Learning as a process focuses on what happens when the learning takes place. Explanations of what happens constitute learning theories. A learning theory is an attempt to describe how people and animal learn; thereby helping us understands the underlying complex process of learning.

There are three main categories or philosophical frameworks under which learning theories fall are:

  • Behavioural theories
  • Cognitive theories
  • Constructivism theories.


            Learning theories like all other theories in psychology aside from fundamentally providing the framework which guides psychologists in making observation and discovery through empirical research. Theories of learning are applied to facilitate learning. When a teacher use a learning theory its influence his theory of teaching and with that teaching becomes the process of providing for the learner theory considers as important and appropriate.

Various theories have attempted to explain the process of learning through association, conditioning, reinforcement and cognitive organisation, there is still need to put these processes into proper perspectives in order not to lose sight of their operations. So, learning by association, conditioning and reinforcement come under the connection. Theory in which learning is said to be a connection between stimulus and response. To compare S-R theories with cognitive theories which are the theories based on cognitive processes such as perception and knowledge.


The S-R Connectionist Theory believes that learning is a matter of connection between stimulus and response. Every theory in this group is based on the association of stimulus response sequences of behaviour. They believe that all stimuli are bring about by response. This is to say that actions and reactions are externally motivated. Therefore, one has to be eager or thrilled from the outside before behaviour sequences are observable.

            Two types of ties exist in the S-R bonds theories. They are the bond resulting from the conditioned response where learning has biological origin and as such it is instinctually based and the other bond results from reinforcement where learning is determined by the environment.  There are two major bonds in the S-R connectionist theory namely the conditioned learning and reinforcement learning. This various theories of learning assumed in learning in the connectionist tradition are based on these two types of bonds.

Learning theories may be broadly classified as follows

  1. S-R Theories without Reinforcement
  2. Pavlov’s classical conditions
  3. Skinner’s instructional or Operant conditioning
  4. S-R Theories with Reinforcement
  5. Thorndike’s Reinforcement theory
  6. Skinner’s Operant conditioning with reinforcement
  • Hulls purposive behaviourism
  1. Other S-R Theories without conditioning nor reinforcement
  2. Watson’s theory
  3. Guthrie’s theory


            There are two types of conditioning theories namely classical conditioning and operant or respondent conditioning. The two psychologists that proposed these theories are Ivan Pavlov a Russian who called his own Classical Conditioning and America psychologists B F Skinner who also called his own Operant or Instrumental Conditioning. The difference between the two is that Pavlov’s conditioning is attainted when one starts with a response already well established biologically that is related to a stimulus, and then the experimenter proceeds to fix the same response with a different response to the same stimulus. On the other hand, Skinner’s Operant is attained when the response of the organism or the individual or the subject is instrumental in obtaining reinforcement. The behaviour is somewhat more complex as the behaviour that tends to be rewarded is often repeated.


            Classical conditioning is a process whereby an organism is to react to a specific stimulus in a way that is not natural to it by repeatedly pairing an unnatural or neutral stimulus with another stimulus which would naturally elicit the desired response or behaviour of the organism. The neutral or unnatural stimulus is gradually and systematically conditioned to elicit the desired response, known as the conditioned response.

            Operant conditioning on the other hand is an associative learning in which the reinforcement is liable upon the making of a response. The operant behaviour is a natural response which is spontaneously and voluntary committed response. Operant behaviour operates in the environment. Most of our everyday activities are operant behaviour which are most often strengthen by reinforcement. All organisms including man and animals play instrumental or operant roles in producing reward or avoiding punishment.


            Pavlov’s classical conditioning theory was a major breakthrough in the study of learning and was based on the phenomenon of secretion of saliva in dogs. During his research on dogs, he accidentally noticed that dogs salivate on the sight of food or sound of caretaker approaching footsteps. There are two stimuli involved in this experiment that can evolve responses. They are the food that will produce normal natural or biological stimulus and the sound of the bell or caretaker that will produce a neutral stimulus.

            His experiment involved bell food and the dog. He presented sound of the bell with food to produce the required stimulus of salvation in the dog. The food that brought the salvation he called it Unconditioned Response (UCR). The stimulus of the food or meat presented by Pavlov is called Unconditioned because it is natural and does not depend upon a condition for it to occur. That is to say that, any external stimuli. Therefore, the UCR is unlearned as there is no precondition attached to its release.


            PAVLOV’S IN THE PROCESS of carrying out his experiment on conditioning using the gastric secretion in dogs found out some other phenomenon that played out. Some of these phenomena reported in Pavlov’s classic book on conditioning are latency, contiguity, generalization, inhibition, discrimination and spontaneous recovery. They are discussed as follows:

  • Latency: is the correlation between the intensity of the stimulus and the magnitude of the response. Put differently, the more intense the CS, the more rapidly conditioning proceeds and the CR will be.
  • Contiguity: for perfect conditioning to occur, the food and the bell must be presented after the other in quick succession. Stimulus conditioning which is another word for contiguity is said to occur when SC and USC occur together either at the same time or in quick succession if the food or the meat comes late after the sound of the bell, the appropriate response may not take place. The food and the sound of bell with food in order to produce the desired effect (saliva).
  • Inhibition: is a process in which stimulus blocks a response that would have occurred. Inhibition is not merely an absence of response, but a tendency not to respond and could either be external or internal.
  • Discrimination: is a process of detecting or differentiating between two stimuli. This is a step in conditioning when the person or the other and react to them in specific ways. While organisms can be trained to respond differently to similar stimuli, learning to response to one, but not to others may occur. This process is called discrimination and it results when the unconditioned stimulus regularly follows one stimulus and never follows other. For instance, a student will react differently to the school bell signalling break time and change of lesson. If on the other hand he cannot differentiate between the two bell sounds, his reaction to them will be similar.
  • Extinction: is a process whereby a conditioned stimulus which produced conditioned response is no longer accompanied by food. Pavlov in another experiment discovered that if after CR has been acquired and the CS is no longer accompanied by UCS, the dog no longer salivates. That is to say the dog will no longer respond if the sound of the bell is no longer accompanied by food.
  • Spontaneous recovery: is a situation whereby a conditional response which has been extinguished reappears at the reintroduction of the conditioned stimulus. That’s is when the conditioned stimulus (bell) is presented for the first time upon return to the familiar experimental situation after a few hours of absence the conditioned response follows although not as strong as it once did.
  • Generalization: is a process in which a conditioned response to a stimulus is generalized to similar stimuli. This result when for example, the dog still salivates on hearing. Some other sounds like that of the bell. That is, a response the organism has learned in one situation may occur in response to other similar stimuli.
  • Reinforcement: although the Pavlov conditioned theory of learning is classified as an S-R Theory without reinforcement, the phenomenon of reinforcement is observed in the experiment. The procedure of pairing the CS salivation is in itself reinforcement. The procedure of pairing the CS (bell) and US (food) in the experiment to produce CR salivation is in itself reinforcement. The tendency for the conditioned response (CR) to appear is facilitated by the provision of food or unconditioned stimulus. Reinforcement when applied in a given situation increase the likelihood that a response will occur.




