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Psychology Laboratory Report

Literature Review

This research is devoted to examining the dependent variables used to measure learning, and to determine the effects of important independent variables on the learning process.  Many psychologists regard learning as the most significant process in understanding human behavior.  In view of its importance the special attention is paid on both to the methods of studying learning and to some of the theories that have been proposed to explain the process.

Learning is defined by some as a relatively permanent change in behavior that occurs as the result of practice.  It could be defined more simply as profiting from experience, was it not that some learning does not profit the learner: Useless and often harmful habits are learned as well as useful ones. A classic issue faced by researchers attempting to understand the fundamental laws of learning is whether there is more than one basic learning mechanism.

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The task before an applied psychology of learning is clear.  If psychologists can offer suggestions for improving the efficiency of learning, they may help us avoid wasteful methods in our own learning and in directing the learning the others.  The task before general and systematic psychology in the study of learning is related to that of applied psychology because the more we know about the fundamentals of learning, the more soundly we can make recommendations for practice.  But the scientific understanding of learning has wider scope.  Other psychologist, not convinced that it is most profitable to treat all learning as habit formation, are impressed by the role of understanding in learning, or, in more technical vocabulary, the role of cognitive process.  (Hilgard & Atkinson, 1967)

According to Shanks & John (1994)

Many authors have argued that in addition to a learning system, whose functioning is accompanied by concurrent awareness of what is being learned, humans possess a quite separate system that operates independently of awareness. The second dimension, which turns out to be closely related, is concerned with the content of learning. Specifically, it refers to the idea that distinct learning systems encode very different sorts of information, one system inducing rules while a second system memorizes instances.

            One such method of improve learning is by repetition, increasing the time phase or exposure to the task and learning with grammatical sequences.

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"Mnemonic" means "aiding memory." Often referred to as "memory trick," mnemonics work by developing a retrieval plan during encoding so that a word can be recalled through verbal and visual clues. Mnemonics help learners because they aid the integration of new material into existing cognitive structures and because they provide retrieval clues. Learners need to experiment with different kinds of mnemonic techniques to see which ones work best for them.  (Vocabulary learning)

Rogers (1969) distinguished two types of learning: cognitive (meaningless) and experiential (significant). The former corresponds to academic knowledge such as learning vocabulary or multiplication tables and the latter refers to applied knowledge such as learning about engines in order to repair a car. The key to the distinction is that experiential learning addresses the needs and wants of the learner. Rogers lists these qualities of experiential learning: personal involvement, self-initiated, evaluated by learner, and pervasive effects on learner.

To Rogers (1969), experiential learning is equivalent to personal change and growth. Rogers (1969) feels that all human beings have a natural propensity to learn; the role of the teacher is to facilitate such learning. This includes: (1) setting a positive climate for learning, (2) clarifying the purposes of the learner(s), (3) organizing and making available learning resources, (4) balancing intellectual and emotional components of learning, and (5) sharing feelings and thoughts with learners but not dominating.

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According to Rogers (1969), learning is facilitated when: (1) the student participates completely in the learning process and has control over its nature and direction, (2) it is primarily based upon direct confrontation with practical, social, personal or research problems, and (3) self-evaluation is the principal method of assessing progress or success. Rogers also emphasizes the importance of learning to learn and an openness to change.

Roger's theory of learning evolved as part of the humanistic education movement (e.g., Patterson, 1973; Valett, 1977).

Shanks and John (1994) proposed that

There exist independent explicit and implicit learning systems is based on two further distinctions: (i) learning that takes place with versus without concurrent awareness, and (ii) learning that involves the encoding of instances (or fragments) versus the induction of abstract rules or hypotheses. Implicit learning is assumed to involve unconscious rule learning.

In the study, one group of first-semester Spanish students were encouraged to acquire vocabulary primarily through semantic mapping. In another group, direct vocabulary instruction was conducted using a variety of small group, oral activities including picture description, story-telling and information gap problems. The treatments were carried out for an entire semester and the classes were similar with regard to level (as determined by a placement test), size and time of class.

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These two researches were carried as follows.  In the first research, students were given a series of L2 words and asked to give their L1 definitions and to rank their mastery of each word on a continuum. Where students were able to give definitions, the mean scores from the two groups did not vary significantly. However, in the semantic mapping group, a much higher percentage (63%) of the students indicated that they had never seen zero to five of the tested items compared to the vocabulary activities group, in which 62% of the students indicated that they had never seen six or more of the tested items.

