Running head: LEARNING THEORY 1

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Learning Theory

Xiaofei Zhang

California State University, Monterey Bay

Learning Theory


Nancy Lockwood

April 08
, 2013




My capstone project is
to design
Chinese learning
for adult learners

in DLI to enhance
their listening and motivation. The project design is

based on the following learning theories:
B.F. Skinner’s operant conditioning, Robert Gagne’s Conditions of Learning, and Cognitive
Models and a Theory of Academic Motivation.

Section 1

Key Concepts and Principles

Representative theorists

B.F. Skinner’
s operant conditioning

B.F. Skinner’s
research indicated that the outcome produced by a response was the important
event in changing behavior. He later turned his attention to the school setting with the
development of the teaching machine and a technology

of classroom teaching (Skinner, 1968a,
1968b, 1973, as cited in Gredler, Chapter 4, 1997, p.96

Thorndike’s research serves as the basis for Skinner to understand behavioral change. Skinner
began his work with an analysis of Pavlov’s empirical model
of behavioral change (Gredler,
Chapter 4, 1997, p.97).

Robert Gagne’s Conditions of Learning

Robert Gagne began with the complexity and variety that characterizes human learning and
developed a system to account for that variety. Robert Gagne identified th
ree principles of
effective training instruction: (a) to provide instruction on the set of component tasks that build
toward the final task, (b) to ensure that each component task is mastered, and (c) to sequence the
component tasks to ensure optimal trans
fer to the final task (Gagne, 1962a, 1962b, as cited in
Gredler, Chapter5, 1997, p. 141).



Cognitive Models and a Theory of Academic Motivation

John W. Atkinson’s (1958, 1964) model of achievement motivation identified the individual’s
disposition to either

strive for success or avoid failure as key motivating factors. The current
value model expands Atkinson’s (1958) model, this model focuses on social
psychological reasons for students’ choices, and tasks in the model refer
to domains or courses

Gredler, Chapter11, 1997, p. 391

The key factors that influences learning

B.F. Skinner’s operant conditioning

Skinner (1950) specifically defined learning as behavioral change. “Learning is not doing

it is
changing what we do”.
three essential components of learning that Skinner derived from
Thorndike’s paradigm are the discriminative stimulus (Sd), the response (R), and the reinforcing
stimulus (Sreinf.) (Gredler, Chapter 4, 1997, p. 99

Robert Gagne’s Conditions of

Gagne maintained that learning is an important causal factor in development; human learning is
cumulative; human learning is both complex and diverse (Gredler, Chapter5, 1997, p. 146). The
five varieties of learning identified by Gagne are as foll
ows: verbal information, intellectual
skills, motor skills, attitudes, and cognitive strategies.

Cognitive Models and a Theory of Academic Motivation

Three analyses of motivational processes in achievement
related settings are the expectancy
value model,
orientation models, and attribution theory. Contributing to these factors are the
students’ social world, his or her interpretation of that world, prior achievement
experiences, and aptitude. Students with mastery or learning orientation seek
to develop new


skills and increase their competence.

Sources of information in identifying attributions are the
learner’s success history, social norms,
and the

performance records of others, the learner’s
casual schema, individual characteristics, and dev
elopmental level. Of particular importance are
the attributions of ability and effort
(Gredler, Chapter11, 1997, p. 406

The role of the teacher/instructor in the learning process

B.F. Skinner’s operant conditioning

Appropriate ap
plications of technol
ogy would

free the teacher to spend more time listening and
talking with individual students as well as reading and discussing their writing and other pro

(Skinner, 1987, as cited in Gredler, Chapter 4, 1997, p.118)
. Therefore, the teacher serves as a

facilitator in the classroom.

Robert Gagne’s Conditions of Learning

As a teacher, we must observe the classroom setting and the students inside of the classroom.
Motivate them in order for them to learn more about the topic given. A teacher must meet the
objectives. The students and teacher should have interaction in order for them to be progressive
in their lesson and learning.

Cognitive Models and a Theory of Academic Motivation

Good (1980) suggested that teachers should be proactive by building classroo
m structures in
which the needs of low achievers can be met without ignoring the needs of other students.
Recent research indicates that the motivational statements of teachers, their respect and support
for students, and their expressions of the nature of

learning also are important in implementing

or learning goal orientation. Research also indicates that teacher caring and support,
opportunities to interact with classmates about academic work, and teacher encouragement of


mutual respect led to mo
re adaptive patterns of learning and engagement in learning
Chapter11, 1997, p. 410

The types of learning

B.F. Skinner’s operant conditioning

The Domains of Learning.