  • The principle of classical conditioning can directly be applied in the school; situation when they are used to develop favourable or unfavourable attitude towards learning, the teacher and the school.
  • The principles of classical conditioning can be used to break bad habits and eliminate fear in children. Acquired fear or habit may be reconditioning by the use of the classical conditioning process.
  • Since the conditioning theory recognizes the role of reinforcement in acquiring a habit, the teacher duty is bound always to use reinforcement in his instruction. Reinforcement sustains the tempo of response in learning. Reinforcement in the form of praise, reward, verbal appreciation and gestures should be used.
  • The phenomenon of generalizing in the S-R conditioning theory implies that learning materials should not be presented in isolation but emphasis their application to other issues to which the learning materials have relevance.
  • The phenomenon of discrimination in the conditioning theory also implies that learners should be directed to pay attention more particularly to important issues in any learning materials. Learners should be able to differentiate relevant and irrelevant.


The work of Skinner was rooted in a view that classical conditioning was far too simplistic to be a complete explanation of complex human behaviour. He believed that the best way to understand behaviour is to look at the causes of an action and its consequences. He called this approach operant conditioning. Operant Conditioning deals with operant intentional actions that have an effect on the surrounding environment. Skinner set out to identify the processes which made certain operant behaviours more or less likely to occur.

Skinner is regarded as the father of Operant Conditioning, but his work was based on Thorndike’s (1905) law of effect. Skinner introduced a new term into the Law of Effect – Reinforcement. Behaviour which is reinforced tends to be repeated (i.e. strengthened); behaviour which is not reinforced tends to die out-or be extinguished (i.e. weakened).

B.F. Skinner (1938) coined the term operant conditioning; it means roughly changing of behaviour by the use of reinforcement which is given after the desired response. Skinner identified three types of responses or operant that can follow behaviour.

  • Neutral operants: responses from the environment that neither increase nor decrease the probability of a behavior being repeated.
  • Reinforcers: Responses from the environment that increase the probability of a behavior being repeated. Reinforcers can be either positive or negative.
  • Punishers: Responses from the environment that decrease the likelihood of a behavior being repeated. Punishment weakens behavior.

We can all think of examples of how our own behavior has been affected by reinforcers and punishers. As a child you probably tried out a number of behaviors and learned from their consequences.

For example, if when you were younger you tried smoking at school, and the chief consequence was that you got in with the crowd you always wanted to hang out with, you would have been positively reinforced (i.e. rewarded) and would be likely to repeat the behavior.

If, however, the main consequence was that you were caught, caned, suspended from school and your parents became involved you would most certainly have been punished, and you would consequently be much less likely to smoke now.


Skinner’s most famous research studies were simple reinforcement experiments conducted on lab rats and domestic pigeons, which demonstrated the most basic principles of operant conditioning. He conducted most of his research in a special cumulative recorder, now referred to as a “Skinner box,” which was used to analyze the behavioral responses of his test subjects. In these boxes he would present his subjects with positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, or aversive stimuli in various timing intervals (or “schedules”) that were designed to produce or inhibit specific target behaviors.

In his first work with rats, Skinner would place the rats in a Skinner box with a lever attached to a feeding tube. Whenever a rat pressed the lever, food would be released. After the experience of multiple trials, the rats learned the association between the lever and food and began to spend more of their time in the box procuring food than performing any other action. It was through this early work that Skinner started to understand the effects of behavioral contingencies on actions. He discovered that the rate of response as well as changes in response features—depended on what occurred after the behavior was performed, not before. Skinner named these actions operant behaviors because they operated on the environment to produce an outcome. The process by which one could arrange the contingencies of reinforcement responsible for producing a certain behavior then came to be called operant conditioning.

To prove his idea that behaviorism was responsible for all actions, he later created a “superstitious pigeon.” He fed the pigeon on continuous intervals (every 15 seconds) and observed the pigeon’s behavior. He found that the pigeon’s actions would change depending on what it had been doing in the moments before the food was dispensed, regardless of the fact that those actions had nothing to do with the dispensing of food. In this way, he discerned that the pigeon had fabricated a causal relationship between its actions and the presentation of reward. It was this development of “superstition” that led Skinner to believe all behavior could be explained as a learned reaction to specific consequences.

In his operant conditioning experiments, Skinner often used an approach called shaping. Instead of rewarding only the target, or desired, behavior, the process of shaping involves the reinforcement of successive approximations of the target behavior. Behavioral approximations are behaviors that, over time, grow increasingly closer to the actual desired response.

Skinner believed that all behavior is predetermined by past and present events in the objective world. He did not include room in his research for ideas such as free will or individual choice; instead, he posited that all behavior could be explained using learned, physical aspects of the world, including life history and evolution. His work remains extremely influential in the fields of psychology, behaviorism, and education.


The concept of reinforcement is central to learning. A reinforce is anything or event that increases the probability of the occurrence of any event. That is, any event which changes subsequent behaviour when to follows behaviour in time.

We also describe reinforce as any environmental situation that is programmed as a consequence of a response that can increase that rate of responding, i.e. they are events that raise or increase the rate responding.

Reinforcement has the following attribute: strength of behaviour, intensification of captain aspects of behaviour and alteration of behaviour and weakening of behaviour overtime, if reinforcement gradually declines. Reinforcement can either be positive, negative and of punishment.


Skinner showed how positive reinforcement worked by placing a hungry rat in his Skinner box. The box contained a lever on the side and as the rat moved about the box it would accidentally knock the lever. Immediately it did so a food pellet would drop into a container next to the lever.

The rats quickly learned to go straight to the lever after a few times of being put in the box. The consequence of receiving food if they pressed the lever ensured that they would repeat the action again and again.

Positive reinforcement strengthens a behavior by providing a consequence an individual finds rewarding. For example, if your teacher gives you £5 each time you complete your homework (i.e. a reward) you will be more likely to repeat this behavior in the future, thus strengthening the behavior of completing your homework.



The removal of an unpleasant reinforcer can also strengthen behavior. This is known as negative reinforcement because it is the removal of an adverse stimulus which is ‘rewarding’ to the animal or person. Negative reinforcement strengthens behavior because it stops or removes an unpleasant experience.

For example, if you do not complete your homework, you give your teacher $10. You will complete your homework to avoid paying $10, thus strengthening the behavior of completing your homework.

Skinner showed how negative reinforcement worked by placing a rat in his Skinner box and then subjecting it to an unpleasant electric current which caused it some discomfort. As the rat moved about the box it would accidentally knock the lever. Immediately it did so the electric current would be switched off. The rats quickly learned to go straight to the lever after a few times of being put in the box. The consequence of escaping the electric current ensured that they would repeat the action again and again.

In fact Skinner even taught the rats to avoid the electric current by turning on a light just before the electric current came on. The rats soon learned to press the lever when the light came on because they knew that this would stop the electric current being switched on.


Punishment is defined as the opposite of reinforcement since it is designed to weaken or eliminate a response rather than increase it. It is an aversive event that decreases the behavior that it follows

Like reinforcement, punishment can work either by directly applying an unpleasant stimulus like a shock after a response or by removing a potentially rewarding stimulus, for instance, deducting someone’s pocket money to punish undesirable behavior.

Note: It is not always easy to distinguish between punishment and negative reinforcement. There are many problems with using punishment, such as:

  • Punished behavior is not forgotten, it’s suppressed – behavior returns when punishment is no longer present.
  • Causes increased aggression – shows that aggression is a way to cope with problems.
  • Creates fear that can generalize to undesirable behaviors, e.g., fear of school.
  • Does not necessarily guide toward desired behavior – reinforcement tells you what to do, punishment only tells you what not to do.


Imagine a rat in a “Skinner box”. In operant conditioning if no food pellet is delivered immediately after the lever is pressed then after several attempts the rat stops pressing the lever (how long would someone continue to go to work if their employer stopped paying them?). The behavior has been extinguished.

