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Learning is the act of acquiring new, or modifying and reinforcing, existing knowledge, behaviors, skills, values, or preferences and may involve synthesizing different types of information. The ability to learn is possessed by humans, animals, plants[1] and some machines. Progress over time tends to follow a learning curve. It does not happen all at once, but builds upon and is shaped by previous knowledge. To that end, learning may be viewed as a process, rather than a collection of factual and procedural knowledge. Learning produces changes in the organism and the changes produced are relatively permanent.[2]

Human learning may occur as part of education, personal development, schooling, or training. It may be goal-oriented and may be aided by motivation. The study of how learning occurs is part of educational psychology, neuropsychology, learning theory, and pedagogy. Learning may occur as a result of habituation or classical conditioning, seen in many animal species, or as a result of more complex activities such as play, seen only in relatively intelligent animals.[3][4] Learning may occur consciously or without conscious awareness. Learning that an aversive event can't be avoided nor escaped is called learned helplessness.[5] There is evidence for human behavioral learning prenatally, in which habituation has been observed as early as 32 weeks into gestation, indicating that the central nervous system is sufficiently developed and primed for learning and memory to occur very early on in development.[6]

Play has been approached by several theorists as the first form of learning. Children experiment with the world, learn the rules, and learn to interact through play. Lev Vygotsky agrees that play is pivotal for children's development, since they make meaning of their environment through playing educational games.


Non-associative learning

Non-associative learning refers to "a relatively permanent change in the strength of response to a single stimulus due to repeated exposure to that stimulus. Changes due to such factors as sensory adaptation, fatigue, or injury do not qualify as non-associative learning."[7]

Non-associative learning can be divided into habituation and sensitization.


Habituation is an example of non-associative learning in which the strength or probability of a response diminishes when the response is repeated. The response is typically a reflex or unconditioned response. Thus, habituation is to be distinguished from extinction, which is an associative process. In operant extinction, for example, a response declines because it is no longer followed by reward. An example of habituation can be seen in small song birds—if a stuffed owl (or similar predator) is put into the cage, the birds initially react to it as though it were a real predator. Soon the birds react less, showing habituation. If another stuffed owl is introduced (or the same one removed and re-introduced), the birds react to it again as though it were a predator, demonstrating that it is only a very specific stimulus that is habituated to (namely, one particular unmoving owl in one place). Habituation has been shown in essentially every species of animal, as well as the sensitive plant Mimosa pudica [8] and the large protozoan Stentor coeruleus.[9]


Sensitization is an example of non-associative learning in which the progressive amplification of a response follows repeated administrations of a stimulus (Bell et al., 1995)[citation needed]. An everyday example of this mechanism is the repeated tonic stimulation of peripheral nerves that will occur if a person rubs his arm continuously. After a while, this stimulation will create a warm sensation that will eventually turn painful. The pain is the result of the progressively amplified synaptic response of the peripheral nerves warning the person that the stimulation is harmful.[clarification needed] Sensitisation is thought to underlie both adaptive as well as maladaptive learning processes in the organism.

Associative learning

Associative learning is the process by which an association between two stimuli or a behavior and a stimulus is learned. The two forms of associative learning are classical and operant conditioning. In the former, a previously neutral stimulus is repeatedly presented together with a reflex eliciting stimuli until eventually the neutral stimulus will elicit a response on its own. In operant conditioning, a certain behavior is either reinforced or punished which results in an altered probability that the behavior will happen again.

Operant conditioning

Operant conditioning is the use of consequences to modify the occurrence and form of behavior. Operant conditioning is distinguished from Pavlovian conditioning in that operant conditioning uses reinforcement/punishment to alter an action-outcome association. In contrast, Pavlovian conditioning involves strengthening of the stimulus-outcome association.

Elemental theories of associative learning argue that concurrent stimuli tend to be perceived as separate units rather than 'holistically' (i.e. as a single unit)[10]

Behaviorism is a psychological movement that seeks to alter behavior by arranging the environment to elicit successful changes and to arrange consequences to maintain or diminish a behavior. Behaviorists study behaviors that can be measured and changed by the environment. However, they do not deny that there are thought processes that interact with those behaviors (see Relational Frame Theory for more information).

