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Thorndike’s Laws of Learning

Many years ago while developing Air Force training courses for U.S. Space Command, I
became fascinated with the use of computers in learning. Also while working in the training
area, I became a believer in the principles of Thorndike’s Laws of Learning. I have tried to
incorporate the essence of those laws of learning and to incorporate computer technology as I
have dealt with my child’s learning:
The Law of Readiness: This law asserts that before a student can learn, he or she has to be
ready to learn. That means making sure the student is fed, free from too much worry,
comfortable, and well aware of the importance of what is to be learned. In other words, the
student must be prepared to learn. One exercise I have done with my child is researching the
admissions criteria for different schools. We have also compared the costs of different
institutions. We have even gone as far as to look at scholarship requirements. We have been
doing this since the sixth grade. By understanding the requirements now, hopefully, we won’t
be running around in the junior and senior years trying to get things in order. It is awfully
difficult to bring up that grade point average in a couple of semesters, especially if the young
person is stressed by time constraints.
The Law of Exercise: It makes perfect sense to me that with all other things being equal,
those things most repeated are most often remembered. So, we make sure that practice is
part of the study routine — especially when dealing with essential facts and rules. The
Internet and various software can be very useful in providing repetition in a not-so-routine
The Law of Effect: This law deals with ensuring the learning experience is a positive one. I
remember clearly when I began to dislike math — a subject I had loved until I had the wrong
teacher. I remember my worst days in school. I remember my best days. I remember the
teachers who were creative and inspiring and know that the best skills I possess today are in
the areas they taught. That is the law of effect at work.
The Law of Primacy: Goodness, have you ever tried to unlearn something you learned how to
do wrong? This is the Law of Primacy, which states that what is learned first is learned best.
You really have to make sure that the resources that your child uses are good resources.
Every textbook is not a good textbook; every website is not a good website; and every
teacher is not a good teacher. And assuming that these tools are good simply because they
exist or because the school system uses them can cause your child a world of harm. A parent
really has to do more than have these tools available. If you sit in on a teacher and you
cannot follow the instruction, then there is a very good chance your child is not following that
instruction. And the same rule applies with other resources as well.
The Law of Intensity: This law deals with the vividness of the learning experience. If I take my
child to the zoo to learn about animals, he or she will learn more than if I just explain the
animals. However, there are so many places out there that I neither have the time nor the
money to take my child. The Internet has been especially useful in getting my child to those
places. And let’s not forget the library. Before computers the library is how my parents took
me to far away places. It still works and every library that we have visited recently also has
wonderful computer resources as well. So, if you don’t have a computer at home, that is
certainly no excuse for not spending some time with your child using this wonderful
technology. And I still buy books for presents — wonderful, exciting, colorful books.
The Law of Recency: What is learned most recently is remembered best. And that is why
those reviews right before the test are so very important. We have also found the hundreds of
little quizzes on the Internet to be helpful in this area.

