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Learning Methods

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Learning Methods

Have you ever read a piece of information and thought to yourself, "What did I just read?" Maybe you had to re-evaluate the information and take notes to help you understand it. What do you do when that still doesn't work? Maybe you pull up a video about the topic to help you understand it better. Without realizing it, you are trying out different learning methods!

  • What are learning methods?
  • What are the different types of learning methods?
  • How do the different methods work?
  • What are some examples of each learning method?
  • How does creativity work with the learning methods?

Definition of Learning Methods

Learning is how we perceive, interpret, and understand new information or obtain new knowledge. We can learn through experiences, instruction, or observation. The foundation of learning is attributed to the Law of Effect by Edward Thorndike. The Law of Effect states that behaviors with positive consequences are usually repeated and behaviors with negative consequences are less likely to be repeated.

We use learning methods as the many different ways we gain information and knowledge. We gain this knowledge from our environment and other people.

Harry Harlow was a psychologist known for experimenting with monkeys. In one of his learning experiments, he ran six trials to get the monkeys to find food underneath a box. Only one box had food, while the others were empty. In each of the trials, the food stayed underneath the same box. After two trials, the monkeys learned that the food was under the same box. Harlow stated that the monkeys "learned how to learn" which he called a learning set.

Types of Learning Methods

The five types of learning methods in psychology are classical conditioning, operant conditioning, latent learning, learning through insight, and social learning (observational learning).

Classical Conditioning

Classical conditioning is an unconscious way of learning to associate two things in your environment. You might be familiar with Pavlov's famous classical conditioning experiment using a bell, food, and dogs. Classical conditioning not only works on animals but humans too.

Andrea's dad takes a car ride to the store a few times a week. Andrea does not like the car ride to the store. Andrea's dad begins to play Andrea's favorite song in the car every time they go to the store. Soon afterward, Andrea is glad to go for a car ride because she has associated car rides with her favorite song.

In aversive conditioning, there is an unpleasant association between two things in our environment that teaches us to avoid one or both of these things. In the famous experiment with Little Albert by John Watson, the baby learned to associate small, furry animals with a loud, sudden bang. Initially, Albert did not fear the small white animal. After repeated pairing with a loud, scary noise, Albert cried every time the small animal was brought near him.

Operant Conditioning

Operant conditioning is learning through rewards and punishment. When a child is taught to use the potty, parents often reward the child for using the potty instead of a diaper. After a few tries, the child learns that using the bathroom will bring a reward and repeats the behavior in hopes of receiving another reward each time.

Positive reinforcement is when you add something (like a reward) to encourage a behavior. Negative reinforcement is when you take something away to encourage a behavior. Punishment is when you add something aversive or take away something pleasant to discourage a behavior.

In aversive operant conditioning, we learn to escape, avoid, or feel completely helpless. Escape is when an animal or person tries to escape a negative experience that is already happening. This is like when a cat tries to escape getting splashed with water. Avoidance is when someone tries to get away from a negative experience before it even happens. A person might try to avoid going out in the direct sun if they have fair skin to avoid getting burned.

However, learning to feel completely helpless is a bit more complicated. Learned helplessness happens after repeated negative experiences. After trying and failing to avoid or escape, the person or animal stops trying to get away. There may still be a way out that they have not found yet, but they give up trying. They no longer believe that escape or avoidance is possible.

Latent Learning

Latent learning is learning in the absence of rewards. Latent learning can also be called cognitive learning since it does initially involve any behavior changes. When a child learns how to do something through observation, they may not display what they have learned right away. In a month or two, if they are presented with the same situation, they might display what they learned earlier on. Even though the child learns and retains the information at one point in time, they do not display what they have learned until later on.

Learning by Insight

Learning by insight is the sudden solution to a specific problem popping up in our minds. Usually, there is a reason we arrive at a solution, but we are not consciously aware of the reasoning process. When something is on the tip of your tongue, but you remember it a moment later, this is a great example of insight! Another example is trying to figure out how to move furniture through a door. You suddenly remember to use a chair to hold the door open and turn the furniture sideways to fit it through the opening. These ideas pop up in your mind seemingly out of nowhere!