Delayed discounting is the process of devaluing rewards based on the delay of time they are presented. This process is thought to be tied to impulsivity. Impulsivity is a core process for many behaviors (e.g., substance abuse, problematic gambling, OCD). Making decisions is an important part of everyday functioning. How we make those decisions is based on what we perceive to be the most valuable or worthwhile actions. This is determined by what we find to be the most reinforcing stimuli. So when teaching an individual a response, you need to find the most potent reinforcer for that person. This may be a larger reinforcer at a later time or a smaller immediate reinforcer.

Classical conditioning

The typical paradigm for classical conditioning involves repeatedly pairing an unconditioned stimulus (which unfailingly evokes a reflexive response) with another previously neutral stimulus (which does not normally evoke the response). Following conditioning, the response occurs both to the unconditioned stimulus and to the other, unrelated stimulus (now referred to as the "conditioned stimulus"). The response to the conditioned stimulus is termed a conditioned response. The classic example is Pavlov and his dogs. Meat powder naturally will make a dog salivate when it is put into a dog's mouth; salivating is a reflexive response to the meat powder. Meat powder is the unconditioned stimulus (US) and the salivation is the unconditioned response (UR). Then Pavlov rang a bell before presenting the meat powder. The first time Pavlov rang the bell, the neutral stimulus, the dogs did not salivate, but once he put the meat powder in their mouths they began to salivate. After numerous pairings of the bell and the food, the dogs learned that the bell was a signal that the food was about to come and began to salivate when the bell was rung. Once this occurred, the bell became the conditioned stimulus (CS) and the salivation to the bell became the conditioned response (CR). Classical conditioning has been demonstrated in many species. For example, it is seen in honeybees, in the proboscis extension reflex paradigm.[11]

Another influential person in the world of classical conditioning is John B. Watson. Watson's work was very influential and paved the way for B.F. Skinner's radical behaviorism. Watson's behaviorism (and philosophy of science) stood in direct contrast to Freud and other accounts based largely on introspection. Watson's view was that the introspective method was too subjective, and that we should limit the study of human development to directly observable behaviors. In 1913, Watson published the article "Psychology as the Behaviorist Views," in which he argued that laboratory studies should serve psychology best as a science. Watson's most famous, and controversial, experiment, "Little Albert", where he demonstrated how psychologists can account for the learning of emotion through classical conditioning principles.


Imprinting is a kind of learning occurring at a particular life stage that is rapid and apparently independent of the consequences of behavior. In filial imprinting, young animals, particularly birds, form an association with another individual or in some cases, an object, to which they respond as they would to a parent. In 1935, the Austrian Zoologist Konrad Lorenz discovered that certain birds will follow and form a bond with a moving object shortly after hatching. Under normal conditions, the object is the mother. Thus imprinting has a survival value because it ensures that the young birds will not wander off away from their mother's protection. Under experimental conditions, however, the young hatchling will imprint on just about any moving object (even human beings), particularly if the object makes sounds.


Play generally describes behavior which has no particular end in itself, but improves performance in similar situations in the future. This is seen in a wide variety of vertebrates besides humans, but is mostly limited to mammals and birds. Cats are known to play with a ball of string when young, which gives them experience with catching prey. Besides inanimate objects, animals may play with other members of their own species or other animals, such as orcas playing with seals they have caught. Play involves a significant cost to animals, such as increased vulnerability to predators and the risk of injury and possibly infection. It also consumes energy, so there must be significant benefits associated with play for it to have evolved. Play is generally seen in younger animals, suggesting a link with learning. However, it may also have other benefits not associated directly with learning, for example improving physical fitness.

