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Published on February 25, 2020

Effective Learning Theories (and How to Benefit from Them)

Effective Learning Theories (and How to Benefit from Them)

Not all humans absorb information in the same way and at the same rate. Different methods work for different people. These varying methods and how they work are exactly what learning theories are. With a great deal of research, educationists have proven how each learning theory is unique and effective.

Once you grasp the concept of how your brain works, you can effectively begin learning in an improved manner. This isn’t just true for academic learning as it works the same for learning skills and general information as well.

In order to understand which learning theory affects your learning style, keep reading!

Effective Learning Theories

Educationists and psychologists have developed various theories based on the varying perceptions of individuals. However, there are four in particular that can be closely related to everyday learning.

Behaviorism

The behaviorist learning theory was introduced by John Watson [1]. His school of thought believes that people learn from interactions. Every event or piece of information leads to a certain reaction.

This behavior helps the brain retain details. Eventually, how the individual behaves is affected by what was learned. It is a continuous cycle.

So:

If you were to read about something, it won’t stick in your mind unless the information you read stimulated a reaction. Similarly, even if you were a part of a real-life scenario, unless the brain gave out reactionary signals, nothing is learned from that situation.

The environment plays a huge role in this learning theory. When a person is born, their brain is completely blank. Gradually, the environmental factors fill up the brain with knowledge. Learning is coherent with the environment, and so, the same knowledge may not be learned in the same way in a different environment.

In simpler words, different environments lead to different learning outcomes and abilities.

All behaviors are justified as a result of what the brain already knows. Whether the interaction is subconscious or not, it is directly connected to what the individual has learned. Hence, all that is learned has a direct effect on behavior.

All in all, the behavior of any person alters according to the knowledge they have. So, if you were learning to control your anger, this theory can be used to help control your outrage by altering your thought processes.

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Cognitivist Theory

The education psychologists Piaget and Tolman originally derived the cognitivist learning theory. Their theory is based on the concept of memory. You can understand this theory by comparing the human brain to a computer. A computer’s memory will retain and utilize as much information as you enter into it. Similarly, the human brain learns based on what is remembered by the brain.

Basically:

The cognitivist theory states that the brain first receives the information, comprehends it, and then reacts to it. Therefore, the learning process is done before the reaction takes place. Just like a computer, the final output is based on memory.

Moreover, even if there is no reaction involved, the person still learns and gains something from the information.

Let’s say you were learning a new language. You will have to memorize certain words and their meaning. Your memory will play the main role in this process.

This theory also puts the individual learner in charge. Without dependence on a learning source, the learner is an active participant who understands and receives knowledge. If you want, then, you can start learning a new language any day without a teacher if you have the source material.

Constructivism

The learning theory of constructivism was created by Vygotsky. It focuses on perceptual learning.

Here’s what this means:

Each individual has a unique perception based on the learning that was done prior to a certain event. Everything that you’ve seen, felt, or heard in your life contributes to your point of view.

This perception is then used to learn from theundon that the brain receives. Basically, Vygotsky believed that every experience contributes to some sort of learning twice: once when the event actually takes place and then on an individual level.

The concept of constructivism is for the learner to build information based on previous knowledge. Altogether, this creates a meaningful context in the mind of the learner. These connections between the old knowledge and the new information lead to a fool-proof method of learning.

As per this school of thought, learning means understanding an experience. If there is no understanding of the event, there is no learning. If you don’t figure out the meaning of the chords, you can never learn to play the guitar.

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This theory uses this phenomenon to improve the learning abilities of individuals. It suggests that the learner should be more engaged in order to make the learning process more successful.

Constructivism encourages collaborative work. This learning theory emphasizes problem-solving, as well. All of this leads to improved thinking skills, which in turn boosts the learning process.

If you are learning to paint, for instance, everything you draw will be your unique reflection. This is why no two artists can ever produce the same work, even if they use the same equipment.

Experiential Learning

As the name suggests, this learning theory elaborates on learning from experiences. This is a concept quite similar to behaviorism. However, David Kolb, the person who developed the experiential learning theory, suggested a different take on it [2].

