Types of Learning


Typesof Learning

Humansand other species acquire learning effortlessly in their day-to-dayexperiences. The definition of learning is “aprocess based on experiences that result in a relatively consistentchange in behaviour or behavior potential” (Gerrig et al., 2011,203). There are three major types of learning: classicalconditioning, operant conditioning and observational learning.


Classicalconditioning is a straightforward form of learning whereby an eventor stimulus predicts the occurrence of another event or stimulus. Itis a type of learning that happens when a conditioned stimulus ispaired to another stimulus that is not conditioned, up to when theconditioned stimulus is able to elicit a response on its own. Anystimulus, for example, food powder (referring to food that has beenconverted into powder), which naturally prompts a reflexive behavior,refers to as an unconditioned stimulus (UCS). The behavior thatresults from the UCS is the unconditioned response (UCR). A neutralstimulus refers to a conditioned stimulus (CS) because its power toprompt behavior is conditioned on its relationship with the UCS.

Theresponse produced by the conditioned stimulus is the conditionedresponse. Therefore, while nature creates the UCS and UCRconnections, classical conditioning produces learning that createsthe CS and CR connections. Classical conditioning can best beunderstood when the other main type of learning is introduced,operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is the learning wherebythe possibility of a response or reaction is changed through a changein its effects or consequences. Operant plainly means operating onthe environment or affecting it (Gerrig et al., 2011).

Thedifference between classical and operant conditioning is that in theformer, the CR is caused by the CS and is as a result called anelicited behavior. This is unlike the emitted behavior in the case ofoperant conditioning because it takes place in a situation thatcontains many stimuli and seems to be introduced by the organism. Thesubject therefore makes the choice of how and when to respond. Theother difference is that in classical conditioning CR is caused by astimulus that occurs before the behavior, which is in contrast to theoperant conditioning, which is affected by the response after thebehavior, to be precise, by the consequences.


Operantconditioning raises the concepts of positive reinforcement andnegative reinforcement. A good example of classical conditioning iswhen someone eats a type of food for their first time and becomessick they will at once associate sickness with the food and learn tonot eat it in the future. A good example of operant conditioning istalking to a cute student or preparing breakfast these behaviorshave been rewarded in the past, for example the happiness that comeswith talking to the cute student or the energy that comes with takingbreakfast (Pastorino&ampDoyle-Portillo, 2011).

Positivereinforcement occurs when a behavior is followed by the delivery ofan appetitive stimulus. A good example is someone will brushanother’s hair if the consequence of the action is a peaceful restor just a response they find satisfying. Negative reinforcement isany event that leads or increases a behavior whose result is theremoval of the reinforcer. For example, a music teacher will ceasepraising a student, if the student starts skipping training lessons. Punishment is another method for decreasing the likelihood of aresponse. Any stimulus that decreases the likelihood of a responsewhen it is made dependent on that response is a punisher. Positivepunishment is when an activity or behavior is followed by the resultsof an unwanted stimulus. Negative punishment occurs when a behavioris followed by the elimination of an appetitive stimulus. Thedifference between these two punishments can be understood well withthe following examples: when someone dresses scantily during the coldseason they will catch a flu that punishes them so that they are lesslikely to fail to dress in warm clothing in future. Negativepunishment is when, for example, a girl stops seeing a boy after theboy raises his voice to the girl the boy learns not to raise hisvoice in the future (Carter&amp Seifert, 2013Gerrig et al., 2011).


Assuggested by the name, observational learning is the learning thatoccurs through watching a model. People can effortlessly watch andlearn from the behaviors of other people. By observing theexperiences of others, one can quickly gain information regardingbehaviors which are expected to lead to good or bad outcomes. A verygood example is the origin of the popular phrase, ‘money see,monkey do’, in reference to animal groups that quickly learn fromwatching others, revealing the benefits of a way of life similar tohumans. A monkey will watch another monkey get bitten by a snake andwill consequently avoid the snake. In humans, a child will try adance move just like he or she saw another child dance on a video(Pastorino&amp Doyle-Portillo, 2011).

Inconclusion, these three types of learning and the ideologiessurrounding them (positive and negative reinforcement, and positiveand negative punishment) have exemplified the explanation oflearning: that learning is a process that can only occur throughexperience that learning is demonstrated through behavior changeand that it is essential for this behavior change to be relativelyconsistent.


Carter,K., &amp Seifert, C. M. (2013). Learnpsychology.Burlington, MA: Jones &amp Bartlett Learning.

Gerrig,R. J., Zimbardo, P. G., Campbell, A. J., Cumming, S. R., &ampWilkes, F. J. (2011). Psychologyand Life.Pearson Higher Education AU.

Pastorino,E., &amp Doyle-Portillo, S. (2011). Whatis psychology? Essentials.Australia: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.