What is Complex Learning?


Many psychologists argue that only simple forms of learning can be explained in terms of S-R associations. They are impressed by the role that perception and understanding play in more complex forms of learning.

In their view, tasks involving memorizing, problem solving, and thinking can be most easily understood within the framework of cognitive psychology.

A cognitive explanation of behaviour postulates the existence of mental processes that operates on the stimulus in different ways-depending upon the context in which the stimulus occurs and the individual’s past learning experiences-to arrive at a response. Such processes involve more than an automatic response elicited by a stimulus input. By means of cognitive processes we are able to


Psychology and Sociology of Sports, Exercise and Physical Education follow a map over routes we have never taken before and reason our way through unfamiliar problems.

Multiple-Response Learning: So far we have considered the strengthening or weakening of single identifiable responses.

Although some of these responses are complex, they are still identifiable as unitary acts. But much of our learning consists of acquiring patterns or sequences of behaviours, as in learning athletic skills or in memorizing a poem.

These patterns illustrate multiple-response learning, a kind of learning involving more than one identifiable act, with the order of events usually fixed by the demand of the situation.


To study this kind of learning psychologists have designed such laboratory tasks as mirror drawing, target tracking, and rote memorization. The first two tasks are forms of sensor motor skill, and the last is largely verbal. Tasks such as these approximate the learning of skills that are used in everyday life.

(a) Sensor motor Skills:

By a sensor motor skill we mean one in which muscular movement is prominent, but under sensory control, Riding a bicycle, turning a flip from a diving board, playing a piano, and typing are sensor motor skills.

They are not simply patterns of skilled movements. The bicycle rider has to watch the traffic and the bumps in the road and be guided by them; the diver must adjust his timing to the height of the platform; the musician reads notes and attempts to play with the feeling; the typist must follow a manuscript and stay within specified boundaries. These considerations called attention to the sensory control of skill.


(b) Learning Curves for Skill:

Experimenters typically keep track of progress in skill learning by plotting a learning 00 curve similar to those used to depict the course of classical conditioning.

(c) Qualitative Changes with Practice:

A learning curve presents performance over the course of an experiment as though the subject followed the same pattern of activity at the end as at the begning and improved only in efficiency.


But it is quite possible that in the course of improvement the subject’s method changed. For example, in studying learning how to type, some investigators have detected a shift from a letter habit (learning the location of the individual keys associated with each letter) to a word habit (learning to write familiar words with a single burst of movement, embedding the letters in a total pattern).

Occasionally these higher order and lower order learnings conflict, and there is a period of no improvement in the learning curve. Thus period is described as a plateau because it has been preceded by improvement and will be followed by more improvement when the higher order learning wins out.

(d) Rote Memorization:

By rote memorization we mean verbatim learning by repetition, as contrasted with substance memorization.


Experiments on rote memorization take one of two chief forms, corresponding to the ways we learn things verbatim in ordinary experience.

One form is serial memorization, as in memorizing poetry or lines of a play.

In a laboratory experiment, a list of words is memorized from beginning to end, so that each word in the list is in some sense the stimulus for the word to follow. The second form is paired-associate learning, which is comparable to the method sometimes used in learning the words of a foreign language.

The words are learned in stimulus-response pairs, such as prepared-afraid, careless-vacant, hungry-quiet; a stimulus word is presented, and the response word has to be learned. The pairs are not learned in any special order and depending on the experiment, may or may not be meaningfully related.

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