This theory actually includes part of all the aforementioned theories. It is a mix of behavior, cognition, perception, and experience. This theory explains that the learning process begins with an experience. This could be anything like an occurring event, a drawing, something that the person wrote, etc.

The next step is for the brain to reflect on this. This reflection may or may not result in an external reaction. Eventually, it becomes part of the memory. This is where perception and cognition come in.

Now:

The way that experiential learning is different from behaviorism is very simple. Behaviorism talks about the effect of external behavior on learning and vice versa. Experiential learning, on the other hand, focuses on what goes on in the mind that results in external behavior.

As per this theory, if you’re a computing guy who wants to learn new codes, you can do that in the best way if you use a visual. Write down the coding pattern or, perhaps, see a video to have a picture in your mind that you can learn from.

The Relationship between Learning Styles and Learning Theories

This is what each learning theory states. But, how does this relate to your everyday learning?

Every human has a specific learning style. This learning style is directly coherent with all or some of the aforementioned theories. These theories have actually been derived from the various learning styles.

There are 7 basic learning styles:

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  1. Visual: These learners can understand better with the help of images.
  2. Aural: Such individuals learn from auditory sources.
  3. Verbal: The use of words in speech and writing is the preferred method of learning.
  4. Physical: These people need to use their sense of touch to grasp information.
  5. Logical: Such learners use reasoning and have a systematic learning method.
  6. Social: Learning is most effective in groups for these people.
  7. Solitary: These individuals like to work alone.

Each one of these learning styles is directly related to one of the four learning theories. For example, a logical learner is a live example of the cognitivist learning theories. If you are brilliant at budgeting, there is a high chance that you have good thinking skills that help you to organize information in your mind.

A social learner uses the constructivism theory. Collaborative work and their own personal perception help them learn better. The social butterfly who is the perfect PR representative uses this theory and style.

Physical learners react to the information they learn. This is the implementation of the behaviorist theory. Without moving their hands or using their sense of touch in one way or the other, it is difficult for these people to retain information in their brains. A karate trainee will have to physically perform to learn the skill. It cannot be memorized.

As for experiential learning, it is a prominent style in the visual and aural learning styles. There isn’t always a reaction, but the visual or audio information that is received is enough to get the brain cells running.

Using Learning Methods That Work For You

If you are not using learning methods that go in line with your learning style, you’ll find it hard to digest information. Instead, you will experience unwanted stress, which ends up affecting your productivity and intellect.

You may be wondering:

With so many learning theories and styles, is there a right or wrong one? Well, that’s not how it works. The brain is a very complex organ that works differently for everyone. This is why the absorption of information is also different for everyone.

There are numerous parts of the brain that are performing completely different tasks. The right lobe, for example, is responsible for music and audio. The frontal lobe deals with words. Similarly, the temporal lobe deals with social activities.

Not all of these parts of the brain work at the same pace in every human. For some people, the frontal lobe is far faster than the rest. In other cases, another part is more dominant.

Everyone’s brain is better at different things. If one human can understand music very well, another is more competent in terms of logic. Therefore, this affects the learning process, which is why everyone ends up with a different learning style.

For this reason, educational psychologists have put forth so many different learning styles and theories as the learning ability of individuals tends to vary. This is also why all the theories are different, despite having a few similarities.

As for your exact case, only you can figure out which learning theory applies. Similarly, you have to figure out your learning style on your own, too. You can do so with a quick style evaluation test. Once you are aware of which method your brain prefers, you can use that knowledge to improve your day-to-day learning capability.

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Learning Styles Can Change

Here’s the thing:

You might have been acing tasks throughout your life with the help of visual learning. Or, you may have had an excellent memory. That does not, however, guarantee that your learning style is the same when you’ve entered your professional life.

Learning styles can change, and that comes with the requirement of a necessary change in your methods. If you were once a social learner, teamwork would have boosted your motivation to a whole new level. Instead of singing solo, your performance would be better in a band.