Social Learning

Social learning is also called observational learning or vicarious learning. Social learning is all about observing and imitating behavior. Social learning is very common in children, as they often mimic the behaviors and attitudes of adults. We observe behavior in others and learn by studying their actions and watching if they are rewarded or punished for their behavior. We learn both how to do something and what the consequences might be. In the workplace, adults often learn new job skills by observing or shadowing more experienced workers.

Examples of the Learning Methods

Any of the learning methods can happen through chaining and shaping, but the most common way that we learn is through operant conditioning. Chaining is a sequence of behaviors that are reinforced or rewarded until the whole process or behavior is learned. Shaping reinforces simple versions of a more complicated behavior as the versions get gradually harder over time until the person has mastered the more complicated behavior.

Chaining occurs in steps. If someone wants to teach a child to count to 50, they might start off with counting to 10. After counting to 10, the child is rewarded. After counting to 20, they are rewarded again. Each step is rewarded until the child can count all the way to 50!

Shaping happens more gradually over time, with small successes along the way. A child first learns to recognize their name, say their name, trace shapes and patterns, trace letters, write letters that form their name, and eventually write their entire name! Even the ability to hold a pencil is part of this shaping process. The steps may seem unrelated to each other, but each step is important to the final result. They are small achievements toward a bigger goal or success.

Creativity and Learning Methods

The way that we learn is often through a creative process. Creative learning allows us to use our unique learning and problem-solving abilities and apply them to how we practice and remember new information or skills. An example of creativity in learning is creating acronyms for information that you need to remember. Creativity can help you do better on exams or perform better in a job. Creative learning can also occur through trial and error. Each individual learns differently, making creative learning important for everyone!

Learning Methods - Key takeaways

  • Learning is how we perceive, interpret, and understand new information or obtain new knowledge through experiences, instruction, or observation.
  • The Law of Effect by Edward Thorndike states that behaviors with positive consequences are usually repeated and behaviors with negative consequences are less likely to be repeated.
  • The five main types of learning methods are classical conditioning, operant conditioning, latent learning, insight, and social learning (observational learning).
  • Positive reinforcement is when you add something (like a reward) to encourage a behavior, negative reinforcement is when you take something away to encourage a behavior, and punishment is when you add something aversive or take away something pleasant to discourage a behavior.
  • Any of the learning methods can happen through chaining and shaping, but the most common way that we learn is through operant conditioning.

Frequently Asked Questions about Learning Methods

We learn by classical conditioning, operant conditioning, observational learning, latent learning, and insight.

The type of learning method that relies upon unconditioned reflex responses is classical conditioning.

The most effective method of learning is dependent on the learner.

Learning methods are important because we would not be able to understand or remember important information without them.

Learning methods are the various ways we obtain knowledge through different forms of material or stimuli.

Final Learning Methods Quiz

Question

________ is how we perceive, interpret, and understand new information or obtain new knowledge

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Answer

Learning

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_______ methods are the various ways we obtain knowledge through different forms of material or stimuli.

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Learning

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The three methodologies of learning

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classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and observational learning.

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Unconscious way of learning material through two forms of stimuli reacting to each other, often a stimulus and a response.

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Classical Conditioning

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When someone is conditioned through rewards and punishment

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Operant conditioning

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How we learn by watching other people, often by mimicking their behaviors.

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Observational learning

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The four types of learning styles are?

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visual learning, auditory learning, kinesthetic learning, and reading/writing learning.

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_____  learners often stay organized by using color-coded notes or visually pleasing charts


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Visual

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_______ learners likely find joy through conversation and listening to others.


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Auditory

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 __________ learners often prefer hands-on tasks and do not do well with visual and auditory informational learning.

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Kinesthetic

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Kolb's 4 stage experiential learning theory.

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concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, active experimentation

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The four learning styles through Kolb's theory are

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diverging, assimilating, converging, and accommodating.

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Question

What type of learning method relies upon unconditioned reflex responses?

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Classical conditioning relies upon unconditioned reflex responses. Example: If we have an itch (stimulus), we scratch it (response).

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An example of creativity when learning can include...

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creating acronyms

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Question

___________ learners are more successful in remembering information when it is presented the first time. 


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Answer

Reading and writing

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