Learning is a continuous process that doesn't end after we received our hard-earned diploma. People have the capacity to discover and explore new things, thus constitutes a continuous quest for learning new things. In the psychological point of view, learning has related principles and theories that explains the process in which a person can effectively absorb new information. One example is myself initiative to learn a new language specifically French. It is not easy to just listen to a French conversation and be able to pick-up the details of the conversation's entire context. It takes a lot of practice and practical application of what has been learned from the basics. However, the theories of learning presents several comprehensive learning methods that can be used to enable a faster and more effective learning techniques.
Looking back at my example of learning French, the first thing I did and should be done by all independent learners is to know themselves as a learner. One should see what makes him learn fast and the best strategies that can be adapted that works best for him. In my case, doing self-assessment worked well in knowing how I do as a learner and what are the things that enable my effective learning. For example, I tend to catch up faster with the language modules and exercises by listening and repeating. That means, I listen and then I made sure to remember the words I heard and repeat it over and over again and doesn't stop until I can recite the entire group of sentences effortlessly. This approach is derived from the "Sensory Stimulation Theory," which basically relates to the traditional stimulation of the senses. The majority of learning is perceived through seeing, which has a 75% occurence in all age group of learners. The next effective learning method is through hearing, which makes up 13% of learners across all age groups (Dunn, 2002, p. 1). In relation to my French learning efforts, hearing the spoken words made me remember them even better and I was able to associate the words I heard with its English counterparts.
It is an automatic response that I have developed using the classical conditioning theory that Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist that accidentally discovered the idea while working on his experiment on the role of the dogs saliva to its digestive process (Pavlov, 1927). Now, combining the principles of the two theories, I was able to easily learn the basics of French. The first thing that I did when learning French is to plan the phase of my learning process. After making an assessment, of which approach I can easily adapt and easily work with, I started out by dividing my time into chunks, which is also part of the learning concepts. I break-up the study in chunks and units. For example, I started with the basics of everyday conversational words such as greetings, compliments and self introduction. After which, I compiled all the audio lessons of each units so that I can work my way up from a single French word into a three to four-word sentences.
Since I thought listening works best for my effective learning, I started by listening to the French word followed by its English translation. As soon as I heard the word, I would repeat it and then proceed with the next five sets of words. I limit myself to set of words and make sure that I have heard and repeated them several times enough to make me remember each of the French word and repeat them without a translation help. After which, is the only time I will move on to the next batch of words. Using such approach I was able to hear and translate the French words right away like I knew them at the back of my mind. This is when the classical conditioning theory takes place in the learning process, which pertains to the reflexive or automatic learning condition provided by a stimulus (audio lesson). In Pavlov's theory, after stimulating the dog's sense of smell by using meat powder. The dog produces more saliva that suggests craving for food after smelling the meat powder as compared to the rate of the dog's salivation without the presence of the meat powder's smell. Pavlov also emphasized that the dog's increase in salivation is also related to the sound that they hear before the food was presented. Therefore, when the dog hears the bell or the clicking sound of the meat powder's container, the dog's already knows that food is about to be presented.
This particular idea in the theory has a significant correlation to the learning process that I have adapted during my French language lessons. The meat powder in my case is in a form of French audio instructions, given the fact I am hearing a French audio I have this idea that I am taking a French language lesson. The auditory stimulus used by Pavlov in studying the behavioral response of the dogs to food is also present during my French language lessons. Remember that the dog in Pavlov's experiment have learned to associate food with a particular sound is the same as hearing the French word and its English counterpart. I have developed what Pavlov regarded as "psychic reflexes". This is when the dog hears a bell or a clicking sound, the dog knows it means food is coming. During my French language learning, I have learned to associate the French words with its English meanings.
One example that directly relates to the association of a sound to a particular meaning is the word "Bonjour", this word means "hello" in English. After several times of hearing the French word, repeatedly along with its English meaning, I could immediately tell that when a person said: "Bonjour", he means hello. After learning the association of the French sound to its English meaning, the response would be instantaneous. There would be no thinking twice that it means "hello" and that I should also answer back with an appropriate response in French. Therefore, Pavlov's "psychic response" occurred in the process and responding appropriately manifests prior knowledge of the language being spoken. The entire process also demonstrates the concept of memory and retention. It is not enough that the language was just heard through the auditory stimulus, retention and memorization is essential during the learning process. Practical applications of the information learned is necessary by means of practicing. Going over the materials frequently helps information retention.
Retaining an information is quite difficult when there is an overload of details for consideration. However, B.F. Skinner's Operant Conditioning Theory of learning demonstrates a helpful hint in information retention. Operant conditioning is different in Conditional Learning because it has four different types such as positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, punishment and extinction (Mcli.dist.maricopa.edu, N.D.). The general description of operant conditioning is that the occurence of the future behavior is affected by the consequences of the current behavior. For example, a rat may step on a switch in its cage and it will receive food. After several times that the rat kept on pressing the switch and gets food for doing it, it will develop a behavior of pushing the switch over and over again because it already learned the rewards of doing so. This principle can be applied in terms of retaining the information learned.
In my French language lessons, it was not enough that I went over the material once because although I get the benefit of getting new information, I still need to go over it several times to be able to develop the learning behavior of knowledge retention. This is regarded as the positive reinforcement as described by skinner. Even though operant conditioning plays a less significant role in my learning process as compared to classical conditioning, it help me to develop a sense of comprehension. Repeating the audio instructions over and over again provided me something better than food and that is knowledge of a new language. Practicing it and going through the materials several times transformed my learning experience into classical conditioning that later developed my "psychic response". Sensory stimulation theory, classical and operant condition works hand in hand to enable an effective learning. However, I as a learner of a new language needs to assess the approach that will work best for me to learn fast. In this case, classical conditioning contributed more to my learning process and operant conditioning provided the retention support. Learning a new language or other skills are difficult, but the key to learning is to determine the best possible combination of approach.
Dunn, L. (2002). Theories of learning. Learning and Teaching Briefing Papers Series, 1(1), 1.
Mcli.maricopa.edu (n.d.). Negative Reinforcement University. Maricopa Center for Learning and Instruction. Retrieved June 26, 2012, from http://www.mcli.dist.maricopa.edu/proj/nru/opcond.html
Pavlov, I. P. (1927). Conditioned Reflexes: An Investigation of the Physiological Activity of the Cerebral Cortex. Translated and Edited by G. V. Anrep. London, UK: Oxford university Press.