In the second research question, students were asked to group vocabulary items according to semantic fields. Preliminary analysis of the data reveals a significant difference between the mean scores of the two groups (t-test, 60 df, p< .05) The results indicate the semantic mapping group was better able to access vocabulary meaning by relating items to their semantic fields than the vocabulary activities group who had not learned this strategy.

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Distinctions between different types of learning have been common in psychology for many years. One such distinction is between declarative and procedural learning, where declarative learning refers to the acquisition of factual knowledge and procedural learning to the acquisition of skills. Of these distinctions, the one between declarative and procedural learning has probably attracted the most attention, with a variety of empirical phenomena being interpreted within that framework.  (Shanks & John, 1994)

Researchers have not found any one study strategy or skill that is best for all students in all learning tasks (Alvermann & Moore, 1991; Anderson & Armbruster,1984; Devine, 1991). There are many useful study strategies and skills, and the ones that a particular individual uses will depend on the individual and the learning situation (Alvermann & Moore, 1991; Anderson & Armbruster, 1984).

The majority of second language vocabulary acquisition studies examine the acquisition of vocabulary through reading, or the acquisition of a large passive vocabulary that facilitates reading comprehension (Krashen, 1989), generally in highly motivated students with some degree of competency in the language.  Direct vocabulary instruction that teaches semantic mapping as an acquisition strategy is more effective than vocabulary acquisition activities that teach only words rather than strategies for acquiring words.

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The neural basis for learning is debatably one of the interesting pursuits currently facing neuroscience. An early conceptual scheme describing how this physiology might occur in the brain was contributed by Donald Hebb (Hebb, 1949). He hypothesized that memories were formed by a distribution of synaptic weights over a neural network. The weighting of particular synaptic connections creates a situation where, when one neuron among a network fires, the probability of other neurons in the network depends upon the weights associated with each connection. In this way, he hypothesized that memories are stored in an inactive form, which has been more recently come to be called a dormant engram.  Hebb further proposed that the enhancement of such weights in a network could be brought about by "repeated stimulation of particular receptors" leading to an "assembly of association area cells which can act briefly as a closed system after stimulation has ceased." (Montgomery, 1998)

Throughout this resource it has been stressed that children and young adults learn to read and write by having authentic, meaningful reading and writing experiences and by getting support from more experienced individuals (Wells, 1990). Students learn to use study strategies and skills in the same way they learn other strategies and skills. Students must have authentic, meaningful problem-solving experiences that require the use of various study strategies and skills. If students require more directed support, the teacher should provide mini-lessons within the context of the learning experience. This is an example of the skills through application concept described by Walmsley and Walp (1990).

An important problem in the economy of learning is the extent to which the learning of one thing helps in the learning of something else.  If every response we learned were specific to the situation in which it was learned (i.e., if there were no transfer from one situation to another), the amount of learning one would have to cram into a lifetime would be phenomenal.  Fortunately, most learned behaviors are readily transferable, with some modification, to a number of different situations.  The influence that learning one task may have on the subsequent learning or performance of another task is called transfer of learning.  (Hilgard & Atkison, 1967)

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Further, Shanks and John (1994) reports that

While different authors have used a variety of different definitions to capture the fine detail of the explicit/implicit learning distinction, the key factor is the idea that implicit learning occurs without concurrent awareness of what is being learned, and represents a separate system from that which operates in more typical learning situations, where learning does proceed with concurrent awareness (i.e., explicitly). At the same time, it is clear that many authors have been concerned with the possibility that different learning tasks might give rise to different sorts of knowledge, where one sort is abstract or rule-based, and the other is based on separate fragments or instances.

            A meta-analysis of research on vocabulary instruction (Stahl & Fairbanks, 1986) indicated that "the methods that did appear to produce the highest effect on comprehension and vocabulary measures were methods that included both definitional and contextual information about each to-be-learned word (or "mixed" methods)." The reason why one needs multiple information sources in learning word meanings is that knowledge of word meanings is not so simple that one can acquire them just by being given simple information such as definitions or contextual clues only. To "truly know the meaning of a word is to possess complex and ill-structured knowledge" (Anderson & Nagy, 1989). As they suggested based on Spiro and his colleagues' studies (e.g. Spiro & Jehng, 1990), one aspect of ill-structuredness is the contextual interaction of concepts. The meaning of a sentence is not a simple compositional function of the core meanings of individual words, and in order for learners to understand sentence meanings, they have to have complex knowledge beyond simple core meanings which dictionary definitions provide. Also, in an ill-structured domain, knowledge of the domain can not be reduced to a single generalization or organizational scheme. Complex structures of related word meanings can be characterized exactly as this kind of case.