Behaviorists discovered that different patterns (or schedules) of reinforcement had different effects on the speed of learning and on extinction. Ferster and Skinner (1957) devised different ways of delivering reinforcement, and found that this had effects on

  1. The Response Rate– The rate at which the rat pressed the lever (i.e. how hard the rat worked).
  2. The Extinction Rate– The rate at which lever pressing dies out (i.e. how soon the rat gave up).

Skinner found that the type of reinforcement which produces the slowest rate of extinction (i.e. people will go on repeating the behaviour for the longest time without reinforcement) is variable-ratio reinforcement. The type of reinforcement which has the quickest rate of extinction is continuous reinforcement.

(A) Continuous Reinforcement

An animal/human is positively reinforced every time a specific behaviour occurs, e.g. every time a lever is pressed a pellet is delivered and then food delivery is shut off.

  • Response rate is SLOW
  • Extinction rate is FAST

(B) Fixed Ratio Reinforcement

Behavior is reinforced only after the behavior occurs a specified number of times. E.g. one reinforcement is given after every so many correct responses, e.g. after every 5th response. For example a child receives a star for every five words spelt correctly.

  • Response rate is FAST
  • Extinction rate is MEDIUM

(C) Fixed Interval Reinforcement

One reinforcement is given after a fixed time interval providing at least one correct response has been made. An example is being paid by the hour. Another example would be every 15 minutes (half hour, hour, etc.) a pellet is delivered (providing at least one lever press has been made) then food delivery is shut off.

  • Response rate is MEDIUM
  • Extinction rate is MEDIUM

(D) Variable Ratio Reinforcement

Behavior is reinforced after an unpredictable number of times. For examples gambling or fishing.

  • Response rate is FAST
  • Extinction rate is SLOW (very hard to extinguish because of unpredictability)

(E) Variable Interval Reinforcement

Providing one correct response has been made, reinforcement is given after an unpredictable amount of time has passed, e.g. on average every 5 minutes. An example is a self-employed person being paid at unpredictable times.

  • Response rate is FAST
  • Extinction rate is SLOW




In the conventional learning situation operant conditioning applies largely to issues of class and student management, rather than to learning content. It is very relevant to shaping skill performance.

A simple way to shape behavior is to provide feedback on learner performance, e.g. compliments, approval, encouragement, and affirmation. A variable-ratio produces the highest response rate for students learning a new task, whereby initially reinforcement (e.g. praise) occurs at frequent intervals, and as the performance improves reinforcement occurs less frequently, until eventually only exceptional outcomes are reinforced.

For example, if a teacher wanted to encourage students to answer questions in class they should praise them for every attempt (regardless of whether their answer is correct). Gradually the teacher will only praise the students when their answer is correct, and over time only exceptional answers will be praised.

Unwanted behaviors, such as tardiness and dominating class discussion can be extinguished through being ignored by the teacher (rather than being reinforced by having attention drawn to them).

Knowledge of success is also important as it motivates future learning. However it is important to vary the type of reinforcement given, so that the behavior is maintained. This is not an easy task, as the teacher may appear insincere if he/she thinks too much about the way to behave.


  1. Classical conditioning was developed by Pavlov while the operant conditioning was developed by Skinner.
  2. Classical conditioning results from the association between a stimulus and elicited response while operant conditioning results from the association between the emitted behaviour and reinforcement upon which the behaviour is contingent.
  3. In classical conditioning, responses are elicited responses that are natural. Personal not observable and relatively fixed. In operant conditioning, responses are emitted responses that are variable, observable, voluntary and spontaneous.
  4. Operant conditioning is an active form of learning by the organism being instrumental to the process of learning.
  5. Reinforcement in classical conditioning is the pairing of CS and UCS. In operant conditioning the stimulus in form of food, liquid or anything that satisfies a drive.

It is clear that the discussion of the earlier theory that S-R classical conditioning theory of pavlov operate without any form of reinforcement. Learning is purely instinctually based and whatever response or learning that has taken place is as a result of natural phenomenon. Pavlov’s theory is therefore described as S-R theory without reinforcement.


            Edward Lee Thorndike (1874-1949) an America association’s psychologist rather saw the issues of S-R connection differently. He was the first of such psychologists to introduce the concept of reward as a strengthening factor of the connection between stimulus and response. He basically thought of learning as a matter of problem solving and contends that we learn better and faster those learning materials that have satisfying after effects.

            Thorndike likened learners to empty organism who responded to stimuli more or less randomly and automatically and whose behaviour is determined by the environment and not necessarily and entirely determined by genetic or biological factors. He contends that human behaviour is always under the influence of environment stimuli hence a specific response must be connected to a specific stimulus when it is rewarded. From this analysis, it can comfortably be said that a teacher at any given time arranges what sort of reward is given to what situation.



             In his animal learning studies, Thorndike placed hungry cats inside “puzzle boxes.”  Once inside the box, a cat was able to gain access to food only if it was able to use the latch to get out of the box.  Through trial and error, the cat was able to learn the contingency between its behaviour. In his animal learning studies, Thorndike placed hungry cats inside “puzzle boxes.”  Once inside the box, a cat was able to gain access to food only if it was able to use the latch to get out of the box.  Through trial and error, the cat was able to learn the contingency between its behaviour and the reward. Thorndike also noticed that with more training, the cats managed to gain access to food in increasingly less time.

if the cat would press a bar or pull on a string, a door would open allowing the cat to escape. Once the cat was outside of the box, it would find some food in close proximity, thereby reinforcing the response (Thorndike, 1911).  Thorndike continually repeated this activity over and over again to formulate his theory and solidify his results. He also discovered that the speed at which the cats escaped from the box increased with each successful attempt, proving that, not only did the learned behaviour become reinforced, but the desire for reward motivated the performance.  Thorndike formulated the Law of Effect from the test studies which can be summarized as “responses that produce satisfaction will be more likely to recur and thus be strengthened.

            Thorndike concluded that learning is stamping in correct response and eliminating incorrect responses because of either rewarding or annoying consequences. Following from this, he postulated three basic laws and five principles of learning. The laws are the conditions a learner must met before learning can take place, while the principles are other factors that facilitate learning.


            Central to this law is the relationship between stimulus and response. The law effects are concerned with the strengthening or weakening of a connection between stimulus and response as a result of its consequence. The law in effect states that when modifiable connection is made between stimulus and response (S-R) it was strengthened if it resulted satisfaction and was weakened if it led to annoyance. In other words, bond between stimulus and response was strengthened if the response was satisfying and weakened if the response was annoying or discomforting.


  1. Learning materials should be arranged in increasing difficulty in order that the students may progress without any failure.
  2. The classroom experience should be satisfactory and pleasant. The teacher should note that students acquire and remember those responses that lead to satisfying after effects.
  3. School activities must be arranged sequentially to create some degree of confidence and success in the work for the pupils.
  4. Instructional material should be varied to stimulate interest and maintain novelty.
  5. Learning experiences must be meaningful to the learners in order to fulfil one’s aspiration.


            The law of exercise is associated with an adage which says practise makes perfect. However, repetition itself does not produce effective learning. Repetition with meaning result in significant learning. The law of exercise state that the strengthening of connection between stimulus and response with practice. This is the principle governing the law. The law is of two parts:

The law of use, and

The law of disuse.

            The law of use states that the more frequently a connection is made between stimulus and response, the stronger that connection will be. The law of disuse states that if a connection between stimulus and response is made over a period of time the strength of that connection is weakened.


