The Behaviourist Approach To Learning

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Show an understanding and discuss how people learn the different approaches to learning and explain the capabilities of the brain and the relevance of academic study and finally discuss how ‘mind-mapping can be used as an aid to storing and retrieving of information.

Learning implies the process of gaining and acquiring new information and knowledge in order to improve the level of proficiency and ability of the learner. There are different approaches to learning, including various methods and types of studying, suitable to each learner. Some examples include the behaviorist, cognitive, humanist, and social learning approaches, etc. Furthermore, using experiential and reflective learning alongside the above approaches would help the learner to obtain a clearer picture and engaged sense with the material. In addition, the assistance and support provided by a teacher or tutor play a massive role in the learning phase.

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The behaviourist approach to learning revolves around the idea of learners responding to some form of stimuli in their environment. Therefore, the role of the learning facilitator is to offer relevant and suitable incentives in order for the individual to respond efficiently and acquire the needed information and experience.

The behaviourist approach sustains that all behaviours are acquired through interaction with the surroundings, through a process named conditioning, which suggests learning by association. This kind of learning takes place when two stimuli are repeatedly paired together to the point where both stimuli receive the same response, which consequently could be either positive or negative. Classical conditioning can be observed when looking at the dogs experiment conducted by Ivan Pavlov in 1972, when it was also discovered. Pavlov’s research classically conditioned dogs to salivate on the sound of a bell ringing. In consequence, the learned behaviour was the result of experience achieved through the development of repetitive action associated with training. Hence, behavior is simply a response to environmental stimuli.

In the social learning theory, the learners can learn aspects directly or indirectly by observing the external and internal facts or events (Rivera-Pelayo, 2016). Therefore, the social learning approach has a significance in learning through interpersonal and face-to-face interactions. However, with such an approach, people can act selectively based on their agreeableness.

The cognitive approach to learning communicates the role of the active mind in processing learning opportunities and developing. This type of learning approach involves both the facilitator and the learner to engage with comprehension, however the role of the tutor is to choose the best method to convey understanding. John Dewey (1938), a well-known classical cognitive theorist, believes learning involves ‘learning to think’, saying the process of learning is more than doing a task or activity as it requires reflection and actual learning from this. Dewey’s statement suggests a deeper walk into the process of gaining information, implying the fact that a wide range of activities, including experiential learning, should revolve around the term “learning”, leading to attaining a state of equilibrium in the result of thought. This would enable an individual to efficiently solve problems and retain information in order to prepare for future experiences at the same time.

Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle clearly shows learning processes to be dynamic and repetitive by moving through certain phases. The four aspects of his learning cycle show experience being constantly reviewed, and impressions challenged or confirmed.

Kolb’s Learning Cycle

The first phase of the cycle is to engage in a new activity which consequently generates new concrete experience. The involvement of the individual in the activity would help them to obtain new adventures. Secondly, in the second phase reflective observation allows the participant to reflect on the activity and the way experience can be gathered from it. During abstract conceptualization, the acquiring of new skills and knowledge occurs, allowing the individual to broaden its competence level. Lastly, the fourth phase of the learning cycle, active experimentation, encourages the learner to apply the experience and knowledge gained in different contexts and situations, making the skills to be transferable.

The humanist learning approach looks at the way through which various points of view of right and wrong dissolved into a variety of potentially equally valuable truths, implying a pluralistic approach which conveys the societal ideology of valuing diversity.

The reflective cycle denotes a sequence of events that can be used by an individual in order to shape the experience and skills gained from one surrounding in a transferable and beneficial way to another, expanding one’s ability to analyze and reflect on its own capabilities.

The brain acts as the center of control of all movements and thoughts. It is part of the central nervous system (CNS) and consists of five brain structures: Hypothalamus, Pituitary Gland, Medulla Oblongata, Cerebellum and Cerebrum. Each of these parts are located in different areas of the brain and perform specific functions. Out of all these dimensions, the cerebrum is the largest part of the human brain and it is associated with higher brain functions involving thought, memory and action. Moreover, the areas under the cerebrum are specialised in functions such as hearing, tough, short and long-term memory which are imperative in terms of learning. The cerebrum is divided into two halves- the right and the left hemispheres. Each hemisphere controls the opposite side of the body, meaning that if a stroke occurs on the right side of the brain, your left part of the body could be weak or paralysed. It has been found that the left hemisphere controls speech, comprehension, writing, and arithmetic whereas the right hemisphere controls creativity, artistic, special ability, and musical skills. However, the brain can only function at its best when it is fuelled with enough energy and nutrition to process information. Being physically active, participating socially and getting enough sleep are a few of the main factors that massively influence brain’s performance and ability to focus. Pushing limits and using the brain to its fullest potential could effectively be achieved through challenges which require continuous learning, completing tasks by deadline and teaching yourself new things.