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The paradigm case is language learning, where people are assumed to be able implicitly to learn abstract grammatical rules. Few non-linguists are aware of or able to articulate the grammatical rules supposed to underlie their linguistic performance, and so it makes sense to imagine that those rules are acquired, if at all, without ever being directly represented in consciousness. The rules are abstract in the sense that they apply equally to any linguistic tokens, including novel ones, that come from the appropriate syntactic categories.  (Shanks & John, 1994)

Considering the complexity and ill-structuredness of knowledge of word meanings, it is important to provide learners with multiple sources of information nonlinearly and nonuniformly to help them gain sufficient information about word meanings in a way which allows them to acquire usable and applicable knowledge about the words. Hypertext systems are ideal for providing multiple information in this way.

A rather straightforward prediction emerges from this plausible model of the cognitive system. Since the conscious learning mechanism relies on working memory, there should be situations where learning is profoundly affected by loading the working memory system with a secondary task such as generating random numbers. (Shanks & John, 1994)

Information relevant to word meanings include "definitions" of the words showing general and crystallized essence of the meanings, example sentences and texts showing in what contexts those words are used, and related words including synonyms, antonyms, derivatives, and so on. Even though the dictionary-type of word definitions have limitations as discussed above, they can be useful information about clues to some aspects of word meanings. Knowledge about concrete examples about word usage should be important parts of knowledge about word meanings (Anderson & Nagy, 1989).

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Works Cited

Anderson, R. C., & Nagy, W. E. (1989). Word Meanings (Technical Report No. 485). Center for the Study of Reading, University of Illinois. Champaign, IL.

Anderson, T.H., & Armbruster, B.B. (1984). Studying. In P.D. Pearson (Ed.), Handbook of reading research (657- 679).

Alvermann, D.E., & Moore, D.W. (1991). Secondary schools. In R. Barr, M.L. Kamil, P.B. Mosenthal, & P.D. Pearson New York: Longman.  (Eds.), Handbook of reading research (Vol. 2, 951-983). New York: Longman.

Devine, T.G. (1991). Studying: Skills, strategies, and systems. In J. Flood, J.M. Jensen, D. Lapp, & J.R. Squire (Eds.), Handbook of research on teaching the English language arts (743-753). New York:  Macmillan Publishing Company.

Hebb, D.O. (1949). The Organization of Behavior. Wiley, New York

Hilgard, E. R. & Atkinson, R. C.  (1967).  The Nature of Learning.  Introduction to Psychology.  4th ed.  Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc.  New York.
Krashen, S. 1989. We Acquire Vocabulary And Spelling By Reading: Additional Evidence For The Input Hypothesis. The Modern Language Journal, 73:IV, 440-464.

Montgomery, S. M.  (1998). LTP in the Hippocampus: A Mechanism for Long-term Memory                                             Storage?  December 5, 1998.  Nov. 14, 2001 <http://www-cogneuro.bu.edu/people/sean/ltp.htm>

Patterson, C.H. (1973). Humanistic Education. Engelwood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Rogers, C.R. (1969). Freedom to Learn. Columbus, OH: Merrill.

Spiro, R. J., & Jehng, J. (1990). Cognitive flexibility and hypertext: Theory and technology for the nonlinear and multidimensional traversal of complex subject matter. In D. Nix & R. Spiro (Eds.), Cognition, education, and multimedia. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Shanks, D.R. & St. John, M.F. (1994). Characteristics of dissociable human learning systems. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 17 (3): 367-447.

Stahl, S. A., & Fairbanks, M. M. (1986). The effects of vocabulary instruction: A model-based meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 56, 72-110.

Valett, R.E. (1977). Humanistic Education. St Louis, MO: Mosby.

Vocabulary Acquisition in Basic Language Courses: Teaching Strategies or Teaching Words?  Nov. 14, 2001 <http://data.georgetown.edu/departments/spanport/conferences/abstract.cfm?ID=55>

Vocabulary Learning Strategies.  Mnemonic Techniques.  Nov. 14, 2001 <http://www.public.asu.edu/~ickpl/learningvocab.htm#Linguistic>

Walmsley, S.A., & Walp, T.P. (1990). Integrating Literature And Composing Into The Language Arts Curriculum: Philosophy And Practice. Elementary School Journal, 90(3), 251-274.

ells, G. (1990). Creating The Conditions To Encourage Literate Thinking. Educational Leadership, 47(6), 13-17.


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