Understanding Learning Essay, Research Paper
Understanding myself as a learner.
On my journey to a better understanding of how learning theories have shown
themselves in my life, I realized that I have had more experience with them than I had first
thought. I don?t see myself as being changed dramatically by any one learning experience,
but I do realize that my desire to learn has increased as I have been introduced to a variety
of teaching methods. In short, I could not pick one theory that I could relate most of my
learning experiences to. Therefore, as I looked through our textbook, I tried to remember
if and how any of these theories played a role in my educational development so far.
As we have studied, most learning theories can be placed into one of two groups:
cognitive learning and association learning. ?The cognitive learning view states that
learning is based on a restructuring of perceptions and thoughts occurring within the
organism. This restructuring allows us to perceive new relationships, solve new problems,
and gain understanding of a subject area. Cognitive learning theorists stress the
reorganization of one?s perceptions in order to achieve understanding.? (Sprinthall,
Sprinthall, and Oja; Educational Psychology- A developmental Approach 1998)
One of these cognitive-learning theorists is Wolfgang Kohler. Kohler performed
many experiments with chimps during World War I. Kohler constructed a variety of
problems for the chimps, each of which involved obtaining food that was not directly
accessible. In the simplest task, food was put on the other side of a barrier. Dogs and cats
in previous experiments had faced the barrier in order to reach the food, rather than
moving away from the goal to go around the barrier. The chimps, however, presented
with an apparently similar situation, set off immediately on the roundabout route to the
Over the last few years my husband and I, for lack of anything better to do, have begun
playing video games. One of the first we started to play together was Tomb Raider. Tomb
Raider is an action/adventure game that only lets you progress to the next level once you
have successfully completed the current level. Some of levels are rather challenging and
my husband and I often found ourselves stuck in one problem that we could not solve to
go onto the next level. We would try and try to get past this obstacle, but just couldn?t
figure it out. One night, while watching TV, the solution just ?came to me?. This is what is
known as the ?a ha phenomenon?.
Understanding the concept if transfer is also very important to getting to know
ourselves as learners. Transfer occurs when learning task A influences task B. When
learning task A helps us to learn task B, positive transfer has taken place. When learning
task A obstructs learning task B, negative transfer has occurred.
One experience I have had with positive transfer is that of learning to ride a motorcycle
after I had learned to ride a bicycle. When I was eleven years old we lived in a very rural
area and rather than take me to my best friends house, 5 miles away, they opted to get me
my own transportation. A motorcycle. The motorcycle was a step up from the bicycle I
had learned to ride a few years earlier, the difference being that I didn?t have to pedal. I
thought the difference was huge, but in all actuality it wasn?t. The main goal of learning
how to ride a motorcycle was balance, something I had already learned on my bicycle.
Once I applied the same concept of balance I had learned on my bicycle, it was much
easier to achieve success on the motorcycle.
I am currently experiencing the effects of negative transfer. I am working toward my
degree in Psychology and I thought, though not a very well thought out thought, that I
should take as many Psychology classes as possible. This is true in most cases, but I
decided to take 3 psychology classes in one term. Now that the proctored exam is coming
up, I find myself mixing up what I?ve learned in one Psychology class with something that
I?ve learned in another class. For example, while studying the social learning theory, I
found myself repeatedly trying to incorporate cognitive dissonance into the process.
Cognitive dissonance is something I had been studying in my Social psychology class.
Both of these concepts are important to psychology. However, they can not be readily
used my me until I really understand them and I can?t really understand them if I keep
trying to merge them.
Jerome Bruner?s main point in his constructivist theory is that learning is an active
process in which learners construct new ideas or concepts based upon their current and
past learning experiences.
?The concept of prime numbers appears to be more readily grasped when the child,
through construction, discovers that certain handfuls of beans cannot be laid out in
completed rows and columns. Such quantities have either to be laid out in a single file or
in an incomplete row-column design in which there is always one extra or one too few to
fill in the pattern. These patterns, the child learns, happen to be called prime. It is easy for
the child to go from this step to the recognition that a multiple table, so called, is a record
sheet of quantities in completed multiple rows and columns. Here is factoring,
multiplication and primes in a construction that can be visualized.? (Jerome Bruner, 1973,
I had taken a class on C++ programming. The first part of the class was problem
solving, using algorithms. Once that concept was learned, we moved on to basic
programming. Using algorithms to break a program down into parts helped to solve the
problems encountered in writing a program.