However, if over the years your style changed to solitary, and you didn’t change your methods, you would only slow yourself down. Band performances will no longer be good enough because your brain will be unable to allow you to practice well during group sessions.

Basically, the brain adapts with time.

It may become weaker, but it may also get stronger. The parts of the brain that were once dominant may be taken over by another lobe. That’s how learning styles change. It isn’t a quality that will stay fixed forever.

With the right learning method and a few other tips, you can boost your learning power immensely. The monumental difference in your day to day productivity will be clearly noticeable.

As an adult, you are the only person who can guide yourself to the right learning track. If you want to learn a new skill quickly, you should figure out your learning style and implement it accordingly. Then, look into the corresponding learning theory to resolve what the method of knowledge absorption for your brain is.

By using the concept of the theory to aid your learning style, you can become a fast learner in days.

More Tips on Learning

 

Featured photo credit: NordWood Themes via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Behaviorism
[2] Signature Experience: Experiential Learning Theory

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Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on September 18, 2020

How Social Learning Helps You Learn Faster and Easier

How Social Learning Helps You Learn Faster and Easier

Have you ever noticed that you tend to learn certain things simply by observing others? Learning in this way is called social learning, which is one of the 6 common types of learning. It helps you learn faster as knowledge and habits are acquired easily when they are practiced by people within a certain environment.

Throughout the centuries, humans have incorporated social learning in their lives as a major learning approach. The fact that human behavior is learned has made this possible. From initially being the only way to learn, it is now the fastest and most comprehensive learning method.

In this article, you’ll find out how you can make good use of social learning and observed behaviors to help you learn faster and easier.

The social learning theory as presented by Albert Bandura is simple. It suggests social learning is based on attention, retention, motivation and reproduction[1].

While these stages seem like common sense, there is a surprisingly large number of people who go through social interactions without learning anything because they aren’t actively practicing the different stages.

Let’s get started with the first stage, attention.

Attention

Since our mind has a limited capacity for storing data, it’s the things that we pay attention to that stay with us. Giving 100% of your attention to a situation you learn from is guaranteed to help you maximize social learning.

Stay in the Moment

When you’re focused on learning from your surroundings, your mind will focus only on what it wants to learn, so distractions fade away. However, it’s very normal to be in a situation where the information you are getting becomes monotonous or you get distracted for some other reason.

Make sure you are well-rested and energized so you can spend your energy learning things that matter to you[2].

social learning theory

    Be Mindful

    Mindfulness in its simplest terms is tuning into we’re experiencing in the present rather than thinking about something that could or did happen.

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    For social learning, you should be mindful only of the conversation or activity you want to learn from, filtering out other things that don’t matter to you as much at that moment. This way, your brain can make memories of what you are experiencing at that time only, which is the thing you want to learn.

    If you find yourself getting distracted, focus on deep breathing until the distractions fade away and you can bring your attention back to the learning opportunity at hand.

    For more tips on being mindful, check out this article.

    Don’t Multitask

    In today’s hyper-connected world, it’s normal, even expected, to be a multitasker. Being amongst people and checking emails on smartphones is now normal social behavior.

    However, when you want to maximize your social learning, don’t multitask. You should focus only on the interaction you want to learn from and block out all the rest.

    Don’t reach for your device, and don’t engage in multiple conversations simultaneously. In short, don’t have your mind and other senses deal with anything apart from learning.

    Engage Actively

    Similar to the above points, learning through social learning is fast and easy if you listen, speak, and observe actively.

    When you’re actively engaged, you respond to the situation by making relevant observations, mimicking important actions, and focusing on listening so you understand.

    To maximize the benefits of learning through social learning, be attentive to those who are around and looking to learn as well. A good example of this would be medical students on clinical rotations who are actively observing and listening to the doctor they are assigned to, and responding to his / her queries.

    Retention

    Paying attention is great for learning, but what about retaining the new information?

    Our brain has limited space to store data, so how do we ensure we remember things that are important to us?

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    These tips should help increase your retention power.

    Repeat to Remember

    Our brain starts developing from the moment we are born, absorbing things from people and experiences around us. It is learning constantly, and repeated experiences help reinforce the learning.