  1. Student should be given adequate opportunities to use and repeat what has been learnt. Teacher should give assignments to the learners to avail them of the opportunity of going through several times what has been learned.
  2. To maintain the connection for longer periods, review of the learned material must be made. This brings to mind the issue of review of previous lessons when introducing a new topic.


            When a modifiable connection is ready to act to do so is satisfying, and when it is not ready to do so is unsatisfying. The organism must be ready for the connection between stimulus and response. The readiness of an organism for such a connection is usually pleasurable and enhances learning. Readiness is therefore dependent upon both maturation and experience of the learner. The law of readiness state that when a child is emotionally and physically ready to learn, he learns better than when is not ready. The teacher should therefore be aware and conscious of when his pupils are emotionally, psychologically and mentally ready and prepared to learn before teaching them.


  1. Aptitude tests in various subjects may be given to determine the thoroughness learners.
  2. Teacher must wait till learner is ready to learn. Teacher should give those experience which help to enhance readiness.
  3. A child be both mentally and physically ready before he engages in learning activity.


  1. Principle of multiple responses: for learning to take place, it has to be preceded by series of Trails and Error attempts or guesses.
  2. Principle of mental set: for learning to take place, the learner must be mentally prepared for it. He has to be in the mood and have positive attitude towards learning. This explains the need for teachers to always stimulate pupil’s interest by making them become curious and eager to learn.
  3. Principle of partial activities: perceiving partial or small aspect of a subject can stimulate curiosity, interest or eagerness to acquire the whole knowledge. Not only that the perception of partial activity can also serve as a reminder of the whole activity if it has been learned before.
  4. Principle of analogy or assimilation: the principles of analogy refer to transfer of learning from past knowledge to new situation. What already has been learned can be used to handle new situation which are similar to past knowledge.
  5. Principle of association: learners can be trained to transfer any of their natural behaviours to a stimulus each learner is sensitive to. This is similar to Pavlov’s classical conditioning.



            In contrast to the S-R connectionist tradition are the cognitive field theories which are entirely based on cognitive processes such as perception and knowledge. According to these theories, learning is the study in which cognitive are modified by experience. Thus, one engages in the process of learning because of some internally generated motive and goals the learner has set for himself.


            The cognitive field theorists see learning as completely different from the connectionist view. The cognitive theories do not believes that learning take place either through somebody providing the learner responding to a stimulus for behaviour to take place or for behaviour to be repeated. Cognitive field theorists are basically opposed to the breaking of experiences into stimulus and response. They are therefore known in psychology as non-reductionists.

            The non-reductionists are opposed to the molecular and mechanistic approach to learning of developing understanding and insight in the learner. Learning is purely seen as organisation of perception and purposes by the learning of developing understanding and insight in the learner. Teaching and learning relate to the individual goal and expectances.


Kurt Lewin (1890-1947), unlike Pavlov, Skinner and Gestltian psychologists, conducted experiments on the study of behaviour of children. He utilised an elaborate experimental set-up with a view to control the child’s total environment during the course of the investigation for getting detailed information. Lewin emphasised the study of behaviour as a function of the total physical and social situation. Lewin holds that psychological laws need not be formulated exclusively on the basis of statistical averages. Rather the individual case is equally important. Even if all general psychological laws were known, we would still need to understand the specific individual and ‘total situation’ in which he exists before we could make any prediction about his behaviour. Thus Lewin favours an idiographic psychology in which the focus is on the individual, as opposed to nomothetic psychology, where the emphasis is on Statistical average.

Lewin explains the individual behaviour on the basis of life-space. An individual’s life-space depends on his psychological force. It includes the person; his drives, tensions, thoughts and his environment, which consists of perceived objects and events.

Lewin represents his theory through a diagram in which an individual is in the centre. He moves through his life-space which consists of the totality of facts that determine his behaviour at a given time.

A life-space contains the individual himself, the goals he is seeking (positive valence) or avoiding (negative valence), the barriers that restrict the individual’s movements and the path he must follow to reach his goal.

Desire creates tensions in the individual and tensions come to a balancing state and the person acts. After the goal has been achieved, the organism (individual) returns to a state of repose until a new desire activate him.

In Lewin’s theory, threat, goal and barrier are the main factors. An individual who has to achieve some goal has to cross a barrier. The barrier may be psychological or physical. Because of the changes in the barrier in the life- space of an individual, continuous reconstruction takes place.

Lewin’s theory is called field theory as to a psychologist field means the total psychological world in which a person lives at a certain time. It includes matters and events of past, present and future, concrete and abstract, actual and imaginary – all interpreted as simultaneous aspects of a situation. Lewin states that each person exists within a field of forces. The field of forces to which the individual is responding or reacting is called his life-space.

Lewin’s theory regards learning as a relativistic process by which a learner develops new insight or changes old ones. According to the theory, learning is not a mechanistic process of connecting stimuli and responses within a biological organism. Field psychology explains development of insight as a change in cognitive structure of life-space.

Lewin’s theory regards learning as a relativistic process by which a learnt develops new insight or changes old ones. According to the theory, learning is not a mechanistic process of connecting stimuli and response within a biological organism. Field psychology explains development of insight as a change in cognitive structure of life-space.

Lewin’s theory may be explained as under: Suppose a person P is moving towards a goal of getting social recognition. But to achieve the goal, he has to apologies. New asking for apology is the barrier coming in his way. The barrier may be physical or psychological forces preventing him from reaching the goal. These forces organise themselves into a pattern which determines his future behaviour.


Lewin classified learning as follows;

  1. Learning is a change in cognitive structure.
  2. Learning is a change in motivation, i.e., in power and values.

iii.        Learning is acquisition of skills.

  1. Learning is a change in group belonging.

Learning of all types involves change in perception.

Changes in cognitive structure are caused by the forces in the psychological field – needs, aspirations and valences. Lewin thinks that level of aspiration depends upon the potentialities of an individual and on the influences of the group to which he belongs. Too higher or too level of aspiration discourages learning.

The main concepts used in Lewin’s field theory are as follows:

  • Topology: It is also called topological. Two basic concepts which topological space denotes are:
  1. Connectedness, and
  2. Part- whole relationship

Topological concepts are used to represent the structure of life- space in such a way as to define the range of possible perceptions and actions. This is accomplished by showing the arrangements of the functional parts of life-space. The parts are shown as various regions and their boundaries. When an individual structures his life-space, he divides it into regions.

  1. Vector: The term vector represents a force which is influencing movement towards a goal or away from it. If there is only one vector (force), there is movement in the direction of the vector. However, if there are two or more vectors acting simultaneously in different directions, the movement is in the direction of the resultant force.
  2. Life-Space: It is also called the psychological field. The psychological field is the space in which the person moves psychologically. It contains the whole of one’s psychological reality – one’s self and what one thinks of or what one gains from one’s physical and social environment.
  3. The Person in Life-Space: The person is often represented as a point moving about in his life-space, affected by pulls and pushes upon him, circumventing barriers in his locomotion in his own life-space.
  4. Valence: When a person is attracted by an object, that object is said to have a positive valence. When a person is repelled by an object that is said to have a negative valence. The person tends to move towards a region in life- space that has positive valence and he tends to move away from a region in life-space that has negative valence. Because life-space may contain regions with several valences active at a time, these give rise to conflict, especially when the opposing forces are approximately in balance.

Lewin specifies three chief kinds of conflict:

(1) Two Positive Valence: Such as when a child has to choose between going to picnic and playing with his friends.

