Alternative Conceptions of Learning in Children

Alternative Conceptions of Learning in Children

Alternative Conceptions of Learning in Children is an area of learning in Children. Alternative Conceptions of Learning in Children includes all theories from all the psychologists like Pavlov, BF Skinner, Kohler, and Thorndike.

In this article on Alternative Conceptions of Learning in Children, we will include Thorndike’s theory of trial and error, Classical conditioning theory of Pavlov, Conditioning theory of Bf Skinner, and Insight Theory of Kohler.

Meaning of Learning

We use the term learning all the time in everyday life, from basic nursery rhymes to learning teaching theories. But within the field of pedagogy, this is actually a specific term.

Different people use different words to define learning within pedagogy, but in general, we are talking about the step by step process in which an individual experiences, permanent, lasting changes in knowledge, behavior, or ways of processing the world.

Alternative Conceptions of Learning

Although there are many different approaches to learning. Among all there are two basic types of learning theories which are given below-


Knowledge is a collection of behavioral responses to environmental stimuli. Inactive or passive absorption of a pre-defined body of knowledge by the learner is prompted by repetition and positive reinforcement


Knowledge systems of cognitive structures or formation are actively constructed by learners based on pre-existing cognitive structures active assimilation and accommodation of new information to existing cognitive structures and discovery by learners are done.

For example, A child who knew some specific words from the beginning like mom, dad, etc will assimilate with new words and sentences and accommodate the new information to existing knowledge.

The psychologists worked on different aspects of learning. Thorndike, Pavlov, and Skinner advocated the behaviorist approach to learning. Kohler and Piaget advocated the cognitive aspect of learning. That apart from behavioral changes, a child also learns from past experiences and by modification in its learning.

Thorndike’s  Theory of Trial and Error

Edward Thorndike (1898) is famous in psychology for his work on learning theory. His theory leads to the development of operant conditioning within Behaviorism.

Thorndike explains this theory and arrived at it after a number of experiments. According to him, learning takes place through a process of estimation and correction.

A person makes a number of trials; some responses do not give satisfaction to the individual; he goes on making further trials till he gets a satisfactory response or result. He keeps on trying till he gets a meaningful result.

Thorndike’s experiment on a cat in a puzzle box is widely known and often quoted in journals. The experiment set-up was very simple.

A hungry cat was locked in a puzzle box and outside the box, a dish of food was kept. The cat in the box had to pull a string to come out of the box. The cat in the box made several random movements of jumping, dashing, and running to get out of the box.

The cat at last succeeded in pulling the string the door of the puzzle box opened; the cat came out and ate the food. Thorndike put the cat on to the next trial.

The cat again gave a frantic or panic-stricken behavior but it soon succeeded in pulling the string.

This was repeated several times. Thorndike noticed as the repetitions increased the error is also reduced. Thorndike’s cat shows slow gradual and continuous improvement in performance over successive trials.

He concluded that learning of the cat in the puzzle box can be explained in terms of a form of a direct connection between stimulus and response.

For example, this theory can be further used in relation to a child’s behavior; that a child learns through the trial and error method. He or she keeps on doing a task till they get a meaningful response.

Classical Conditioning Theory  of Pavlov

During the 1890s, Russian physiologist, Ivan Pavlov was researching salivation in dogs in response to being fed. He inserted a small test tube into the cheek of each dog. This was done to measure saliva when the dogs were fed (with a powder made from meat). The theory was discovered accidentally.

Pavlov predicted the dogs would salivate in response to the food placed in front of them. Soon he noticed that his dogs would begin to salivate; whenever they heard the footsteps of his assistant who was bringing them the food.

Pavlov discovered that any object for the event, which the dog learned to associate with food, would trigger the same response. Pavlov knew that somehow, the dogs in his lab had learned to associate food with his lab assistant.

This must have been learned because at one point the dogs did not associate the lab assistant with food. And there came a point where they started, so their behavior had changed. A change in the behavior of this type must be the result of learning.

Pavlov (1902) started from the idea that there are some things that a dog does not need to learn. For example, dogs don’t learn to salivate whenever they see food. This reflex is ‘hard-wired’ into the dog.

In behaviorist terms, food is an unconditioned stimulus and salivation is an unconditioned response. (i.e., a stimulus-response connection that required no learning).

Educational importance of classical conditioning theory

Fear, love, or hatred towards specific subjects are created through conditioning. Example a maths teacher created fear with his effective method of teaching and improper behaviour in the classroom; that enabled hatred towards maths by the learners.

The good method and kind treatment of a teacher can create desirable impacts upon the learners. The learners may like a boring subject because of the teacher’s role .

In teaching the role of audio-video aid is very vital. When a teacher wants to teach how to spell the word ‘cat’, he shows the picture of the cat along with the spelling.

When the teacher shows the picture at the same time he spells the word, after a while when only the picture is shown learners will spell the word cat

This theory explain the conditioning of behaviour in children through repetative responses.

Conditioning theory of Skinner

Skinner studies operant conditioning by conducting experiments using animals which he placed in a ‘Skinner Box ‘which was similar to Thorndike’s puzzle box. Skinner showed how positive reinforcement worked by placing a hungry rat in his Skinner box.

The box contains a lever on the side and as the rat moved about the box it would accidentally knock the lever. Immediately it did so a food pallet wood drop into a container next to the lever.

The rats quickly learned to go straight to the lever after a few times of being put in the box. The consequences of receiving food if they pressed the lever ensured that they would repeat the action again and again.

Educational implications of conditioning theory of Skinner

a) Practice should take the form of a question ( stimulus)- answer (response) frames which expose the students to the subject in gradual steps.

b) The teacher requires that the learner make a response for every frame and receive immediate feedback.

c) The teacher will try to arrange the difficulty of the question so that the response is always correct and hence, positive reinforcement.

d) The teacher will ensure that good performance in the lesson is paired with secondary reinforcement such as verbal praise, prizes, and good grades.

e) Information should be presented in a small amount so that response can be reinforced. f)Reinforcement will generalize across similar stimuli, producing secondary conditioning.

Insight Theory of Kohler

A form of cognitive learning originally described by the Gestalt psychologist, in which problem-solving occurs by means of a sudden reorganization of perception is called insight learning.

In his experiment, Kohler hung one piece of fruit just out of reach of each number of chimpanzees. He then provided the chimpanzees with either two sticks or three boxes, then waited and watched.

Kohler noticed that after the chimpanzees realize they could not simply reach or jump up to retrieve or get the fruit, they stopped, sat down, and thought about how they might solve the problem, Then after a few moments, the chimpanzee stood up and proceeded to solve the problem.

In the first scenario, the problem was solved by placing the smallest stick into the longer stick to create one very long stick that could be used to knock down the hanging fruit.

In the second scenario, the chimpanzees would solve the problem by stacking the boxes, on top of each other which allowed them to climb to the top of the stack of boxes and reach the fruit.

Initially, it was thought that learning was the result of reproductive thinking.

This means that an organism reproduces a response to a given problem from past experience. Insight learning however does not directly involve using past experience to solve a problem.

While past experience may help the process, and insight into a novel idea is necessary to solve the problem. Prior knowledge is of limited help in these situations.

Educational Importance of insight theory of Kohler

a) Combining previously learned behaviors together in order to solve a problem.

b) Changing the viewpoint of thought process to solve a problem. To use simple knowledge to find a solution to a complex problem.

c) Enabling use of problem -solving to help reach a goal.

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