CONDITIONS REQUIRED FOR LEARNING
Motivation is anything that affects the state of the nervous system to determine behavior. It is the driving force for the activation and persistence of behavior, and helps explain why some behavioral patterns occur more frequently or at certain times. Motivation generally relates to a psychological drive or need which pressures us into behaving accordingly. There may also be external stimuli or incentives that contribute to motivation by rewarding appropriate behavior.
There are two main aspects of motivated behavior: the provocation of behavior and the direction of behavior. Provocation of behavior includes anything that causes a behavioral reaction, resulting from internal or external stimuli. Direction of behavior is the response to whatever provokes a behavioral response. The response may be either instinctive or purposeful. For example, heat that causes pain is an external provocation of behavior, and pulling away from the heat is instinctive direction of behavior.
Motives themselves also direct behavior in that different motives cause us to act in different ways. There are three types of motives: homeostatic, nonhomeostatic, and learned motives. Homeostatic motives include things such as hunger, thirst, and breathing. They work to keep the body in the state of homeostasis (internally balanced). Nonhomeostatic motives include required activities, such as seeking shelter, and curiosity. Learned motives include the desire for novelty, achievement, power, and approval. These motives develop through experience, and once developed, they continue to influence behavior throughout life. The three types of motives may also overlap. For example, the desire for new experiences or challenges may be homeostatic as well as learned. Since people differ as to the level they are affected by homeostatic mechanisms, some people are always looking for something new to try while others are content with the familiar.
Several general unifying theories have been present to explain motivation. Early theorists, including Clark Hull, proposed that motivation is fundamentally an attempt to reduce drives. Donald Hebb and Daniel Berlyne proposed a more flexible theory, which said that all motivational states are an attempt to maintain an optimal level of action. This theory took into account that a certain behavior is reduced when it is too high and will increase it when it too low, and that we purposely expose ourselves to exciting stimuli (such as skydiving, bungy jumping, or watching scary movies).
More recently, Richard Solomon developed the process theory. The process theory states that acquired motivations involve a primary motivational state that is either intensely positive or intensely negative, and a secondary state that is opposite to the primary state and outlasts it. With repeated exposure to the stimulus, the secondary state becomes stronger.
Although these theories help account for certain behaviors, they do not address the role of motivation in the cognitive processes that are characteristic to humans. These processes were first considered by Sigmund Freud, who believed that behavior is driven by a biological drive for pleasure. He suggested that morality and social reality regulate the expression of motivation, and that the typical response to these motives becomes socially acceptable behavior. Abraham Maslow proposed that behavior is motivated by seven needs arranged in a hierarchy, with the highest being self-actualization (the need to realize one's full potential).
Research has also shown that approval and achievement are important factors. In social situations, people with a need for approval tend to agree with other people's suggestions and opinions even if they disagree with them. Achievement motivation is affected by the desire for personal reward or success. People with a high need for achievement tend to choose tasks that are intermediately difficult, for a moderate probability and higher degree of success. People with a low need for achievement tend to select either very easy or very hard tasks, since the completion or outcome of the task is not important. People with the need for high achievement attribute their success and failure to internal factors, whereas people with little need for achievement attribute success to external factors and failure to internal factors. This explains why people with a high need for achievement persist even in the face of difficulty and failure, while people with a low need for achievement give up relatively easily.
Interest is important to learning, since it facilitates thinking and attention. We cannot effectively think about a topic that we find boring and purposeless, nor can we learn something that seems tedious. Interest guarantees that we will focus on what we are supposed to be learning. We think and learn when we read the newspaper or a novel, watch television or a movie, or solve a problem - but only if we are interested in it.
When we are not interested in something, we tend to think of something else or"daydream". These distractions shield us from boredom while allowing us to try to find something else to think and learn about. Not understanding something also tends to lead us away from critical thought, and eventually destroys our interest in that topic.
Thinking and learning are inseparable because our brains strive to think all the time, meaning that learning occurs whenever there is meaningful thought. Only rote learning involves little thought, but it is also inefficient and uninteresting.
Interest does not guarantee that we will think efficiently, but it does ensure that we will put ourselves in situations where relevant thought occurs. When we find something interesting, we try to involve ourselves with that topic or activity. We will read books or watch movies about the topic, and talk to experts in the field. These activities help facilitate effective learning.
Transfer of Training
The recognition that new learning can profit from old learning because learning one thing helps in learning another, is called transfer of training.
By the end of the nineteenth century, many educators believed that a student's learning ability could be strengthened. They believed that Latin strengthened the mind, and math strengthened reasoning ability. However, today this belief is rejected due to many studies which have shown that reasoning ability did not significantly differ between students who had studied math and those who had not. Furthermore, students who had learned similar processes did not show transfer of training from one task to another (for example, learning to add did not help the students learn multiplication).
Currently, the viewpoint regarding transfer of training is that both concrete and abstract knowledge can be transferred from one situation to another. Recent studies have shown that the most important factor in transfer of training is the quality of the person's organization of prior knowledge.
Transfer of training can be either positive or negative. If someone is trying to learn two tasks, after learning the first task, the second one may be easier or harder. If the second task is easier, then the previous learning was useful, and therefore positive transfer of training occurred. If it is more difficult, then the old learning was a hindrance and negative transfer of training occurred.
Whether a particular transfer of training is positive or negative depends on the relationship between the two (or more) tasks. Positive transfer of training occurs when the tasks have similar stimuli that elicit the same response. Negative transfer of training occurs when the tasks have similar stimuli, but elicit different responses, making the last task harder to learn.
New learning can profit from old learning because of three main factors:
1. Positive transfer of training.
2. General principles that are learned from one task and can be applied to another task.
3. Good study habits that are learned from one task which help us learn another task.
Research with laboratory animals has revealed that exposure to sensory-enriched environments can change the structure and chemistry of the brain. Rats raised in environments containing toys, stimulating objects, and other rats exhibited increased thickness of their neocortex. Their cell bodies and neuron nuclei were larger, dendrites were longer, and the area of synaptic contacts were greater. These rats also had more protein, more glial cells, larger capillaries, and an increased ratio of RNA to DNA.
The most prominent change in the stimulated animals was in the visual association. However, most areas of the cortex were affected, including the cerebellum and hippocampus. Except for the frontal cortex, where the right hemisphere is affected more than the left, both brain hemispheres appear to be almost equally influenced by an enriched environment.
The more varied the enriched environment and the longer the rat stayed in the environment, the longer it retained its increased cortical dimensions after being moved to a less stimulating environment. These effects were found in both young and old rats. Research also showed that the rats exposed to enriched environments performed tasks such as maze running significantly better than those raised in less stimulating environments.
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