What is Learning? Its definitions & basic 3 types- Classical, Operant & Observational Learning

What have you learn till now? (Think). When you start learning? Why learning is important? What is learning ?


Definition of Learning 

“Learning is any relatively permanent change in behavior brought about by experience or practice.

As per American Psychological Association, Learning is the acquisition of novel information, behaviors, or abilities after practice, observation, or other experiences, as evidenced by change in behavior, knowledge, or brain function.

Benjamin Bloom (1965) has suggested three domains of learning
1. Cognitive – to recall, calculate, discuss, analyse, problem solve, etc.;
2. psychomotor – to dance, swim, ski, dive, drive a car, ride a bike, etc.; and
3. affective – to like something or someone, love, appreciate, fear, hate, worship, etc

Learning takes place in many ways. The simplest kind of learning is called conditioning. Two types of conditioning have been identified. The first one is called classical conditioning, and the second instrumental/operant conditioning. In addition, we have observational learning, cognitive learning, verbal learning, concept learning, and skill learning.

3 major types of Learning 

  1. Classical Conditioning
  2. Operant/ Instrumental Conditioning
  3. Observational Conditioning

1.Classical Conditioning 

A type of learning in which an initially neutral stimulus—the conditioned stimulus (CS)—when paired with a stimulus that elicits a reflex response—the unconditioned stimulus (US)—results in a learned, or conditioned, response (CR) when the CS is presented.

First time by a Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov (1928) through his experiment on a dog and gave a theory of learning called Classical Conditioning. He inserted a tube surgically in the dog’s salivary gland so that he could measure the amount of salivation. He then presented the sound of the bell and food one after the other several times and measured how much the dog salivated. After several trials the dog started salivating to the sound of the bell even when the food was not given.

In our daily life we learn many things by classical conditioning. For example, when a small child is given an injection, he starts crying due to pain. A small child slowly understands that whenever he visits the doctor, he is given an injection. When he understands the connection between ‘doctor’ and ‘injection’ he immediately starts crying as soon as he is taken to the doctor

Also called Pavlovian conditioning; respondent conditioning; Type I conditioning; Type S conditioning.

2.Operant / Instrumental Conditioning

The process in which behavioral change (i.e., learning) occurs as a function of the consequences of behavior. Edward L. Thorndike (1874–1949), who observed the behavior of cats trying to escape from home-made puzzle boxes. Thorndike’s Law off Effect- ” Behaviors followed by satisfying consequences tend to be repeated and those that produce unpleasant consequences are less likely to be repeated.”

Examples are teaching a dog to do tricks and rewarding behavioral change in a misbehaving child.

Learning by an Operant Conditioning was explained by an American psychologist Burrhus Frederic Skinner (Father of operant conditioning). He performed an experiment in which a rat was put in a Skinner box that contained a lever. If the rat pressed that lever, he was given food. Gradually the rat learnt to press the lever to get food. Here the rat is learning to connect his behaviour of pressing the lever with receiving the food. According to Skinner certain behaviours may be learnt to gain positive consequences. Similarly, he also demonstrated that certain behaviours may be learnt to avoid negative consequences.

B. F. Skinner Rat Experiment


3. Observational Learning

Earlier this form of learning was called imitation. Bandura and his colleagues in a series of experimental studies investigated observational learning in detail. In this kind of learning, human beings learn social behaviours, therefore, it is sometimes called social learning. In many situations individuals do not know how to behave. They observe others and emulate their behaviour. This form of learning is called modeling.

Albert Banduras Bobo Doll Experiment.


We observe and imitate not only the movements of the body but also certain ways of thinking, evaluating, judging and decision making, etc.

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