Learning is a massively complicated and individual process, a process in which we may all undergo different experiences to get to the same conclusion. In modern society, there is the pressure to optimise the learning experience in order to 'keep up with the times'. In pursuit of efficient learning skills, researchers have utilised operant conditioning.

Operant conditioning, a key component in dog training, is commended by psychologists for removing the emotion from learning. Operant conditioning is learning in the process of associative consequences to behaviour - there can either be a positive (reward) or negative (punishment) response. Operant condition is used widely in dog training, referred to as ‘clicker training’. A method of teaching where the teacher uses solely positive reinforcements (in the form of a simple click or beep) and the concept of punishment is removed.

So, why remove the emotion from learning? It can be suggested that the learning process is slowed down by the need to impress the teacher; the learner craves the reward of pleasing the teacher more than the reward of learning new information. This would explain why people cheat - a desire for praise of success instead of the intrinsic reward that comes with the mastering of a skill or the retention of fact.

When the learning process becomes isolated and stoic in this way, there is a great difference in the quality of learning. This was found in the recent use of clicker training in medical students. Orthopedic surgeon Martin Levy teamed up with Karen Pryor (one of the founders of the clicker training movement) to use clicker training to teach his students basic surgical procedures. Students were rewarded for correct skills with a neutral stimulus (such as a flashlight or tone). Levy found that the students using techniques based on clicker training learnt skills at the same speed as students who had learnt these skills the traditional way. However, clicker training students performed the same skills with greater precision.

While this method is successful in removing the emotion from learning, some would argue that emotion may not be so negative in the learning process. The association of memory with new information may in fact strengthen the recall of information as both emotion and learning are processed in the limbic system.

In the search for optimal learning techniques, the conclusion remains that each person learns different. It’s important to find your own learning style and understand what works for you.

Read more on 'clicker training'

When Everything Clicks: The Power Of Judgment-Free Learning (podcast) by Hidden Brain

The behavior of organisms: an experimental analysis (book) By B F Skinner, 1938

Positive Reinforcement Helps Surgeons Learn (article) by Lindsey Konkel

By Tomi Akingbade, Founder

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