The cat in Thorndike’s puzzle box learns to connect a response with a stimulus, which is subsequently rewarded. The learning by trial-and-error is a matter of S-R connection. Kohler’s chimpanzee learns to perceive the relationships between various aspects of the stimulus situation. Establishing the relationship between one stimulus and the others forms the core of the insightful learning. The insightful learning is of S-S type.
The trial-and-error learning is gradual. The cat in Thorndike’s puzzle box takes a number of trials and learns step-by-step to reach the correct response. The insightful learning occurs all on a sudden. The organism moves from a state of no solution to a state of solution very quickly. While pulling the string in Thorndike’s puzzle box, the cat is showing responses to only some specific stimuli. It does not have to attend to the whole stimulus field. But insightful learning involves perception of the whole situation, as the organism has to see the relationship among various stimuli. The nature of the response is molecular in trial-and-error learning and molar in insightful learning. Practice and repetition are extremely important in trial-and-error learning, while insightful solution is important for insightful learning. Of course, certain amount of trial- and-error occurs before insight takes place. But the trial-and-error form of learning primarily does not involve insight. The physical and motor skills are acquired mostly through trial-and-error. The insightful learning is of higher order, and is involved in cognitive and verbal learning.
The two forms of learning differ with respect to the role of the organism in the learning situation. Animals lower in the phylogenic scale acquire through trial and error. Their role in the learning situation is only mechanical and passive. The organism’s approach in trial-and-error consists of random blind activities and the solution comes by chance. On other hand, the organism in insightful learning, surveys, inspects, observes, and examines various aspects of the problem situation, and thereby takes an active role in learning. Higher- order animals including chimpanzees and human beings are capable of insightful learning.
Both the trial-and-error and the insightful learning differ with respect to the strength of learning. The trial-and-error learning is more or less temporary, depends on continued practice, and weakens when practice is discontinued. The insightful solution, once acquired, stays for a long time and does not easily fade away when the practice is discontinued. Finally, in trial-and-error, the transfer of learning is poor; skills acquired in one situation are not easily transferred to another situation. On the other hand, learning by insight is easily transferred from one situation to other similar situations.