PRINCIPLES OF LEARNING AND LEARNING THEORY
What is learning?
> Major Learning Theories: Gagné’s Hierarchy
Much of our understanding of education and the teaching process comes from Robert
Gagné, an early 20thcentury experimental psychologist who was primarily interested in learning
and instruction. It was Gagné who gave us the most fundamental basis for the process of
teaching and what the instruction process looks like. Gagné’s Hierarchy of Learning presents
eight ways to learn, with each stage building on the lower levels, ensuring that the upper levels
require greater skill and ability to conquer.
From the bottom up they begin with Signal Learning. As it is at the very bottom of the
hierarchy it is part of Pavlov’s “classical conditioning,” or the act of conditioning a subject to
provide a desired response in conjunction with a predetermined signal. Next comes
StimulusResponse Learning – a more advanced version of classical conditioning. It incorporates
the use of schedules and rewards in the learning process. Chaining comes next, wherein a student
begins to learn the ability to connect prior lessons together in an organized sequence. After
Chaining comes Verbal Association. A higherlevel form of Chaining, Verbal Association is the
same idea, but with those prior lessons being vocal in nature as opposed to physical. Note that
only halfway up the hierarchy, we are finally at a point where the student is at a point where they
are beginning to incorporate verbal skills – the magnitude of Gagné’s hierarchy and just how
“basic” his most fundamental lessons are cannot be overstated.
Discrimination Learning, Concept Learning, and Rule Learning are next and are very
linked together. Discrimination Learning is the process of a student being able to form
appropriate responses in an organized and precise way. Concept Learning follows this by