Psychology of learning

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The psychology of learning is a theoretical science.

Learning depends on experience and may lead to long-term changes in behavior potential.[1] The main assumption is that the environment (e.g. social context),[2] conditioning, and reinforcement are sufficient to analyze how behavior emerges and changes.

As opposed to short term changes in behavior (e.g., those caused by fatigue) learning implies long term changes, but not necessarily as those associated with aging or development.

Psychology of Learning, while still a new development, has been researched extensively in the recent years. It is looking closely at how students are learning both inside and outside the classroom. This information is then used to present new and more cooperative approaches to homework, tests and the student's ability to learn. Using Psychology of Learning in this style also helps the student themselves become more motivated and invested in their learning. It focuses closely on building and encouraging a growth mindset, motivation and perseverance. Growth mindset is where a student believes that if they put in the effort their academic performance will improve. Growth mindset coupled with the ability to stay motivated and persevere not only encourages academic success but are also a direct outcome from the research done in the Psychology of Learning field. [3]


This section is a list of psychologists whose findings and theories are important to the development of the Psychology of Learning. Each of their contributions furthered our knowledge of this new and noteworthy theoretical science.


Socrates (469-399 B.C.) introduced a method of learning known as piloting, through which one arrives at one's own answers through power of reasoning. Socrates, in dialogue with Meno, taught this method, by teaching a slave boy, who knew nothing about the Euclidean geometry, the Pythagorean theorem. He did so by asking questions or rephrasing them until the correct answer was found. Socrates strongly influenced the idea that knowledge is innate and can be found from within, it is also known as anamnesis.[4][5]

Hermann Ebbinghaus[edit]

Hermann Ebbinghaus (1850—1909) examined learning, by studying rote memory and forgetting. With himself as his own experimental subject, he used meaningless syllables form lists that read several times until he could restated them with high accuracy. Additionally, he attempted to recall the same lists with certain delay (e.g., a few days or months later) and then recorded his discoveries as learning curves and the forgetting curves.[4]

Edward Thorndike[edit]

Edward Thorndike (1874–1949) presented his theory of the "Law of Effect" in 1898.[6] According to this theory, humans and other animals learn behaviors through trial-and-error methods. Once a functioning solution is found, these behaviors are likely to be repeated during the same or similar task.[7] It was his work on learning theory that resulted in operant conditioning within behaviorism. His theory of operant conditioning is learning from the consequences of our actions and behavior. [8]

Ivan Pavlov[edit]

Ivan Petrovich Pavlov (1849–1936) was a Russian physiologist, who contributed to research on learning. Knowing that a hungry dog salivates when food is present, he performed a series of experiments and trained dogs to salivate through an arbitrary external stimuli. This was done by pairing natural stimuli (such as food) with a new stimulus (e.g., a metronome) to provoke the desired response in dogs. That proved his thesis that he could make a dog salivate by just the presentation of the sound of a bell. Pavlov's approach to learning was behavioristic and later known as classical conditioning.[9]

John Broadus Watson[edit]

John Broadus Watson (1878–1958) also used this method of learning (e.g., he caused a young child, not previously afraid of furry animals, to become frightened of them) and argued that it was sufficient for the science of psychology, specifically behaviorism.[4][9] Watson is often referred to as being the founder of the school of behaviorism. From 1920-1960, this school influenced a great deal of North American psychology. [10]

Burrhus F. Skinner[edit]

Burrhus F. Skinner (1904-1990) developed operant conditioning, in which specific behaviors resulted from stimuli, which caused them to appear more or less frequently.[4][11] By the 1920s, John B. Watson's ideas had become popular and influential in the world of psychology and classical conditioning was being explored by other behaviorists. Skinner's was one of these behaviorists. He thought that in order to understand behavior we needed to look at the causes of an action and its consequences. He called this operant conditioning. Skinner is referred to as the father of operant conditioning but his theory stems from the works presented by Edward Thorndike. [12]

Jean Piaget[edit]

Jean Piaget is known for his theory of cognitive development that describes how children create a mental model of the world around them. His theory is important because it is one of the first theories that disagreed with the idea that intelligence was a steadfast trait. His theory sees cognitive development as something that happens because of biological maturation and one's interaction with their surrounding environment. Piaget did not want to measure a child's knowledge, like an I.Q. score, instead he focused on how children did with fundamental concepts. Piaget's theory has four stages. The sensorimotor stage which is birth to 18-24 months. The preoperational stage is toddler ages (18-24 months) to early childhood, age 7. The concrete operational stage, ages 7 to 12. Then the formal operation stage which is adolescence to adulthood. Before Piaget's theory it was believed that children were just less competent thinkers but this theory and his stages helped to show that children think in significantly differently ways than adults do.[13]

Lev Vygotsky[edit]

Lev Vygotsky is best known for his theory in cognitive development known as the Social Development Theory. Vygotsky was developing his theories of cognitive development around the same time that Jean Piaget was developing his theories. Vygotsky believed that social interaction plays a critical role in cognitive development. He places a large emphasis on culture and how it affects cognitive development. He also sees the importance of adults in cognitive development in children. Vygotsky says that development cannot be understood without referring back to the social and also the cultural context in which it is embedded. Vygotsky claimed that learning occurs via skillful interaction in which the child is with someone who models behaviors or gives instructions for the child to follow, most likely a parent or a teacher. The child tries to understand the instructions or actions provided and then stores the information so they can use it to guide their future performances. Piaget's theory says that a child's development must follow their learning, Vygotsky disagreed with this. He believed that social learning tends to come before development. [14]


These psychologists and their studies have helped to further the field of psychology, especially within the realm of psychology of learning. The information they provided us with is critical, however, many of the experiments they conducted were not ethical and could not be recreated in this day and age. The American Psychological Association has since been created and they created a code of conduct that ensures safety and privacy of experiment participants. [15]

Learning Theories[edit]

Learning theories are attempts to better understand and explain learning processes. There are many ways to address learning. Three of the major theories are behaviorism, cognitive constructivism and social constructivism.


