Human Learning

By Edward L. Thorndike; Richard M. Elliott | Go to book overview

Lecture 9
IDEATIONAL LEARNING

IT has been customary to contrast such learning as is usually found in the acquisition of skills by man or in the majority of acquisitions of any sort by animals below the primates with such learning as is found in the solution of novel intellectual problems by man. The former is called associative learning or learning by trial and error (trial and success is a more fitting name); the latter may be called learning by ideas.

In our discussions so far we have not needed to make this contrast. The situation-response formula is adequate to cover learning of any sort, whether it comes with ideas or without, conscious or unconscious, impulsive or deliberate, by natural forces, by Gestalten, or even by a miracle; and the facts about belonging, acceptability, repetition of a situation, repetition of a connection, the influence of satisfying and annoying consequences, the identifiability of the situation, and the availability of the response, are presumably as true when ideas are the responses as when anything else is. But the contrast obviously deserves attention, if only because of its importance in the history of psychology.

The contrast as ordinarily used has not depended upon a rigorous definition of ideas, and we may best defer and perhaps altogether avoid such. We all recognize in a vague and general way the difference between a boy learning to swim in the days before swimming teachers or books about swimming, and the same boy learning to solve "If three times a

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