Play, as it pertains to humans as a form of learning is central to a child’s learning and development. Through play, children learn social skills such as sharing and collaboration. Children develop emotional skills such as learning to deal with the emotion of anger, through play activities. As a form of learning, play also facilitates the development of thinking and language skills in children.[12]

There are five types of play:

  1. sensorimotor play aka functional play, characterized by repetition of activity
  2. role play occurs from 3 to 15 years of age
  3. rule-based play where authoritative prescribed codes of conduct are primary
  4. construction play involves experimentation and building
  5. movement play aka physical play[12]

These five types of play are often intersecting. All types of play generate thinking and problem-solving skills in children. Children learn to think creatively when they learn through play.[13] Specific activities involved in each type of play change over time as humans progress through the lifespan. Play as a form of learning, can occur solitarily, or involve interacting with others.


Enculturation is the process by which a person learns the values and behaviors that are appropriate or necessary in the culture by which he or she is surrounded.[14] Parents, other adults, and peers shape the individual's understanding of these values.[14] If successful, enculturation results in competence in the language, values and rituals of the culture.[14] This is different from acculturation, where a person adopts the values and societal rules of a culture different from their native one.

Multiple examples of enculturation can be found cross-culturally. Collaborative practices in the Mazahua people have shown that participation in everyday interaction and later learning activities contributed to enculturation which is rooted in nonverbal social experience.[15] As the children participated in everyday activities, they learned the cultural significance of these interactions. The collaborative and helpful behaviors exhibited by Mexican and Mexican-heritage children is a cultural practice known as being “acomedido”.[16] Chillihuani girls in Peru described themselves as weaving constantly, following behavior shown by the other adults.[17]

Episodic learning

Episodic learning is a change in behavior that occurs as a result of an event.[18] For example, a fear of dogs that follows being bitten by a dog is episodic learning. Episodic learning is so named because events are recorded into episodic memory, which is one of the three forms of explicit learning and retrieval, along with perceptual memory and semantic memory.[19]

Multimedia learning

Multimedia learning is where a person uses both auditory and visual stimuli to learn information (Mayer 2001). This type of learning relies on dual-coding theory (Paivio 1971).

E-learning and augmented learning

Electronic learning or e-learning is a general term used to refer to computer-enhanced learning. A specific and always more diffused e-learning is mobile learning (m-learning), which uses different mobile telecommunication equipment, such as cellular phones.

When a learner interacts with the e-learning environment, it's called augmented learning. By adapting to the needs of individuals, the context-driven instruction can be dynamically tailored to the learner's natural environment. Augmented digital content may include text, images, video, audio (music and voice). By personalizing instruction, augmented learning has been shown to improve learning performance for a lifetime.[20] See also Minimally Invasive Education.

Moore (1989)[21] purported that three core types of interaction are necessary for quality, effective online learning:

  • learner-learner (i.e. communication between and among peers with or without the teacher present),
  • learner-instructor (i.e. student teacher communication), and
  • learner-content (i.e. intellectually interacting with content that results in changes in learners’ understanding, perceptions, and cognitive structures).

In his theory of transactional distance, Moore (1993)[22] contented that structure and interaction or dialogue bridge the gap in understanding and communication that is created by geographical distances (known as transactional distance).

Rote learning

Rote learning is memorizing information so that it can be recalled by the learner exactly the way it was read or heard. The major technique used for rote learning is learning by repetition, based on the idea that a learner can recall the material exactly (but not its meaning) if the information is repeatedly processed. Rote learning is used in diverse areas, from mathematics to music to religion. Although it has been criticized by some educators, rote learning is a necessary precursor to meaningful learning.

Meaningful learning

Meaningful learning is the concept that learned knowledge (e.g., a fact) is fully understood to the extent that it relates to other knowledge. To this end, meaningful learning contrasts with rote learning in which information is acquired without regard to understanding. Meaningful learning, on the other hand, implies there is a comprehensive knowledge of the context of the facts learned.[23]

Informal learning

Informal learning occurs through the experience of day-to-day situations (for example, one would learn to look ahead while walking because of the danger inherent in not paying attention to where one is going). It is learning from life, during a meal at table with parents, play, exploring, etc.

Formal learning

A depiction of the world's oldest continually operating university, the University of Bologna, Italy

Formal learning is learning that takes place within a teacher-student relationship, such as in a school system. The term formal learning has nothing to do with the formality of the learning, but rather the way it is directed and organized. In formal learning, the learning or training departments set out the goals and objectives of the learning.[24]

Nonformal learning

Nonformal learning is organized learning outside the formal learning system. For example, learning by coming together with people with similar interests and exchanging viewpoints, in clubs or in (international) youth organizations, workshops.