George A. Miller has provided two theoretical ideas that are very important to the
information processing theory. Information processing is also a cognitive theory of
learning. This theory states that information flows into the organism by way of the sense
organs. It is then passed to the memory and nervous system where it is encoded (this
means that memory traces are made). Then, the information can be stored in the memory
and later retrieved. The three memory components are sensory register, Short-term
memory, and long-term memory. Our sensory registers are like a video camera, they ?pick
up? information as it is happening. Short-term memory can be likened to the cable that
carries the information from the camera to the video tape. Our short-term memory can
hold only a limited amount of information for a limited amount of time. The last of the
components, long-term memory, can be compared to the video tape. The video tape stores
the information picked up by the camera, and carried by the cable, for an indefinite period
of time, until we are ready to retrieve it (by way of a VCR). The first concept is
?chunking? and the capacity of short term memory. Miller (1956) presented the idea that
short term memory could only hold about 7 items, plus or minus 2, where a chunk is any
meaningful unit (http://gwis.circ.gwu.edu/~tip/miller.html).
The experience I have had with the chunking concept is rather simple. I find it easier to
remember a person?s phone number if I make a word out of the last 4 digits. For example,
My best friend Becka had gotten a new phone number. Since I call her all of the time, it
was more convenient to learn her number than to write it down and look it up every time I
wanted to speak with her. Her new number was 3287, the best way I could remember it
was to put it in the form of a word- EATS. Becka no longer has that number, but I still
remember it because of word.
The second concept is TOTE (Test-Operate-Test-Exit). Miller thought that TOTE
should replace the stimulus-response as the basic unit of behavior. In a TOTE unit, a goal
is tested to see if it has been achieved and if not an operation is performed to achieve the
goal; this cycle of test-operate is repeated until the goal is eventually achieved or
Ivan Pavlov introduced us to classical when his dog began salivating at the sound of a
bell. Classical conditioning occurs when a natural reflex responds to a stimulus. Classical
conditioning works on people, too.
Anyone who is interested in saving money can understand the significance of a blue
light flashing at K-Mart. The blue light flashing usually means that there is a sale in
whatever department the light is. I have gone into the local BX many times and have seen
a blue light flashing, this time for a salesperson to give a customer assistance, and
automatically thought there must be a sale.
One of the leading behaviorists, B.F. Skinner, believed that learning occurs from
changes in behavior. These changes occur when a person responds to events in his/her
environment. A response produces a consequence such as defining a word, hitting a ball,
or solving a math problem. When this stimulus-Response pattern is rewarded, the
individual is conditioned to respond. This pattern of learning is known as Operant
conditioning. (http://www.gwu.edu/%7Etip/skinner.html) Reinforcement, or reward, is the
key element in Skinner?s theory. A reinforcer can be anything that strengthens the
occurrence of the desired response.
When I was in the fourth grade, my teacher used positive reinforcement to ensure we
wanted to behave correctly. Mr. Brown told us that if we could be good for one week,
then the next week we were allowed to sit in a Lazy-Boy chair he had placed in his
classroom. This, of course, motivated us to behave in the manner in which he was
When I was a child, my mother used to tell me over and over to clean my room. One
day my friends and I were playing outside. My mother called me in and told me that I had
to stay in my room until it was finally clean. Not wanting to miss out on the game that my
friends and I were playing, I quickly complied.
The social learning theory of Albert Bandura also emphasizes the importance of
observing and modeling the behavior of others.
Sometimes, just watching how other people behave and how they are reacted to can
make you learn a lot. The entire time I was growing up, my parents took me out to dinner
with them on a weekly basis. One time we were sitting in an expensive restaurant and the
people seated next to us were chewing their food loudly with their mouths open. I
watched as the people around them turned to look at them with disgust. I quickly learned
that this was not acceptable behavior and always chewed my food quietly and with my
Another aspect of modeling is the concept of observational learning. We learn by
watching others demonstrate how to do something.
As a child, my mother wanted me to learn how to play golf. I had no idea how to play,
or the rules of the game. She took me to the local golf pro and signed me up for lessons.
The first thing we did was go out to the sand traps on the course. Then the instructor
explained to me which club I needed to use to hit the ball out of the sand. Then he told me
how to swing the club to hit the ball out of the sand. I was lost. Then he took his
sandwedge out of his bag, climbed into the Sand trap and demonstrated to me how to hold
the club depending on how far I would have wanted to hit the golf ball. Watching him
demonstrate how to hit the ball, I soon learned how to do it. If he had continued to tell me
how to strike the ball to get the desired effect, I would still be lost.
All in all, there have been many learning experiences in my life, and I?m sure there will
be many more. I truly believe that we can not learn solely by one theory alone. We need
different instruction for different activities.
Richard C. Sprinthall, Norman A. Sprinthall, and Sharon Nodie Oja, Educational
Psychology- A developmental approach, 1998
Constructivist Theory- http://gwu.edu/~tip/bruner.html
Social Learning Theory- http://www.gwu.edu/~tip/bandura.html
Information Processing Theory- http://www.gwis.circ.gwu.edu/~tip/miller.html
George Washington University, Operant Conditioning- http://www.gwu.edu/%7Etip/