Psychology Of Learning And Behavioural Learning Theory

Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 5 December 2022

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Psychology of learning allows educators and researchers to understand strategies of learning. Many psychologists agree that there can be different ways to learn, as some people find certain learning methods easier than others. Understanding the types of the learning process can help professionals effectively apply this in the workplace. In this article, we discuss what the psychology of learning is, understand the definition of behavioural learning theory and explore its types.

What is psychology of learning?

Psychology of learning is an applied branch combining the theories of psychology and ways of learning. It is the scientific study of human behaviour in the fields of education, research, employment and other related sectors. The main concern of using psychology of learning is to find principles and techniques related to the growth of students or employees. Learning is something that can unite different professionals.

The brain retains information and facilitates the process of learning. This is an experience acquisition process and can be a very strategic approach to build retention of information and modification of experience. Here are some categories of learning:

  • Classical conditioning

  • Operant conditioning

  • Observational learning

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Types of learning processes

The learning process as a whole can have various categories. Here are some of the most important types of learning processes:

  • Attitude learning: Positive and negative behaviour may completely depend on the attitude of an individual and it can also shape the learning process to a great extent.

  • Concept learning: The learning associated with the things which individuals learn since their childhood is concept learning. It may include cognitive processes like intelligence, thinking and reasoning.

  • Learning of principles: Principle-based learning can help individuals finish their work in a much more efficient way.

  • Verbal learning: It includes the symbols, sounds, figures and languages which we use for communication. Verbal learning may involve memorising so that the retention of information becomes easy for individuals.

  • Motor learning: It includes learning and improving everyday skills that include muscle coordination, such as driving, running and walking.

  • Discrimination Learning: This includes learning to behave differently depending on the situation.

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What is behavioural learning theory?

Many social psychologists study behaviour and find ways to affect it in a positive way. Behavioural learning theory is an important tool in the field of psychological learning. It is a study of how individuals intend to learn things and the discovery of ways to measure their learning.

Concepts of behavioural learning theory

Here are the concepts of behavioural learning theory:

Classical conditioning

The classical conditioning concept explains the process of learning through stimulus-response connection or association. It produces a behavioural or conditioned response by associating it with an unrelated, unconditioned stimulus. The classical conditioning concept can assist in various behavioural therapies. Here are elements of classical conditioning:

  • Unconditioned stimulus: This is a stimulus that produces an unconditioned response from a situation is known as an unconditioned stimulus. For example, contraction of pupils when the eyes get exposed to bright light and secretion of saliva when food is in the mouth.

  • Conditioned stimulus: This is a substitute stimulus that may cause the same response as an unconditioned stimulus. A conditioned stimulus triggers an individual to react or respond to a particular thing simply because it is associated with something else.

  • Unconditioned response: It is an unlearned response that may occur as a reaction to an unconditioned stimulus. An unconditioned response is an automatic reflex that is natural.

  • Conditioned response: It is a learned response that may occur in the case of a previously neutral stimulus. Conditioned responses may require training in classical conditioning.

Classical conditioning example

Here is an example that explains the concept of classical conditioning:

In his well-known studies, Pavlov experimented with the salivation of dogs. He was studying the role of saliva in digestion, but during his research he noticed that the dogs start salivating as soon as they enter the room. This inspired Pavlov to perform many experiments using different types of sounds to study the response of the dog's salivation.

Each time the food is provided to the dog, he starts sounding the buzzer and notices the dog starts salivating immediately after hearing the sound of the buzzer. Later, he tried sounding the buzzer without giving the food and the dog started salivating, even in the absence of the food. The associated the sound of the buzzer with the food. By looking at Pavlov's experiment, you can understand the following four factors of classical conditioning:

  • The natural salivation of the dog in response to seeing or smelling the food was the unconditioned response.

  • The sight or the smell of the food was the unconditioned stimulus.

  • The ringing of the buzzer previously without any food is a conditioned stimulus.

  • The salivation of the dog in response to the sound of the buzzer, even in the absence of food, is a conditioned response.

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Operant conditioning

Operant conditioning is a concept of a behavioural theory of learning that allows to study and focus on observable behaviours of an individual. Edward Thorndike did the first research on this concept of behavioural learning by developing a law that states the consequences of an individual's previous actions can determine how they choose behaviours.

Concepts of operant conditioning

Here are the two key concepts of operating conditioning:


Reinforcement is a principle that helps in operant conditioning by enhancing the likelihood of a particular behavioural response. There can be a lot of ways through which an individual can strengthen a particular behaviour. Some of the preferable ways include implementing higher frequency along with longer duration, response with short latency and greater magnitude. In operant conditioning, reinforcement can be both positive and negative. In this scenario, positive reinforcement involves rewards for certain behaviours, while negative reinforcement involves consequences for certain behaviours.

Example: Anuradha realises that when she smiles at her baby, her baby smiles back. As she enjoys the consequences of her actions, she continues to do it. Here, the smile of her baby is a positive reinforcer. Anuradha also knows that when her baby needs food, he cries. So, she always feeds the baby at the right time to stop the crying. Here, the crying of her baby is a negative reinforcer.


In operant conditioning, punishment is something that decreases the likelihood of a behaviour. Punishment can be both positive and negative in nature. Positive punishment can add unpleasant stimuli and decrease a particular behaviour. On the other hand, a punishment negative in nature can remove something after an unfavourable behaviour.

Example: Anubhav forgets to study for a test and receives poor marks. So, he is likely to remember to study for the next test. As the behaviour of forgetting to study is decreasing, this can be an example of positive punishment.

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Observational learning

Observational learning occurs when an individual watches, replicates and keeps the information about the behaviour. This concept of learning can be helpful during childhood. Observational learning can motivate learning without bringing any change in behaviour. It can produce a new set of behaviours and can also increase or decrease the frequency of previously owned behaviours. Many individuals also call observational learning modelling or social learning.

The models involved in this concept of learning can be the individuals who perform the imitated behaviour. Observational learning can take place and benefit individuals at any point in their life. With time, individuals may forbid some of their behaviours in the absence of regular exposure to those behaviours. Observational learning can help encourage previously forbidden behaviours. For some individuals, observational learning can also encourage them to adopt a new behaviour that is different from the model they are watching.

Example: If a model is playing the guitar, it may be unnecessary that all the individuals watching will adapt and develop a behaviour of learning guitar. It is possible that some of them can get the motivation to play piano while others can get the motivation to play the saxophone. During observational learning, it can be important for the observers to pay attention to what is happening around them.

Likewise, making a connection with the tailoring instructors can allow individuals to identify and observe their behaviours. Remembering the observed behaviour may depend on the ability of the learner to understand the tailoring lessons in a detailed way.

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