Nonformal learning and combined approaches

The educational system may use a combination of formal, informal, and nonformal learning methods. The UN and EU recognize these different forms of learning (cf. links below). In some schools, students can get points that count in the formal-learning systems if they get work done in informal-learning circuits. They may be given time to assist international youth workshops and training courses, on the condition they prepare, contribute, share and can prove this offered valuable new insight, helped to acquire new skills, a place to get experience in organizing, teaching, etc.

In order to learn a skill, such as solving a Rubik's Cube quickly, several factors come into play at once:

  • Directions help one learn the patterns of solving a Rubik's Cube.
  • Practicing the moves repeatedly and for extended time helps with "muscle memory" and therefore speed.
  • Thinking critically about moves helps find shortcuts, which in turn helps to speed up future attempts.
  • The Rubik's Cube's six colors help anchor solving it within the head.
    • Occasionally revisiting the cube helps prevent negative learning or loss of skill.

Tangential learning

Tangential learning is the process by which people will self-educate if a topic is exposed to them in a context that they already enjoy. For example, after playing a music-based video game, some people may be motivated to learn how to play a real instrument, or after watching a TV show that references Faust and Lovecraft, some people may be inspired to read the original work.[25] Self-education can be improved with systematization. According to experts in natural learning, self-oriented learning training has proven to be an effective tool for assisting independent learners with the natural phases of learning.[26]

Dialogic learning

Dialogic learning is a type of learning based on dialogue.

Incidental learning

This type of learning is not planned by either the instructor or the student but occurs as a byproduct of another activity, which may be an experience, observation, self-reflection, interaction, unique event or common routine task. Learning which happens in addition to or apart from the instructor‘s plans and the student‘s expectations.

Incidental learning is an occurrence that is not generally accounted for using the traditional methods of instructional objectives and outcomes assessment. This type of learning occurs in part as a product of social interaction and active involvement in both online and onsite courses. Research implies that there are un-assessed aspects of onsite and online learning which challenge the equivalency of education between the two modalities. Both onsite and online learning have distinct advantages with traditional on-campus students experiencing higher degrees of incidental learning in three times as many areas as online students. Additional research is called for to investigate the implications of these findings both conceptually and pedagogically.[27]


Future school (1901 or 1910).

Benjamin Bloom has suggested three domains of learning:

  • Cognitive – To recall, calculate, discuss, analyze, problem solve, etc.
  • Psychomotor – To dance, swim, ski, dive, drive a car, ride a bike, etc.
  • Affective – To like something or someone, love, appreciate, fear, hate, worship, etc.

These domains are not mutually exclusive. For example, in learning to play chess, the person will have to learn the rules of the game (cognitive domain); but he also has to learn how to set up the chess pieces on the chessboard and also how to properly hold and move a chess piece (psychomotor). Furthermore, later in the game the person may even learn to love the game itself, value its applications in life, and appreciate its history (affective domain).[28]


Transfer of learning is the application of skill, knowledge or understanding to resolve a novel problem or situation which happens when certain conditions are fulfilled. Research indicates that learning transfer is infrequent; most common when "... cued, primed, and guided..."[29] and has sought to clarify what it is, and how it might be promoted through instruction.

Over the history of its discourse, various hypotheses and definitions have been advanced. First, it is speculated that different types of transfer exist, including: near transfer, the application of skill to solve a novel problem in a similar context; and far transfer, the application of skill to solve novel problem presented in a different context.[30] Furthermore, Perkins and Salomon (1992) suggest that positive transfer in cases when learning supports novel problem solving, and negative transfer occurs when prior learning inhibits performance on highly correlated tasks, such as second or third-language learning.[31] Concepts of positive and negative transfer have a long history; researchers in the early 20th century described the possibility that "...habits or mental acts developed by a particular kind of training may inhibit rather than facilitate other mental activities".[32] Finally, Schwarz, Bransford and Sears (2005) have proposed that transferring knowledge into a situation may differ from transferring knowledge out to a situation as a means to reconcile findings that transfer may both be frequent and challenging to promote.[33]

