Topic 4 Human learning
I. Behavioristic learning theories II. Ausubel’s meaningful learning theory Rote and meaningful learning The cognitive theory of learning as put forward by Ausubel is perhaps best understood by contrasting rote and meaningful learning Rote learning: the process of acquiring material as discrete and relatively isolated entities that are relatable to cognitive structure only in an arbitrary and verbatim fashion, not permitting the establishment of meaningful relations, for example, learning a few telephone numbers or zip codes. Meaningful learning: a process of relating and anchoring new materials to relevant established entities in cognitive structures. As new material enters the cognitive field, it interacts with, and is appropriately subsumed under, a more inclusive conceptual system. The very fact that material is subsumed or relatable to stable elements in cognitive structure, account for its meaningfulness. Any learning situation can be meaningful if 1) learners have a meaningful learning set, that is, a disposition to relate the new learning task to what they already know; and 2) the learning task itself is potentially meaningful to the learner, that is, relatable to the learner’s structure of knowledge. The significance of the distinction between rote and meaningful learning becomes clear when we consider the relative efficiency of the two types of learning in terms of retention, or long term memory. Meaningfully learned material has far greater potential for retention than the material learned in a rote fashion. Systematic forgetting: we cannot say that what is meaningfully learned is never forgotten. However, in meaningful learning, forgetting takes place in a much more intentional and purposeful manner because it is a continuation of the very process of subsumption. It is more economical and less burdensome to retain a single inclusive concept than to remember a large number of more specific items. In recent years the process of language attrition has garnered some attention. There are a variety of possible causes of the loss of second language skills: the strength and condition of initial learning, the kind of use that a second language has been put to, the motivational factors, the context that lacks an integrative orientation, etc. III. Rogers’s humanistic psychology Carl Rogers is a psychologist, working in an attempt to be of therapeutic help to individuals. His humanistic psychology has more of an affective focus than a cognitive one. He is not traditionally thought of as a learning psychologist, yet he and his colleagues and followers have had a significant impact on our present understanding of learning. Rogers studied the “whole person” as a physical and cognitive, but primarily emotional being. Given a non-threatening environment, a person will form a picture of reality that is indeed congruent with reality and will grow and learn. Rogers’s position has important implications for education. The focus is away from “teaching” and toward “learning”. The goal of education is the facilitation of change and learning. Learning how to learn is more important than being taught something from the superior vantage point of a teacher who unilaterally decides what shall be taught.
Rogers theory is not without its flaws. The educator may be tempted to take the nondirective approach too far, to the point that valuable time is lost in the process of allowing students to ‘discover” facts and principles for themselves. Also, a non-threatening environment might become so non-threatening that the facilitating tension needed for learning is removed. IV. Transfer and interference Transfer is a general term describing the carryover of previous performance or knowledge to subsequent learning. Positive transfer occurs when the prior knowledge benefits the learning task, that is, when a previous item is correctly applied to present subject matter. Negative transfer occurs when the previous performance disrupts the performance on a second task. The latter is also referred to as interference. It has been common in second language teaching to stress the role of interference, that is, the interfering effects of the native language on the target language. It is of course not surprising that this process has been singled out, for native language interference is surely the most immediately noticeable source of error among second language learners. However, it is exceedingly important to remember that the native language of a second language learner is often positively transferred, in which case the learner benefits from the facilitating effects of the first language. V. Generalization and overgeneralization Generalization is a crucially important and pervading strategy in human learning. To generalize means to infer or derive a law, rule, or conclusion, usually from the observation of particular instances. The principle of generalization can be explained by Ausubel’s concept of meaningful learning. Meaningful learning is in fact generalization: items are subsumed (generalized) under higher-order categories for meaningful retention. Much of human learning involves generalization. In second language acquisition it has been common to refer to overgeneralization as a process that occurs as the second language learner acts within the target language, generalizing a particular rule or item in the second language (irrespective of the native language) beyond legitimate bounds. Typical examples of overgeneralization in learning English as a second language are past tense regularization and utterances like John doesn’t can study or He told me when should I get off the train. VI. Aptitude and intelligence 1. Aptitude: the natural ability to learn a task: The MLAT (Modern Language Aptitude Test) measures the following abilities: 1) phonetic coding ability: the ability to code auditory phonetic material in such a way that this can be recognized, identified, and remembered over something longer than a few seconds 2) grammatical sensitivity: the ability to recognize the grammatical function of words in sentence contexts. 3) Inductive language learning ability: the ability to infer linguistic forms, rules and patterns from new linguistic content itself with a minimum of supervision or guidance. 4) Rote memorization ability: the ability to learn a large number of associations in a relatively short time. (not mentioned in Carroll’s later publications) The MLAT consists of five subsets: 1) number learning: examinees are asked to memorize names for certain numbers in an invented language and then to write the numbers down for novel combinations they hear. 2) phonetic script: examinees associate graphic symbols and English speech sounds 3) spelling clues: examinees must detect an English word when given a phonetic reading of it. 4) words in sentences: examinees identify the word or phrase in one sentence that functions the same way as a word / phrase in another sentence:
(1) He spoke VERY well of you. (2) Suddenly the music became quite loud. 5) paired associates: examinees study foreign-language translations for native-language words for a short time and then take a multiple-choice test in which they must recognize the translations. The PLAB (Pimsleur Language Aptitude Battery) measures three components of language aptitude: 1) verbal intelligence, by which is meant both familiarity with words and the ability to reason analytically about verbal materials 2) motivation 3) auditory ability The PLAB consists of 6 subtests: 1) Grade Point Average 2) Interest 3) Vocabulary 4) Language analysis 5) Sound discrimination 6) Sound-symbol correspondence 2. Intelligence: traditionally linguistic and logical-mathematical abilities. The role of intelligence in language learning. 1) it does not play any role in language learning 2) it does not play any role in the learning of the lower-level linguistic abilities but plays a role in the learning of the higher-level language-related abilities Gardner’s more comprehensive picture of intelligence: 1) linguistic 2) logical-mathematical 3) spatial: the ability to find your way in an environment, to form mental images of realty and to transform them readily 4) musical: the ability to perceive and create pitch and rhythmic patterns 5) bodily-kinesthetic: fine motor movement, athletic prowess 6) interpersonal: the ability to understand others, how they feel, what motivates them, how they interact with one another 7) intrapersonal: the ability to see oneself, to develop a sense of self-identity