Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Learning Process, Approaches To Learning

Learning Process

Learning can be defined as a relatively permanent change in behavior or potential behavior as a result of direct or indirect experience. There are two primary elements in this definition that must both be present in order to identify learning process. First, the change must be relatively permanent. Means after “learning” one’s behavior must be different from his prior behavior. And second aspect of definition is that this change must occur due to some kind of experience or practice. This learning is not caused by biological maturation. For example, a child does not learn to walk; it is a natural biological phenomenon because the child gains strength, as he grows older.

Approaches to Learning

There are basically four general approaches to learning namely classical conditioning, operant conditioning, cognitive learning and social learning.

Classical learning

The most well known experiments on classical conditioning were undoubtedly conducted by I.P. Pavlov with dogs, and he established a stimulus – Response (S-R) connection. Classical conditioning introduces a simple cause – and – effect relationship between one stimulus and response. It also makes the response reflexive or involuntary after the stimulus- response relationship has been established. For example, if some one is always reprimanded explain by his boss when asked, “To step in the boss’s office”, he may become nervous whenever asked to come to the office of his boss, because of this association.

Operant conditioning

Operant conditioning introduces a voluntary change in behavior and learning occurs as a “consequence” of such change. It is also called as reinforcement theory and it suggests that behavior is a function of its consequences. This relationship is built around two principles. First, that behavior which results in positive rewards tends to be repeated and behavior with negative consequences tends not to be repeated. Second, based upon such consequences, the behavior can be predicted and controlled.

Cognitive learning

Cognitive leaning is different from above two models in that leaning is considered as the outcome of deliberate thinking about the problem. Cognition, in fact, is the act of knowing an item of information and this knowledge affects the behavior of the person so that information provides cognitive cues towards the expected goal. The learning took place when the relationship between the cues and expectancy was strengthened because the cues led to expect goals.

Social learning
Social learning’s integrates the cognitive and operant approaches to learning. It believes the neither environmental stimuli nor individual determinism alone contribute to learning. But a lend of both views contributes towards social learning. In addition, learning can also be gained by discipline and self-control and an inner desire to acquire knowledge or skills irrespect of the external rewards or consequences.

While operant conditioning and reinforcement is probably the most important principle for explaining learning and predicting and controlling behavior, there are some other principles that need to be explained here.

The Learning Curve

The principle of learning involves the time factor and the repeated efforts in order to gradually increase the strength of the response. This is especially true when the behavior to be learned is comparatively complex such as skills that are learned and improved by practice. The approach suggests that with the passage of practice time the performance/degree of skill increases as also shown in following figure.
 Principle of  Reinforcement

Reinforcement is the process by which certain types of behaviors are strengthened. Thus a “reinforcer.” is any stimuli that cause certain behavior to be repeated or inhibited.

The organizations are interested that the employees behave in a manner that is desirable by the organization. In contrast to it, they are interested to eliminate undesirable behavior among workers. By introducing some reinforces, the organizations can maintain or increase the probability of such behaviors as quality oriented performance, accurate decision making, high level of attendance and punctuality and so on there are four basic reinforcement strategies following as:

Positive reinforcement

A positive reinforcement is a reward for a desired behavior. The reward should be powerful and durable so that it contributes to increase in desired behavior. Money is probably the most powerful reinforcement for positive behavior some of positive reinforcers are participative decision making recognition for a job done well, challenging task and freedom to decide how the job is to be done and so on.

Negative reinforcement

It is also known as “escape condition or “avoidance learning”. This is also method to strengthen the desired behavior. Unlike the positive reinforce here employee works hard to avoid repercussion, reprimand and other aspects of the organizational environment. For example- the manager may like his sub ordinates to dress in a business suit when they come to work and may criticize individuals who dress casually. To avoid criticism, the employee may dress well to keep the manager happy.


This type of reinforcement is applied to reduce undesirable behavior, especially when such behaviors were previously rewarded. This method is a suitable form of punishment in the form of withholding the positive enforcement or simply ignoring the undesirable behavior. For example, if an employee is consistently late to work and thus consistently fails to get praise from his superior and is not recommend for a pay raise, then we would expect his non-reinforcement for a pay raise, then we would expect his non-reinforcement to lead to “extinction” of the habit or behavior of coming late to work.


It is most controversial method of behavior modification and involves delivering an unpleasant consequence contingent upon the occurrence of undesirable behavior. The punishment process is similar to the extinction process in that both have the effect of decreasing and eliminating the undesirable behavior, but technically there is a difference. In the extinction process, we withhold rewards for behavior that has previously been rewarded because the behavior was not undesirable previously. The punishment process on the other hand consists of “application” of an undesirable consequence or “withdrawal” of a desirable consequence for an undesirable behavior, which has never been associated with the reward before.