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Psychology and Learning Processes

of Music

Week 8

Learning Theories
Learning can be defined as the process leading to relatively
permanent behavioral change or potential behavioral change. As we
learn, we alter the way we perceive our environment, the way we
interpret the incoming stimuli, and therefore the way we interact, or
Learning is the process by which we receive and process sensory
data, encode such data as memories within the neural structures of
our brain, and retrieve those memories for subsequent use.
Learning Theories are an organized set of principles explaining how
individuals acquire, retain and recall knowledge. They allow us to
understand how learning occurs.
There are many labels used to describe the many theories, there are
many theorists associated with each approach.
The spectrum of learning theories consists of many approaches or
ways of explaining how humans learn.

Behavioral Learning Theories: Behaviorism

The focus of behaviorism is observable human behavior.
John B. Watson (1878-1958), father of behaviorism, was the first
to study how the process of learning affects our behavior. He
formed the school of thought known as Behaviorism.
He defined learning as a sequence of stimulus and response
actions in observable cause and effect relationships. Watson
believed that the stimuli that humans receive might be
generated internally (e.g., hunger) or externally (e.g., a loud
The central idea behind behaviorism is that only observable
behaviors are worthy of research since other abstraction such as
a persons mood or thoughts are too subjective.
Behavioral psychology is basically interested in how our behavior
results from the stimuli both in the environment and within

According to behaviorists, learning can be defined
as the relatively permanent change in behavior
brought about as a result of experience or practice.
The focus is on how the environment impacts
overt behavior.
Learning occurs when new behaviors or changes in
behaviors are acquired as the result of an
individuals response to stimuli.
Principles: 1. The influence of the external
environment contributes to the shaping of the
individuals behavior; 2. The environment presents
an antecedent that prompts a behavior; 3. Whether
the behavior occurs again is dependent on the

As a teaching approach, behaviorism is often referred to as directed
instruction (teacher providing the knowledge to the students either
directly or through the set up of contingencies) or an objectivist
theory of learning. The use of exams to measure observable behavior
of learning, the use of rewards and punishments in our school system
is examples of the Behaviorist influence.
CAI, computer-assisted instruction is an effective way of learning from
a behaviorist perspective as it uses the drill and practice approach to
learning new concepts or skills. The question acting as the stimulus,
elicits a response from the user. Based on the response a reward may
be provided in terms of rewarding the user to a different level.
Applications for instruction: 1. State objectives and break them down
into steps; 2. Provide hints or cues that guide students to desired
behavior; 3. Use consequences to reinforce the desired behavior.

Classical Conditioning: Ivan

Russian psychologist; 1849-1936.
Classical Conditioning was discovered by Pavlov while doing
research on the digestive patterns in dogs.
During his experiments, he would put meat powder in the mouths of
dogs who had tubes inserted into various organs to measure bodily
responses. He discovered that the dogs began to salivate before the
meat powder was presented to them. Then the dog began to
salivate as soon as the person feeding them would enter the room.
Findings support the idea that we develop responses to certain
stimuli that are not naturally occurring.
Pavlov discovered that we make associations which cause us to
generalize our responses to one stimuli onto a neutral stimuli it is
paired with.

Pavlov began pairing a bell sound with the meat powder and
found that even when the meat powder was not presented, the
dog would eventually begin to salivate after hearing the bell.
Since the meat powder naturally results in salivation, these two
variables are called unconditioned stimulus (UCS) and the
unconditioned response (UCR) respectively. The bell and
salivation are not naturally occurring; the dog was conditioned
to respond to the bell. Therefore, the bell is considered the
conditioned stimulus (CS), and the salivation to the bell, the
conditioned response (CR).
Association of stimuli (an antecedent [a stimulus occurring
before a response] stimulus will reflexively [involuntary] elicit
[causes] an innate [inborn] emotional or physiological response;
another stimulus will elicit an orienting response) [S-R Link]

Many of our behaviours today are shaped by the pairing of

stimuli. We make associations all the time and often dont
realize the power that these connections or pairings have on us.
But, in fact, we have been classically conditioned.
Conditioning = learning.
Occurs when a previously conditioned response decreases in
frequency and eventually disappears. To produce extinction, one
needs to end the association between conditioned and
unconditioned stimuli. Extinction provides the basis for
systematic desensitization, a treatment designed to decrease
peoples strong, irrational fears.

Stimulus generalization
Response to a stimulus that is similar to but
different from a conditioned stimulus; the
more similar the two stimuli, the more likely
generalization is to occur. E.g. fear of rats
fear of furry animals.
Stimulus discrimination
The process by which an organism learns to
differentiate among stimuli, restricting its
response to one in particular. E.g. red and
green traffic light.







