Learning is Merely the Association between a Selected Stimulus and a Desired Response



Learning reflects individual’s consumption of knowledge. It is a lifelong activity for individuals, wherein, respective people experience intellectual and spiritual development (Aspin, Chapman, Hatton and Sawano, 2012). The concept of learning is an effective aspect, which can efficiently relate with the proactive factors along with the required responses. The present focuses on discussing the statement, ‘learning is merely the association between a selected stimulus and a desired response’. Precisely, the current study generated arguments on the factors that positive or negative theoretical aspects in relation with learning and its association with stimulus along with desired responses. Contextually, a similar type of simplistic view on learning has been highlighted from the Skinner’s theoretical approach. The underneath sections of the discussion highlighted the facts that portrays the learning process, possible stimuli from available resources, and its related theories. It also discusses about the association between stimuli and response with respect to learning and is related generalize situations. To develop argumentative discussion on these stated aspects and to generate views on the statement, the present study discussed different theories associated with learning along with that to the stimuli and responses. 

Critical Discussion 

Learning Concept 

Learning is considered as a comprehensive conceptual understanding that advocates continuous development, relevant implementation, and further evaluation. According to National Academy of Sciences (2018), there are seven principles of human learning such as conceptual learning (learning is developed only when new and already existing knowledge are capable to structure effective disciplines). Additionally, the next principle is prior knowledge (there is a common tendency among the learners that they always attempt to develop new understanding on the basis of their previous knowledge). This is followed by metacognition, which facilitates learning through the identification, monitoring, and regulation of cognitive processes. Another principle is differences among learners (different learners have diversified strategies of learning, abilities and even the learning styles, which diversely interact with prior experiences). Furthermore, motivation is another principle, which is the sense of affects and influences towards learning., The sixth principle is situated learning, which focuses on engaging through practice and activities for shaping the actual learning process., The final principle is the learning communities, which supports interactions learning. Based on these principles, it is evaluated that there are several factors that associated with the learning process (National Academy of Sciences, 2018). These principles can be used for the professional and personal learning development of individuals. Considering the facts associated with these stated seven principles, it is emphasized that there are different theorists stated about diversified facts. These are further allied with diversified psychological perspectives along with biological, social, and cultural factors for learning development. Furthermore, it is also aligned with behaviourist and cognitive approaches of learning. 

Conceptual Theories and Argument

The presented statement, ‘learning is merely the association between a selected stimulus and a desired response’ significantly reflects the theoretical aspects accounted by Skinner, wherein the behaviouralistic approach on learning are perceived as a factor of effective learning. The theory of Skinner depicts about learning and refers it as a “function of change in overt behaviour”. Individual responses in the context of events consider as change in behaviour and the event can be identified as stimuli. Reinforcement is one of the key facilitator of Skinner’s S-R theory. According to Skinner’s theory, stimuli can be a form of reward or punishment, which can enhance or reduce the responses (Culatta, 2015). Contextually, it is evident that positive and negative reinforcers can strengthen individual’s behaviour. Moreover, it has also stated about the behavioural model, which includes antecedent, behaviour, and consequence. Antecedent factor is an event, which can be used as a trigger part of the situation. Behaviour denotes towards the reaction of individual and can be either good or bad. Consequence refers the final positive or negative outcome of the behaviour. Positive reinforcement of this process can lead towards reward system. For instance, in pre-school environment, the process of learning significantly follows A-B-C behavioural theoretical concept developed by Skinner (Grace, 2017). 

Considering the associated aspects of Skinner’s theory, it is evident that ‘merely’ can effectively reflect the overall learning process for an individual. On a contrary note, the evidence of Skinner’s theory does not address the expected responses from specific stimuli. Tolman’s theoretical aspects on learning contradict with the fact that people always get, and only get, the considered necessary responses from the specific stimuli. Based on the Tolman’s theory of learning, individuals can act more than ‘merely’ with respect to the stimuli responses. They can develop activities based on their beliefs, changing situations of environment, people’s attitudes. Then after, they try their best to accomplish the projected goals. Tolman argued and contradicted Skinner’s S-R theory and commented that reinforcement is not an essential element for effective learning (McLeod, 2013). Based on Tolman’s projected aspects, it is evident that learning is associated with human behaviour and can develop through social and cultural factors. Additionally, Tolman’s accounts indicate towards the notion of anticipation in cognitive learning. This particular fact is further supported by the theories of Bandura and Vygotsky. 

