One of the pioneers of educational psychology, E.L. Thorndike formulated three laws of learning in the early 20th century. [Figure 2-7] These laws are universally accepted and apply to all kinds of learning: the law of readiness, the law of exercise, and the law of effect. Since Thorndike set down his laws, three more have been added: the law of primacy, the law of intensity, and the law of recency.
The basic needs of the learner must be satisfied before he or she is ready or capable of learning (see Category 1, Human Behavior). The instructor can do little to motivate the learner if these needs have not been met. This means the learner must want to learn the task being presented and must possess the requisite knowledge and skill. In SBT, the instructor attempts to make the task as meaningful as possible and to keep it within the learner’s capabilities.
Students best acquire new knowledge when they see a clear reason for doing so, often show a strong interest in learning what they believe they need to know next, and tend to set aside things for which they see no immediate need. For example, beginning flight students commonly ignore the flight instructor’s suggestion to use the trim control. These students believe the control yoke is an adequate way to manipulate the aircraft’s control surfaces. Later in training, when they must divert their attention away from the controls to other tasks, they realize the importance of trim.
Instructors can take two steps to keep their students in a state of readiness to learn. First, instructors should communicate a clear set of learning objectives to the student and relate each new topic to those objectives. Second, instructors should introduce topics in a logical order and leave students with a need to learn the next topic. The development and use of a well-designed curriculum accomplish this goal.
Readiness to learn also involves what is called the “teachable moment” or a moment of educational opportunity when a person is particularly responsive to being taught something. One of the most important skills to develop as an instructor is the ability to recognize and capitalize on “teachable moments” in aviation training. An instructor can find or create teachable moments in flight training activity: pattern work, air work in the local practice area, cross-country, flight review, or instrument proficiency check.
Teachable moments present opportunities to convey information in a way that is relevant, effective, and memorable to the student. They occur when a learner can clearly see how specific information or skills can be used in the real world.
For example, while on final approach several deer cross the runway. Bill capitalizes on this teachable moment to stress the importance of always being ready to perform a go-around.
All learning involves the formation of connections and connections are strengthened or weakened according to the law of effect. Responses to a situation that are followed by satisfaction are strengthened; responses followed by discomfort are weakened, either strengthening or weakening the connection of learning. Thus, learning is strengthened when accompanied by a pleasant or satisfying feeling, and weakened when associated with an unpleasant feeling. Experiences that produce feelings of defeat, frustration, anger, confusion, or futility are unpleasant for the student. For example, if Bill teaches landings to Beverly during the first flight, she is likely to feel inferior and be frustrated, which weakens the learning connection.
The learner needs to have success in order to have more success in the future. It is important for the instructor to create situations designed to promote success. Positive training experiences are more apt to lead to success and motivate the learner, while negative training experiences might stimulate forgetfulness or avoidance. When presented correctly, SBT provides immediate positive experiences in terms of real world applications.
To keep learning pleasant and to maintain student motivation, an instructor should make positive comments about the student’s progress before discussing areas that need improving. Flight instructors have an opportunity to do this during the flight debriefing. For example, Bill praises Beverly on her aircraft control during all phases of flight, but offers constructive comments on how to better maintain the runway centerline during landings.
Connections are strengthened with practice and weakened when practice is discontinued, which reflects the adage “use it or lose it.” The learner needs to practice what has been learned in order to understand and remember the learning. Practice strengthens the learning connection; disuse weakens it. Exercise is most meaningful and effective when a skill is learned within the context of a real world application.
Primacy, the state of being first, often creates a strong, almost unshakable impression and underlies the reason an instructor must teach correctly the first time and the student must learn correctly the first time. For example, a maintenance student learns a faulty riveting technique. Now the instructor must correct the bad habit and reteach the correct technique. Relearning is more difficult than initial learning.
Also, if the task is learned in isolation, it is not initially applied to the overall performance, or if it must be relearned, the process can be confusing and time consuming. The first experience should be positive, functional, and lay the foundation for all that is to follow.
Immediate, exciting, or dramatic learning connected to a real situation teaches a learner more than a routine or boring experience. Real world applications (scenarios) that integrate procedures and tasks the learner is capable of learning make a vivid impression and he or she is least likely to forget the experience. For example, using realistic scenarios has been shown to be effective in the development of proficiency in flight maneuvers, tasks, and single-pilot resource management (SRM) skills.
The principle of recency states that things most recently learned are best remembered. Conversely, the further a learner is removed in time from a new fact or understanding, the more difficult it is to remember. For example, it is easy for a learner to recall a torque value used a few minutes earlier, but it is more difficult or even impossible to remember an unfamiliar one used a week earlier.
Instructors recognize the principle of recency when they carefully plan a summary for a ground school lesson, a shop period, or a postflight critique. The instructor repeats, restates, or reemphasizes important points at the end of a lesson to help the learner remember them. The principle of recency often determines the sequence of lectures within a course of instruction.
In SBT, the closer the training or learning time is to the time of the actual scenario, the more apt the learner is to perform successfully. This law is most effectively addressed by making the training experience as much like the scenario as possible.
Read Animal Intelligence: Experimental Studies by Edward L. Thorndike.
Animal Intelligence is a consolidated record of Edward L. Thorndike’s theoretical and empirical contributions to the comparative psychology of learning. Thorndike’s approach is systematic and comprehensive experimentation using a variety of animals and tasks, all within a laboratory setting. When this book first appeared, it set a compelling example, and helped make the study of animal behavior very much an experimental laboratory science.
This landmark study in the investigation of animal intelligence illustrates Thorndike’s thinking on the evolution of the mind. It includes his formal statement of the influential law of effect, which had a significant impact on other behaviorists. Hull’s law of primary reinforcement was closely related to the law of effect and Skinner acknowledged that the process of operant conditioning was probably that described in the law of effect.
The new introduction by Darryl Bruce is an in-depth study of Thorndike’s legacy to comparative psychology as well as a thorough retrospective review of Animal Intelligence. He includes a biographical introduction of the behaviorist and then delves into his theories and work. Among the topics Bruce covers with respect to Thorndike’s studies are the nature of animal intelligence, the laws of learning and connectionism, implications for comparative psychology, and relation to theories of other behaviorists. Animal Intelligence is an intriguing analysis that will be of importance to psychologists and animal behaviorists.