Operant Conditioning: B. F. Skinner

Skinner expanded on the foundation of behaviorism, established
by Watson, and on the work of Thorndike, by focusing on operant
conditioning. But he believed that internal states could influence
behavior just as external stimuli.
The term operant refers to how an organism operates on the
environment to produce some desirable result, and hence,
operant conditioning comes from how we respond to what is
presented to us in our environment. It can be thought of as
learning due to the natural consequences of our actions. Eg., OC
is at work when we learn that studying hard results in good
Learning in which a voluntary response is strengthened or
weakened, depending on its positive or negative consequences.

Operant Conditioning
In Classical Conditioning, the original behaviors are the
natural, biological responses to the presence of some
stimulus such as food, water, or pain. Operant conditioning
applies to voluntary responses, which an organism performs
deliberately, in order to produce a desirable outcome.
Thorndikes Cat in the box goal was to get his cats to learn
to obtain food by leaving the box; freedom as the
reinforcer, learns through natural consequences, how to
gain the reinforcing freedom and receive food.
Animals in a Skinner Box learn to obtain food by operating
on their environment within the box.
Learning by mistakes learn to act differently based on the
natural consequences of your previous actions.

According to him, voluntary or automatic behavior is either

strengthened or weakened by the immediate presence of a
reward or punishment.
The learning principle behind operant conditioning is that new
learning occurs as a result of positive reinforcement, and old
patterns are abandoned as a result of negative reinforcement.
In the experiment, the food is called a reinforcer, i.e., any
stimulus that increases the probability that a preceding
behavior will occur again. Here, food increases the probability
that the behavior of pecking (response) will take place.
Bonuses, toys, and good grades could also serve as reinforcers,
is they strengthen a response that comes before their


The delivery of the reinforcer is contingent on the response occurring in the

first place.
Primary reinforcer a reward that satisfies some biological need and works
naturally, regardless of a persons prior experience, e.g., food, warmth.
Secondary reinforcer a stimulus that becomes reinforcing by its association
with a primary reinforcer, e.g., money which allows us to buy food.
In Technology of Teaching (1968) he wrote The application of operant
conditioning to education is simple and direct. Teaching is the arrangement
of contingencies of reinforcement under which students learn. They learn
without teaching in their natural environments, but teachers arrange special
contingencies which expedite learning, hastening he appearance of behavior
which would otherwise be acquired slowly or making sure of the appearance
of behavior which otherwise never occur.
Connection of emitted [voluntary] behavior and its consequences
(reinforcement and punishment) [a stimulus occurring after a response that
changes the probability the response will occur again.








Term means to strengthen, refers to any stimulus
which strengthens or increases the probability of a
specific response (Skinner 1938).
Punishment is an unpleasant or painful stimulus
that is added to the environment after a certain
behavior occurs; decreases likelihood of behavior
occurring again.
Reinforcement increases behavior; punishment
decreases behavior.
There are four types of reinforcement: positive,
negative, punishment and extinction.

1. Positive reinforcement adding stimuli to the environment in order
to increase a response. For example, adding a treat to increase the
response. The most common types of positive reinforcement are
praise and rewards.
2. Negative reinforcement taking something negative away/stimuli
whose removal from the environment, in order to increase a
response. Involves the elimination of a negative stimulus e.g.
3. Punishment refers to adding something aversive following a
response in order to decrease a behavior. Eg. disciplining (spanking)
a child for misbehaving. The punishment is not liked and therefore
to avoid it, he or she will stop behaving in that manner. Punishment
can also be characterized by the removal of a positive reinforcer.
4. Extinction When you remove something in order to decrease
behavior. You take something away so that a response is decreased.


Schedules of Reinforcement
Refers to the frequency and timing of reinforcement following
desired behavior. Schedules and patterns of reinforcement affect
the strength and duration of learning.
Behavior that is reinforced every time it occurs is said to be a
continuous reinforcement schedule.
Behavior that is reinforced some but not all of the time is on a
partial reinforcement schedule. Generally, partial reinforcement
schedules produce stronger and longer lasting learning than
continuous reinforcement schedules.
There are many different partial reinforcement schedules that have
been examined, and can be put into two categories: schedules that
consider the number of responses made before reinforcement is
given, called fixed-ratio and variable-ratio schedules, and those that
consider the amount of time that elapses before reinforcement is
provided, called fixed-interval and variable interval schedules.