It seems after career. I truly believe that the resources of the Internet have helped my daughter to tap into all of her talents. Most people have definite ideas about what they want to achieve. the force that impels a person toward a goal. These sites have also helped with the budget because free resources are definitely cheaper than a lot of the software out there — although I have definitely invested in that for Christmas and birthdays. Effective instructors seek ways to create new learning situations to meet the trainees' goals. An individual's learning may involve changes in any of three areas: Manner of perceiving and thinking. All learning stems from experience. This a child who is a member of the school basketball team. • Laws of Learning            INTRODUCTION: Anyone who intends to guide and direct the learning activities of others requires a detailed understanding of the nature and processes of learning. The trainee can learn only from his or her own experiences. nor can he or she pour predigested learning into the trainee's head. Thus. Motivation. Instructors are masters of many skills. you are wholly wrong — although I don’t think this would necessarily be a bad thing. A person's knowledge is a result of their experiences and manner of perceiving them and reacting to them. But be that as it may. Nevertheless. While I’m doing some of those household duties. the time I want to spend with my child is not teaching time but chill out time. several clubs and organizations. No two people have exactly the same experiences. There is just not enough time in the school day for your child to learn all the things he or she needs to learn. a team leader for the Odyssey of the Mind competition. For example. What they teach demands a high degree of competence in presenting subject matter. Physical behavior (motor skills). If you think that I have developed a computer geek. This can be either weak or strong motivation depending on the situation. learning cannot be literally described but the conditions under which it occurs can be identified. DEFINITION OF LEARNING What is "learning?" Learning takes place when there is a change in a student's behavior. Emotional reactions or attitudes. Internal Experience. I have tried hard to make time for teaching as well. The instructor cannot learn for the trainee. by repeated drill. the first runner-up for her school pageant and a social butterfly. The instructor should understand these conditions and apply them when teaching. And the resources on the Internet have definitely helped.    We have heard it time and time again — whether we believe it or not. HOW they teach depends largely on their understanding of the learning process and the ability to apply this understanding. Learning refers to any of these changes when they occur as a result of an experience. CHARACTERISTICS OF THE LEARNING PROCESS Purposeful Process. I have found to be equally the case that there is also little time after school for me to dedicate to my child’s learning. They have goals or clear objectives. And then we can get together afterward and talk about the site as well as the rest of our day. housework and the business of running a household. I can park my child right in front of that computer at a website that I have reviewed. It may not be directly observable. Learning is based on observation of behavior changes that result from a person's interaction with their environment. is the instructor's most effective tool to encourage learning. a trainee can learn to repeat a list of .

Thorndike in the early 1900's postulated several "Laws of Learning. Obviously. and the appropriate time to teach it. These trainees may be used to help others during their practice. They soon recognize this as a natural and predictable problem because trainees seldom learn at the same rate. the trainees learn teamwork and cooperation. Over the years. You may be fortunate and have some trainees who excel." that seemed generally applicable to the learning process. All trainees do not learn at the same rate. and the most famous and still generally accepted. While learning dormitory arrangement. Instructors must recognize these differences in determining the amount of subject matter to teach. however. and show them how to correct them. in essence. The instructor should understand. You must identify their weak areas. However. but. and the law of recency. the trainee must be actively involved in the experience. Laws of Learning    Edward L. they have been restated and supplemented. Learning is multidimensional. In other words. The first three are the basic laws: the law of readiness. they learn attention to details and following explicit instructions. trainees can make the list an actual part of their lives only if they understand them well enough to apply the ideas that they represent correctly in real situations. experience. the "laws" do provide the instructor with insight into the learning process that will assist in providing a rewarding experience to the trainee. the rate of which they will cover the material. However. it is up to the instructor to bring them up to the level of the rest of the flight. they may be attributed to him. . The fast learning trainees are relieved from boredom and the slow learning trainees receive the benefit of the peers' expertise. desire to learn. background. Differences in rates of learning are based on differences in intelligence. a combination of activities occurs at the same time to make the experience complete.   words or to recite the principles of leadership. While practicing drill. Learning is more than simply exposing a trainee to an idea or a skill. Multidimensional. As with anything else relative to the instruction and learning process. The trainee must become actively involved in the learning situation. one cannot safely assume that trainees can apply what they know just because they correctly quote a paragraph from a textbook. and countless other psychological. The laws that follow are not necessarily stated as Professor Thorndike first stated them. the law of effect. The other three laws were added later as a result of experimental studies: the law of primacy. the law of intensity. but just any kind of involving activity will not suffice. emotional and physical factors. interests. learning a physical skill requires experience in performing that skill. other educational psychologists have found that the learning process is indeed more complex than the "laws" identified. bring the areas to their attention. New instructors are likely to be discouraged when they discover that a well-planned lesson does not enable them to teach all the trainees with equal effectiveness. Multidimensional develops new concept. Likewise. This activity can take many forms. it is possible to learn other things while concentrating on or practicing the main subject. Active Process. Individual Process. Since learning comes only through experience. Since that time. This serves a twofold purpose. Once the slower trainees are identified. the law of exercise. nothing that we do is a singular item. The trainee must engage in the appropriate activity. Even attitudes are developed or modified as an individual reacts emotionally to a stimulus. that mental habits are always learned through practice.

