Understanding the Psychology of Learning

The Psychology of How We Learn

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Welcome to lesson five of the free Introduction to Psychology online course! In the first four lessons, we covered the basics of psychology, research methods, biopsychology, and states of consciousness. In today's lesson, we will focus on the psychology of learning.

From the day we are born, we begin a process of learning that lasts throughout life. While there are many ways to define and describe learning, it is typically defined as a relatively permanent change in behavior as a result of experience. In this week's lesson, we'll explore several different theories of learning.

The Power of Associations

You've probably heard of Pavlov's dogs at some point, but many people don't fully understand exactly what this famous research illustrates. Classical conditioning is one of the best-known concepts of behavioral learning theory. In order to understand how people learn, you first need to start by discovering the powerful role that associations can play in the learning process. Discover more about this process in this introduction to classical conditioning.

Classical Conditioning Basics

Now that you understand how classical conditioning works, it is also important to understand some of the basic phenomena that also occur during this process. Learn more about such things include acquisition, extinction, and discrimination in this overview of principles of classical conditioning.

The Consequences of Behavior

Clearly, learning involves a lot more than just learning associations. Direct experience with your environment that results in desirable outcomes or negative outcomes can also shape how and what people learn.

Operant conditioning is one of the fundamental concepts in behavioral psychology. This type of learning involves using reinforcement and punishment to either increase or decrease behaviors. Learn more about the effects of rewards and punishments on behavior in this overview of operant conditioning.

How Timing Impacts Learning

The types of reinforcement use are important, but timing also plays a critical role in how quickly new behaviors are acquired and how strong these new responses are. If you are rewarded for an action so long after it occurred that you are unable to form an association between the two events, for example, then it is unlikely that learning will occur.

Learn more about how the timing of reinforcement impacts speed and strength of responses in this article on schedules of reinforcement.

Classical Versus Operant Conditioning

Now that we've explored classical conditioning and operant conditioning, do you think you could immediately identify which is which. This can often be a confusing area for many students, but a few basic pointers can help you keep the two processes straight.

In a classroom setting, chances are good that your instructor will provide some examples of learning and expect you to identify which type of conditioning is used. Read the following article to learn more about the major differences between the classical and operant conditioning.

Learning Through Observation

You may have already guessed, but learning does not necessarily require that we personally experience an event or outcome. In some cases, simply watching other people can lead to learning.

Psychologist Albert Bandura proposed social learning theory, which emphasizes the importance of observational learning. As you can imagine, a great deal of learning takes place simply through watching the people around us. Learn more about this theory including basic concepts and how the process works in this overview of social learning theory.

Final Thoughts

Congratulations, you have reached the end of lesson five! This lesson offers just an overview of the basics of learning. Now that you have a strong understanding of the basics, you will be better prepared for further study on this subject.

Feel free to move on to lesson six once you feel comfortable with the material included in this lesson. If you feel like you still need extra time to study, consider spending a few days reviewing the information before you continue on to the next lesson in the series.

In addition to exploring the articles in this lesson, you might want to spend some time going over our suggestions on how to take psychology notes, reviewing our collection of psychology study tips and reading our advice on how to study for a psychology exam.

Think you're ready for a test? Our quiz on Behaviorism will help you check your progress.