Brief notes on the Thorndike’s Laws of Learning

Connectionism is a learning theory based on the concept of bonds formed between stimulus and response. That is natural connections between situations (S) and responses (R) are formed and strengthened. The stimulus affects the organism which responds to it.

Thus S-R bonds are formed which are considered as physical conditions. This theory of learning is related to conditioning in that it utilizes the concept of association of connection. It emphasizes that the behavior begins with conditioned reflexes and natural responses and new behaviors result from the acquisition of new bonds through experience.

Thorndike is given the credit of the formulation of the major laws of learning on basis of his belief in connectionism. These laws are originally the outgrowth of experiments in the field of animal psychology. The laws as initially formulated by Thorndike are three in member; (i) readiness, (ii) exercise, and (iii) effect.

Thorndike’s Law of Readiness

"When a bond is ready to act, act gives satisfaction and not to act gives annoyance. When a bond which is not ready to act, is made to act, annoyance is caused." If the child is ready to learn, he can learn quickly. If the child is not ready to learn, he cannot learn effectively. If the teacher teaches his students when their minds are set, learning will take place. Otherwise all his teaching will fall flat.

The law of readiness is explained by the statement, "When an individual is ready to act or to learn, he acts or learns more effectively and with greater satisfaction than when not ready." Thus readiness is mental set which means that a child can learn his lessons when he is inclined to work at them. It is the most important duty of the teacher to develop in citizens a readiness to learn their lessons.

A teacher, who is specific in his assignment and gives interesting problems to the students to solve, arouses their curiosity and creates in then a favourable mental setup for learning, he has to adopt interesting methods and use suitable audio-visual aids for making his lesson well- received by the pupils. For example, he can take a problem or a project for teaching a subject in Social Studies. The pupils will learn much while making preparations for the trip and will learn history directly, enjoy aesthetic aspects of the monument and get valuable knowledge regarding its architecture and location very closely as well as joyfully.

As the teacher neglects this important principle, much of the wastage is caused in education. When pupils' interest is not generated, no learning takes place properly. They go through their studies in an indifferent manner and much of the teachers work is wasted.

The resourceful teacher makes an effort to arouse pupils' interest and curiosity through a current event or news, so that children are motivated to learn more about this. He can exploit, for example, an industrial exhibition, a cyclone or death anniversary of national hero for teaching geography, science or history.

Moments of mental alertness are great opportunities for directing the pupils' interest and efforts into desirable channels of learning.

Law to Exercise

According to Thorndike this Law has two aspects and as such has two related or allied doctrines, (i) Law of Use and (ii) Law of Disuse. The Law of Use states, "When a modifiable connection is made between a situation and a response, that connection's strength is, other things being equal increased."

Similarly, the Law of Disuse states, "When a modifiable connection is not made between a. situation and response, over a length of time, which connection's strength is decreased." Briefly we may say that other things being equal, exercise strengthens and lack of exercise weakens the bond between situation and response. The phrase "other things being equal" implies that the consequences of pleasure and pain are to be recognized in this context. That is we repeat only the pleasant things and actions and do not repeat the unpleasant things and activities.

It is our experience that whenever any action is repeated, it becomes easy and prompts. We read and reread lessons a number of times to master them. We play and replay a musical tune a number of times to be able to play it easily and accurately.

Repetitions of activities fix knowledge and skills to be learned. Practice makes perfect. Lack of practice weakens our memory and skills. It may be said that longer is the period of disuse, greater is the loss of memory as well as weakening of skills. Words which are spelled by us frequently are remembered very well. The words which are frequently used by us in writing and conversation are not easily forgotten. That is we remember by use and forget by disuse.

In education the doctrines of use and disuse are very familiar. We learn and retain through use or exercise and we unlearn and forget through disuse or lack of exercise. Exercise or drilling is found more effective when it is associated with pleasure and purpose. The teacher should therefore make the practices purposeful and interesting in order to ensure better learning.

Law of Effect

According-to Thorndike, the principle of effect is the fundamental law of teaching and learning. The law states that "When pleasant or satisfying consequences follow or attend a response, the latter tends to be repeated. When painful or annoying consequences attend a response it tends to be eliminated." That is the bond between the situation and response strengthens with satisfying results and weakens-with the displeasure and discomfort.

An action which brings a feeling of pleasure is more effectively learnt, whereas an action which brings a feeling of displeasure is not properly learned. When an action is associated with a feeling of the annoyance the individual tends to avoid it. If the child succeeds in doing a thing, in solving problem, in working out a sum, he is pleased about his achievement and this feeling of satisfaction motivates him to do better and make further efforts. Success leads to further success and failure leads to further failures.

The system of prizes and punishment is based on this principle. It is therefore necessary on the part of teachers to associate desirable things with pleasant experience and undesirable things with unpleasant one. Since success and failure play a very important part in learning, every child should be provided with such learning situations that promotes success and satisfying feeling. The child should also be kept away from such learning situations where his feelings will be annoying and unsatisfying. Of course, in order to eliminate bad habits, the child should be condemned or punished, which will give him annoying experiences.