The learning process takes place mainly at synapses, which are junctions between neurons, and are able to control the strength of the signals transmitted between neurons. The strength of synapses can be altered by the number of stimuli received during the learning process as they possess the ability to strengthen or weaken over time. This occurrence is called synaptic or functional plasticity and is described as a natural process that enables organisms to respond appropriately to surroundings and changes in the environment. The quality of the neurotransmitter released into a synapse alongside the availability of neurotransmitter receptors located on the postsynaptic membrane can cause the plastic change to occur. The term “plastic” is also attributed to the brain’s ability to change throughout people’s lives due to consistent learning which continuously changes the physical structure of the brain up to the end of life. As a result, the more one learns and acquires along the way, the more their brain will change, and the more “plastic” it will be. Consequently, these structural changes alter the functional organization of the brain, implying that learning can organize and reorganize the brain. An incredibly amazing feature of the brain is its ability to grow as we learn. While it may be incredible, it is also sensitive, as staying up late and feeling fatigued can affect the cortex which is the main information storing area of the brain. This suggests that workload and learning hours should be broken down into fewer periods of time carried out more often and evenly consistently in order to improve brain capacity and memory strength. For this reason, learning things slowly over a period of time is more beneficial for memory. Scientists have also discovered that different parts of the brain may be ready to learn at different times throughout life.

Thomas Hainmuller, a doctoral student stated that the mature brain generates new neurons in a few regions only. Therefore, they believe that learning-related changes take place in the structures that connect individual nerve cells, and that the major mechanism that allows the formation of memory is somehow related to synapses. (Stephanie Heyl, 2014)

Neuron activity in the brain orchestra through synapse

The researchers claimed that the frequent interactions of the neurons allow bonding and helps to transmit the information accurately. On the other hand, if the neurons do not interact frequently then instances like faulty memory or incomplete transmission can be observed (Ford, 2013)

Mind mapping could be used as an aid to storing and retrieving of information through creating an internal graphical image of information which provides a universal key to unlock the potential of the brain. This technique utilises a full range of cortical skills- word, image, number, logic, rhythm, colour and special awareness through a single uniquely powerful manner. The use of mind mapping when learning and memorising information helps visualise the central idea more clearly defined and allows additional concepts to be added easily. Moreover, it improves memory through associating ideas and concepts by encouraging identifying keywords. Mind maps also stimulate the brain to generate more ideas, especially when creating them as usually they would start from the middle/centre of the page. Using an image or a picture as the central idea could stimulate imagination, allowing focus on the main idea and producing numerous branches which break down information accordingly based on priority, improving recall and memorization. Mind mapping helps to attain the task by utilizing brainstorming and different project management tools. The diagrams supported by the mind map are usually stored in the memory for a long-term period of time than any other presentation. It is the mind mapping technique that permits the encoding of the information in a visual form to memorize it efficiently. One of the few main roles of mind mapping would include: improved productivity and writing skills, enhanced understandability, ignited creativity and the most beneficial- flexibility. A study carried out by Farrand, Hussain, and Hennessey (2001) found that Mind Mapping improved the long-term memory of factual information in medical students by 10%. They reported that “Mind Maps provide an effective study technique when applied to written material”, suggesting that they are likely to encourage a deeper level of processing for better memory organisation. Therefore, strategic planning for learning can be enhanced through mind mapping techniques. Another study communicates that mind mapping showed to lift the sense of enthusiasm to the classroom as it increases student confidence in their skills in mastering assigned materials (Mento et al, 1999). In addition, using this type of learning technique for presentations has helped executive students handle challenging questions with confidence.

On top of all these vast and numerous benefits that mind mapping offers, there is one more aspect that this learning technique particularly helps with- memorizing. Mind mapping aids efficient encoding and storage of details, allowing for easy recognition and retrieval of the information assimilated previously for a long period of time. This enables the learner to improve memory storage and supply of formation in the brain for long periods of time. Evidence also shows that mind mapping is an excellent tool for when it comes to planning and organising one’s thinking before starting writing, aiding support for not getting stuck on a project. As a result, the technique helps develop ideas and lay them down in a way that they relate to each other. Therefore, a mind map can be seen as a hierarchical structure which demonstrates the relationship between the variables found around the topic it is liked to.  


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