Thorndike’s Laws of Learning

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Laws of Learning

Laws of Learning

E. L. Thorndike has explained three laws of learning called Primary laws and in addition to these, he has also framed 5 subsidiary laws in connection with his trial and error learning theory.

Primary Laws

These are the most important laws, which explain the basic aspects of learning. They are:

  1. Law of readiness:

    By readiness means the organism is ready to respond or act. This is more essential prerequisite for learning.

This indicates that the animal or human being is motivated to learn. This condition of readiness has two effects-satisfaction and annoyance. When the animal is ready to act- if permitted- it gives pleasure. If it is not permitted, it feels annoyed.

In the same way when the animal is not ready to learn- if asked to learn- it is annoying. On the other hand, if it is prevented from learning it gives pleasure.

These points have been given below in the words of Thorndike:

  1. For a conduction unit ready to conduct-to conduct is satisfying.
  2. For a conduction unit ready to conduct-not to conduct is annoying.
  3. For a conduction unit not ready to conduct- to conduct is annoying.

This law clearly shows that readiness of a person to learn is very important. Hence motivate him to learn.

  1. Law of exercise:

    This law is also known as law of frequency. Frequency refers to number of repetitions of learning. Thorndike believed that repeated exercising of a response strengthens its connection with stimulus.

This aspect refers to law of use and disuse, which explains that, anything not in use will perish. So also if the response is not repeated, its bond with stimulus gets weakened. This is also according to the statement that ‘practice makes man perfect’.

In Thorndike’s experiment the cat becomes perfect after repeating the response more number of times, i.e. it learnt to open the door without committing any error.

  1. Law of effect:

    This law states that when a connection is accomplished by satisfying effect- its strength is increased. By this, Thorndike meant that the probability of its occurrence is greater. In his experiment if the hungry cat succeeded in opening the door, would get its favourable dish to eat.

This had a positive effect on its response. Rewards always strengthen connections between stimuli and responses, and on the other hand, punishment weakens connections..

Secondary Laws

In addition to the three primary laws explained above, Thorndike has given five secondary or subsidiary laws also. They are as follows:

  1. Law of multiple response:

    It means when a response fails to elicit a desired effect, the learner will try with new responses until the goal is reached.

  2. Law of set or attitude:

    Mental set or positive attitude is very important in any learning.

  3. Law of associative shifting:

    This is nothing but shifting of the response to a new situation which is similar to the earlier one. Because the fundamental notion is that, if a response can be kept intact through a series of changes in stimulating situation, it may finally be given to a new situation.

  4. Law of prepotency of elements:

    This law states that the learner is able to react in a selected way, only to the salient elements of the problem and not for other unimportant elements.

  5. Law of response by analogy:

    It means comparing a new situation to the previously learned one and thus giving a response by analogy.

As stated above, Thorndike formulated these laws on the basis of his experiments. According to the law of readiness, the cat was ready to learn, because it was hungry. This hunger motivated the cat to learn to open the door.

According to the second law, the cat was repeatedly given trials and exercise which strengthened its learning. Finally on each trial the cat was given reinforcement in the form of fish.

This encouraged the cat to continue its effort to learn to open the door. The secondary laws given by him support these findings. These laws are highly relevant to the field of education. The teachers can make use of these laws in order to make their teaching more effective.

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