The nature of the learning process has been studied by psychologists and physiologists. Many experiments have been performed and the literature on the subject is voluminous. There has been continual progress in exploring what is not known about learning. Each year sees new discoveries hew hypotheses. Some proposed hypotheses were proven wrong and some older discoveries were made eligible for major modification. Subjecting individuals and classes to scientific measurements has lifted certain phases of learning from the realm of speculation to the realm of science. At present, there is no comprehensive theory concerning all aspects of learning. There is considerable disagreement about the language to be used in describing learning. Different writers hold conflicting positions on the degree of specificity of generality appropriate in talking about learning (Baxter Magolda, 2000).
The science of psychology is of significance for the light that it throws upon the nature of the learning process and upon the conditions most favourable to learning. Many other sciences have contributed a great deal to an understanding of the nature of the learning process and to the principal issues involved in the education of boys and girls. For example, sociology, physiology, biology, and biochemistry have added much to the improvement of educational procedures. In order to understand the teaching process, the students or the teacher must first know something about the learning process concerns the teacher no less than the pupils. Although the teacher cannot do the actual learning for the pupil, he can facilitate learning through effective teaching. Effective teaching and learning demand mutual understanding between teacher and learner.
It is imperative, therefore, that the nature of the learning process be clearly understood by the teachers so that the instructional activities may proceed in accordance with the basic factors of normal learning. It is apparent that of the teachers do not know how learning takes place they will not be able to accomplish in directing and guiding the learning activities of the pupils (Woodworth, 2004). They should know not only how learning takes place, but also how activities of the pupils are sufficiently and effectively directed to bring about the desired growth and development of the pupils.
Thesis Statement: This study intends to: (1) develop the ability to understand the meaning of the learning process; (2) develop the ability to understand the major laws if learning and their application to teaching; (3) to acquaint the students with the different factors which affect learning and: (4) develop an understanding of the psychological principles of learning.
A. Learning from different point of view
As in other areas of science there are, in the field of learning, various theories which attempt to explain its basic processes. Both in method and conclusion these theories have differed greatly, for they have sharply focused attention on only certain aspects of the total learning process. As a consequence, the behaviour which various experimenters and teachers have observed has been different. These various experimental studies have led to several ways of looking at the process of learning. Each has attempted to derive basic principles. At present time, however, it would be unwise for a teacher to adopt any one method as the way. Dealing with complex human learning demands that one give attention to all aspects of learning process (Gates, 2003).
A fundamental aspect of the present conception of learning is its meaning. The meaning of the learning process, explained from different point of views, is given as follows.
1. Learning from the point of view of the Mind Theory— This theory of the Faculty psychology was formulated by Christian Wolff in 1731. This doctrine held that the mind has mental powers or faculties, such as memory, reason, judgment, attention, will observation, and the like, each of which functions as a separate entity that can be improved through exercise or use. For example, faculty psychologists believed that the strengthening of memory could be achieved through the memorization of long and difficult passages. Such exercise was assumed to develop in the learner the power to remember well whatever material by which he later might be stimulated. According to the mind theory, all learning is training of the mind and developing the powers of its faculties. The believers of this theory assume that exercise of these powers in one area of content makes one more competent in the use of these same powers with other materials (Stephens, 2001).
2. Learning from the viewpoint of Connectionist’s Theory— This theory refers to the famous stimulus-response or S-R bond theory advanced by Thorndike. This point of view is based on the concepts that bonds or connections between situations and responses. The basis of learning is association between sense impression and impulses to action. This point of view, learning occurs through a change in the connection between a particular stimulus and a response, thus this theory regards a connection as the key to the understanding of the learning process. To the connectionists, the stimulus-response (S-R) explanation of learning covers all types of learning. This point of view is based on the old synaptic resistance theory. The S-R bond theory is now known as S-O-R theory (Woodworth, 2004).
3. Learning from the viewpoint of Behaviourism—Learning from the Behaviourist’s point of view, refers to the building up of conditioned reflexes or habit formation resulting from conditioning. According to Watson, conditioned reflex is central to learning as the unit out of which habits are formed. Watson used Pavlov’s experiments as the epitome of learning and made of the condition reflex as the unit of habit, and built his system on that foundation (Woodworth, 2004).
4. Learning from the viewpoint of the Gestaltists— Gestalt mean pattern, shape, form, or configuration. It implies that a set of stimulating circumstances takes place according to the relative value of various stimuli acting at the same time. This point of view recognizes that the whole is more than the sum of its parts, or that the whole gets its meaning from the parts. It can be seen that the parts can be understood only in relation to one another and that this relationship is determined by the nature of the whole (Stephens, 2001).
5. Learning from the viewpoint of the Progressivists— The concept of learning from the progressivists’ point of view is in conformity with the integrative point of view which is based on Gestalt theory of learning. Both recognize the importance of the learner in the learning process, his interests, his attitudes, and above all, his ability to utilize the past experiences in meeting new situations. Both believe that there is no substitute for experience in the process. Likewise, learning is conceived by both in terms of total growth of the child rather than the mastery of the subject-matter or change in behaviour. Both views are complementary and supplementary to each other (Stephens, 2001).
