The Learning Perspective

Learning can be regarded as a hypothetical construct—a process that cannot be directly observed, but that can be inferred from observable behavior. The study of how human beings learn has been dominated by behaviorism. Behaviorism developed simultaneously in Russia and the United Stated, becoming a major force in psychology I the first part of the 20th century. Traditional behaviorists believed that all organisms learn in the same way, and that all learning could be explained by the processes of classical and operant conditioning. Psychologists working within this perspective have investigated the ways I which behavior changes, usually using laboratory experiments and often using non-human animals.

The behaviorists, with their emphasis on environmental factors, focused on the situational aspects of behavior. Behaviorists claim that behavior is determined by environmental contingencies, and suggest that personality is the result of conditioning history.

Many psychologists have portrayed behaviorist research as being reductionist and lacking in ecological validity. Alternative theories have been developed that challenge traditional learning theory. These alternative theories have put forward the idea that learning is more than a series of stimulus-response associations. Consequently, many psychologists have moved away from purely mechanistic assumptions about the origins of learning, and now include cognitive, biological and environmental factors in the highly complex set of behaviors that is involved in “learning.”

Learning theories are influential in many areas of research and occupy an important role in psychology.

Learning Outcomes (Read: Test Questions)