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Respondent processes

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

University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand.

The scientific research into learning has involved the study of a number of different learning processes. One of the earliest lines of investigation was investigation into a learning process which has come to be known as respondent conditioning. Respondent conditioning is also referred to as classical conditioning (because it was the first learning process to be systematically studied) and as Pavlovian conditioning (because it was first studied by the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov).

Respondent conditioning has turned out to be an extremely important learning process because it is the learning process whereby we acquire an understanding of the meaning of words, phrases, objects, events, and so on. It is also the process whereby anxieties and fears, likes and dislikes, attitudes and feelings are acquired. So this makes it a particularly important learning process as far as classroom practice is concerned, and one which needs to be understood by teachers at all levels.