Learning theories are frameworks that deal with the ways in which people process and retain information. These theories are commonly used in parenting and pedagogy as well as organizational development. There are many theories of learning that outline different models for how humans utilize information through memory to adapt to their environments. Common learning theories include Cognitive Learning Theory, Conditioning Theory, and Social Learning Theory.
Cognitive Learning Theories
Cognitive Learning Theory grew out of a psychology movement known as Gestalt, which derives its name from the German word that is literally translated to mean “shape” or “form” and is better interpreted as “organization” or “configuration.” Gestalt psychologists believed that the human mind created its own reality, and it is from this idea that Cognitive Learning Theories, or Cognitivism, was born.
Cognitive Learning Theories emphasise the role of cognition, or thinking, in learning. These theories tend to be in opposition to Behaviouralism, which was a dominant philosophy in America in the 1920s to the 1950s. Cognitive psychology gained precedence in the 1950s and conceptualizes learning as a process of integrating new knowledge into existing schemas. Cognitive theories stress the learner’s ability to grow their mental frameworks by means of classifying and codifying information, much like branches on a tree. Important elements in this process are memory, perception, and attention. These theories are often used in teaching foreign language acquisition. Notable psychologists in the Cognitive psychology movement include Ulric Neisser and George Miller. Critiques of cognitive psychology state that the movement cannot address behaviors that are illogical (such as addiction) or those that occur without thinking (reflexive responses).
Conditioning Learning Theories
Conditioning Theories are part of the Behaviouralist movement in psychology. Behaviouralism stresses the relationship between association with stimuli to subsequent rewards or punishment to reinforce or extinguish repeated behaviours. Classical Conditioning Theory, also known as Pavlovian Conditioning, is a learning model which states that behaviors are the result of stimuli and responses. These theories are most associated with Ivan Pavlov, who conditioned dogs to salivate at the sound of a metronome through association of the sound with the arrival of food. Other influential Behaviouralists include B.F. Skinner and John B. Watson. Conditioning Theories are often used in animal training and for human behaviors like smoking cessation. These theories are often criticised for overly simplistic views of human behavior as overly mechanical and failure to address choice, morality, or decision-making.
Social Learning Theories
Social Learning Theories are commonly associated with the American psychologist Albert Bandura, and includes elements of Behaviouralism and Cognitivism. Social Learning Theories propose that the creation of new behaviours and subsequent learning occurs through imitation of others as well as the relationships between stimuli and responses. Albert Bandura’s work with children combined the Behaviouralist concepts of reinforcement and punishment with imitation to prove that children are able to learn behaviours through observance of the rewards and punishments that others gain after performing a certain action. His notable work with the “Bobo Doll” involved children who, after viewing a video of an adult hitting a plastic doll, were more likely to perform violent actions against the doll than children who viewed a nonviolent or neutral interaction. Social Learning Theories stress that the learner is not a passive recipient of information, but synthesises what is observed in social contexts and uses cognition to decide upon courses of action.