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Behavioral Learning Theories and Cognitive Learning Theories

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Most theorists agree that learning occurs when experience causes a change in a person's knowledge or behavior . Behaviorists emphasize the role of environmental stimuli in learning and focus on the behavior, i.e., an observable response. Behavioral theories are based on contiguity, classical and operant conditioning, applied behavior analysis, social learning theory and self-regulation/cognitive behavior modification. Early views of learning were contiguity and classical conditioning. In contiguity learning, two events are repeatedly paired together and become associated in the learner's mind.

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In tackling this question one could tentatively agree or disagree with the statement. One could argue that cognitive learning theories are more useful than behaviorist theories but in reality both school of thoughts are very much relevant for modern organizations since they both have strengths and weaknesses. However, the assignment attempts to evaluate which of the two theories of learning are more useful to an HR practitioner. Both the behaviourist and cognitive theories of learning should be looked at, to serve as an umbrella term, which incorporate other learning theories. Thus although this essay will look at which between cognitive and behaviourist theories of learning suits best HR practitioner, this is very debateable since the latter theories are questionable and not exclusive. The Behaviourist theories sole focus of learning is on the observation, manipulation of behaviour and it fails to treat any underlying causes for such behaviour, and thus one can argue that this behaviour is likely to repeat itself after a period of time. It has been argued by CLMS that one cannot disregard the individual’s social environment, something which behaviourist theories of learning does. Behaviourist theories are also seen to have a reductionist attitude since it considers human behaviour as mechanical and simply the product of stimulus-response. It ignores human beings’ complex thought processes and emotions. Behaviourist theories of learning’s principles were only tested on animals, which this could not necessarily apply to human behaviour, which behaviour is much more complex. Elsewhere other theorists have argued that learning can be understood throughout diverse aspects however on cannot ignore cognitive factors, something that behaviourists did. This approach does not seem adequate for HR practitioners since it does not perceive individuals as capable to learn on their own. Given this brief overview of the strengths and weaknesses of both learning theories, it is now optimal to understand which of these learning theories can be of more use to an HR practitioner, if in fact they are and even propose new learning theories keeping in mind their relevance to HR practice. On one hand, learning in Human Resources Development has more often than not posed different challenges.

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According to Huitt and Hummel (1999, p. 5), behavioral approach to learning focuses on how the environment influences observable behaviors. These theories assert that for every response which is overt, there is a stimulus which causes it. Pavlov used a dog to conduct a study on classical conditioning. Findings of the study revealed that every response is elicited by a stimulus. In order to gain a better understanding on classical conditioning, both unconditioned and neutral stimulus were used. Repeatedly, the neutral stimulus changes to a conditioned stimulus which in turn elicits a conditioned response. With time, this conditioned response becomes a habitual association achieved through pairing of neutral stimulus and the unconditioned stimulus which to leads to a person or animal giving a similar response to both stimulus. This behavioral learning theory was advanced by B.F. Skinner

It postulates that learning is the change of function in observable behavior as a result the responses to the stimulus within the environment. Skinner stresses on the need of reinforcement which strengthens the desired response. As a result, the antecedents of the newly learned behaviour are influenced by the consequences of previous behavior (Huitt, &Hummel, 1999, p. 3). B. F. Skinner’s operant conditioning is a practical insight to classroom management issues. Considering the fact that the theory stresses on the need for reinforcement, teachers can implement this by pairing good performance with secondary reinforcements like verbal praises as well as awards in order to encourage good performance and behavior. This theory also calls for use of questions as stimulus and answer as response. Through asking questions, the teacher is able to get possible answers from the students’ thus encouraging participation in classroom. In Thorndike’s theory, trial and error is the basic concept regarding the law of exercise where connections are established because of repeated pairing of the stimulus and the response. The practice of the law of effect and exercise are essential for an effective learning process. Learning should be sequential in the sense that the items to be learned should be presented according to their level of difficulty.

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To conclude, music sets the atmosphere for an environment for example if a relaxing song is being played at home, that song puts the individual in a relaxing mood , in the behaviorist theory the environment influences the response of an individual so the relaxing song will evoke a relaxed response as done in Pavlov experiment of classical conditioning with the dogs that provoke salivating when hearing the tuning of a fork. In music classical conditioning is where students can be conditioned to like or enjoy a piece of music

For example if a classical song is being played that the students don’t know or like the teacher can play it repeatedly so they can get an understanding of it and eventually the students will enjoy the music because of the repetition of the song being played. There response to the song might be in the way of moving their bodies, tapping their feet or nodding their head.

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Donahoe, W. (1999). The selectionist connection. Journal of the experimental analysis of behavior. Vol. 72, issue 3, pp. 451-454. Web.

Huitt, W. & Hummel, J. (1999). Educational Psychology. Web.

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