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Learning Process: Cognitive Theories Essay

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Updated: Jun 9th, 2020

Learning is a continuous process where individuals acquire knowledge pertaining to a wide range of expertise in diverse fields. Notably, learning is process, which takes a certain period to fully materialize, become useful, and applicable. Learning can be formal or informal, where informal learning takes place through observation, participation, or through involvement. On the other hand, formal learning employs organized structures and individuals go through a defined program. Informal learning can follow a set of theories, which include classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and social cognitive. Imperatively, people can acquire knowledge based on their experiences, observations, and involvements with others in the society. Therefore, the essay discusses an informal learning process of an individual using classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and social cognitive theories.

An individual can have certain behaviors that concern a number of activities like fear of heights and dislike of elevators. For instance, an individual, who disliked heights, encountered during the learning process. From the perspective of the individual, heights frightened him, and thus, avoided activities that entailed heights such as flying, climbing, or mountaineering. Evidently, the learning process revealed that the individual demonstrated the behavior in several occasions especially when subjected to activities that required heights. Afolabi (2013) states that fear of certain factors such as heights are a result of an event that took place and initiated the negative perception and attitude towards the activity.

Therefore, the fear of heights demonstrated by the subject individual is an outcome of an event that may have taken place during some part of the individual’s life. Some of the steps involved during the learning process included subjecting the individual to high locations and observing the reaction. In essence, the learning process took a long period and involved several experiences and observations.

Fundamentally, the behavior could have occurred through the classical conditioning. In the theory of classical conditioning, behavior is a result of stimuli, which may be conditioned or unconditioned. According to Kirsch, Lynn, Vigorito, and Miller (2004), conditioned stimuli occur through a series of procedures that train an individual to respond in a certain manner when a particular activity is undertaken. On the other hand, unconditioned stimuli elicit a certain response, which is automatic and biological. Classical theory states that for individuals to behave in a particular manner and give certain responses, they need conditioning using a repeated set of similar activities and outcomes until they relate the activities to the outcomes.

In the learning process, it became evident that classical theory may have played a principal role in behavior of the individual. Moreover, it became apparent that the individual associated heights with falls and death, and thus, feared high locations. From the process, the individual outlined several instances where people fell and died from mountains, planes, or parachutes. Afolabi (2013) explains that classical theory tends to relate activities with probable outcomes. Fundamentally, the fear of heights from the individual’s perspective was an outcome of a conditioned response that related the activity to a probable outcome. In the opinion of the individual involved in the process of learning, heights had a probable outcome of falls and eventual deaths, which was an outcome in several instances observed by the individual.

Apparently, the behavior could also have occurred through operant conditioning, which highlights that behavior is a result of punishments or reinforcements. In operant conditioning theory, individuals acquire certain behaviors through reinforcements or punishments (Kirsch, Lynn, Vigorito & Miller, 2004).

Principally, reinforcements are factors that encourage reoccurrence of an activity, while punishments discourage individuals from repeating a similar activity. The theory states that reinforcements follow schedules, which may be continuous or partial. While continuous reinforcement schedules involve praise of an activity each time it occurs, partial reinforcements focus on timely praise of an activity. By stating that the parents did not like heights and discouraged activities that involved heights, the individual substantiated the fact that operant conditioning theory could have played a critical role in determining the present behavior. Since the parents discouraged activities that involved heights, they used punishments that focused on minimizing repeat engagement in activities that involved heights such as mountaineering or hiking.

During the learning process, it also appeared that the behavior, which concern fear of heights, could be a result of social cognitive theory. Social cognitive theory states that individuals perfect their activities and behaviors by observing what others, regarded as role models, undertake (Afolabi, 2013). The fact that the individual highlighted the instances where people fell and died after climbing mountains or flying using planes implies that the individual observed what happened to others and made the judgments from the observations. As a result, it is evident that social cognitive theory could have played a major role in dictating the behavior of the individual.

Classical conditioning theory states that individual respond to stimuli in various ways in relation to the level of conditioning, which may take a long time or a single instance. According to the theory, individuals act in a manner, which is associated with an expected outcome of an activity. Contrastingly, operant conditioning theory outlines that the behavior of individuals occasion from the presence of punishments or reinforcements. In the theory, punishments discourage individuals from performing an activity, whereas reinforcements encourage them to continue undertaking the activity. On the other hand, social cognitive theory explains that people learn and behave in a manner that matches their observation. The theory states that individuals watch the performances of others around them and later behave in a manner that is in line with the observations.


Afolabi, M. (2013). Beyond Organic Aetiology: Exploring a Psychocognitive Approach to Gastric Ulceration. International Journal of Behavioral Research & Psychology (IJBRP), 1(1), 1-4. Web.

Kirsch, I., Lynn, S., Vigorito, M., & Miller, R. (2004). The Role of Cognition in Classical and Operant Conditioning. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 60(4), 369–392. Web.

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