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The conditions upon which learning depends

Prepared by John Church, PhD, School of Educational Studies and Human Development

University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand.

Central to any research base for teaching is the research into how learning occurs, that is, research into the conditions necessary for learning. The first thing which we discover when examining the scientific research into learning is that learning does not involve a single process. The term “learning” refers to a collection of processes: respondent learning processes, motivational processes, the processes involved in the acquisition of new performance skills, verbal learning processes, social learning processes and so on. Research into the conditions necessary for learning shows that that the conditions necessary for learning differ from one learning process to the next.

Research into the conditions necessary for learning is further complicated by the fact that, while learning researchers divide learning up into different processes on the basis of the conditions which each requires, curriculum writers, teachers and teacher educators divide learning into quite different categories: language learning, literacy learning, social learning, the learning of mathematics, science, social studies and so on. These divisions do not map on to the learning processes delineated by learning scientists in any simple manner and this further complicates any discussion of the conditions necessary for learning.

In this book we will explore the learning processes which have been identified by the scientific research into learning and the conditions which have been identified, from controlled research, as those conditions which are necessary in order for each of these kinds of learning to occur.

This book consists of 5 chapters.

Chapter 1 considers the research on respondent conditioning processes and identifies the conditions which are necessary for the development of (a) new meanings (comprehension responses), (b) new likes and dislikes and (c) new anxieties and fears.

Chapter 2 considers the research on motivation and identifies the conditions which are necessary for the development of motivation and persistence.

Chapter 3 considers the processes which result in the acquisition of new behaviours and skills and identifies the conditions necessary for (a) the shaping of completely new behaviours and skills and (b) the acquisition of new procedural skills and operations.

Chapter 4 considers three important verbal learning processes: (a) the acquisition of new equivalence relations, (b) the acquisition of new conceptual understandings, and (c) the acquisition of new knowledge and identifies the essential conditions upon which each of these types of acquisition depend.

Chapter 5 considers the conditions which are necessary for the development of mastery where mastery is defined as the ability to perform a particular response, skill, or task fluently and without error.