Learning Theory


photo: Sue Houston

All animals  learn through the same basic mechanism. They sense and react to stimuli from the environment. If their action results in a pleasant response from the environment, that is called “Positive Reinforcement” (PR) and the likelihood the animal will repeat its response again in the future is increased.  We all understand this intuitively and use this principle to influence those around us to behave in ways we like.  We praise our kids for their accomplishments, thank our spouses for washing the dishes and pet our dogs for  coming when called.  PR is the first of the four “quadrants” of Operant Conditioning which is the heart of “Learning Theory.”  There are three other quadrants and for a more thorough discussion of these you can go to this post earlier in the blog.

The short version is that the PR quadrant is the only one that makes our brains release rewarding neurotransmitters like dopamine.  The other three tend mostly to cause release of stress hormones. This is where Learning Theory and Neuroscience start to become inseparable.  I believe in building curriculum, lesson plans and a classroom atmosphere based on Positive Reinforcement as the most effective strategy. This promotes more eager  students who are  engaged because they are seeking a positive outcome rather than avoiding a painful consequence.



2 Responses to Learning Theory

  1. I am glad to see the statement about brain released rewarding neurotransmitters – Trainers that I have spoke with about this learning phenomena unfortunately do not have this knowledge. This leads to trainers not having all the valuable information to make their training the best. Without knowledge, one is limited in anything they attempt. Dr. Dale Hubbard, Ph.D., Animal Behavioral Specialist. http://www.lucylcoud.com

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sue Houston says:

    Thank you Dr. Dale for your comments!
    Yes, I agree completely. The more knowledge we have about how the brain works, the better teachers we can be, weather our students are canine or human!

    For folks who don’t know about Dr. Dale, he is an excellent trainer of bird dogs and he uses Positive methods based on the Science of Learning Theory. So that means he motivates his dogs with rewards rather than controlling their behavior with electric collars or other punitive devices. His Positive methods are actually a real revolution in the world of hunting dogs. His dogs are winning at field trials and show true joy in their work while doing so!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s