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In the fields of neuropsychology, personal development and education, learning is one of the most important mental function of humans, animals and artificial cognitive systems. It relies on the acquisition of different types of knowledge supported by perceived information. It leads to the development of new capacities, skills, values, understanding, and preferences. Its goal is the increasing of individual and group experience. Learning functions can be performed by different brain learning processes, which depend on the mental capacities of learning subject, the type of knowledge which has to be acquitted, as well as on socio-cognitive and environmental circumstances.
Learning ranges from simple forms of learning such as habituation and classical conditioning seen in many animal species, to more complex activities such as play, seen only in relatively intelligent animals and humans. Therefore, in general, a learning can be conscious and not conscious.
For example, for small children, non-conscious learning processes are as natural as breathing. In fact, there is evidence for behavioral learning prenatally, in which habituation has been observed as early as 32 weeks into gestation, indicating that the central nervous system is sufficiently developed and primed for learning and memory to occur very early on in development.
Learning has also been mathematically modeled using a differential equation related to an arbitrarily defined knowledge indicator with respect to time, and dependent on a number of interacting factors (constants and variables) such as initial knowledge, motivation, intelligence, knowledge anchorage or resistance, etc. Thus, learning does not occur if there is no change in the amount of knowledge even for a long time, and learning is negative if the amount of knowledge is decreasing in time. Inspection of the solution to the differential equation also shows the sigmoid and logarithmic decay learning curves, as well as the knowledge carrying capacity for a given learner.
Types of learning
Simple non-associative learning
- Main article: Habituation
In psychology, habituation is an example of non-associative learning in which there is a progressive diminution of behavioral response probability with repetition of a stimulus. It is another form of integration. An animal first responds to a stimulus, but if it is neither rewarding nor harmful the animal reduces subsequent responses. One example of this can be seen in small song birds - if a stuffed owl (or similar predator) is put into the cage, the birds initially react to it as though it were a real predator. Soon the birds react less, showing habituation. If another stuffed owl is introduced (or the same one removed and re-introduced), the birds react to it again as though it were a predator, demonstrating that it is only a very specific stimulus that is habituated to (namely, one particular unmoving owl in one place). Habituation has been shown in essentially every species of animal, including the large protozoan Stentor Coeruleus.
- Main article: Sensitization
Sensitization is an example of non-associative learning in which the progressive amplification of a response follows repeated administrations of a stimulus (Bell et al., 1995). An everyday example of this mechanism is the repeated tonic stimulation of peripheral nerves that will occur if a person rubs his arm continuously. After a while, this stimulation will create a warm sensation that will eventually turn painful. The pain is the result of the progressively amplified synaptic response of the peripheral nerves warning the person that the stimulation is harmful. Sensitization is thought to underlie both adaptive as well as maladaptive learning processes in the organism.
- Main article: Operant conditioning
Operant conditioning is the use of consequences to modify the occurrence and form of behavior. Operant conditioning is distinguished from Pavlovian conditioning in that operant conditioning deals with the modification of voluntary behavior. Discrimination learning is a major form of operant conditioning. One form of it is called Errorless learning.
- Main article: Classical conditioning
The typical paradigm for classical conditioning involves repeatedly pairing an unconditioned stimulus (which unfailingly evokes a particular response) with another previously neutral stimulus (which does not normally evoke the response). Following conditioning, the response occurs both to the unconditioned stimulus and to the other, unrelated stimulus (now referred to as the "conditioned stimulus"). The response to the conditioned stimulus is termed a conditioned response.
- Main article: Imprinting (psychology)
Imprinting is the term used in psychology and ethology to describe any kind of phase-sensitive learning (learning occurring at a particular age or a particular life stage) that is rapid and apparently independent of the consequences of behavior. It was first used to describe situations in which an animal or person learns the characteristics of some stimulus, which is therefore said to be "imprinted" onto the subject.
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- Main article: Observational learning
The most common human learning process is imitation; one's personal repetition of an observed behaviour, such as a dance. Humans can copy three types of information simultanesouly: the demonstrators goals, actions and environmental outcomes (results, see Emulation (observational learning)). Through copying these types of information, (most) infants will tune into their surrounding culture.