A significant and long research history has also attempted to explicate the conditions under which transfer of learning might occur. Early research by Ruger, for example, found that the "level of attention", "attitudes", "method of attack" (or method for tackling a problem), a "search for new points of view", "a careful testing of hypothesis" and "generalization" were all valuable approaches for promoting transfer.[34] To encourage transfer through teaching, Perkins and Salomon recommend aligning ("hugging") instruction with practice and assessment, and "bridging", or encouraging learners to reflect on past experiences or make connections between prior knowledge and current content.[31]

Factors affecting learning

External factors

  1. Heredity: A classroom instructor can neither change nor increase heredity, but the student can use it and develop it. Some learners are rich in hereditary endowment while others are poor. Each student is unique and has different abilities. The native intelligence is different in individuals. Heredity governs or conditions our ability to learn and the rate of learning. The intelligent learners can establish and see relationship very easily and more quickly. Opportunities does not knock the door, but every individual has to knock the door of opportunity and grab it. Opportunity should be used in a very nice manner and in a useful way. Attempts should be made to see that the learners get opportunities to use and develop their hereditary endowment.
  2. Status of students: Physical and home conditions also matter: Certain problems like malnutrition i.e.; inadequate supply of nutrients to the body, fatigue i.e.; tiredness, bodily weakness, and bad health are a great obstructers in learning. These are some of the physical conditions by which a student can get affected. Home is a place where a family lives. If the home conditions are not proper, the student is affected seriously. Some of the home conditions are bad ventilation, unhygienic living, bad light, etc. These affect the student and his or her rate of learning.[35][36]

Internal factors

There are several internal factors that affect learning.[37][38] They are

  1. Goals or purposes: Each and everyone has a goal. A goal should be set to each pupil according to the standard expected to him. A goal is an aim or desired result. There are 2 types of goals called immediate and distant goals. The goal which occurs or done at once is called immediate goals and distant goals are those which requires sometime to achieve them. Immediate goals should be set before the young learner and distant goals for older ones. Goals should be very specific, clear, so that the learners will understand clearly.
  2. Motivational behavior: Motivation means to provide with a motive. Motivation learners should be motivated so that they stimulate themselves with interest. It is a behavior which arouses and regulates the internal energies of the student.
  3. Interest: It is a quality which arouses a feeling. It encourages to move over tasks further. During teaching, the instructor must arise interests among students through which best learning takes place. Interest is an apparent ( clearly seen or understood) behaviour.
  4. Attention: Attention means consideration. It is concentration or focusing of consciousness upon one object or an idea. If effective learning should take place attention is very essential. Instructors must secure the attention of the student.
  5. Drill or practice: This method includes repiting the tasks “n” number of times like needs, phrases, principles, etc. This makes learning more effective.
  6. Fatigue: Generally there are 3 types of fatigue i.e.; muscular, sensory and mental. Muscular and sensory fatigues are designated as bodily fatigue. Mental fatigue is referred to the Central nervous system. The remedy will be to change the methods of teaching and use of audio-visual aids, etc.
  7. Aptitude: It is a natural ability. It is a condition in which an individuals ability to acquire certain skills, knowledge through training.
  8. Attitude: It is a way of thinking. The attitude of the student must be tested to find out how much inclination he or she has for learning a subject or topic.
  9. Emotional conditions: Emotions are strong feelings. When a student answers to a question properly or gives good results, he or she must be praised. This will increase their ability and this encouragement will help them to show more better results. Certain attitudes such as always finding a fault in a student's answer and provoking or embarrassing the student in front of a whole class are to be avoided.
  10. Speed, Accuracy and retention: Speed is the rapidity of movement. Retention is the act of retaining. These 3 elements depend upon aptitude, attitude, interest, attention and motivation of the students.
  11. Learning activities: Learning depends upon the activities and experiences provided by the teacher, his concept of discipline, methods of teaching and above all his overall personality.
  12. Testing: Individual differences of learners which are the heart of effective learning are measured by various kinds of test. The use of tests goes a long way in eliminating a great deal of subjective element of measuring pupil differences and performances.
  13. Guidance: Everyone needs guidance in some part or some time in life. Some need it constantly and some very rarely depending on the students conditions. Small learners need more guidance. Guidance is an advice to solve a problem. Guidance involves the art of helping boys and girls in various aspects of academics, improving vocational aspects like choosing careers and recreational aspects like choosing hobbies. Guidance covers the whole gamut of learners problems- learning as well as non- learning.