This theory illustrates Gagne's views about the different categories of
learning outcomes and their influence on instruction (Richey, 2000). According to Gagne,
learning can be categorized under the following outcome headings: verbal information,
tual skills, cognitive strategi
es, attitude, and motor skills
(Gredler, Chapter 4, 1997,

Robert Gagne’s Conditions of Learning

The two organizations of capabilities that represent complex learning are procedures and
learning hierarchies. Proc
edures are sets of actions that are executed sequentially and they
consist of both motor skills and intellectual skills. Learning hierarchies are organized sets of
intellectual skills in which each capability is an essential prerequisite to the next higher

skill. The
four discrete levels of capabilities possible in a hierarchy are discrimination learning, concept
learning (concrete and defined concepts), rule learning, and higher order rule learning (problem
solving) (Gredler, Chapter5, 1997, p. 161).

tive Models and a Theory of Academic Motivation

Three perspectives
the expectancy
value model, goal orientation models, and attribution theory
focus on factors that influence students’ engagement in achievement
related activities. They
maintain that motiva
tion develops from a complex interaction of environmental and internal


factors, the individual is an active processor of information, and achievement
related beliefs are
explicit information
(Gredler, Chapter11, 1997, p. 423).

Basic strategies

B.F. Skinne
r’s operant conditioning

In classroom, Skinner cited the practice of “assign
test” as one example of placing human
learner in a terminal contingency
(Gredler, Chapter 4, 1997, p.136).

Robert Gagne’s Conditions of Learning

The system model designed by G
agne and Briggs (1979) includes all the stages in the design of
curriculum and instruction. It begins with needs assessment and the development of goal
statements. The model also entails the development of end
course objectives, specific
performance obj
ectives, instructional events, selection of media, and field
testing of the final
product (Gredler, Chapter5, 1997, p. 179).

Cognitive Models and a Theory of Academic Motivation

Key motivation factors: expectancy of success, goal orientation, and self
ibutions about
success and failure outcomes

The theory’s major strengths/weaknesses

B.F. Skinner’s operant conditioning

There are two weakness of Skinner’s operant conditioning:

First, technology for complex learning situation is incomplete; successful
analysis depends on
the skill of the developer.

Second, response frequency is difficult to apply to complex behaviors
as a measure of probability (Gredler, Chapter 4, 1997, p.136).

Robert Gagne’s Conditions of Learning



A limitation of learning hierarchies
is that they do not necessarily represent the presentation
sequence of new learning in the classroom. Nevertheless, a learning hierarchy, by identifying
prerequisite skills, can reduce the need for remediation and can provide process outcomes in the

theory is easier for a curriculum design team t

implement than for the
classroom teachers to use (Gredler, Chapter5, 1997, p. 162

Cognitive Models and a Theory of Academic Motivation

Specific classroom procedures are yet to be developed fo
r the implementation of the
motivational perspective in the classroom
(Gredler, Chapter11, 1997, p. 424).

Section 2

Implication on Instruction

B.F. Skinner’s operant conditioning

The classroom teacher can make use of Skinner’s technology in any of three
ways. They are (a)
the appropriate use of discriminative stimuli and reinforcement in classroom interactions, (b)
implementing the steps in shaping in instruction, and (c) developing individualized instructional
materials. Develop a positive classroom clim
ate, in Skinner’s view, will be an improved
classroom atmosphere

and more efficient instruction
(Gredler, Chapter 4, 1997, p.131

Robert Gagne’s Conditions of Learning

Learning can occur whether or not instruction is present. The focus in Gagne’s prin
ciples is on
instruction rather than teaching. The intent is to address all the events that may directly influence
an individual’s learning.

Cognitive Models and a Theory of Academic Motivation



oriented classrooms facilitate the development of pos
itive student motivations because
such classrooms emphasize effort, improvement, and challenge, and establish an environment in
which students can experience improv
ement and mastery
(Gredler, Chapter11, 1997, p. 410).

The usefulness of this theory

B.F. Ski
nner’s operant conditioning

Three major contributions of Skinner’s operant conditioning to classroom practice:

First, the search for conditions and behaviors that represent states such as “unmotivated” is an
important step in the identification of an appro
priate course of action.

Second, observations of contemporary classrooms reveal many inconsistent and non
uses of reinforcement that contribute to classroom discipline problems.

Third, programmed learning materials, if properly designed, can pr
ovide for individual
differences in the classroom (Gredler, Chapter 4, 1997, p.137).

Robert Gagne’s Conditions of Learning

The best
known contribution of the theory is that it operationalizes the concept of cumulative
learning and provides a mechanism for
designing instruction from simple to complex. The
concepts of cumulative learning, task analysis, and the identification of component skills have
become accepted curriculum components (Gredler, Chapter5, 1997, p. 183).

