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Learning is acquiring new, or modifying existing, knowledge, behaviors, skills, values, or preferences and may involve synthesizing different types of information. The ability to learn is possessed by humans, animals and some machines. Progress over time tends to follow learning curves. Learning is not compulsory, it is contextual. It does not happen all at once, but builds upon and is shaped by what we already know. To that end, learning may be viewed as a process, rather than a collection of factual and procedural knowledge.

Simple non-associative learning


In psychology, habituation is an example of non-associative learning in which there is a progressive diminution of behavioral response probability with repetition stimulus. An animal first responds to a stimulus, but if it is neither rewarding nor harmful the animal reduces subsequent responses. One example of this can be seen in small song birds—if a stuffed owl (or similar predator) is put into the cage, the birds initially react to it as though it were a real predator. Soon the birds react less, showing habituation. If another stuffed owl is introduced (or the same one removed and re-introduced), the birds react to it again as though it were a predator, demonstrating that it is only a very specific stimulus that is habituated to (namely, one particular unmoving owl in one place). Habituation has been shown in essentially every species of animal, as well as the large protozoan Stentor coeruleus.


Sensitisation is an example of non-associative learning in which the progressive amplification of a response follows repeated administrations of a stimulus (Bell et al., 1995)[citation needed]. An everyday example of this mechanism is the repeated tonic stimulation of peripheral nerves that will occur if a person rubs his arm continuously. After a while, this stimulation will create a warm sensation that will eventually turn painful. The pain is the result of the progressively amplified synaptic response of the peripheral nerves warning the person that the stimulation is harmful.[clarification needed] Sensitization is thought to underlie both adaptive as well as maladaptive learning processes in the organism.

Associative learning

Associative learning is the process by which an association between two stimuli or a behavior and a stimulus is learned. The two forms of associative learning are classical and operant conditioning. In the former a previously neutral stimulus is repeatedly presented together with a reflex eliciting stimuli until eventually the neutral stimulus will elicit a response on its own. In operant conditioning a certain behavior is either reinforced or punished which results in an altered probability that the behavior will happen again. Honeybees display associative learning through the proboscis extension reflex paradigm.

Classical conditioning

The typical paradigm for classical conditioning involves repeatedly pairing an unconditioned stimulus (which unfailingly evokes a reflexive response) with another previously neutral stimulus (which does not normally evoke the response). Following conditioning, the response occurs both to the unconditioned stimulus and to the other, unrelated stimulus (now referred to as the "conditioned stimulus"). The response to the conditioned stimulus is termed a conditioned response. The classic example is Pavlov and his dogs. Meat powder naturally will make a dog salivate when it is put into a dog's mouth; salivating is a reflexive response to the meat powder. Meat powder is the unconditioned stimulus (US) and the salivation is the unconditioned response (UR). Then Pavlov rang a bell before presenting the meat powder. The first time Pavlov rang the bell, the neutral stimulus, the dogs did not salivate, but once he put the meat powder in their mouths they began to salivate. After numerous pairings of the bell and the food the dogs learned that the bell was a signal that the food was about to come and began to salivate when the bell was rung. Once this occurred, the bell became the conditioned stimulus (CS) and the salivation to the bell became the conditioned response (CR).


Imprinting is the term used in psychology and ethology to describe any kind of phase-sensitive learning (learning occurring at a particular age or a particular life stage) that is rapid and apparently independent of the consequences of behavior. It was first used to describe situations in which an animal or person learns the characteristics of some stimulus, which is therefore said to be "imprinted" onto the subject.

Observational learning

The learning process most characteristic of humans is imitation; one's personal repetition of an observed behavior, such as a dance. Humans can copy three types of information simultaneously: the demonstrator's goals, actions, and environmental outcomes (results, see Emulation (observational learning)). Through copying these types of information, (most) infants will tune into their surrounding culture.


Play generally describes behavior which has no particular end in itself, but improves performance in similar situations in the future. This is seen in a wide variety of vertebrates besides humans, but is mostly limited to mammals and birds. Cats are known to play with a ball of string when young, which gives them experience with catching prey. Besides inanimate objects, animals may play with other members of their own species or other animals, such as orcas playing with seals they have caught. Play involves a significant cost to animals, such as increased vulnerability to predators and the risk of injury and possibly infection. It also consumes energy, so there must be significant benefits associated with play for it to have evolved. Play is generally seen in younger animals, suggesting a link with learning. However, it may also have other benefits not associated directly with learning, for example improving physical fitness.


Enculturation is the process by which a person learns the requirements of their native culture by which he or she is surrounded, and acquires values and behaviors that are appropriate or necessary in that culture.[8] The influences which, as part of this process limit, direct or shape the individual, whether deliberately or not, include parents, other adults, and peers.[8] If successful, enculturation results in competence in the language, values and rituals of the culture.[8] (compare acculturation, where a person is within a culture different to their normal culture, and learns the requirements of this different culture).

Episodic learning

Episodic learning is a change in behavior that occurs as a result of an event.[9] For example, a fear of dogs that follows being bitten by a dog is episodic learning. Episodic learning is so named because events are recorded into episodic memory, which is one of the three forms of explicit learning and retrieval, along with perceptual memory and semantic memory.[10]

Meaningful learning

Meaningful learning refers to the concept that the learned knowledge (let's say a fact) is fully understood by the individual and that the individual knows how that specific fact relates to other stored facts (stored in your brain that is). For understanding this concept, it is good to contrast meaningful learning with the much less desirable, rote learning. Rote learning requires only that the individual remembers the information without any regard for understanding, in other words learning by rote allows the individual to recite facts without truly understanding them. Meaningful learning, on the other hand, implies there is a comprehensive knowledge of the context of the facts learned.

Informal learning

Informal learning occurs through the experience of day-to-day situations (for example, one would learn to look ahead while walking because of the danger inherent in not paying attention to where one is going). It is learning from life, during a meal at table with parents, play, exploring, etc.

See also

. Oswego Movement

Notes 1. Jungle Gyms: The Evolution of Animal Play
2. What behavior can we expect of octopuses?
3. Sandman, Wadhwa, Hetrick, Porto & Peeke. (1997). Human fetal heart rate dishabituation between thirty and thirty-two weeks gestation. Child Development, 68, 1031–1040.
4. Strathern, Marilyn (March 2010). "Learning".
5. Wood, D.C. (1988). Habituation in Stentor produced by mechanoreceptor channel modification. Journal of Neuroscience, 2254 (8).
6. Bitterman et al. 1983. Classical Conditioning of Proboscis Extension in Honeybees (Apis mellifera). J. Comp. Psych. 97: 107-119.
7. Tsakanikos, E. (2006). Associative learning and perceptual style: are associated events perceived analytically or as a whole? Personality and Individual Differences, 40, 579-586.
8. a b c Grusec, Joan E.; Hastings, Paul D. "Handbook of Socialization: Theory and Research", 2007, Guilford Press; ISBN 1-59385-332-7, ISBN 978-1-59385-332-7; at page 547.
9. Terry, W. S. (2006). Learning and Memory: Basic principles, processes, and procedures. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.
10. Baars, B. J. & Gage, N. M. (2007). Cognition, Brain, and Consciousness: Introduction to cognitive neuroscience. London: Elsevier Ltd.
11. Augmented Learning, Augmented Learning: Context-Aware Mobile Augmented Reality Architecture for Learning
12. Hassard, Jack. "Backup of Meaningful Learning Model". Retrieved 30 November 2011.

This article uses material from the Wikipedia article "Learning", which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.