B. The Major Laws of Learning
Learning, whether it be that of an animal or of a human being, goes on in accordance with the laws of life. Improvement in teaching and learning can scarcely be made without a careful recognition of laws and principles upon which to base any valuable structure for the betterment of the learners. The results of experiments on learning have been generalized and stated as laws of learning. The laws of learning are attempts to state the more fundamental conditions favourable to the learning process. There is need for laws whether it be in a certain fields of knowledge, a particular course of study, or in the learning process itself. They are designed to make learning a continuous process of development when properly handled and controlled. The more the teacher understands the laws and conditions of learning, the more fully he brings his knowledge into relationship with the situation in the classroom, and the better and more effective his instruction is likely to become (Kohler, 2005).
C. Factors which may affect the Learning Process
It has been found out that the pupil’s difficulty in learning may be due to many factors within the child himself. Some of the important factors which may affect the learning process are as follows:
1. Intellectual factor—The term refers to the individual mental level. Success in school is generally closely related to the level of the intellect. Pupils with low intelligence often encounter serious difficulty in mastering schoolwork. Sometimes pupils do not learn because of special intellectual disabilities. A low score in one subject and his scores in other subjects indicate the possible presence of a special deficiency. Psychology reveals to us that an individual possesses different kind of intelligence. Knowledge of the nature of the pupils’ intellect is of considerable value in the guidance and the diagnosis of disability (Lashley, 2004).
2. Learning factors— Factors owing to lack of mastery of what has been taught, faulty methods of work or study, and narrowness of experimental background may affect the learning process of any student. If the good school proceeds to rapidly and does not constantly check up on the extent to which the student is mastering what is being taught, the student accumulates a number of deficiencies that interfere with successful progress (Lashley, 2004).
3. Physical factors— Under this group are included such factors such as health, physical development, nutrition, visual and physical defects, and glandular abnormality. It is generally recognized that ill health retards physical and motor development, and malnutrition interfere with learning and physical growth. Children suffering from visual, auditory, and other physical defects are seriously handicapped in developing skills such as reading and spelling (Lashley, 2004).
4. Mental factors— Attitude falls under mental factors. Attitudes are made up of organic and kinaesthetic elements. They are not to be confused with emotions that are characterized by internal visceral disturbance. Attitudes are more or less of definite sort. They play a large part in the mental organization and general behaviour of the individual. Attitudes are also important in the development of personality. Among these attitudes are interest, cheerfulness, affection, prejudice, openmindedness, and loyalty. Attitudes exercise a stimulating effect upon the rate of learning and teaching and upon the progress in school (Lashley, 2004).
5. Emotional and social factors— Personal factors, such as instincts and emotions, and social factors, such as cooperation and rivalry, are directly related to a complex psychology of motivation. It is a recognized fact that the various responses of the individual to various kinds of stimuli are determined by a wide variety of tendencies. Some of these innate tendencies are constructive and others are harmful. For some reason a student may have developed a dislike for some subject because he may fail to see its value, or may lack foundation. This dislike results in a bad emotional state (Lashley, 2004).
6. Teacher’s Personality— The teacher as an individual personality is an important element in the learning environment or in the failures and success of the learner. The way in which his personality interacts with the personalities of the pupils being taught helps to determine the kind of behaviour which emerges from the learning situation. The supreme value of a teacher is not in the regular performance of routine duties, but in his power to lead and to inspire his learners through the influence of his moral personality and example (Lashley, 2004).
7. Environmental factor— Physical conditions need for learning is under environmental factor. One of the factors that affect the efficiency of learning is the condition in which learning takes place. This includes the classroom, textbooks, equipment, school supplies, and other instructional materials. In the school and at the home, the conditions for learning must be favourable and adequate if teaching is to produce the desired results. It cannot be denied that the type and quality of instructional materials and equipment play an important part in the instructional efficiency of the school (Lashley, 2004).
D. Psychological Principles of Learning
To teach effectively, the teacher must understand the basic principles of learning. Based on the different concepts of the learning process and the laws that govern them, the following general principles of learning are presented for guidance in teaching:
1. Learning is considered as the acquisition of knowledge, habits, skills, abilities, and attitudes through the interaction of the whole individual and his total environment (Guthrie, 2002).
2. Learning is meaningful if it is organized in such a way as to emphasize and call for understanding, insight, initiative, and cooperation. When the learner is capable of gaining insight or understanding into the learning situation, then and only then will learning take place (Guthrie, 2002).
3. Learning is facilitated by motives or drives. Needs, interests, and goals are fundamental to the learning process. If the individual has to learn, he must have some goal to be accomplished. Learning is best when the learner knows and understands his motive in learning (Guthrie, 2002).
As a conclusion, learning is often confused with maturation or physical growth. It is obvious that some of the ways in which man becomes different are tied up very closely with his physical growth. Our knowledge concerning learning and the teaching process has thus undergone profound development in the last twenty-five years. Once it seemed sufficient for the educational psychologist to formulate a set of principles of learning around fairly simple concepts of exercise and effect. The teacher applied these principles through the techniques of drill, reward and punishment. But with the development of theory and research, the psychologist has found it necessary to expand and to refine his understanding of learning with consequent important implication for teaching.