(2) A Simultaneous Positive and Negative Valence: Such as when a child is offered for a reward for the school task he does not wish to perform.

(3) Two Negative Valence: Such as when a child is threat-end with punishment if he does not do a task which he does not wish to perform.

  1. Distance and Direction: When there is a close correspondence between life-space and physical space, physical distances and directions may be used for experimental purposes as approximations of distances and directions in life space.
  2. Behaviour: Lewin regards behaviour as a function of present life space. He insists that behaviour depends upon the present and not upon the past or future.
  3. Barrier: It is a dynamic part of an environment which resists motion through it. It stands in the way of a person’s reaching his goal.
  4. Goal: Goal is a region of valence-region of life-space to which a person is psychologically attracted.
  5. Tension: It is very closely to and is descriptive of psychological needs. Release of tension may be achieved either through reaching a goal or through reconstructing a life-space.
  6. Cognitive Structure: It is an environment including a person as known by the person. It is synonymous with insight or understanding.


Taking into consideration, the field theory as a whole, the classroom teaching-learning implications include the significance of seeing the total situation at the beginning of the lesson or an activity. The teacher should preview the activities involved and the problem to be encountered. Moreover, from the point of view of a field theorist, the teacher should keep in mind that the student, the teacher himself, other teachers, the school and the peer group- are all parts of the total situation.

The need for seeing the whole and details of the situation is very necessary. The teacher must assist the students to perceive the goal and the barrier. The goal must be presented in an easier and simplified way. Sometimes partial insight of a situation may provide partial relief from tension.


  1. 1. Reward and Punishment: According to Lewin, the learner because of attraction to rewards may resort to shortest methods. For example, to get distinction in the examination (record) the student may like to cheat (shortcut method). It is, therefore, necessary to put some barriers over the reward situation, to avoid access to such short methods.

In the case of punishment, however, there is a tendency to leave the field because of the unpleasantness of the task, unless some strong barriers are there to keep one in the field. Reward activities often become interesting and are liked so that motivation is no longer extrinsic while the activities controlled by the threat of punishment tend to become extremely hated.

  1. Success and Failure: Psychological analysis of success from the point of view of the learner shows the following possibilities:

(1)        To reach a goal constitutes success.

(2)        To get within the region of the goal may be a success experience.

(3)        To make some progress in the direction of the goal also constitutes a success experience.

(4)        To select a socially approved goal is also a success experience.

Psychological success or failure depends upon ego involvement and the level of aspiration. Success in easy task is not a success experience, since it does not involve the ego of the person. Similarly, failure in a very difficult task is no failure experience.

  1. Motivation: The repetition of an activity brings change both in the cognitive structure and in the need-tension systems. As a result of this goal, attractiveness changes. Lewin calls goal attractiveness valence and valence change.

The valence may change in any of the following ways:

(1) Attractive goals may lose attention if the activity related to them is repeated to the points of satiation.

(2) Choice of goals is influenced by previous experiences of success and failure.

  1. Memory: The field theory states the following regarding memory:

(1) Tasks which have no sense in completion are not remembered.

(2) Unfinished tasks are remembered better than finished tasks because of psychological tension.

(3) Tasks which lead to the satisfaction of many needs are remembered better than tasks which lead to the satisfaction of one need.


            Basis of learning according to Sign Theory Edward C. Tolman (1886- 1959), like behaviourists rejected the idea of introspection as a method of studying human behaviour. On the contrary, he believed the objective method of collecting data. He remarked that we do not only respond to the stimulus but we act on beliefs, and express attitudes. Behaviour can be modified by experience and training. Tolman’s theory combines the advantages of stimulus-response theories and cognitive field theories.

Tolman published his major work entitled. Purposive Behaviour in Animals and Men (1932) and recorded the results of his experiments. He revised his theory in 1949. According to the findings of these experiments, the learner does not reach the goal in fixed sequence of movements but changes his behaviour according to the variation in conditions.

Tolman’s theory of learning is known by several names such as “sign significance theory”, “expectancy theory”, “purposive behaviourism” or simple “sign theory”.

The main features of this theory are as follows:

  • It accepts behaviourism as basis: main characteristics of behaviour are;
  1. Behaviour is a goal-directed i.e. it is purposive.
  2. Behaviour makes use of environmental factors as means for getting at the goal.
  3. Behaviour consists of the formation of cognitive maps
  4. The organism has a selective preference for the principle of least effort for arriving at the goal
  5. Molar behaviour is docile.
  • According to Tolman, the behaviour depends upon:
  1. The need system,
  2. The belief value matrix, and
  3. The behaviour space.
  • This theory takes into consideration that learning is based upon some signs or clues leading to the goal. The organism learns not the movement patterns, but the signs-significate relations.


Typical Learning Problems:

Capacity: the learning of a task depends upon the capacity of the learner.

Practice: Tolman believes that practice or exercise cannot help the learner in the initial selection of a right response. Mere frequent without belongingness does not establish a connection.

Motivation: motivation does not help in learning something new. It simply encourages the performance as such.

Understanding: Tolman believes in learning by creative inference, invention ideation and so on. Insightful learning is emphasized.

Transfer: transfer of training depends upon applicability of the essential relationship perceived by the learner in one situation to some other situation.

Forgetting: Repression and ratio-active inhibition cause forgetting Tolman attributes forgetting to the resistance of cathexis (relationship between a drive and object) also.


Law of Capacity: This relates to traits, characteristics and aptitudes of the learner which determine type of tasks and situations which can be mastered successfully.

Law of Stimulus: It deals with conditions inherent in the material itself such as belongingness of its parts and how successfully it leads to insightful solution.

Law of Manner: It is concerned with the manner of presentation of material such as frequency of presentation, distribution of practice and use of rewards.


David Paul Ausubel was an American psychologist whose most significant contribution to the fields of educational psychology, cognitive science, and science education. Ausubel believed that understanding concepts, principles, and ideas are achieved through deductive reasoning. Similarly, he believed in the idea of meaningful learning as opposed to rote memorization.

The most important single factor influencing learning is what the learner already knows. This led Ausubel to develop an interesting theory of meaningful learning and advance organizers.

Ausubel’s believes that learning of new knowledge relies on what is already known. That is, construction of knowledge begins with our observation and recognition of events and objects through concepts we already have. We learn by constructing a network of concepts and adding to them.

Ausubel also stresses the importance of reception rather than discovery learning, and meaningful rather than rote learning. He declares that his theory applies only to reception learning in school settings. He didn’t say, however, that discovery learning doesn’t work; but rather that it was not efficient. In other words, Ausubel believed that understanding concepts, principles, and ideas are achieved through deductive reasoning. Ausubel was influenced by the teachings of Jean Piaget Similar to Piaget’s ideas of conceptual schemes, Ausubel related this to his explanation of how people acquire knowledge.


Ausebel’s theory also focuses on meaningful learning. According to his theory, to learn meaningfully, individuals must relate new knowledge to relevant concepts they already know. New knowledge must interact with the learner’s knowledge structure.

Meaningful learning can be contrasted with rote learning. he believed in the idea Of meaningful learning as opposed to rote memorization. The latter can also incorporate new information into the pre-existing knowledge structure but without interaction. Rote memory is used to recall sequences of objects, such as phone numbers. However, it is of no us to the learner in understanding the relationships between the objects. Because meaningful learning involves recognition of the links between concepts, it has the privilege of being transferred to long-term memory.

The most crucial element in meaningful learning is how the new information is integrated into the old knowledge structure.

