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Ivan Pavlov, in 1927, began working with learning through "classical

conditioning." Initially the dog only salivated when it was eating.

Later Pavlov noticed the dog salivated when he carried the food into
the room. He become curious as to why this change had taken place.
He thought there were both learned and unlearned components to the
dog's behavior. He began experimenting with different stimuli, and if
he rang a bell immediately before giving food to the dog, eventually
the dog would salivate merely in response to the sound of the bell. He
generated terminology to describe his observations. An unconditioned
stimulus (UCS) such as food, generates and instinctual reflexive,
unlearned behavior, such as salivation when eating. The salivation was
called an unconditioned response (UCR) because it was not learned.
The bell, formerly a neutral sound to the dog, become a conditioned
learned stimulus (CLS) and the salivation a conditioned response (CR).
One of Thorndike's great contributions to psychology was the Law of
Effect, which states that responses which occur just prior to a
satisfying state of affairs are more likely to be repeated, and responses
just prior to an annoying state of affairs are more likely NOT to be
repeated. The second contribution was his rejection of the notion that
man is simply another animal that can reason. He believed intelligence
should be defined solely in terms of greater or lesser ability to form
Several additional laws form part of Thorndike's learning theory:
1. Multiple Response: in any given situation, the organism will respond
in a variety of ways if the first response does not immediately lead to a
more satisfying state of affairs. Problem solving is through trial and

2. Set or Attitude: there are predisposition's to behave or react in a

particular way. These are unique for species or groups of related
species, and may be culturally determined in humans.
3. Prepotency of Elements- Thorndike observed that a learner could
filter out irrelevant aspects of a situation and respond only to
significant (proponent) elements in a problem situation.
4. Response by Analogy -In a new context, responses from related or
similar contexts may be transferred to the new context. This is
sometimes referred to as the theory of identical elements.
5. Associative shifting - It is possible to shift any response from one
stimulus to another.
6. Law of Readiness- a series of responses can be chained together to
satisfy some goal which will result in annoyance if blocked.
7. Law of Exercise - connections become strengthened with practice,
and weaken when practice is discontinued.
8. Intelligence is a function of the number of connections made.
B. F. Skinner's system is based on operant conditioning. The
organism, while going about it's everyday activities, is in the process of
operating on the environment. In the course of its activities, the
organism encounters a special kind of stimulus, called a reinforcing
stimulus, or simply a reinforcer. This special stimulus has the effect of
increasing the the behavior occurring just before the reinforcer. This is
operant conditioning: the behavior is followed by a consequence, and
the nature of the consequence modifies the organism's tendency to
repeat the behavior in the future. A behavior followed by a reinforcing
stimulus results in an increased probability of that behavior occurring
in the future.
Ausubel, whose theories are particularly relevant for educators,
considered neo-behaviorist views inadequate. Although he recognized

other forms of learning, his work focused on verbal learning. He dealt

with the nature of meaning, and believes the external world acquires
meaning only as it is converted into the content of consciousness by
the learner. Meaningful verbal learning: Meaning is created through
some form of representational equivalence between language
(symbols) and mental context. Two processes are involved:
1. Reception, which is employed in meaningful verbal learning, and
2. Discovery, which is involved in concept formation and problem
Bruner was one of the founding fathers of constructivist theory.
Constructivism is a broad conceptual framework with numerous
perspectives, and Bruner's is only one. Bruner's theoretical framework
is based on the theme that learners construct new ideas or concepts
based upon existing knowledge. Learning is an active process. Facets
of the process include selection and transformation of information,
decision making, generating hypotheses, and making meaning from
information and experiences.
Piaget stressed that the development of knowledge representation
and manipulation is not genetically programmed into the brain. He
viewed children as young scientists who are driven to understand their
world, and to change their understanding in the face of mistaken
predictions about the world. Changes in knowledge structures drive
changes in fundamental cognitive capabilities. The seemingly natural
progression of cognitive capabilities emerge in an orderly way because
certain ways of thinking must be mastered, and for the foundation for
subsequent ones. The later ones cannot emerge until the early ones
have been mastered.