Cognitive Models and a Theory of Acad
emic Motivation

A major contribution of motivational perspectives to education is the analyses of classroom
interactions. In the classroom setting, researchers have applied these frameworks to analyze both
student and teacher behaviors and to suggest remed

The application of the theory will improve the learning environment



B.F. Skinner’s operant conditioning

According to
, i
ndividuals construct discri
minative stimuli for themselves
. The three
categories of reinforcement play an important role in

the development of complex human
behaviors. In many situations, both positive and mild negative reinforcement function to
strengthen behavior
(Gredler, Chapter 4, 1997, p.101

Robert Gagne’s Conditions of Learning

A major goal of Gagne’s theory is
the planning of effective classroom instruction. The teacher or
instructional designer writes the skills to be learned in the form of performance objectives, and
identifies the variety of learning. Task analysis is then used to identify prerequisite skills
, and
instructional events are selected for each objective to be taught (Gredler, Chapter5, 1997, p.

Cognitive Models and a Theory of Academic Motivation

Identification of the psychological linkages between classroom activities and children’s beliefs

about themselves.

The benefits of theory combining

B.F. Skinner’s operant conditioning

B.F. Skinner’s Operant Conditioning is selected because it provides the process of modifying a
subject’s behavior through the reinforcement of appropriate responses in
the presence of the
appropriate stimuli.

Teachers can use many types of rewards to reinforce behavior that is
conducive to learning.

Robert Gagne’s Conditions of Learning



Robert Gagne’s Conditions of Learning is selected because his
has contributed g
the field of instructional technology especially regarding the design of instruction.

Gagne suggests that learning tasks for intellectual skills can be organized in a hierarchy
according to complexity. The primary significance of the hierarchy is to identify prerequisites
that should be completed to facilitate learning at each level.
lessons are tailored for
students, students become actively involved in lessons. Learner will feel motivated. Learner will
be more focused on the content. Allow the learner to take the ownership of the lesson by
providing a customized, meaningful learning

Cognitive Models and a Theory of Academic Motivation

Motivation is what stimulates and drives an individual's intensity and commitm
ent towards
achieving a result.

Section 3

Real World Example or Research Study

B.F. Skinner’s operant condition

Skinner originally developed programmed instruction for teaching machines, but
recommended the use of microcomputers
. A partial program to teach the concept
“morpheme” to advanced high school students. The advantage of programmed instruction
on specific skills is to provide remediation targeted to specific deficiencies (Skinner in
Green, 1984 as cited in Gredler, Chapte
r 11, 1997, p.133

Robert Gagne’s Conditions of Learning

he lesson is an example of identifying the main idea, and it follows
Gagne's 9 events of

In step 4, tea
cher explains

information that illustrates the defining
rule of th
e concept of the main idea. This information is applied first by the teacher and


then by the students in the identification of concept examples. In step 5, the use of the
game provides a chance for the children to try out their new skills prior to assessme
nt of
their performance. During the lesson, instructional events 5,6,and7 are repeated to give
the children experience with two types of statements often confused with the main idea.

Retention and transfer is provided a few days after

the initial instruct
ion using
discussion of the children’s favorite television programs. The children receive additional
clues for later recall at this time (Gredler, Chapter5, 1997, p. 180

Cognitive Models and a Theory of Academic Motivation


Oriented Readi
ng Instruction in reading addresses reading engagement,
defined as merging motivational, cognitive, and behavioral characteristics of students

Goal: To increase students’ reading comprehension on grades 3
5 through increasing
their reading engagement. The

process includes: targeted motivations, motivational
support, materials, daily

lessons and student portfolios (Guthrie et al., 2007 as cited in
Gredler, Chapter 11, 1997, p.422




Atkinson, J. W. (1958). Towards experimental
analysis of human motivation in terms of motives,
expectancies, and incentives. In J. W. Atkinson (Ed.), Motives in fantasy, actions, and society
(pp. 288
305). Princeton, NJ: Van Nostrand.

Gagne, R. M. (1962a). The acquisition of the knowledge.
cal Review, 69 (4), 355

Gagne, R. M. (1962b).
Military training and principles of learning. American Psychologist, 17, 83

Gagne, R. M. (1965a). The analysis of objectives. In R. Glaser (Ed.), Teaching machines and
programmed learning: II. Data and

directions (pp. 21
65). Washington, DC: National Education

Gredler, M. E. (1997).
Learning and instruction: Theory into practice
. Upper Saddle River, N.J: Merrill.

Guthrie, J. T., McRae, A., & Klauda, S. L. (2007). Contributions of concept
iented reading instruction
to knowledge about interventions for motivations in reading. Educational Psychologist, 42(4),

Richey, R. C. (Ed.). (2000). The legacy of Robert M. Gagne. Syracuse, NY: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Information and Technology.

Skinner, B. F. (1935). Two types of conditioned reflex and a pseudotype. Journal of General
Psychology, 12, 66

Thorndike, E. L., & Woodworth, R. S. (1901). The influence of improvement in one mental function
upon the efficiency of other functions: I, I
I, and III. Psychological Review, 8, 247
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