Schedules of Reinforcement

Fixed-ratio schedule reinforcement is given only after a certain

number of responses are made. E.g., a pigeon might receive a food
pellet every 10th time it pecked a key (ratio 1:10).
Variable-ratio schedule reinforcement occurs after a varying
number of responses rather than a fixed number. Although the
specific number of responses necessary to receive reinforcement
varies, the number of responses usually hovers around a specific
average. E.g., door-to-door salesman.
Fixed-interval schedule a schedule whereby reinforcement is given
at established time intervals, e.g., regular paychecks. Overall rates
of response are relatively low.
Variable-interval schedule a schedule whereby the time between
reinforcements varies around some average rather than being fixed,
usually causing a behavior to be maintained more consistently, e.g.,
surprise quizzes.


Shaping is a process for teaching complex behaviors

by rewarding closer and closer approximations of the
desired final behavior. It is a reinforcing behavior on
the way to target behavior. E.g., tuning getting better.




Developed as a reaction to behaviorism which views the learners and their
behaviors as products of incoming environmental stimuli.
George Miller provided two ideas that are fundamental to this perspective:
1. Short-term memory can only hold 5-9 chunks of meaningful
2. The human mind functions like a computer taking in information,
processes it, stores and locates it and generates responses to it.
Governed by internal process rather than by external circumstance
The study of the thought processes, or cognitions, that underlie learning
(information processing).
Focuses on the unseen, internal mental processes that are occurring within
a person.
Learning is a change in knowledge stored in memory.

Stress the acquisition of knowledge and mental structures and

the processing of information and beliefs. Learning as an internal
mental phenomenon inferred from what people say and do.
Therefore, the central theme in cognitive theories is the mental
processing of information: its acquisition, organization, coding,
rehearsal, storage in and retrieval from memory, and forgetting.
Cognitive theorists emphasize making knowledge meaningful
and taking into account learners perceptions of themselves and
their learning environments. Must consider how such mental
processes might manifest themselves during learning.
Learners as sources of plans, intentions, goals, ideas, memories,
and emotions actively used to attend to, select, and construct
meaning from stimuli and knowledge from experience (Wittrock,

The cognitive view of learning is a general approach that views

learning as an active mental process of acquiring, remembering,
and using knowledge. Learning is a result of our attempts to make
sense of the world by using the mental tools at our disposal.
In the cognitive view, knowledge is learned, and changes in
knowledge make changes in behavior possible. Reinforcement is
seen as a source of feedback about what is likely to happen if
behaviors are repeated. In the behavioral view, the new behaviors
themselves are learned; reinforcement strengthens responses.
Applications for instruction:
Organize new information.
Link new information to existing knowledge.
Use techniques to guide and support students attention, encoding, and
retrieval process.


Knowledge is the outcome of learning. It also guides new
One of the most important elements in the learning process is
what the individual brings to the learning situation. What we
already know determines to a great extent what we will pay
attention to, perceive, learn, remember, and forget.
Knowledge has been found to be important in understanding
and remembering new information (Recht & Leslie, 1988).
The cognitive perspective on knowledge emphasizes
understanding of concepts and theories in different subject
matter domains and general cognitive abilities, such as
reasoning, planning, solving problems and comprehending

There are different kinds of knowledge:
Domain specific knowledge that pertains to a particular task or
General knowledge applies to many different situations, for
example, how to read or write.

Another way of categorizing knowledge is:

Declarative knowledge is knowing that something is the case;
it is knowledge that can be declared, usually in words, through
lectures, books, writing, verbal exchange, etc.
Procedural knowledge is knowing how to do something such as
divide fractions or clean a carburetor it must be demonstrated.
Conditional knowledge is knowing when and why to apply your
declarative and procedural knowledge.

Information Processing Model of

Human minds activity of taking in, storing, and using information.
A primary focus of cognitive psychology is memory (the storage
and retrieval of information). The most widely accepted theory is
labeled the stage theory, based on the work of Atkinson and
Shriffin (1968). The focus of this model is on how information is
stored in memory; the model proposes that information is
processed and stored in 3 stages.
Processing involves gathering and representing information
(encoding); holding information (storage); and getting at the
information when needed (retrieval).
Encoding refers to the process used to transform information so
that it can be stored. This means transforming the data into a
meaningful form such as an association with an existing memory,
an image, or a sound.

Information Processing Model of

Storage means holding onto the information.
Retrieval brings the memory out of storage and
reversing the process of encoding, i.e., returning
the information to a form similar to what we stored.
Stage Theory (Atkinson and Shriffin, 1968)
proposes that information is processed and stored
in 3 stages, i.e., Sensory Memory (STSS), Shortterm memory (STM) and Long-term memory (LTM).