Accordingly, Ausubel believes that knowledge is hierarchically organized; that new information is meaningful to the extent that it can be related (attached, anchored) to what is already known.

The rote-meaningful learning continuum showing the requirements of meaningful learning.


Ausubel advocates the use of advance organizers as a mechanism to help to link new learning material with existing related ideas. Advance organizers are helpful in the way that they help the process of learning when difficult and complex material are introduced. This is satisfied through two conditions:

  1. The student must process and understand the information presented in the organizer; this increases the effectiveness of the organizer itself.
  2. The organizer must indicate the relationships among the basic concepts and terms that will be used.

Ausubel’s theory of advance organizers fall into two categories where are comparative and expository.

Comparative Organizers

The main goal of comparative organizers is to activate existing schemas and is used as reminders to bring into the working memory of what you may not realize is relevant. A comparative Organizer is also used both to integrate as well as discriminate. It “integrates new ideas with basically similar concepts in cognitive structure, as well as increase discriminability between new and existing ideas which are essentially different but confusedly similar”.

Expository Organizers

In contrast, expository organizers provide new knowledge that students will need to understand the upcoming information” Expository organizers are often used when the new learning material is unfamiliar to the learner. They often relate what the learner already knows with the new and unfamiliar material; this in turn is aimed to make the unfamiliar material more plausible to the learner.


            Ausubel believed that learning proceeds in a top-down or deductive manner. Ausubel’s theory consists of three phases. The main elements of ausubel teaching method are shown below in the table.

Phase One

Advance Organizer

Phase Two

Presentation of Learning task or Material

Phase Three

Strengthening Cognitive organization.

Clarify aim of the lesson Make the organization of the new material explicit Relate new information to advance organizer
Present the lesson Make logical order of learning material explicit Promote active reception learning
Relate organizer to students’ prior knowledge Present material in terms of basic similarities and differences by using examples, and engage students in meaningful activities.  

Ausubel’s Model of Meaningful learning.


Ausubel is one of the educational psychologist to look simultaneously into learning ,teaching and curriculum. To Ausubel, the goal of learning is the mastery of subject-matter. He advocates the improvement of presentational(expository)method of teaching.

“Tell them what you are going to tell them; then tell them what you told them” is the statement that explains the application of Ausubel theory for teachers, this would mean the following steps:

  1. Start lessons with advance organizers that include general principles or with questions that will help students learn to systematically integrate the material.
  2. Alert the students to new or key concepts; and briefly describe the learning objective.
  3. Present new learning contents in small steps organised logically and sequenced in ways that are easy to follow.
  4. Get responses regularly, in order to engage the learners actively and ensure that each step is mastered before moving on to the next one.
  5. Finish the lesson with an interactive review of the main points,stressing general interactive concepts.
  6. Follow up the lesson with question or assignments that require learners to comprehend material on their own and apply it or extend it.

Today Ausubel theory is utilized not only in lecturing but also in writing text-books.

Instructional Implications Of Ausubel’s Theory

Ausubel’s theory is not particularly in vogue today, perhaps because he seems to advocate a airily passive role for the learner, who receives mainly verbal instruction that has been arranged so as to require a minimal amount of “struggle”.

The advance organizer:

This seems to be the most enduring Ausubelian idea, even though it can be tricky to implement. There is a fair amount of intuitive appeal to the idea of epitomizing an idea before trying to teach the details. We’ve all had the experience of needing to understand the “big picture” before we can make sense of the details. You could think of the advance organizer as Ausubel’s notion of how to provide this.

The comparative organizer:

How do we remember concepts and keep them from fading or being lost into higher-level ideas? Ausubel proposed the comparative organizer as a way of enhancing the discriminability of ideas; i.e., permitting one to discriminate a concept from other closely related ones. A comparative organizer allows you to easily see the similarities and differences in a set of related ideas.

Progressive differentiation:
According to Ausubel, the purpose of progressive differentiation is to increase the stability and clarity of anchoring ideas. The basic idea here is that, if you’re teaching three related topics A, B, and C, rather than teaching all of topic A, then going on to B, etc., you would take a spiral approach. That is, in your first pass through the material, you would teach the “big” ideas (i.e., those highest in the hierarchy) in all three topics, then on successive passes you would begin to elaborate the details. Along the way you would point out principles that the three topics had in common, and things that differentiated them.”


Jerome Bruner is a psychologist who focused much of his research on the cognitive development of children and how it relates to education. While he has made many contributions to the field of psychology, his greatest contributions have been in the educational field. At the time of his research, behaviourism was the primarily practiced theory in America’s classrooms. Initially, Bruner was interested in how the mind organized and categorized information. Because his early career focused on cognitive psychology, Piaget’s theories played a large role in his initial studies. Over time, however, as he began to specialize more on learning, Vygotsky and his ideas on the Zone of Proximal Development and scaffolding came to be increasingly influential to Bruner’s research.

Each of Bruner’s stages of representation builds off of the knowledge and information learned in the previous stage, or in other words, the stage before acts as scaffolding for the next stage. The theory has come to play a huge role in mathematics education, particularly with the encouraged use of manipulatives. Eventually, Bruner’s stages of representation came to play a role in the development of the constructivist theory of learning as well.

The outcome of cognitive development is thinking. The intelligent mind creates from experience “generic coding systems that permit one to go beyond the data to new and possibly fruitful reductions” (Bruner, 1957, p. 234). Thus, children as they grow must acquire a way of representing the “recurrent regularities” in their environment. So, to Bruner, important outcomes of learning include not just the concepts, categories, and problem-solving procedures invented previously by the culture, but also the ability to “invent” these things for oneself.

Cognitive growth involves an interaction between basic human capabilities and “culturally invented technologies that serve as amplifiers of these capabilities.” These culturally invented technologies include not just obvious things such as computers and television, but also more abstract notions such as the way a culture categorizes phenomena, and language itself. Bruner would likely agree with Vygotsky that language serves to mediate between environmental stimuli and the individual’s response.

The aim of education should be to create autonomous learners (i.e., learning to learn).

Jerome Bruner theorized that learning occurs by going through three stages of representation. Each stage is a “way in which information or knowledge are stored and encoded in memory” (Culatta, 2008). The stages are more-or-less sequential, although they are not necessarily age-related like Piaget-based theories. Going through the stages is essential to truly understanding the concept, as it helps the learner understand why. In his research on the cognitive development of children (1966), Jerome Bruner proposed three modes of representation:

  • Enactive representation (action-based)
  • Iconic representation (image-based)
  • Symbolic representation (language-based)

Bruner’s Three Modes of Representation

Enactive (0-1): This appears first. It involves encoding action based information and storing it in our memory. For example, in the form of movement as a muscle memory, a baby might remember the action of shaking a rattle. The child represents past events through motor responses, i.e. an infant will “shake a rattle” which has just been removed or dropped, as if the movements themselves are expected to produce the accustomed sound. And this is not just limited to children. Many adults can perform a variety of motor tasks (typing, sewing a shirt, operating a lawn mower) that they would find difficult to describe in iconic (picture) or symbolic (word) form.

Iconic (1-6): This is where information is stored visually in the form of images (a mental picture in the mind’s eye). For some, this is conscious; others say they don’t experience it. This may explain why, when we are learning a new subject, it is often helpful to have diagrams or illustrations to accompany verbal information.

Symbolic (7 years onward): This develops last. This is where information is stored in the form of a code or symbol, such as language. This is the most adaptable form of representation, for ctions & images have a fixed relation to that which they represent. Dog is a symbolic representation of a single class.

