Theories of Learning

Principles and Theories of Learning
Learning may be defined as a relatively permanent change in behaviour that occurs as the result of practice. Not all changes in behaviour can be explained as learning and perhaps a more simple definition is that learning is profiting from experience, were it not that some learning does not 'profit' the learner; useless and often harmless habits are learned just as useful ones are.
If we understand how people learn then we can optimise the learning process. However because learning is basic to an analysis of behaviour it has generated a large volume of research, and a number of controversies within theoretical psychology revolve around it. Experimental results provide many contradictory findings and even more contradictory conclusions. That is why there is no 'theory of learning' and we have to explore the theories of learning and evaluate them.
This dichotomy of views and the associated dilemma was commented upon by Hilgard and Bower(1996):
The student of learning, conscientiously trying to understand learning phenomena and the laws regulating them, is likely to despair of finding a secure position if opposing points of view are presented as equally plausible, so that the choice between them is made arbitrary.

There are three fundamental ways of classifying learning theories:
• Behaviourist
• Cognitive
• Humanist

Behaviourist Theory
Behaviour refers to those activities of an organism that can be observed and scientists that use this 'objective' way of exploring what people (or animals) do are described as behaviourists. It is regarded as objective because the subjects reaction to an external stimuli is observable, Within the concept of behaviourist theory and its approach to learning (associative or habit forming), three sources of data about behaviour and the principles governing it can be distinguished: classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and observational.

Classical conditioning