We have understood that learning is a process of inquiry or understanding, enlightenment or education. It can take place individually. It can also take place in group situations. There are advantages for individual learning as well as group learning. In individual learning the mind is able to cast its sensorial net wide apart and catch the impulses and also the process of analysis can take place at leisure or in a relaxed mood or undisturbed. But the group earning has the advantages of sharing experience, exchange of ideas and sense of security or assurance, when there is a commonness of goal or agreement. In a group it is quite possible that the individual learning is somewhat hindered or curbed but the group consensus or acceptance gives more credibility and strength of conviction. As far as behaviour is concerned and learning for behaviour, the first prerequisite is that a person wants to learn and improve. Unless there is an inherent desire on the part of the individual or group to acquire some knowledge for the sake of change of behaviour, a learning situation will not obtain.
It must be understood that learning can be a process by which a person acquires knowledge, information and skills. For this process the individual may be able to undergo the learning process all by himself as in the case of reading or seeing things, feeling, hearing, etc. He can also be helped by another person and in that situation he is being taught.
For the health educator it is essential to know certain theories and principles which have been scientifically discussed by social psychologists. These theories have been evolved from a number of experimental approaches to the study of learning and most of these experiments have been done with animals. The very first theory that is usually referred to is the classical conditioning or stimulus response type of research on learning, which was demonstrated by Pavlov, a famous Russian scientist. In his experiment, Pavlov noted salivation of the dog in response to the sight or smell of food. He called this natural or native response as unconditioned response of salivation to an unconditioned stimulus of food. This is a natural instinctive response common to all living organisms. Pavlov introduced a bell to precede the offering of food to the dog. Every time the bell rang he produced food and thereby trained the dog to establish an association between the bell and food. Subsequently the dog expected food whenever the bell rang. This became a conditioned response to a conditioned stimulus.
Further, pavlov demonstrated by addition of similar stimuli like making noise with the plate or making noise with the spoon, etc., the conditioned stimulus becomes generalized and the dog responds to similar stimuli in the same manner. Afterwards Pavlov extended his experiment by withdrawing the food or reinforcement further and gradually made the dog doubt the offering of food with the result that the dog lost interest in this kind of a stimulus. He called this extinction of the conditioned response. In other words, the organism gets so bored or so very much used to the stimulus that it does not show any special interest in the reward or result.
The application of this theory is that in teaching learning process the teacher should either give encouragement to step up the interest of the listener, or if any change in behaviour is desired the teacher must provide the facilities and resources and demonstrate the beneficial results.
Krech and Krutchfield have used the same Pavlov's theory and suggested the learning or memorizing principle based on the concept of reinforcement of ideas. According to them, the acquisition of ideas in the brain by storage and recall depend on the process of frequent memorizing by repetition.
Edward L. Thorndike has further developed on the theory of conditioned response and repetitions and propounded three laws of learning.
1. Law of readiness. 2. Law of exercise. 3. Law of effect.
Law of readiness. Any living being does not respond to a stimulus unless it is mentally ready and prepared to receive the same. Thorndike experimented with cats in cages. He made the cat hungry and kept enticing food in another compartment. The cat learnt to let itself out and reach the other compartment for the food. A fully fed cat did not respond the stimulus of food and therefore did not learn how to get out to reach the food.
According to this, any learner has to be mentally prepared and be ready to learn. Unless there is a desire to learn neither the individual is going to seek the information or knowledge nor can the educator involve the person in learning. In other words, before any learning can take place the learner has to be motivated for learning or the educator should find out the people who are ready and wanting to learn and help them to learn. The horse can be taken to the water but cannot be made to during. In learning also the readiness to learn decides whether learning takes place or not.
Law of exercise. Repetition of stimulus and its response has reinforcement or strengthening effect depending on the utility and gain or pleasure experience or the contrary of it. In the same experiment described above the acquiring of food was a gainful and pleasurable experience. So the cat's mind was trained to the fact or experience that by opening a particular latch it was possible to go out and reach the food and the food could satisfy the hunger. There were two exercises in these experiments. One was the opening of the door. The cat learnt by frequent trail and error that a particular latch was able to let him out. By the law of exercise or repetition of trial and error the cat went straight to the particular latch on later occasions and did not waste time in trying any other latch. By repeatedly doing a thing we learn to do it better in a shorter time and with greater confidence, it becomes a practice.
Law of effect. In the above experiment because the food was available to satisfy the hunger the
cat was inclined to open the latch very time. If no food had been kept the cat would not have shown the same eagerness on subsequent occasions. If instead of food, it got a beat by a stick when it came out it would not have come out by opening the latch any more.
This is only reinforcing what has been meant in the exercise. When the association between a particular stimuli and response is resulting in a satisfying state of affairs, the bond between the response and stimulus is strengthened. Conversely, when the resultant state of affairs is painful or unpleasant or annoying, the bond is weakened. In daily life we find that we often tend to repeat what is pleasant or helpful to us and avoid what is unpleasant or painful.
Similarly the law of effect has relevance by giving successful experience, encouragements, and also provision of services and resources. It is only the demonstration of good results that will give a sense of conviction and assurance to the individual or group. Therefore, they have to be enabled by learning to experience tangible and advantageous results.