Sensory Memory
Information from the environment we receive through the
SM is the initial processing that identifies these incoming
stimuli so that we can make sense of it.
STSS is affiliated with the transduction of energy (change
from one energy to another). The environment makes
available a variety of sources of information (light, sounds,
smell, hear, cold, etc.) but the brain only understands
electrical energy. The body has special sensory receptor
cells that transduce this external energy to something the
brain can understand. In the process of transduction, a
memory is created. This memory is very short (less than
second for vision; about 3 seconds for hearing).

Sensory Memory
The capacity is very large but the vast amount of sensory
information is fragile in duration.
Sensory memory contains a brief but accurate
representation of physical stimuli to which a person is
exposed. Each representation is constantly being
replaced with a new one.
In order for the learner to transfer the information to the
next stage (STM), it is important that the learner attends
to the information at this initial stage.
There are two major concepts for getting information into
Stimulus has an interesting feature.
Stimulus activates a known pattern.

Short Term Memory

Also called working memory.
STM takes over when the information in our SM is
transferred to our consciousness or our awareness.
Relates to what we are thinking about at any given
moment in time (conscious memory); its content is
activated memory. Recall of new information.
STM is created by our paying attention to an external
stimulus, an internal thought, or both.
Duration of information is short - memories remain is
short-term storage for 15-20/30 seconds unless it is
repeated and are then either transferred to LTM or lost.


Short Term Memory

Limitation on information processing in STM is its capacity of 7 + 2 (5-9)
chunks of information (Miller, 1956) that can be processed at any one time.
Recent research indicates 5+2 for most things we are trying to remember.
There are two major concepts for retaining information in STM:
organization and rehearsal.
Chunking, or grouping pieces of data into meaningful larger units, is a
concept related to organization. It is a technique for getting and keeping
information in STM as well as an elaboration that will help get information
into LTM.
There are two major types of rehearsal: i) Maintenance rehearsal involves
repeating the information in your mind. It is useful for something you plan
to use and then forget, such as a phone number. ii) Elaborative rehearsal
involves connecting the information you are trying to remember with
something you already know, with information from long-term memory.


Short Term Memory

Forgetting: Information may be lost from working
memory through interference and decay.
Interference remembering new information
interferes or gets confused with remembering old
information. The new thought replaces the old one.
Decay when information is not attended to, the
activation level decays and finally drops so low that
the information cannot be reactivated, and
disappears altogether.

Long Term Memory

Also called preconscious memory (information relatively
easily recalled) or unconscious memory (data that is not
available during normal consciousness) in Freudian terms.
Preconscious memory is the focus of cognitive psychology as
it relates to LTM.
LTM is practically unlimited in terms of its storage capacity.
Once information is securely stored in LTM, it can remain
there permanently.
Access to information in LTM requires time and effort.
Paivio (1971) suggests that information is stored in LTM as
either visual image or verbal units, or both. Information
coded both visually and verbally is thought to be easiest to
learn (Mayer & Sims, 1994).

Long Term Memory

The two processes most likely to move information into
long-term memory are elaboration and distributed
Most psychologists distinguish three categories of LTM:
Semantic memory memory for meaning, facts and
generalized information (concepts, principles, rules; problemsolving strategies; learning strategies).
Episodic memory memory for information tied to a particular
place and time, especially information about the events or
episodes of your own life. It is about events we have
experiences, so we can explain when the event happened.
Procedural memory memory for how to do things. Once
learned, this knowledge tends to be remembered for a long

Learning Processes that Improve

way we learn information in the first place affects its recall later.
One important requirement is to integrate new material with information
already stored in LTM using:
Elaboration is the addition of meaning to new information through its
connection with already existing knowledge. We apply our schemas and
draw on already existing knowledge to construct an understanding and
frequently change our existing knowledge in the process. We often
elaborate automatically.
Organization: material that is well organized is easier to learn and to
remember than bits and pieces of information, especially if the
information is complex or extensive. Placing a concept is a structure will
help the student learn and remember both general definitions and
specific examples.
Context: aspects of physical and emotional context (places, rooms, how
we are feeling on a particular day, who is with us) are learned along with
other information.


Reasons for forgetting include:

information not making it to LTM
information gets to LTM but is lost before it can attach
itself to LTM
decay information that is not used for an extended
period of time decays or fades away over time


Gestalt principles of perception explain how we see patterns
in the world around us. It refers to the process of detecting a
stimulus and assigning meaning to it [interpretation of
sensory information]. The meaning is constructed based on
both objective reality and our existing knowledge.
Some of our present day understanding of perception is based
on studies conducted in Germany early in this century by
psychologists called Gestalt theorists.
Gestalt means something like pattern or configuration in
German, and refers to peoples tendency to organize sensory
information into patterns of relationships.


