What is Associative Learning?

The adoption of outcomes-based education (OBE) system has shifted the perspective of schools in the Philippines in providing education, putting more focus on their students, above everything else.

Mapúa, a top engineering school in the Philippines, has been a trailblazer in the country’s education system, in this regard. Bearing in mind how its graduates can brave and surmount challenges of their chosen professions, whether they launch their careers locally or abroad, Mapúa has defined the learnings and skills that its students must possess by the time they graduate. These learnings and skills are in the form of desired outcomes, which have been the bases of the Institute’s curricula.

While schools discover and explore ways to ensure efficient and effective learning of its students, the latter must still have a hand in improving their learning styles and capacity. After all, learning is an individual process.

Learning is defined as the act of gaining and understanding new knowledge or adapting to an existing knowledge, behavior, skills, values, or preference.

There are different methods of learning. Today we focus on Associative Learning.

What is Associative Learning?

Associative learning is a method or process wherein the learner associates a certain response to an object or a stimulus resulting in a positive or negative outcome.  It links ideas to continually reinforce one another. Associative Learning can be habitual conditioning or what is called Operant Conditioning, and the other one is a more controlled type of conditioning called Classical Conditioning. These two types give us a better understanding of the conditions of human behavior.

Operant Conditioning

Operant conditioning, also called instrumental conditioning, is a learning process wherein rewards and punishments are used in order to reinforce a certain behavior. It associates one behavior to its effect, focusing on the consequences that influence it. Actions or behaviors that are followed by an advantageous outcome is more likely to be repeated than behavior that have a less desirable outcome. This behavior can be observed in our day-to-day activities. For example, we know that we should not touch a stove right after turning it off because we know that it is still very hot and will burn us. Our action is to avoid the hot stove, or protect ourselves from the heat of the stove because the consequence does not elicit a desirable outcome. Another example can be in the form of observing children. A child will try to figure out how to open a box or a container if there is a treat waiting inside. To get to the good parts, they would have to learn how to do a certain behavior, like opening a container.

Classical Conditioning

Classical Conditioning is another type of Associative Learning in which the subject associates one idea with another. Classical Conditioning is a learning process wherein two stimuli are continually reinforced with one another until it reaches the point wherein the first stimulus will elicit the same reaction as the second stimulus. This is clearly demonstrated in the classic Pavlov’s Dog. It is also called respondent conditioning, and is demonstrated in Ivan Pavlov’s experiment. The procedure for the experiment is as follows: Pavlov rings the bell to signal a treat. At first the dog was not responsive to the bell ringing and did not associate the bell with a treat. The dog would salivate when the treat was presented, but that was after the bell ringing. Pavlov continuously repeated the procedure of signaling the bell before the treat, and eventually the dog caught on that the bell would signal a treat. The response was that the dog would immediately salivate when the bell rang since the dog was able to associate the ringing with the treat afterwards.


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