Behaviorism views knowledge as a collection of behavioral responses to different stimuli in the environment. In behaviorism learning is promoted by positive reinforcement and reiteration.

Cognitive Constructivism[edit]

Cognitive Constructivism sees learning as adding new information to cognitive structures that are already there. This theory also sees knowledge as being actively built on the cognitive structures that have already been laid.

Social Constructivism[edit]

Social Constructivism, like its name suggests, believes that knowledge and learning is gained within social situations through communication with a knowledgeable community.[16]

Around the World[edit]

Applying how students learn, both inside and outside the classroom, looks different around the world. Each education system differs from each other, some differ just slightly and others are vastly different from each other. Whether it be the class size, classroom environment or access to resources, these factors are important to each country's individual and unique Psychology of Learning.


In China, public classrooms have about 37 [17]students and are set up with desks straight lines, facing the chalkboard or whiteboard. The desks may even be bolted to the floor, making moving them for group work or other activities impossible. Frequently computers are limited to one ore fewer per classroom. Access to paper, markers, crayons, and other supplies is extremely limited. Schools may lack heating and cooling infrastructure. In private school institutions air conditioning and heat are generally available, desks are moveable, and access to different forms of media is available. [18]


In Japan schools assign homework almost every day including over summer and winter breaks.[19] Kindergarten starts at age 3 and is free until students get to high school, then they must pay to attend and apply to get in and be accepted. Almost every school has a uniform that is required. The typical class size is approximately 30 to 40 students and they attend school Monday-Saturday. Schools are well stocked with technology and have internet. Like America, Japanese students go to the school in their local district, however, most students walk to school, buses are not provided.[20]


In Australia classrooms are limited to 30 students. English is the primary language in Australia used in the school system but many bilingual programs are offered. [21]Australia’s education system is an integrated system. This is supported by the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF), this is a policy that is in place to regulate qualifications throughout Australian schools. Technology is used heavily in the classrooms because it prepares students to live in a digital world.[22]

United States of America[edit]

The average class size of a self-contained classroom, in the United States of America, is about 23 students. [23] In the recent years the American education system has been pulling away from the traditional teaching styles and adapting new styles, such as student-centered learning. Styles such as these engage students more actively and create more meaningful learning situations. [24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lachman, Sheldon J. (1997). "Learning is a process: Toward an im-proved definition of learning". Journal of Psychology. 131: 447–480 – via PsychINFO.
  2. ^ Zentall, Thomas R. (1 October 2006). "Imitation: definitions, evidence, and mechanisms". Animal Cognition. 9 (4): 335–353. doi:10.1007/s10071-006-0039-2. ISSN 1435-9448. PMID 17024510.
  3. ^ "Psychology of Learning - Education Writers Association". Education Writers Association. Retrieved 21 October 2018.
  4. ^ a b c d <Marton, Ference, and Shirley Booth. Learning and Awareness. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates,, 1997. Google Books. Web. 8 December 2011. <>.
  5. ^ Plato. Meno. 80e, Grube translation.
  6. ^ Myers, David G.; Dewall, C. Nathan (2015). Psychology. New York, NY: Worth publishers. p. 290. ISBN 978-1-4641-4081-5.
  7. ^ <Skinner, B.F. Science and Human Behaviour. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1953. Google Books. Web 9 April 2012. <>.
  8. ^ "Edward Thorndike - Law of Effect | Simply Psychology". Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  9. ^ Hergenhahn, B. R. (2009). An Introduction to the History of Psychology. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. pp. 403–412. ISBN 978-0-495-50621-8.
  10. ^ Green, Christopher D. "Classics in the History of Psychology -- Introduction to Watson (1913) by C.D. Green". Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  11. ^ Myers, David G.; Dewall, C. Nathan (2015). Psychology. New York, NY: Worth publishers. pp. 290–299. ISBN 978-1-4641-4081-5.
  12. ^ "B.F. Skinner | Operant Conditioning | Simply Psychology". Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  13. ^ "Jean Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development | Simply Psychology". Retrieved 21 October 2018.
  14. ^ "Vygotsky | Simply Psychology". Retrieved 21 October 2018.
  15. ^ "Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct". Retrieved 12 November 2018. External link in |website= (help)
  16. ^ "Overview of Learning Theories | GSI Teaching & Resource Center". Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  17. ^ OECD. "Average class size". Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  18. ^ "Classrooms in China | Teach English In China | Teach In China | Hello Teacher!". Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  19. ^ "Schools - Explore Japan - Kids Web Japan - Web Japan". Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  20. ^ "Education in Japan. 30 Facts on Education System We Should Know". Academic-Writing.Org. 7 April 2015. Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  21. ^ Technology, Elcom. "Education system overview". Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  22. ^ "The Australian education system | Australian Education Technology". Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  23. ^ Rampell, Catherine. "Class Size Around the World". Economix Blog. Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  24. ^ "TEAL Center Fact Sheet No. 6: Student-Centered Learning". LINCS | Adult Education and Literacy | U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  • Zentall, T.R. (2006). Imitation: Definitions, evidence, and mechanisms. Animal Cognition, 9, 335-353. (A thorough review of different types of social learning) Full text
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  • Hans Aebli: Denken: Das Ordnen des Tuns, 2 Bde., Stuttgart 1980-81
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