Instead of perceiving bits and pieces of unrelated information, we
perceive organized, meaningful wholes.
Figure-ground, Proximity, Similarity, Closure

There are two other kinds of explanations in information

processing theory for how we recognize patterns and give
meaning to sensory events.
Bottom-up processing (feature analysis): the stimulus must be
analyzed into features or components and assembled into a
meaningful pattern from the bottom up.
Top-down processing: based on knowledge and expectation. To
recognize patterns rapidly, in addition to noting features, we use
what we already know about the situation what we know about
words or pictures or the way the world generally operates.


Concept Formation
A concept is a set of rules to define the categories by
which we group similar events, ideas or objects [a
general category of ideas, objects, people, or
experiences whose members share certain properties].
Principles that lend themselves to concept
Name and define concept to be learned (advance organizer)
Identify relevant and irrelevant attributes (guided discovery)
Give examples and non-examples (tie to what is already
known elaboration)
Use both inductive (example/experience - -> definition) and
deductive reasoning (definition - -> examples)
Name distinctive attributes (guided discovery)

Abstract knowledge structures that organize vast
amounts of information. A schema is a pattern or guide
for understanding an event, concept or skill. The
schema tells you what features are typical of a
category, what to expect. It is like a pattern, specifying
the standard relationships in an object or situation
and has slots which are filled with specific information
as we apply the schema in a particular situation.


Becoming Knowledgeable: Some Basic Principles

Declarative knowledge develops as we integrate new

information with our existing understanding.
Three ways to develop declarative knowledge:
1. Rote memorization the least effective way.
Remembering information by repetition without
necessarily understanding the meaning of the
information. Can be improved by part learning and
distributed practice.


2. Mnemonics are systematic procedures for improving

memory. Mnemonics as memorization aids include peg-type
approaches such as the loci methods, acronyms, chain
mnemonics, and the keyword method. Many of these
strategies use imagery.
Loci method locus meaning place/technique of associating items
with specific places. To use loci, we must first imagine a very familiar
place and pick out particular locations. Every time you have a list to
remember, the same locations serve as pegs to hang memories.
Simply place each item form the list in one of these locations.
Acronym Technique for remembering names, phrases, or steps by
using the first letter of each word to form a new, memorable word. For
example HOMES to remember the Great Lakes (Huron, Ontario,
Michigan, Erie, Superior). Another method forms phrases or
sentences out of the first letters of each word or item in a list, for
example EGBDF (Every Good Boy Does Fine).

Chain mnemonics Memory strategies that associate one

element in a series with the next element. Because the words
must make sense as a sentence, this approach also has some
characteristics of chain mnemonics, methods that connect the
first item to be memorized with the second, the second with
the third, and so on. Another chain-method approach is to
incorporate all the items to be memorized into a jingle such
as i before e except after c.
Keyboard method System of associating new words or
concepts with similar-sounding cue words and images.


3. The best way to learn and remember is to understand

and use information. Meaningful lessons are presented
in vocabulary that makes sense to the students. New
terms are clarified through ties with more familiar words
and ideas. Meaningful lessons are also well organized,
with clear connections between the different elements
of the lesson. Meaningful lessons make natural use of
old information to help students understand new
information through examples or analogies.


Instructors role with cognitive information

Cognitive information processing is based on the
thought process behind the behavior. The changes in
behavior are observed, but only as an indicator to what
is going on in the learners head. The learners mind is
like a mirror and new knowledge and skills will be
reflected. Cognitive information processing is used
when the learner plays an active role in seeking ways
to understand and process information that he or she
receives and relate it to what is already known and
stored within memory. The learner is viewed as having
a more proactive role in his/her own learning with this


The instructor must provide ways to help the learner

process the information. The emphasis is on presenting
the information in a clear and logical manner. The
learner must organize the information to digest and
process it, so chunking and logical sequencing are
essential. Instructional methods used with cognitive
information processing are:
Discussion and reasoning
Problem solving or trouble-shooting
Analogies or imagery
Classifying or chunking information into logical groups
Mnemonics (abbreviations or phrases that help learners


When to use cognitive

information processing
Conditions under which cognitive information

processing effectively contributes to learning:

Learner has experience with subject matter or related

area of knowledge.
Resources are available to help the learner link subject
matter with existing knowledge.
Learner needs or wants to be guided to a more
developed understanding of information.
Instruction time is not severely limited.