Dr. V.K. Maheshwari, Former Principal
K.L.D.A.V(P.G) College, Roorkee, India
Connectionism, today defined as an approach in the fields of artificial intelligence, cognitive psychology, cognitive science and philosophy of mind which models mental or behavioural phenomena with networks of simple units, is not a theory in frames of behaviourism, but it preceded and influenced behaviourist school of thought. Connectionism represents psychology’s first comprehensive theory of learning. It was introduced by Thorndike, the most commonly cited connectionist.
Connectionism is the theory that all mental processes can be described as the operation of inherited or acquired bonds between stimulus and response. A theory that proposes that all learning consists primarily of the strengthening of the relationship between the stimulus and the response.
Type of learning- The trial and error learning
Connection-Stimulus-response connection, the basic unit of learning according to behaviourist learning theory.
Stimulus- Stimulus can be an object effecting the senses or an idea/ thought. Its nature is purely individualistic that means it differ from organism to organism from time to time from situation to situation and from place to place
1. Something causing or regarded as causing a response.
2. An agent, action, or condition that elicits or accelerates a physiological or psychological activity or response.
3. Something that incites or rouses to action; an incentive:
Response-. The Reaction is always in the form of Attraction or Repulsion .Response can be positive or negative, weak or strong, overt or hidden, right or wrong.
1. The act of responding
2. A reply or an answer.
3. A reaction, as that of an organism or a mechanism, to a specific stimulus
Bond- Bond represents the connection in between the stimulus and response. It is denoted by (–)
Strength of connection- The strength of the connection depends upon the reaction time. ( The time taken by an organism in giving response after receiving stimulus ) the strength of the bond/ connection is inversely proportional to the reaction time. The less the reaction time the more will be the strength of the bond/ connection or vice-versa.
E. L. Thorndike had a powerful impact on both psychology and education. Thorndike experimented on a variety of animals like cats, fishes, chicks and monkeys. His classic experiment used a hungry cat as the subject, a piece of fish as the reward, and a puzzle box as the instrument for studying trial-and-error learning
Thorndike (1898) studied learning in animals (usually cats). He devised a classic experiment in which he used a puzzle box (see fig. 1) to empirically test the laws of learning
Thorndike also conducted some of the first laboratory investigations of animal intelligence. A cat has been placed in a “puzzle-box.” The door of the box is held fast by a simple latch. Just outside the cage is a piece of salmon on a dish. The cat moves around the cage, sniffing at its corners. Suddenly, it sees the salmon, moves to the part of the cage closest to it, and begins extending its paws through the bars toward the fish. The fish is just out of its reach. The cat reaches more and more vigorously, and begins scratching at the bars. After a while these responses cease, and the cat begins to actively move around the cage. A few minutes later, it bumps against the latch. The door opens and the cat scampers out and eats the fish. The cat is placed back in the box and a new piece of fish is placed on the dish. The cat goes through the same responses as before and eventually, bumps into the latch once more.
This is repeated again and again. Gradually the cat stops extending its paws through the bars and spends more and more of its time near the latch. Next, the cat begins to direct almost all of its activity near the latch. Ultimately, the cat develops a quick and efficient series of movements for opening the latch.
Thorndike theorized that the cat learned to escape the “puzzle-box” by trial and error. That is, it performed various responses in a blind mechanical way until some action was effect in freeing it from the box. Thorndike postulated the Trial and Error learning to account for the behaviour of the cats.
Components/ stages in the process of learning-
By analysing the above referred experiment the following components/ stages are evident-
Need- Every need has a quantum of energy ,that force an organism to act for its fulfilment. Need leads an organism to the state of drive (the state of restlessness ).Here the hunger in cat represent need.
Goal.-The object suppose to satisfy the need .Here the piece of fish meat was acting as goal.
Block- a hindrances in between the organism and the goal, is an essentiality for intensive efforts by the organism to reach the goal. These efforts can also be termed as wrong response. Here the close doors of the puzzle box acts as hindrance.
Random movements- various responses in a blind mechanical way until some action was effect in reaching the goal.
Chance success-out of blind mechanical responses the success is achieved by-chance. This effort can also be termed as right response. , Here the cat bumps against the latch. The door opens and the cat scampers out and eats the fish.
Gradual reduction in wrong response-here the cat stops extending its paws through the bars and spends more and more of its time near the latch.
Selection of the right response- ,Here the cat begins to direct almost all of its activity near the latch. Ultimately, the cat develops a quick and efficient series of movements for opening the latch.
Fixation in the nervous system.- . When ultimately, the cat develops a quick and efficient series of movements for opening the latch.
On the basis of above analysis it can be concluded that-
- The most basic form of learning is trial and error learning.