to recall a telephone number dialed a few minutes ago. this means that what they teach the first time must be correct. dramatic or exciting learning experience teaches more than a routine or boring experience. restate. or reemphasize important matters at the end of a lesson to make sure that trainees remember them instead of inconsequential details. the more likely there is to be a change in behavior (learning). and they will not learn much if they see no reason for learning. while the things learned some time ago are remembered with more difficulty. Learning will always be much more effective when a feeling of satisfaction. and this simplifies the instructor's job. SUMMARY: . For the instructor. restatement. review. For the trainees' first learning experience should be positive and functionally related to training. Repetition consists of many types of activities. It is more difficult to un-teach a subject than to teach it correctly the first time. not perfect unless the task is taught correctly. Law of Exercise The Law of Exercise stresses the idea that repetition is basic to the development of adequate responses. Remember that practice makes permanent. When trainees are ready to learn. for example. it must be corrected. If trainees have a strong purpose. An experience that produces feelings of defeat. but is within their capability to understand and solve. Practicing a skill or new concept just before using it will ensure a more effective performance. manual drill and physical application. Law of Recency Things most recently learned are best remembered. Law of Primacy This law states that the state of being first. but it is usually impossible to recall a telephone number dialed a week ago. and similar activities are all based on the principle that the more recent the exercise. they may have little interest in learning. pleasantness. It is sometimes easy. If outside responsibilities or worries weigh heavily on trainees' minds or if their personal problems seem unsolvable. learning continues and is enforced. they are more willing to participate in the learning process. they usually make more progress than trainees who lack motivation. including recall. things most often repeated are easiest remembered. but every time it is practiced. a clear objective and a sound reason for learning. Review. often creates a strong. The instructor must provide opportunities for trainees to practice or repeat the task. Instructors recognize the law of recency when they plan a lesson summary or a conclusion of the lecture. Law of Effect This law involves the emotional reaction of the learner.       Law of Readiness The Law of Readiness means a person can learn when physically and mentally adjusted (ready) to receive stimuli. A trainee will learn more from the real thing than from a substitute. almost unshakeable impression. The mind can rarely recall new concepts or practices after a single exposure. Repeat. Usually it is better to show trainees that a problem is not impossible. and models do much to intensify the learning experiences of trainees. Law of Intensity The principle of intensity states that if the stimulus (experience) is real. If a subject is incorrectly taught. the more effective the performance. Individuals learn best when they are ready to learn. anger or confusion in a trainee is unpleasant. warm-ups. frustration. Demonstrations. or reward accompanies or is a result of the learning process. A vivid. Learning is strengthened when it is accompanied by a pleasant or satisfying feeling and that it is weakened when it is associated with an unpleasant experience. skits. Instructors should be cautious about using negative motivation.

student learning is continuously measured during teacher instruction. Student learning is measured through both formal and informal forms of assessment. Learn to recognize the trainees' physical. teachers and students play an equally active role in the learning process. Students are viewed as “empty vessels” whose primary role is to passively receive information (via lectures and direct instruction) with an end goal of testing and assessment. and class participation.  Teacher-Centered Approach to Learning Teachers are the main authority figure in this model. teaching and assessment are viewed as two separate entities. Help to motivate your trainees toward a goal and lessen their frustration by holding confusion to a minimum. In this model. Remember that learning is multidimensional and capitalize on this fact. It is the primary role of teachers to pass knowledge and information onto their students. Student learning is measured through objectively scored tests and assessments.You will soon become directly responsible for literally hundreds of learning situations. The teacher’s primary role is to coach and facilitate student learning and overall comprehension of material. student portfolios. emotional. including group projects.  Student-Centered Approach to Learning While teachers are an authority figure in this model. The degree of knowledge that you impart to your trainees will depend a great deal on how well you can apply your understanding of the learning process. and attitudinal states and the effect you can have on these states employing the characteristics and laws of learning. Teaching and assessment are connected. .