    A new experience opens up new neural pathways in our brain, and repetition of these experiences[3] strengthens the pathways, helping us retain the information better and for longer.

    Increase Brain Power

    You can improve retention by increasing your brain power: exercise regularly, sleep well, and stretch memory muscles by playing brain games.

    Here are more ways to help: How to Increase Brain Power: 10 Simple Ways to Train Your Brain

    Make Connections

    Connect a social learning opportunity with mnemonics. Use mental images, music, and anything else you want to retain and recall information.

    Link new information with old to reach new conclusions. You can use writing and speech for this.

    Remember That Less Is More

    When you are looking to retain knowledge through social learning, try taking in information in small quantities.

    Full day conferences, lectures that last for hours, and similar learning schedules do not have the desired effect. The human mind shuts down when it is faced with information overload, and the learning from these situations becomes minimal.

    Research shows that if you are looking to retain information from social learning opportunities, it’s a far better idea to put yourself in the situation more frequently for a shorter amount of time[4].

    Motivation

    The idea of a tangible reward or the emotional high that comes with the sense of accomplishment is what motivates us to keep doing a good thing, while the fear of repercussions or unpleasant outcomes is what keeps from doing something bad.

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    When a child observes that good behavior of a sibling results in them getting a treat, while bad behavior courts punishment, the child wanting a treat will be motivated toward good behavior by this social learning lesson.

    Motivation to learn new information and habits is a critical part of social learning. To stay motivated for social learning, you can try the following.

    Find a Role Model

    Finding a role model and basing your learning on them means you are motivated to duplicate the role model’s behavior.

    The medical students example fits well here again. The students will be motivated to observe and imitate better clinical skills and patient handling techniques by observing others around them and aspiring to be as good as they are.

    Make a Note

    Write down things that inspired you, and keep going back to them to stay motivated.

    Talk About It

    Talk to your role model or peers about what is motivating you in a shared social learning environment.

    An example of this is a person in rehab who is motivated to attend meetings by the presence of others who have managed to kick the addiction and are on the road to recovery.

    This is based on reinforcement or punishment. Positive motivation is reward-based motivation (satisfied patients) and negative motivation is punishment-based motivation (absolute dependence on drugs).

    Remember, no matter which type works for you, without motivation, there is no reason for us to do anything.

    Reproduction

    In the context of social learning, “reproduction” is not propagation of the learning, but the implementation of it.

    Reproducing learned information is the last stage of social learning. Once you pay attention to your surroundings and retain what you learned in the setting, you are then motivated to reproduce your learning so you can get the reward.

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    Bandura suggests direct reinforcement, vicarious reinforcement and self-reinforcement as the different ways to reproduce knowledge gained through social learning[5].

    Direct Reinforcement

    This is when you act on knowledge, knowing the result will be positive, or avoid the act because the result would be unpleasant.

    To repeat the medical students’ example here, direct reinforcement would be one of them practicing patient handling techniques learned from their role model, with the expectation that the result would be a satisfied patient.

    Vicarious Reinforcement

    Vicarious reinforcement in social learning is the application of knowledge that has not been learned first-hand but is learned by observing the consequences of the actions of a third party.

    A good example of this type of reinforcement would be learning not to take drugs after seeing the condition of a drug addict.

    Self-Reinforcement

    Self-reinforcement is when a person decides to reward him / herself for good behavior, or bring about a negative consequence as a result of an undesired situation.

    Think of a student who has promised herself a scoop of ice cream if she gets an A on an exam she studied hard for, or decided to ask for extra coaching if she got anything below a C.

    The Bottom Line

    Albert Bandura presented the social learning theory in the 1970s, and it immediately gained popularity because of its simplicity, practicality, and immense potential for success. While the theory never went out of fashion, it is now experiencing a resurgence for all the right reasons.

    If you want to become a smarter learner, take advantage of learning experiences and the social learning theory to learn faster!

    More About Effective Learning

    Featured photo credit: Alexis Brown via unsplash.com

    Reference

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