Symbols are flexible in that they can be manipulated, ordered, classified etc., so the user isn’t constrained by actions or images. In the symbolic stage, knowledge is stored primarily as words, mathematical symbols, or in other symbol systems. Bruner’s constructivist theory suggests it is effective when faced with new material to follow a progression from enactive to iconic to symbolic representation; this holds true even for adult learners. A true instructional designer, Bruner’s work also suggests that a learner even of a very young age is capable of learning any material so long as the instruction is organized appropriately, in sharp contrast to the beliefs of Piaget and other stage theorists.


For Bruner (1961), the purpose of education is not to impart knowledge, but instead to facilitate a child’s thinking and problem solving skills which can then be transferred to a range of situations. Specifically, education should also develop symbolic thinking in children.

In 1960 Bruner’s text, The Process of Education was published. The main premise of Bruner’s text was that students are active learners who construct their own knowledge.

Bruner (1960) opposed Piaget’s notion of readiness. He argued that schools waste time trying to match the complexity of subject material to a child’s cognitive stage of development. This means students are held back by teachers as certain topics are deemed too difficult to understand and must be taught when the teacher believes the child has reached the appropriate state of cognitive maturity.

Bruner (1960) adopts a different view and believes a child (of any age) is capable of understanding complex information: ‘We begin with the hypothesis that any subject can be taught effectively in some intellectually honest form to any child at any stage of development’. (p. 33)

Bruner (1960) explained how this was possible through the concept of the spiral curriculum. This involved information being structured so that complex ideas can be taught at a simplified level first, and then re-visited at more complex levels later on. Therefore, subjects would be taught at levels of gradually increasing difficultly (hence the spiral analogy). Ideally, teaching his way should lead to children being able to solve problems by themselves.

Bruner (1961) proposes that learners’ construct their own knowledge and do this by organizing and categorizing information using a coding system. Bruner believed that the most effective way to develop a coding system is to discover it rather than being told it by the teacher. The concept of discovery learning implies that students construct their own knowledge for themselves (also known as a constructivist approach).

The role of the teacher should not be to teach information by rote learning, but instead to facilitate the learning process. This means that a good teacher will design lessons that help student discover the relationship between bits of information. To do this a teacher must give students the information they need, but without organizing for them. The use of the spiral curriculum can aid the process of discovery learning.

According to Bruner, developmental growth involves mastering each of the increasingly more complex modes – enactive to iconic to symbolic. Mastering this incorporates becoming more skilled in translating between each mode. An example of this sort of translation could be a discussion (symbolic mode) of what students had learned from an experiment (iconic mode).

An implication of Bruner’s developmental theories is that children should be provided with study materials, activities, and tools that are matched to and capitalise on their developing cognitive capabilities. For example, a teacher wanting to help children learn about dinosaurs could use all three modes. Students could be asked to construct models of dinosaurs (enactive); they might watch a film about, or involving, dinosaurs (iconic); or they could consult reference texts and then discuss their findings (symbolic).


The Insight Learning Theory, the theory of learning by insight is the contribution of gestalt psychologist. Gestalt is a term derived from the German word ‘gestalten’, has no English equivalent. The nearest English translation of Gestalt is ‘configuration’ or ‘organised whole’ or the ‘totality of a situation’. Wolfgang kohler, Max Wertheimer, Kurt Koffka etc. were the prominent Gestalt Psychologist. They believe that the whole is more important than its parts. Dissatisfied with the behaviourist approach of learning, the cognitivists tried to see learning as a more deliberate and conscious effort of the individual rather than a mere product of habit formation or a machine-like stimulus-response connection. According to them the learner does not merely response to a stimulus, but definitely process what he receives or perceives. Thus learning is a purposive, explorative and creative activity instead of trial and error.

It is a theory regarding perception. Gestaltists consider learning as the development of insight, which is primarily consider concerned with the nature of perception. Perception is a process by which an organism interprets and organise sensation to produce a meaningful experience of the world. It is the ultimate experience of the world and typically involves further processing of sensory input.

While learning, the learner always perceives the situation as a whole and after seeing and evaluating the different relationships takes the proper decision intelligently. Gestalt psychology used the term insight to describe the perception of the whole situation by the learner and his intelligence in responding to the proper relationships. Insight refers the sudden flash in the mind about the solution of the problem. Kohler conducted many experiments with his chimpanzee “Sulthan” to describe the term “insight”. These experiments are the illustration of learning by insight.



  1. In one experiment, Kohler put the chimpanzee, “Sulthan” inside a cage and a banana was hung from the roof of a cage. A box was placed inside the cage. The chimpanzee tried to reach the banana by jumping but could not succeed. Suddenly he got an idea and used the box as a jumping platform by placing it just below the hanging banana.
  2. In another experiment Kohler made this problem complicated that two or three boxes were required to reach the banana.
  3. In a more complicated experiment, a banana was kept far outside the cage and two sticks – one larger than the other- were kept inside the box. When failed to reach the banana by one stick, with a sudden bright idea the chimpanzee tried to reach the banana by joining the two sticks.

These experiments demonstrated the role of intelligence and cognitive abilities in higher learning and problem solving situations.


  1. Identifying the problem: The learner recognizes the presence of intervening obstacles on his way to the goal.
  2. Understanding the problem: The learner observes the problematic situation, analyse it and perceive the relation between the goal and the obstacles.
  3. Incubation of ideas: After analyzing the total situation he reaches in conclusions by means of hesitation, pause, concentrated attention etc.
  4. Trail of mode of response: The learner makes initial efforts in the form of a simple trial and error mechanism.
  5. Sustained attention: The learner maintains frequently recurrent attention to the goal and motivation.
  6. Insight development: In a certain moment there is a sudden perception of the relationship in the total situation and the organism directly performs the required acts.
  7. Steady repetition of adaptive behaviour: After getting an insightful solution, the individual tries to implement it in another situation.
  8. Comprehension of ability: The learner reaches the ability to understand the relevant parts of the situation and overlooking the irrelevant ones.


There are four important laws regarding insight learning. They are as follows:

  1. The law of similarity: The law of similaritystates that “when there are different sets of objects on view then they are perceived as groups rather than individual objects”.  This law leads us to link together parts of the visual field that are similar in colour, lightness, texture, shape, or any other quality.













Instead of perceiving this as group of V’s and O’s, we identify this as besides group of V’s the O’s are formed as a big V shape.

  1. The law of proximity: The law of proximitystates that “objects which are close together are likely to be seen as a group”.   For example, look at the following line.


 You are likely to perceive this as four separate groups, comprising three, two, four and one members respectively, rather than to view it as a line of ten I s. This doesn’t only apply to visual perception, think for example of music, perceived as a melody rather than a procession of single notes.

  1. Law of closure: According to the law of closure, we prefer complete forms to incomplete forms. When the outline of an object is left unfinished, as long as the gap is less than half the total circumference then the object is identified and perceived as whole rather than as a different shape. Thus, in the drawing below, we mentally close the gaps and perceive it as I B M. This tendency allows us to perceive whole objects from incomplete and imperfect forms.
  2. The law of continuity: The law states that “we link individual elements of a configuration so that they form continuous pattern that makes sense to us”. That is, we tend to perceive the components of a perceptual filed as smoothly flowing rather than discontinuous forms.