Maslow's theory is based on the notion that experience is the

primary phenomenon in the study of human learning and behavior. He
placed emphasis on choice, creativity, values, self-realization, all
distinctively human qualities, and believed that meaningfulness and
subjectivity were more important than objectivity. For Maslow,
development of human potential, dignity and worth are ultimate
Rogers (experiential learning) was discouraged by the emphasis on
cognitivism in education. He believed this was responsible for the loss
of excitement and enthusiasm for learning. Rogers' point of view
emphasized the inclusion of feelings and emotions in education. He
believed that education and therapy shared similar goals of personal
change and self-knowing. He was interested in learning that leads to
personal growth and development, as was Maslow.
Vygotsky (social constructivism) shared many of Piaget's views about
child development, but he was more interested in the social aspects of
learning. Vygotsky differs from discovery learning, which is also based
on Piaget's ideas, in that the teacher and older children play important
roles in learning. The teacher is typically active and involved. The
classroom should provide variety of learning materials (including
electronic) and experiences and the classroom culture provides the
child with cognitive tools such as language, cultural history, and social
The Zone of Proximal Development is a concept for which Vygotsky
is well known. It refers to the observation that children, when learning
a particular task or body of information, start out by not being able to
do the task. Then they can do it with the assistance of an adult or older
child mentor, and finally they can do it without assistance. The ZPD is
the stage where they can do it assisted, but not alone. Thus the

teacher often serves to guide a child or group of children as they

encounter different learning challenges.
Bandura's early work in the 1960's represents one of the bridges from
behaviorism to cognitive models for learning. Observational learning
is the process of learning by observing a model and then duplicating a
skill, process, strategy, or task that is demonstrated by the model. This
occurs without overt instructional activity, and the model may not even
know he/she is serving as an instrument of learning for the observer.
According to Bandura, this type of learning is an information processing

The Social Cognitive Theory manifests in numerous scenes throughout

the movie. This theory suggests that by watching what others will and
will not do, people conform to societal norms. A persons behaviour is,
therefore, subject to ones social and physical environment and his or
her individual character dynamics. Simply put, ones conduct is
actively moulded by the conduct of others (Chandra 15).
Baran and Davis propose that observational learning is the driving
force behind the Social Cognitive Theory. As the name suggests,
observational learning is a process whereby when one learns
acceptable conduct through observing the behaviour of others (184).

In one instance, Keating led his students out of the class, asking three
of them to march around the courtyard as the rest watched.
Demonstrating the pressures of conformity, or, in his words,
conformity: the difficulty in maintaining your own beliefs in the face of
others presented when, after a few strides, all three boys began
marching in time to one another. The rest of the class joined in,
clapping to the beat. Keating condensed this as a result of the great
need for acceptance everyone craves; that which ultimately leads to
one altering his or her actions in order to fit in with the environmental
norm at that given moment.
Baran and Davis also note that observational learning constitutes how
undergoing an experience first-hand can be substituted by a
representation of like behaviour in others. That is, by watching how
well or badly someones actions are received by others, observers can
predict how their own behaviour will be received and change their
predetermined course of action accordingly (184). In this way,
conformity is reinforced as one would rethink and self-censure actions
that are visibly deemed to be socially unacceptable (Bryant and
Zillmann 122).
This is exemplified when Cameron instantly rebuked Neil when he
eagerly proposed a revival of the Dead Poets Society. You know how
many demerits were talking, Cameron had snapped. In another
instance, Cameron demonstrates this theory again, by saying, you tell
the truth or youre expelled. His reactions result from the knowledge
of the consequences that would follow and a desire to stay away from
those adverse results.

Bryant and Zillmann fit into account, however, that inner-conflicts may
happen when one is socially punished for behaviour they highly
value (130) a point evident in the striking final scene that ensued.
Keating was leaving the classroom after being fired when, after much
hesitation, the typically quiet and reserved Todd stood on his table and
called out O Captain, My Captain (what Keating told his students to
call him if they felt daring) as a farewell gesture. The brave move
spurred many of his classmates to do the same, despite Headmaster
Nolan getting increasingly agitated, yelling at and warning the boys
that they should stop before punishments followed.
However, this theory does have its limitations, as Keating
demonstrates. Despite being told that his teaching methods were
misguided and he should stick to the set curriculum by fellow
teachers, he continued to conduct his lessons in his previous fashion.
His lessons were colourful and lively, bearing a markedly stark contrast
against the usual lessons conducted at Welton Academy. The strict
decorum of the school had negligible effects on his personal stance as,
throughout the movie, he clearly rejected the idea of armies of
academics placing education in a box and not letting students learn to
think for themselves.
Closely related to the Social Cognitive Theory would be the Spiral of
Silence, another source of the stringent culture of conformity that
enveloped Welton Academy. Noelle-Neumann explains that the
pressures of conformity manifest within what is said and left unsaid.
The Spiral of Silence results in the reluctance of people to voice out
opinions that do not agree with what they assume to be the general
consensus amongst the public (78). Baran and Davis add that it is
ones fear of isolation that causes this debilitating self-censorship,

whereby, one remains silent if he regards his opinion to be of the