of learning concerns itself with higher and problem – solving skills, it does not explain forms of learning, for example, concept of learning. In addition, it is silent about the notion of transfer of learning and about why insights come to some individuals more quickly than others. Psychological evidence shows that more intelligent persons seem to handle insightful learning more readily than less intelligent individuals.

Implications of gestalts theory or principles on education

  • Make the lesson holistic: the word gestalt itself is almost synonymous to the word ‘’whole’’ because of this, Gestalt psychology proposes education to be an integration of affective and cognitive domains of learning. In reference to kohler experiment, it was when the chimpanzee joined the whole (two sticks) together that insight learning occurs, the chimpanzee suddenly realized that the stick is now longer to reach the banana. As teachers, we can actually do this by setting the objectives that do not only focus on the cognitive (and psychomotor) domains of teaching and learning but also on the affective domain as well. Learner must be assisted to see the learning material as a whole and not as disjointed pieces.
  • Checking of previous experiences: as insight depends on the previous experience of the learner, the teacher must check the previous experience of the student and relate them with the new learning situation. The teacher should be able to point out the inter relatedness of topics by linking previous experiences with the import of the present lesson.
  • Importance of motivation: teacher should arouse the student’s curiosity, interest and motivation. He should gain full attention of the whole class before teaching, in the classroom the teacher should adopt the case study that has proven so effective in all other aspect of education, apply abstract theories and concepts to a real-world scenario, using these formulations to analyze and make sense of situations involving real people and real stakes i.e. the teacher should connect abstract learning to concrete situations, Learning should essentially be made real using concrete materials and practical examples. Abstracts presentation of facts should be avoided. Teaching should progress from known to unknown, abstract to concrete etc. The teacher should also go deep in teaching by assigning the task of becoming the world’s expert on one small aspect of the material they have to learn then extend their new expertise outward by exploring how the piece they know so well connects to all other pieces they need to know about.

Learning is concerned with the whole individual and rises from the interaction of an individual with his situation or environment. Theory of insightful learning is also known as gestalt theory.

‘’The whole is more important than its part, according to gestalt theory’’ perception of a situation as a whole give better understanding than sum of the perception of its part.

An individual has insight into learning situation to the extent that he is able to understand the situation as a whole. A solution to a problem is an example of insight that results from integration of all the metal processes. All the higher learning takes place by this method.

Complex problems require higher learning and solutions are reached only by application of insight. All new ideas and concepts, inventions and discoveries are the result of insightful learning. Teaching and learning of physics and other science demand higher intellectual exercises.


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