March 24, 2014
Learning has been a central topic in psychology since its inception as an independent science (De Houwer, Barnes-Holmes, & Moors, 2013). According to Terry (2009), learning is the acquisition of knowledge and a relatively permanent change in behavior that occurs as a result of experience and can be physiological, behavioral, or verbal. Knowledge encompasses verbal knowledge, habits and skills, attitudes, and behavior separate from conscious awareness. The breadth of learning includes both animal and human behavior, external and internal responses of organisms; the response, disappearance, and retention of knowledge, and is continuous (Terry, 2009).
This paper will cover the concept of learning, the differences between learning and performance, and the comparisons and contrasts of the approaches to the study of learning.
Concept of Learning
The concepts of learning embrace epistemology, evolution, and contemporary influences (Terry, 2009). Epistemology is the study of how knowledge is revealed, for example, innately or through experiences. Descartes and Locke, both philosophers, explain two different views of how knowledge is attained. Nativism is information that is innately given, according to Descartes. Empiricism supports knowledge coming by way of experience (cause and effect) according to Locke. An example of nativism believes color preferences are innate versus empiricism views that the color preferences came from an environment one experienced. Evolution, or Darwinism, is the belief that different species were related through history and how organisms change over time and adapt to whatever environment to which they are exposed (Terry, 2009). Darwin explains that individual species existed, but not all were identical, therefore, increasing survival and reproduction. Psychologists point out that learning adapts to the environment within the organism’s lifetime similar to animals’ lifestyles. Contemporary influences, such as Descartes, Locke, and Darwin are represented in a theory of biological preparedness for learning (Terry, 2009). For example, language is common across cultures, even in the poorest environments, and is learned easily. Nativism, empiricism, and evolution are all intertwined in language learning.
Components of Learning Learning involves an observed change in behavior, changes in behavioral repertoire, occurs as a result of experience and is relatively permanent (Terry, 2009). An organism’s behavior has to be measured to support hypotheses because psychology is a science, objective and quantifiable. Recalling factual knowledge, detecting if skills increased, and measuring attitude changes can help reveal if learning took place or not.
Behavioral repertoire, or the stock of behaviors that might be performed, supports that learning can take place although nothing overt is seen. Experiences can cause learning, such as walking and talking, which are dependent on the body maturing before they take place (Terry, 2009). Lastly, because learning is relatively permanent, variables such as arousal, fatigue, and motivation should not be included as permanent effects on learning.
Learning and Performance
Learning takes place in the mind or the brain, is not directly observed, and may or may not exhibit behavioral changes (Terry, 2009). Latent learning (or hidden knowledge) was seen in a study of rats going through a maze initially without a reward at the goal post. Once a reward was introduced, the rats were motivated to finish the maze faster, obviously having learned the layout of the maze in previous trials. The same can be said of students knowing material for a test, but anxiety prevents them from scoring a high grade.
State anxiety and trait anxiety refer to chronic anxiety and anxiety that occurs in specific incidences and has a clear trigger (Huberty, 2010). Anxiety is manifested