Студопедия — Types of learning
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Types of learning

Theories of learning of course do not capture all of the possible elements of general principles of human learning. In addition to the four learning theories just considered are various taxonomies of types of human learning and other mental processes universal to all. The educational psychologist Robert Gagne, for example, ably demonstrated the importance of identifying a number of types of learning that all human beings use. Types of learning vary according to the context and subject matter to be learned, but a complex task such as language learning involves every one of Gagne's types of learning—from simple signal learning to problem solving. Gagne identified eight types of learning:

1. Signal learning. The individual learns to make a general diffuse response to a signal. This is the classical conditioned response of Pavlov.

2. Stimulus-response learning. The learner acquires a precise response to a discriminated stimulus. What is learned is a connec­tion or, in Skinnerian terms, a discriminated operant, sometimes called an instrumental response.

3. Chaining. What is acquired is a chain of two or more stimulus-response connections. The conditions for such learning have also been described by Skinner.

4. Verbal association. Verbal association is the learning of chains that are verbal. Basically, the conditions resemble those for other (motor) chains. However, the presence of language in the human being makes this a special type of chaining because internal links may be selected from the individual's previously learned reper­toire of language.

5. Multiple discrimination. The individual learns to make a number of different identifying responses to many different stimuli, which may resemble each other in physical appearance to a greater or lesser degree. Although the learning of each stimulus-response connection is a simple occurrence, the connections tend to inter­fere with one another.

6. Concept learning. The learner acquires the ability to make a common response to a class of stimuli even though the individual members of that class may differ widely from each other. The learner is able to make a response that identifies an entire class of objects or events.

7. Principle learning. In simplest terms, a principle is a chain of two or more concepts. It functions to organize behavior and experi­ence. In Ausubel's terminology, a principle is a "subsumer"—a cluster of related concepts.

8. Problem solving. Problem solving is a kind of learning that requires the internal events usually referred to as "thinking." Previously acquired concepts and principles are combined in a conscious focus on an unresolved or ambiguous set of events.

It is apparent from just a cursory definition of these eight types of learning that some types are better explained by certain theories than others. For example, the first five types seem to fit easily into a behavioristic framework, while the last three are better explained by Ausubel's or Rogers's theories of learning. Since all eight types of learning are relevant to second language learning, the implication is that certain "lower"-level aspects of second language learning may be more adequately treated by behavioristic approaches and methods, while certain "higher"-order types of learning are more effectively taught by methods derived from a cogni­tive approach to learning.

The second language learning process can be further efficiently cate­gorized and sequenced in cognitive terms by means of the eight types of learning.

1. Signal learning in general occurs in the total language process: human beings make a general response of some kind (emotional, cognitive, verbal, or nonverbal) to language.

2. Stimulus-response learning is evident in the acquisition of the sound system of a foreign language in which, through a process of conditioning and trial and error, the learner makes closer and closer approximations to native-like pronunciation. Simple lexical items are, in one sense, acquired by stimulus-response connec­tions; in another sense they are related to higher-order types of learning.

3. Chaining is evident in the acquisition of phonological sequences and syntactic patterns—the stringing together of several responses—although we should not be misled into believing that verbal chains are necessarily linear. Generative linguists have wisely shown that sen­tence structure is hierarchical.

4. The fourth type of learning involves Gagne's distinction between verbal and nonverbal chains, and is not really therefore a separate type of language learning.

5. Multiple discriminations are necessary particularly in second lan­guage learning where, for example, a word has to take on several meanings, or a rule in the native language is reshaped to fit a second language context.

6. Concept learning includes the notion that language and cognition are inextricably interrelated, also that rules themselves—rules of syntax, rules of conversation—are linguistic concepts that have to be acquired.

7. Principle learning is the extension of concept learning to the for­mation of a linguistic system, in which rules are not isolated in rote memory, but conjoined and subsumed in a total system.

8. Finally, problem solving is clearly evident in second language learning as the learner is continually faced with sets of events that are truly problems to be solved—problems every bit as difficult as algebra problems or other "intellectual" problems. Solutions to the problems involve the creative interaction of all eight types of learning as the learner sifts and weighs previous information and knowledge in order to correctly deter-mine the meaning of a word, the interpretation of an utterance, the rule that governs a common class of linguistic items, or a conversationally appro­priate response.

It is not difficult, upon some reflection, to discern the importance of varied types of learning in the second language acquisition process. Teachers and researchers have all too often dis­missed certain theories of learning as irrelevant or useless because of the misperception that language learning consists of only one type of learning. "Language is concept learning," say some; "Language is a conditioning process," say others. Both are correct in that part of language learning con­sists of each of the above. But both are incorrect to assume that all of lan­guage learning can be so simply classified. Methods of teaching, in recognizing different levels of learning, need to be consonant with whichever aspect of language is being taught at a particular time while also recognizing the interrelatedness of all levels of language learning.

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