- Learning is incremental not insightful.
- Learning is not mediated by ideas.
- All mammals learn in the same manner.
Primary/ Basic Laws of Learning
Thorndike first presented his theory in his book ‘Animal Learning’ published in 1968. Connectionism Theory or simply S-R or Stimulus-Response Theory by Thorndike is actually one of the most applied theories of learning. It gave three laws of learning in which is, most widely used theory in education. This theory states that learning is the outcome of the relationships or bonds between stimuli and responses. These relationships become habits and may be strengthened or weakened depending on the nature and the frequency of stimuli and responses themselves. Learning or a behaviour is formed when a certain meaningful stimulus to us or have the strong “connection” that we respond to them. These connections become strong and can be further explained by Thorndike’s Three Laws of Learning.
Writing on the subject of the importance of his laws in the action of learning Thorndike says, “Both theory and practice need emphatic and frequent reminders that man’s learning is frequently the action of the laws of readiness, exercise and effect.” Accordingly, in Thorndike’s opinion, man’s learning takes place according of these laws.
1. Law of Exercise.
2. Law of Readiness.
3. Law of Effect.
Law of Exercise.
Practice makes perfect. This is the cliché that could best describe this law. This means that the more the practice of a certain behaviour, more it will be strengthened. Those things most often repeated are the best learned. This is the basis for practice and drill. The mind rarely retains, evaluates, and applies new concepts or practices after only one exposure. A student learns by applying what he has been taught. Every time he practices, his learning continues. There are many types of repetitions. These include student recall, review and summary and manual drill and physical applications. All of these serve to create learning habits.
Connections become strengthened with practice, and weaken when practice is discontinued
Laws of exercise are mainly those of respective habits, as in rote memorizing or the acquiring of muscular skills. Law of exercise has two sub–laws:
(a) Law of use and
(b) Law of disuse.
- Law of use –“ When a modifiable connection is made between a situation and a response keeping other things equal, the strength of that connect is increased”.
Connections between a stimulus and a response are strengthened as they are used .
(b) Law of disuse –“ When a modifiable connection is not made between a situation and a response over a period of time keeping other things equal, the strength of that connection is decreased” .
Connections between a stimulus and a response are weakened as they are not used .
Law of Readiness.
Proper mind set is the key word in this law. This law states that the more “ready” an individual to respond to a stimulus, the stronger will be the bond between them. And, if an individual is ready to respond but is not made to respond, it becomes frustrating and annoying to that person.
In Thorndike words “When a bond is ready to act ,to act gives satisfaction and not to act gives annoyance and when a bond is not ready to act and is made to act annoyance is caused”.
In Thorndike’s the view law of readiness is active in three following conditions:
1. When a conducting unit is prepared to go into action, its work is quite satisfactory because nothing is done to alter its working.
2. When a conduction unit is forced to act while it is not prepared to do so its behaviour is of a nature calculated to excite anger.
3. The inactivity of a conduction unit which is ready to behave, may be unsatisfactory and any reaction may arise is connection with that deficiency.
Thus a series of responses can be chained together to satisfy some goal which will result in annoyance if blocked Interference with goal directed behaviour causes frustration and causing someone to do something they do not want to do is also frustrating.It means that-
a. When someone is ready to perform some act, to do so is satisfying.
b. When someone is ready to perform some act, not to do so is annoying.
c. When someone is not ready to perform some act and is forced to do so, it is annoying.
Law of Effect.
Law of effect means that the learning takes place properly when it results in satisfaction and the learner derives pleasure out of it . On the other hand, if the learner faces failure or get dissatisfaction, the progress on the path of learning is hampered. For example: When a child solves questions correctly he feels encouraged to do more. But if he fails repeatedly, he is unwilling to make subsequent attempts.
This law is based on the feelings of the learner. Learning is stronger when joined with a pleasing or satisfying feeling. It is weakened when linked with an unpleasant feeling. An experience that produces feelings of defeat, anger, frustration, futility, or confusion in a student is unpleasant for him. This will decrease his learning capabilities.
According to Thorndike “Those acts which gives us satisfaction are tends to be repeated and set and fixed in our nervous system and those acts which gives us annoyance are not repeated and so do not fixed.”
Connections are strengthened if the consequence or the effect is positive. In short, behaviour or learning will take place or be repeated if the result of such action is pleasant.. On the other hand, connection between the stimulus and response weakens when the effect is negative . However, Thorndike reiterated that negative consequences do not necessarily weaken the connections, same is true that positive consequences do not always guarantee the recurrence of behaviour.
