Psychology: Learning Theory

Learning theorists believe at birth, humans are equipped with minimum instincts but have a great potential to learn. They also believe the human behaviour is attained in childhood and in adolescence. Through controlling the ways in which humans learn behaviour, society can largely impact and alter their ultimate personalities.

Learning theory contains a broad range of learning methods. These include operant conditioning, classical conditioning, and observational learning.

B.F Skinner experimented on the learning capabilities of Animals. Pigeons and rats were trained to do a particular action, such as pressing a bar in a complicated sequence in order to gain a reward. In a different scenario, detention is given to a student if she or he does not complete the homework. The consequences will encourage students to practice the habit of completing tasks on time. This is done in hopes of preparing them for real-world situations, where harsher consequences will be issued if the desired expectations are not met. Learning through receiving rewards and punishments is called operant conditioning.

Ivan Povlov experimented on dogs specifically and and discovered stimulus learning. At the sound of a bell, the dog would unconsciously salivate as it awaits its food. This is known as classical conditioning. If the subject is correctly stimulated it will give the appropriate response.

Albert Bandura composed an experiment he made in which school children observed people punching a Bobo clown doll, and another group of young children were shown people petting the clown. Later, the children were left isolated in a room with Bobo and they were monitored through a one-way glass. Their behaviour resembled what they had been shown. This is called observational learning, when viewing social situations and what happens to those people. Bandura proposed that when humans observe behaviour, whether acceptable or unacceptable, they are more inclined to practice it.

"Learning would be exceedingly laborious, not to mention hazardous, if people had to rely solely on the effects of their own actions to inform them what to do. Fortunately, most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action."
-Albert Bandura, Social Learning Theory, 1977

Bandura's observational learning method includes three models:

  1. A live model, which contains a person demonstrating or acting out a behavior.
  2. A verbal instructional model, which contains descriptions and explanations of a behavior.
  3. A symbolic model, which contains real or fictional characters displaying behaviors in media, such as in television programs, films, and magazines.

Key Terms:

Stimulus-response: to learn through if the subject is correctly stimulated it will give the appropriate response. Past experiences may be linked to current human behaviours. For example, the upbringing of a criminal may contrast the upbringing of a lawyer. Also known as classical conditioning.

Operant Conditioning: to learn through receiving rewards and punishments.

Observational learning: to learn through viewing social situations and what occurs to those people.

Main Philosophy

  • By controlling the way in which humans learn behaviour, society can have a great influence on their ultimate personalities.

Type of Questions Asked:

  • What mechanisms do humans use to learn proper behaviour?
  • Are Animal experiments a true predictor of human behaviour?

Known Practitioners

Ivan Pavlov(1849-1936)
B.F Skinner(1904-90)
Albert Bandura(b. 1925)

Time Period:

1880's to present