Active learning

File:Learning Retention Pyramid.JPG
Experiential Learning is more efficient than passive learning like reading or listening.[39]

Active learning occurs when a person takes control of their learning experience. Since understanding information is the key aspect of learning, it is important for learners to recognize what they understand and what they do not. By doing so, they can monitor their own mastery of subjects. Active learning encourages learners to have an internal dialogue in which they are verbalizing their understandings. This and other meta-cognitive strategies can be taught to a child over time. Studies within metacognition have proven the value in active learning, claiming that the learning is usually at a stronger level as a result.[40] In addition, learners have more incentive to learn when they have control over not only how they learn but also what they learn.[41]


There are two ways in which animals can gain knowledge. The first of these two ways is learning. This is when an animal gathers information about its surrounding environment and then proceeds to use this information. For example, if an animal eats something that hurts its stomach, it may learn not to eat this again. The second way that an animal can acquire knowledge is through innate knowledge. This knowledge is genetically inherited. The animal automatically knows it without any prior experience. An example of this is when a horse is born and can immediately walk. The horse has not learned this behavior; it simply knows how to do it.[42] In some scenarios, innate knowledge is more beneficial than learned knowledge. However, in other scenarios the opposite is true - animals must learn certain behaviors when it is disadvantageous to have a specific innate behavior. In these situations, learning evolves in the species.

Costs and benefits of learned and innate knowledge

In a changing environment, an animal must constantly be gaining new information in order to survive. However, in a stable environment, this same individual need only to gather the information it needs once and rely on it for the duration of its life. Therefore, there are different scenarios in which learning or innate knowledge is better suited. Essentially, the cost of obtaining certain knowledge versus the benefit of already having it determined whether an animal evolved to learn in a given situation or whether it innately knew the information. If the cost of gaining the knowledge outweighed the benefit of having it, then the individual would not have evolved to learn in this scenario; instead, non-learning would evolve. However, if the benefit of having certain information outweighed the cost of obtaining it, then the animal would be far more likely to evolve to have to learn this information.[42]

Non-learning is more likely to evolve in two scenarios. If an environment is static and change does not or rarely occurs, then learning would simply be unnecessary. Because there is no need for learning in this scenario – and because learning could prove to be disadvantageous due to the time it took to learn the information – non-learning evolves. However, if an environment were in a constant state of change, then learning would also prove to be disadvantageous. Anything learned would immediately become irrelevant because of the changing environment.[42] The learned information would no longer apply. Essentially, the animal would be just as successful if it took a guess as if it learned. In this situation, non-learning would evolve. In fact, it was shown in a study of Drosophila melanogaster that learning can actually lead to a decrease in productivity, possibly because egg-laying behaviors and decisions were impaired by interference from the memories gained from the new learned materials or because of the cost of energy in learning.[43]

However, in environments where change occurs within an animal's lifetime but is not constant, learning is more likely to evolve. Learning is beneficial in these scenarios because an animal can adapt to the new situation, but can still apply the knowledge that it learns for a somewhat extended period of time. Therefore, learning increases the chances of success as opposed to guessing.[42] An example of this is seen in aquatic environments with landscapes subject to change. In these environments, learning is favored because the fish are predisposed to learn the specific spatial cues where they live.[44]

Machine learning

Robots can learn to cooperate.

Machine learning, a branch of artificial intelligence, concerns the construction and study of systems that can learn from data. For example, a machine learning system could be trained on email messages to learn to distinguish between spam and non-spam messages.

See also


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  4. What behavior can we expect of octopuses?
  5. [2]
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