What is LEARNING PSYCHOLOGY: history, books and authors

  • Jul 26, 2021
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What is the psychology of learning: history, books and authors

Learning is a central concept for psychology, not only with regard to theories that try to explain behavior animal and human, but also with regard to various fields of application of knowledge, such as education and health, among others. In general, psychologists view learning as a long-term change in behavior or mental associations as a result of experience, and learning psychology is a theoretical science that covers the various psychological theories related to the learning. With this Psychology-Online article we will discover what is learning psychology, its history, as well as its books and authors reference.

You may also like: What is cognitive psychology: history and authors


  1. What is learning
  2. What does learning psychology study
  3. History of learning psychology
  4. Theories and authors of learning psychology

What is learning.

To know the definition of learning psychology, we will first see what learning is in psychology. The learning it's a process that consists of the acquisition or transformation of knowledge, aptitudes, behaviors, beliefs or orientations through experience

; a relatively stable change, derived from a new unique experience, or its repetition. In addition, learning can refer to the synthesis of different types of content (theoretical-declarative, practical, procedural, experiential, valuable, etc.).

The experiences carried out have the ability to significantly influence the neural connections (that is, the messages exchanged by the cells that make up the tissue of our brain structures) both in functional terms (variation in the amount of neurotransmitter released) than structure (expansion or reduction of connections). This phenomenon, called neuronal plasticity, is particularly present in childhood, and occurs in the presence of one of the following two conditions:

  • During the development normal brain, when it begins to process sensory information, until adulthood (plasticity of development and plasticity of learning and memory).
  • As a compensatory mechanism due to loss of function and / or maximization of the potential of surviving functions as a consequence of brain damage.

The environment has a great influence on the Neuronal plasticity: environments rich in stimuli adapted to the developmental needs of the child favor this phenomenon. In this article you can see how the brain works.

Learning psychology is the science that studies all of this. Next we will look at the goals of learning psychology.

What studies the psychology of learning.

Learning psychology is a discipline that falls within the tradition of experimental psychology that tries to explain and predict the acquisition, maintenance and change in behavior organisms as a result of experience.

Behavior, from the point of view of this discipline, is everything that an organism does, including covert phenomena such as thinking or consciousness. However, "mental" processes are not the explanation of behavior, but yet another behavior that must be explained. Modern learning theories indicate that behavior is due to a complete interaction between genetic factors and environmental experiences. These theories are based on observation and controlled experimentation, giving an explanation of learning and behavior within the framework of natural science.

History of the psychology of learning.

Until two or three centuries ago, the idea of ​​behavioral learning carried a secondary weight. It was considered that while animals act primarily driven by their innate instincts, people do not we behave guided by our free and conscious will (free will), thus escaping the laws natural. Such a conception of man began to change in the seventeenth century when Rene Descartes, within his mind-body dualistic philosophy, he distinguished between voluntary and involuntary behavior. Only the first, originating in the mind, would be guided through the brain by deliberate intentionality and would not depend on external stimuli. The second type of behavior (reflexes), originating in the physical world and mediated by the nervous system, would consist of automatic reactions triggered by external stimuli.

From this dichotomy two traditions emerged:

  • The mentalism, who dealt with studying the contents and mode of operation of the mind.
  • The reflexology, which was in charge of analyzing the nature and mechanisms of reflex actions.

And in both fields he gradually implanted the idea of ​​learning.

Theories and authors of learning psychology.

There are many sources of knowledge that can be considered as antecedents of learning psychology. Among them, the classical association theory, the British empiricism, the Cartesian dualism, the reflexology and the theory of evolution.

Throughout history, there have been many different theories of psychological learning. Some approaches take a more behavioral line that focuses on input and reinforcement; Others, such as theories of neuroscience and social cognition, focus more on the organization and structure of the brain to define learning. Theories like social constructivismInstead, they focus more on their own interaction with the environment and with others; others, such as those related to motivationThey focus primarily on the individual.

Here is a list of some characters whose contributions, discoveries, and theories were important to the development of learning psychology:

  • Socrates (469-399 a. C.), has introduced a learning method known as pilotage, through which you arrive at your own answers through the power of reasoning.
  • Hermann Ebbinghaus (1850-1909) examined learning, studying the mechanical memory and oblivion.
  • Edward thorndike (1874-1949) presented his theory of "Law of Effect" in 1898, according to which humans and other animals learn behaviors through trial and error.
  • Ivan P. Pavlov (1849-1936), Russian physiologist who contributed to research on learning: his approach was behavioral, later known as classical conditioning. In this article you will find the biography and theory of Ivan Pavlov.
  • Burrhus F. Skinner (1904-1990) developed a operant conditioning, in which specific behaviors derived from stimuli that made them appear more or less frequently. Here you can read what is operant conditioning with examples.
  • Jean piaget (1896-1980) is known for his theory of cognitive development describing how children create a mental model of the world around them; important because one of the early theories disagreed with the idea that intelligence was a solid trait. Know all the Piaget's theory of cognitive development.
  • Lev vygotsky (1896-1934), best known for his theory of cognitive development known as the theory of social development. Here we explain the Vygotsky's sociocultural theory.

This article is merely informative, in Psychology-Online we do not have the power to make a diagnosis or recommend a treatment. We invite you to go to a psychologist to treat your particular case.

If you want to read more articles similar to What is the psychology of learning: history, books and authors, we recommend that you enter our category of Cognitive psychology.


  • Foufe Torres, M. (2011). Psychology of Learning. Behavioral principles and applications. Madrid: Paraninfo editions.
  • Miglino, O. (2020). Psychology dell’apprendimento. Recovered from: https://www.federica.eu/c/psicologia_dellapprendimento/
  • Ormrod, J. AND. (2012). Psychology of Learning (Overview Article).Recovered from: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4419-1428-6_792
  • Pellón Suárez de Puga, R. (et al.) (2015). Psychology of learning. Madrid: UNED.
  • Ribes Iñesta, E. (2002). Psychology of Learning. México D.F.: Editorial El Manual Moderno.
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