Learning Process Types Overview

Learning is a complicated process of expanding knowledge, skills, and abilities, which can be technically divided into two types: observational learning and conditioning. This classification is based on the perspective of perceiving knowledge. In observational learning, a person studies by watching others behave in a particular way to achieve specific results. In this case, the person learning tries to memorize and mimic the actions of «models» and defines the casualty of such behavior. For example, if a person comes to a public school for the first time, he does not know the basic rules of in-class communication. He notices that he is not allowed to speak freely, but if one of his classmates raises a hand, they get asked. He tries to do the same thing and soon learns the technique of raising a hand, meaning he has successfully engaged in observational learning.


The other type of learning is conditioning. In contrast to observational learning, it implies personal experience and direct involvement in the process. Classical conditioning is based on connecting a stimulus or a signal with a particular event or response. At school, an example of it can be the bell ringing to announce the class has started, which students perceive as a signal to sit down and stop talking. Operant conditioning, on the other hand, connects behavior with the probability of a certain event. There are two kinds of effects: ones that increase behavior (reinforcers) and decrease it (punishers). Bouton (2018) provides a shining example of this: a student’s desire to receive a good grade in a class (a reinforcer).


To achieve his reward, the student modifies his behavior: speaks up more often to get extra points (Bouton, 2018). However, if he brings up an unrelated topic, it would lead to losing points and become a punishment (Bouton, 2018). This way, a student learns by choosing an operation to get the desired result. Noticeably, his idea of speaking up was, likely, gained through observational learning, so we can assume all of those methods are closely connected in everyday life.




Bouton, M. E. (2018). Conditioning and learning. General Psychology, 18, 90-115. Web.


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