Bandura’s social learning theory states about the different social stimuli that can help in learning the individuals through observation, modelling, and imitation. This theory can be considered as a connection between cognitive learning theory and behaviourist theory. Bandura in his accounts of social learning theory states about individual observation, role playing, without change incorporation of learning, and transition from behavioural learning to cognitive learning (LSRHS, 2012; Bandura, n.d.). Bandura (n.d.) also depicted about the impact of social learning. According to him, positive or negative reinforcement impact of social learning cannot always match with the individual’s requirements. However, it can lead towards significant changes in the person’s behaviour (McLeod, 2016). Based on the Bandura’s theory, one can understand the ecological roles of imitation in the learning process. For instance, it can be asserted that children observe their identifiable people and most often imitate their behaviours for which the respective person is being rewarded. Considering this evidence, it is highlighted that stimuli are available as the resource of learning and can be easily selected as well. 

Vygotsky’s theoretical framework refers towards the roles of social interaction in cognition development of the individual. In support of Bandura’s theory, Vygotsky asserts that child’s learning development involves two phases, namely social and individual. The theory of Vygotsky reported regarding the personal consciousness as the end of socialisation. Vygotsky’s theory is complementary of the social learning theory of Bandura. Vygotsky believed that cognitive development has certain range of limitation for individuals based on their age. However, for complete cognitive development, an individual needs the assistance of social interaction (Culatta, 2015a). Vygotsky’s framework also stated about the limitations of the behavioural learning for which individuals require concentrating on human interaction. Social interaction here is referred as a stimulus for the learning, but the learning is not completely dependent on it. Based on the theories of Bandura and Vygotsky, it is emphasised that there are certain factors, which can affect the quality, potency, and fortitude of the connection between the stimulus and response. 

Chomsky’s accounts highly contradict with Skinner’s theoretical perspective related with S-R association of learning. The given statement and Skinner’s theory projected the history of reinforcement and stimulation, while practically general principles of the stated factors is perceived to be complex, trivial, and elementary in nature. This finding of Chomsky supported that S-R association has a generalise point of view in comparing other situations, and/or turn into more generalised form (Chomsky, n.d.). Based on the understanding of this statement and Skinner’s theory, it is emphasised that language development leads through environmental influence. Chomsky’s perception is therefore considered to be different from Skinner’s. According to Chomsky, children cannot acquire the required elements for language acquisition. Chomsky rather proposed theory of Universal Grammar that facilitates the idea of innate language development perception (Lemetyinen, 2012). The language acquisition aspect is a contradictory subject because theorists are still not convinced with Universal Grammar without specific innate equipment or the linguistic input. Besides, the immature understanding of language development, Maslow provides an in-depth understanding of the internal or external factors of motivation or stimuli for learning/development. Maslow’s theory significantly highlighted the fact that different extrinsic and intrinsic factors are able to motivate people towards further development. For instance, within an organizational environment, management should deal with diversified workforce. For motivating this diversified workforce, management influences them with different factors such as financial security, recognition, opportunities for socialisation among others. Most often, it is found that both extrinsic and intrinsic motivational factors are effective for different people (Kaur, 2013; Maslow, 2000). 

Development of Own theory

From the understanding of different learning theories and with the help of personal organisational learning needs, it is evaluated that in different organisational situations, individual needs intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. This can help the individualsto develop at personal, as well as, professional level. The personal theory can be influenced from Bandura and Maslow’s theoretical perceptions. From Bandura’s theory, one can develop an understanding of the association of cognitive learning theory and behaviourist theory. Additionally, this understanding can accomplish with the influence of stimuli from Maslow’s motivational theory. Based on the personal understanding of theories’ implications and secondary influences, one can project a framework of individual learning. According to which, there are certain factors including personal and professional goals, self assessment, feedback, prioritisation of learning & developmental needs, generation of action plan, and implementation of plan (The Trustees of Princeton University, 2015). 


Based on the overall discussion, it can be concluded that there are immense contradiction regarding the ‘merely’ connection between stimulus and response in the learning process. Considering the theories’ perceptions, it can be inferred that the term ‘merely’ is inappropriate for projecting the S-R association, while personally, it is believed that stimulus and response is interrelated with each other. Selected stimulus can develop desired response, however, there are certain other factors that also significantly generate impact on the situation and lead towards change in behaviour. 

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