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How Do Humans Learn?

Learning is a cognitive function and a process by which the individual acquires new skills and knowledge so that behaviors can be modified or acquired based on new experiences. This behavior tends to get permanently altered. Learning especially plays an important role in an infant and child, but it would continue throughout life. Various sense organs such as the eyes, nose, ears, skin and the tongue receive information from the environment. This information is processed and stored. It may be expressed in many forms such as by speech or actions (Kimmel 2002, Morgan, 2006 & Tannock, 2000).

The theories for learning are of three types, namely classic conditioning theory, operant conditioning theory and social-cognitive learning theory. In the classic conditioning theory, he individual generates some kind of an automatic reaction to a certain kind of a stimulus. The individual just has to understand the nature of this stimulus, and a reaction would be generated. The individual would have to associate the production of a response to the stimulus. In operant conditioning, the individual would be changing his behavior according to the results of his action or his speech.

If an individual experiences positive results, he would more likely to increase the frequency of the behavior. On the other hand, if there is a negative reaction to his behavior, most likely, there would be a decrease in the frequency of that particular behavior. Social cognitive learning theory gives importance to society (environment), cognition and behavior. An individual would observe the consequences of his action through attention and accordingly increase or decrease the frequency of his behavior.

Memory helps to retain this function. The individual would repeat positive outcomes and may have several motivating factors to encourage him further. Social interactions play a very important role in social cognition (Kimmel 2002, Morgan, 2006 & Tannock, 2000). In learning, factors such as vision, speech, attention, memory, etc, play a very important role. The child would be able to move its tongue, jaws and lips as early as six months of age and produce some kind of verbal sounds.

Gradually, the speech would improve, as cognitive functions would be developing and the control over the vocal structures that gets better. The child may able to read by the age of 4 or 5. Initially, a child would learn from pictures or from basic sounds. Later, the child would be able to understand sequences of words. Slowly, the child would also be able to understand the meaning of the word as he would be reading it (Kimmel 2002, Morgan, 2006 & Tannock, 2000). Although, learning occurs during infancy and childhood, it should be considered as a continuous process in life.

Infants usually learn from the classic conditioning and the operant conditioning means. They have a special competence for learning. Intelligence, age and growth seem to play a major effect on learning. As the sensory functions improve, the learning abilities would also get better. A child also would be having good learning capabilities. Learning is promoted through play, instruction, categorization and representation. The results of learning would play a major role in increasing or decreasing the frequency of the behavior.

Adolescents and young adults would learn by thinking, modeling and reasoning (Kimmel 2002, Morgan, 2006 & Tannock, 2000).

References: Kimmel, S. R. and Fay, L. M. (2002), Growth and Development, In. Rakel, R. E. (Ed), Rakel: Textbook of Family Practice, Philadelphia: Saunders. Morgan, C. T. , King, R. A. , Weisz J. R. and Schopler, J. (2006), Introduction to Psychology, New York: McGraw-Hill. Tannock, R. (2000), Learning Disorders, In: Sadock, B. J. and Sadock, V. A. (Eds), Kaplan and Sadock’s: Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.

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