  1. From Whole to Parts: The teacher should present the subject matter as a whole to facilitate insight learning.
  2. Integrated Approach: While planning curriculum, gestalt principles should be given due consideration. A particular subject should not be treated as the mere collection of isolated facts. It should be closely integrated into a whole.
  3. Importance of Motivation: the teacher should arouse the child’s curiosity, interest and motivation. He should gain full attention of the whole class before teaching.
  4. Emphasis on Understanding: It has made learning an intelligent task requiring mental abilities than a stimulus – response association. So the learner must be given opportunities for using his mental abilities.
  5. Problem Solving Approach: This theory emphasis that as the learner is able to solve problems by his insight, meaningful learning, learning by understanding, reasoning, etc. must be encouraged in the school.
  6. Checking of Previous Experiences: As insight depends upon the previous experiences of the learner, the teacher must check the previous experiences of the child and relate them with the new learning situation.
  7. Goal Orientation: As learning is a purposeful and goal oriented task, the learner has to be well acquainted with these objectives.  He should be fully familiar with the goals and purposes of every task.


Cognitive learning theory explains the process of learning by describing how we acquire, organise and use knowledge (Eggen and Kauchak, 2010). The theory focuses on internal mental activities to understand how people learn and emphasizes that students are active in the learning process through efforts to mentally organise and store knowledge.

Eggen and Kauchak (2010) outline the following as the principles guiding Cognitive learning theories:

  • Learning and development depend on learner experiences.
  • Learners are mentally active in their attempts to make sense of those experiences.
  • Learners construct knowledge in the process of developing an understanding of their experiences. Learner does not record knowledge.
  • Knowledge that is constructed depends on knowledge that learners already possess.
  • Learning is enhanced in a social environment.

It is interesting to note that both cognitive learning theorists and constructivists agree on the principles that learning is: dependent on past experiences and knowledge, that learners construct knowledge and that learning is enhanced in a social environment (Eggen & Kauchak, 2010).


The following are the implications of cognitive theories to learning:

  • Cognitive process influence learning.
  • As children grows, they become capable of increasingly more sophisticated thought.
  • Student organise the things they learn.
  • New information is most easily acquired when student can associate it with things they have already learned.
  • Student control their own learning.

To facilitate the theory of Cognitive learning, the effective teacher’s classroom would need to encompass the following teaching strategies as follows:

  • Gain attention and check for prior knowledge:

Classroom Example, if studying the human anatomy the class could start with the students forming groups, sketching an outline of a student’s body onto butcher paper and then attempting to draw organs on the sketch based on the students prior knowledge. This activity gains attention and allows the teacher to uncover prior knowledge and any misconceptions.

  • Ask questions.

To ensure that the information is being perceived correctly, throughout the class, ask questions to clarify understanding, get students to explain and illustrate understanding of human anatomy through drawing it on the butcher paper.

  • Present information both visually and verbally.

In this example, through utilising the drawing to represent the anatomy and discussing the activity this has been achieved.

  • Help students encode information into long-term memory.

As the students are actively involved in the activity of drawing the anatomy this increases the likelihood of meaningful connections being made.

  • Model Metacognition.

The effective teacher in this example could model metacognition by suggesting that when she tries to remember where organs belong, she thinks of personal experiences such as when she visits the doctor and the doctor checks her heart rate.

As described in the example the impact of employing cognitive learning theory in the classroom does not require much effort, what it does require is planning of how the lesson will be presented to maximise cognitive activity, and questioning and modelling techniques which once a certain level of experience is achieved will become an automatic process.


Connectionist is a learning theory, in which knowledge exists outside of the learner and the learner makes connections between information to build knowledge. The connections that learners make help them create their own learning network. Through this connected web, learners will be able to stay up-to-date with content as it changes. It is important for the learner to be able to identify credible resources. Siemens outlines the major ideas of connectivism as:

  • Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions
  • Learning is the process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources
  • Learning may reside in non-human appliances
  • Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known
  • Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate learning
  • The ability to identify connections between concepts is important
  • Maintaining current and accurate knowledge is the purpose in connectivist activities
  • Decision-making is a learning process as information can change and what is viewed as correct one day may be incorrect the next (Siemens, 2004).


Cognitivism refers to the study of the mind and how it obtains, processes, and stores information (Stavredes, 2011). This theory was a response to behaviourism. It was argued that not all learning occurs through shaping and changing of behaviours. In this theory, learners are active participants in their learning, and the mind functions like a computer processor. Information comes in as input, the mind processes the information for the time being, and the information is stored away to be retrieved later (Learning Theories, 2011). Learning is shaped by acquired learning strategies and prior knowledge and attitudes, called schemas. The cognitive view of learning is teacher-centred, and information must be presented in an organized manner in order to achieve the most efficient learning. Cognitivism is suited well for problem solving, where the concepts are complex and must be broken down into smaller parts. Ideas and concepts from these problems are linked to prior knowledge, which in turn helps the learner develop a stronger comprehension (Stavredes, 2011). Organized structure to learning; information comes in and is processed into short term memory before being stored away in long term memory. When problems are broken down into smaller parts, learners are not overwhelmed with incoming information and have time to process smaller bits. The differences are also summaries in the table below:

Questions Connectionist Cognitive
How does learning occur? Distributed within a network, social, technologically enhanced, recognizing and interpreting patterns. Structured, computational.
What factors influence learning? Diversity of network Existing schema, previous experience.
What is the role of memory? Adaptive patterns, representative of current state, existing in networks. Encoding, storage, retrieval.
How does transfer occur? Connecting to (adding nodes). Duplicating knowledge constructs of “knower”
What types of learning are best explained by this theory Complex learning, rapid changing core, diverse knowledge sources. Reasoning, clear objectives, problem solving.

  Source: Ireland, T. (2007).



Boundless. “Kohler and Insight Learning.” Boundless Psychology Boundless, 20 Sep. 2016. Retrieved 06 Feb. 2017 from      k/learning-7/cognitive-approaches-to-learning-48/kohler-and-insight-learning-201-12736/
Eggen & Kauchak P. & Kauchak D. (2010). Educational psychology: windows on       classrooms (8th. Ed.). French’s Forest: Pearson.

Ireland, T. (2007). Situating connectivism. Retrieved January 30, 2017, from

Learning Theories Knowledgebase (2011, August). Cognitivism at Retrieved Feb 4th, 2017 from 

McLeod, S. A. (2008). Bruner. Retrieved from

Nuthall, G., & Alton-Lee, A. (1990). Research on teaching and learning: Thirty years of change. Elementary School Journal, 90, 547–570.

Olson, D. R. (2004). The triumph of hope over experience in the search for “What       Works”: A response to Slavin. Educational Researcher, 33(1), 24–26.

Stavredes, T. (2011). Effective online teaching: Foundations and strategies for student success. Retrieved February 8, 2017 from University of Illinois, College      of Education Online Web site:

Siemens, G. (2004, December). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age.     Retrieved January 30, 2017 from      pe=pdf

Thorndike, E. L. (1898). Animal intelligence: An experimental study of the associative processes in animals. Psychological Monographs: General and Applied, 2(4), i-109.

Source: Boundless. “Basic Principles of Operant Conditioning: Skinner.” Boundless Psychology Boundless, 26 May. 2016. Retrieved 04 Mar. 2017 from

McLeod, S. A. (2013). Pavlov’s Dogs. Retrieved from

Sundel, M., & Sundel, S. S. (2005).  Behaviour change in the human services:  Behavioural and cognitive principles and applications (5th Ed.).  Thousand Oaks, CA:  Sage Publications, Inc.

Wood, E.G., S.E. Wood, and D. Boyd. The world of psychology. 5th. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2005. 180-190. eBook. <>.











Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s