Before I speak about the laws of learning, let me explain about learning itself. What is learning? Learning is a process by which an individual acquires new knowledge, attitudes and skills. It is a change in behaviour that occurs as a result of experience. Which means we are learning all the time. We learn from our parents, from our teachers and from our elders, companions and the environment in which we live. The entire world is a learning platform.
Educational psychologists have identified several laws of learning, which seem essential for motivated learning experience. These laws have been discovered, verified, established, and used in practical situations. Edward Thorndike through his Trial and Error Theory or Experiment gave us three important laws, others who contributed were Ivan Pavlov through the Classical Conditioning Theory, then there were some German psychologists, headed by Kohler developed the Gestalt theory of insightful learning.
There are six laws of learning. It is important for a teacher to know these six laws to make her teaching, a learning experience for the students. Let me explain each of these laws:
- The Law of Readiness: Before the teacher begins his or her class, it is important to make her students ready for the class. The teacher may ask the students, “Children are you ready to learn?” Readiness implies a degree of single-mindedness and eagerness. Individuals learn best when they are physically, mentally, and emotionally ready to learn, and they do not learn well if they see no reason for learning. Getting students ready to learn, creating interest by showing the value of the subject matter, and providing continuous mental or physical challenge, is usually the teacher’s responsibility. Since learning is an active process, students must have adequate rest, health, and physical ability. Students who are exhausted or in ill health obviously cannot learn much. Basic needs of students must be satisfied before they are ready or capable of learning.
- The Law of Exercise: It has been proven that students learn best and retain information longer when they have meaningful practice and repetition. Exercise and practice leads to improvement in any task. The human memory is fallible. The mind can rarely retain, evaluate, and apply new concepts after a single exposure. Every time practice occurs, learning continues. These include student recall, review and summary, and manual drill and physical applications. All of these serve to create learning habits. The teacher must repeat important items of subject matter at reasonable intervals, and provide opportunities for students to practice while making sure that this process is directed toward a goal. The key here is that the practice must be meaningful.
- The Law of Effect: The principle of effect is that learning is strengthened when it is accompanied by a pleasant or satisfying feeling, and that learning is weakened when associated with a negative or unpleasant feeling. Positive reinforcements by the teacher through words and gestures motivate the learner to do better. So the teacher should constantly recognize and commend improvement. Praise and appreciation are vital tools in the law of effect. Whatever the learning situation, it should contain elements that affect the students positively and give them a feeling of satisfaction. Every learning experience should contain elements that leave the student with some good feelings. A student’s chance of success is definitely increased if the learning experience is a pleasant one.
- The Law of Primacy: Primacy, the state of being first, often creates a strong, almost unshakable, impression. Things learned first create a strong impression in the mind that is difficult to erase. First learning should be correct learning. For the teacher, this means that what is taught must be right the first time. “Unteaching” wrong first learning is harder than teaching them right the first time. If, for example, a student learns a faulty technique, a faulty grammar, will have adverse effect in future learning. Those who learn typing without the help of a typing tutor suffers later on. Here I would emphasize the importance of good primary teachers. The student’s first learning should be correct learning from the correct teacher. If the teacher is teaching Maths, the teacher must present subject matter in a logical order, step by step, making sure the students have already learned the preceding step. If the teacher is teaching English Grammar in the primary classes, the teacher must follow the rules of grammar.
- The Law of Recency: The principle of recency states that things most recently learned are best remembered, if revised immediately. Conversely, the further a student is removed time-wise from a new information, the more difficult it is to remember them. For example, it is fairly easy to recall a telephone number just dialled than a number dialled last week. Information acquired last generally is remembered best; frequent review and summarization help fix in the mind the material covered. Teachers recognize the principle of recency when they carefully plan a summary for a lesson or learning situation. The teacher repeats, restates, or reemphasizes important points at the end of a lesson to help the student remember them.
Finally, the Law of Intensity: The intensity with which a material taught, through the technique of stimulus variations, charts, models, experiments, demonstration etc, the more likely it will be retained. A sharp, clear, vivid, dramatic, or exciting learning experience teaches more than a routine or boring experience. Teachers should emphasize important points of instruction with gestures, showmanship, and voice. Demonstrations, skits, and role playing do much to increase the learning experience of students. Classroom learning can be improved through the use of a wide variety of instructional aids, examples, analogies, personal experiences which will help to improve realism, motivate learning, and challenge students.