LEARNING TECHNIQUES

It is safe to say that no subject in the entire field of psychology has received more attention than the techniques of learning. The reason is probably that many psychologists are educators and see the great need and importance of improved methods of study. Fortunately the many investigations they have conducted have led to some fairly concrete and widely accepted findings. These will be summarized under a few general headings.Motivation. Although motivation is not itself a technique, it is a basic factor in all learning processes. The best methods in the world will have little value if the student does not have the desire and intention to learn— in fact, increased motivation will usually improve learning even when the procedures themselves remain unchanged. Extrinsic incentives such as report cards, honor rolls, and gold stars are effective with most but not all students; but studies indicate that intrinsic factors, such as interest, meaningfulness, and application to life usually have an even greater and more lasting effect. They also lead to self-motivation, which is generally superior to external motivation. Few students, however, can function in total independence of other people and without some form of external incentive.In general, both younger and older people react more positively to approval than to disapproval, although the most effective technique is often to couple constructive criticism with encouragement. Outright punishment and caustic criticism are seldom helpful, since they create tensions, resentment, and feelings of discouragement that interfere with the learning process.Rosenthal (1968) has recently shown that academic performance may also be influenced by “teacher expectation.” In one experiment, kindergarten through fifth grade pupils were given an intelligence test before the beginning of the school year, and their teachers were told that certain children were found to possess exceptional learning ability— though actually these children have been picked in advance of the test on a thoroughly random basis. A similar test was given at the end of the school year, and it was found that the allegedly exceptional children were, on the average, considerably ahead of the others in reasoning IQ. The teachers also judged them to be more interesting, curious, appealing, and well-adjusted. These differences were apparently due to the fact that the teachers believed the selected children were brighter, and subtly and often unwittingly communicated their higher expectations to the pupils through their interest and attention, tone of voice, posture, and facial expression. As a result, these pupils came to believe in themselves and expect more of themselves—and were consequently motivated to do better work. The expectations of the teachers therefore became a “self-fulfilling prophecy”—a prediction that brings about the conditions that make it come true.Expectancy effects apply both positively and negatively—for example, culturally disadvantaged children who are expected to do poorly tend to have a poor self-image and perform below their capacity. On the other hand, those who are expected and encouraged to do well often improve rapidly. The influence of expectation has been demonstrated not only in intellectual development but in many specific areas, such as remedial reading for retarded children, swimming ability of deprived children, classroom behavior of adolescent offenders, and symbol learning of preschool children in a Head Start program.Instructions. Efficiency in learning can be greatly increased by giving adequate preliminary instructions. Too often students flounder and waste time because they do not know what to look for or how to organize their thinking. This can be obviated by a brief introduction to the material and a preview that will help them to establish a frame of reference and to focus on the important features of the material. A session of this kind will enable them to make better use of specific techniques such as outlining and summarizing. It will also increase motivation by making the task more meaningful.Involvement. This factor is also closely related to motivation. The active participant learns more than the passive recipient. For this reason, group discussion methods usually prove superior to exclusive emphasis on lecturing. In one experimental study, a department head sought to increase the job-rating skill of one group of industrial supervisors by pointing out their errors, while a second group was asked to analyze their own behavior and decide for themselves where they had made mistakes. The first group failed to increase their skill, while the second improved greatly (Levine and Butler, 1952). Teachers have found many methods of involving their students more fully; among them are class projects, visits to historical sites, and individual research. One of the major principles of programmed learning is active involvement in the learning process. See this topic.

Cite this page: N., Pam M.S., "LEARNING TECHNIQUES," in PsychologyDictionary.org, November 28, 2018, https://psychologydictionary.org/learning-techniques/ (accessed October 18, 2019).
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