Contrasting approaches to a theory of learning

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Timothy Johnston, Dean (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
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Abstract: The general process view of learning, which guided research into learning for the first half of this century, has come under attack in recent years from several quarters. One form of criticism has come from proponents of the so-called biological boundaries approach to learning. These theorists have presented a variety of data showing that supposedly general laws of learning may in fact be limited in their applicability to different species and learning tasks, and they argue that the limitations are drawn by the nature of each species' adaptation to the particular requirements of its natural environment. The biological boundaries approach has served an important critical function in the move away from general process learning theory, but it is limited in its ability to provide an alternative to the general process approach. In particular, the biological boundaries approach lacks generality, it is in some respects subservient to the general process tradition, and its ecological content is in too many cases limited to ex post facto adaptive explanations of learning skills. A contrasting, ecological approach to learning, which can provide a true alternative to general process theory, is presented. The ecological approach begins by providing an ecological task description for naturally occurring instances of learning; this step answers the question: What does this animal learn to do? The next step is an analysis of the means by which learning occurs in the course of development, answering the question : How does the animal learn to do this? On the basis of such analyses, local principles of adaptation are formulated to account for the learning abilities of individual species. More global principles are sought by generalization among these local principles and may form the basis for a general ecological theory of learning.

Additional Information

Behavioral and Brain Sciences, (copyright holder) 4:125-173
Language: English
Date: 1981
Adaptation, Behavioral Biology, Behaviorism, Ecology of learning, Learning theory, Species-typical behavior

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