- Main article: Play (activity)
Play generally describes behavior which has no particular end in itself, but improves performance in similar situations in the future. This is seen in a wide variety of vertebrates besides humans, but is mostly limited to mammals and birds. Cats are known to play with a ball of string when young, which gives them experience with catching prey. Besides inanimate objects, animals may play with other members of their own species or other animals, such as orcas playing with seals they have caught. Play involves a significant cost to animals, such as increased vulnerability to predators and the risk of injury and possibly infection. It also consumes energy, so there must be significant benefits associated with play for it to have evolved. Play is generally seen in younger animals, suggesting a link with learning. However, it may also have other benefits not associated directly with learning, for example improving physical fitness.
e-Learning and m-Learning
Electronic learning or e-learning is a general term used to refer to Internet-based networked computer-enhanced learning. A specific and always more diffused e-learning is mobile learning (m-Learning), it uses different mobile telecommunication equipments, such as cellular phones.
- Main article: Rote learning
Rote learning is a technique which avoids understanding the inner complexities and inferences of the subject that is being learned and instead focuses on memorizing the material so that it can be recalled by the learner exactly the way it was read or heard. The major practice involved in rote learning techniques is learning by repetition, based on the idea that one will be able to quickly recall the meaning of the material the more it is repeated. Rote learning is used in diverse areas, from mathematics to music to religion. Although it has been criticized by some schools of thought, rote learning is a necessity in many situations.
- Main article: Informal learning
Informal learning occurs through the experience of day-to-day situations (for example, one would learn to look ahead while walking because of the danger inherent in not paying attention to where one is going). It is learning from life, during a meal at table with parents, Play, exploring.
- Main article: Education
Formal learning is learning that takes place within a teacher-student relationship, such as in a school system.
Non-formal learning is organized learning outside the formal learning system. For example: learning by coming together with people with similar interests and exchanging viewpoints, in clubs or in (international) youth organizations, workshops.
Non-formal learning and combined approaches
The educational system may use a combination of formal, informal, and non-formal learning methods. The UN and EU recognize these different forms of learning (cf. links below). In some schools students can get points that count in the formal-learning systems if they get work done in informal-learning circuits. They may be given time to assist international youth workshops and training courses, on the condition they prepare, contribute, share and can proof this offered valuable new insights, helped to acquire new skills, a place to get experience in organizing, teaching, etc.
In order to learn a skill, such as solving a Rubik's cube quickly, several factors come into play at once:
- Directions help one learn the patterns of solving a Rubik's cube
- Practicing the moves repeatedly and for extended time helps with "muscle memory" and therefore speed
- Thinking critically about moves helps find shortcuts, which in turn helps to speed up future attempts.
- The Rubik's cube's six colors help anchor solving it within the head.
- Occasionally revisiting the cube helps prevent negative learning or loss of skill.
- ↑ Interpretation based on the IPK model of the systemic TOGA meta-theory, Adam Maria Gadomski, 1993
- ↑ Jungle Gyms: The Evolution of Animal Play
- ↑ What behavior can we expect of octopuses?
- ↑ Sandman, Wadhwa, Hetrick, Porto & Peeke. (1997). Human fetal heart rate dishabituation between thirty and thirty-two weeks gestation. Child Development, 68, 1031-1040.
- ↑ Fadul, J. "Mathematical Formulations of Learning: Based on Ten Learning Principles" International Journal of Learning. Volume 13 (2006) Issue 6. pp. 139-152.
- ↑ deFigueiredo, R.J.P. Mathematical formulation of cognitive and learning processes in neural networks, 1990
- ↑ Wood, D. C. (1988). Habituation in Stentor produced by mechanoreceptor channel modification. Journal of Neuroscience, 2254 (8).
- Mayer, R. E. (2001). Multimedia learning, New York: Cambridge University Press.
- Paivio, A (1971). Imagery and verbal processes. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.
- Holt, John (1983). How Children Learn. UK: Penguin Books. ISBN 0140225706
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