In Thorndike words “—[to] a modifiable connection being made —-between an S and an R and being accompanied or followed by a satisfying state of affairs man responds, other things being equal by an increase in the strength of that connection. To a connection similar, save that an annoying state of affairs goes with or follows it, man responds, other things being equal, by a decrease in the strength of the connection”.
Thus the Law of Effect states that:
• Responses to a situation that are followed by satisfaction are strengthened
• Responses that are followed by discomfort are weakened.
Secondary laws 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 error. A learner would keep trying multiple responses to solve a problem before it is actually solved
2. Set or Attitude: What the learner already possesses, like prior learning experiences, present state of the learner, etc., while it begins learning a new task.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. Pre-potency 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. : Different responses to the same environment would be evoked by different perceptions of the environment which act as the stimulus to the responses. Different perceptions would be subject to the pre-potency of different elements for different perceivers.
4. Response by Analogy -: New problems are solved by using solution techniques employed to solve analogous problems 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 -: Let stimulus S be paired with response R. Now, if stimulus Q is presented simultaneously with stimulus S repeatedly, then stimulus Q is likely to get paired with response R. It is possible to shift any response from one stimulus to another.
6. Belongingness: If there is a natural relationship between the need state of an organism and the effect caused by a response, learning is more effective than if the relationship is unnatural.
7. Polarity: which specifies that connections occur more easily in the direction in which they were originally formed than the opposite.
8. Spread of effect:- i.e., rewards affect not only the connection that produced them but temporally adjacent connections as well.
Thorndike’s Position on problems of Education.-
Thorndike discussed on six typical problems-
- Capacity-Learning capacity depends upon the number of bonds and their availability. The difference between bright and dull are quantitative rather than qualitative.
- Practice-Repetition of situations does not itself modify connections. Repetition of connections leads to a negligible increase in strength, unless the connections are rewarded. Practice is important because it permits rewards to act upon connections.
- Motivation- Rewards acts directly on neighbouring connections to strengthen them; punishment has no corresponding direct weakening effect. Punishment may work indirectly, however, through making the learner do something else which may confront him with a reward.
- Understanding- The role of understanding is minimized, not because it is indemonstrable, but because it grows out of earlier habits. The best way to get understanding is to built a body of connections appropriate to that understanding. When situations are understood at once, it is a matter of transfer or assimilation, that is, there are enough elements in common with old situations to permit old habits to be used appropriately.
- Transfer-The theory of identical elements is espoused. Reaction to new situations benefits by the identity of these new situations, in part with old situations, and also by a principle of analogy described as assimilation.
- Forgetting- The original law of disuse assumed forgetting to take place in the absence of practice with accordance with the empirical findings.
Connectionism was meant to be a general theory of learning for animals and humans. Thorndike was especially interested in the application of his theory to education including mathematics (Thorndike, 1922), spelling and reading (Thorndike, 1921), measurement of intelligence (Thorndike et al., 1927) and adult learning (Thorndike at al., 1928).
Law of Readiness: Educational Implication
The teacher should make proper use of this law. Whenever we are physically sick or mentally disturbed and at that time if some thing is taught to us, we cannot pay attention to it and as a result do not learn it.
A person learns best when he has the necessary background, a good aptitude, and is ready to learn. . A clear objective and a good reason for learning sometimes help to motivate students to learn. A student who is usually ready to learn meets the instructor halfway. Outside responsibilities, overcrowded schedules, health, finances, or family affairs can take away a student’s desire to learn.
Law of Exercise: Educational Implication-
Educational Implications of the law of exercise is great. It lays importance on the value of repetition, drill and practice for memorizing and mastering of any learnt material. It emphasizes that there should not be a long gap between one practice and the next one because long time disuse may lead to forgetting. Frequent test should be taken to make the students practice the subject learnt.
Those things most often repeated are the best learned. This is the basis for practice and drill. The mind rarely retains, evaluates, and applies new concepts or practices after only one exposure.. There are many types of repetitions. These include student recall, review and summary and manual drill and physical applications. All of these serve to create learning habits.
Law of effect : Educational Implications-
This law is based on the feelings of the learner. Learning is stronger when joined with a pleasing or satisfying feeling. It is weakened when linked with an unpleasant feeling. An experience that produces feelings of defeat, anger, frustration, futility, or confusion in a student is unpleasant for him. This will decrease his learning capabilities. A student’s chance of success is definitely increased if the learning experience is a pleasant one. This law has great educational importance. The teacher can apply it in the classroom situation by introducing the principles of pleasure and pain, reward and punishment. When the student does something wrong and he is punished for it, he will not do the work again because punishment gives him pain. On the other hand, if the student is rewarded for his success or any good work, it gives him pleasure and he wants to repeat the work, making it permanent.