Psychology of Learning

I’ve always been intrigued by psycholgy, which is probably a good thing as I studied it in college and Uni. However, now it’s optional what psycholgy I research, I mostly look in to sports psychology. Lots of people might be wanting to learn something new in 2016, so hopefully understanding a bit more about how we learn will help. I use it to help me learn new skills to keep winning gold medals!wordsThe psychology of learning is a theoretical science. Learning is a process that depends on experience and leads to long-term changes in behaviour potential (which in non psycho babble behaviour potential designates the possible behaviour of an individual, not actual behaviour). So just because we have learned something doesn’t mean we always do it.

There are many different psychological theories of learning from the more basic behaviourist theories such as Pavlov’s classical conditioning saying learning is very associate e.g. a stimulus promoting a response. To Collin et al’s cognitive apprenticeship theory that we learn from each other through observation, imitation and modelling. This then developed into the social-cognitive theory of learning which follows the same principle that we learn by observing others. However, this learning is an internal process (uses your brain) and thus we need to decide to process what we are observing and be motivated to want to learn whatever we are observing.

learning theories

For example: we all likely had classes in school we didn’t enjoy, but would learn things for a test and soon forget them. This is becuase we didn’t deeply learn it and thus set the neural pathways for good memory recall.

I’ve learned to do lots of things and as this blog gives away, one thing I’ve very effectively learned to do is compete in martial arts.

what I have learned to do

A key to learning is motivation. You have to want to learn it. My motivation has always been to be the best I can be and win gold medals in the process. There are four main kinds of motivation: positive, negative, intrinsic and extrinsic.

4 kinds of motivation

Positive intrinsic motivation is best as that’s when the motivation comes from you. While positive extrinsic motivation can work for some things, if what you are trying to learn is going to take lots of hours of practise and hard work then that motivation won’t be sustainable. Any type of negative motivation is not going to provide good results.

So you have decided what you really want to learn and set about doing it. Practising over and over again until you get it right… right? Well maybe not quite the right strategy. There is the saying “only practise makes perfect” but there is also the law of three. Which is that you practise a skill three times and then review it to make sure you are doing it correctly. Just because you have always done something one way – if it’s not the best way, doing it again and again the same way just reinforces your muscles to remember the incorrect action and stops you improving. I’m sure we all know how hard it is to unlearn a bad habit in comparison to learning a new skill. So when learning anything you need to remain fully aware and apply insight and concentration. You need to make your mind and muscle really interact, which is where slow motion practise or mental practise (visualisation) can be so beneficial.

Learning something new can be daunting. So always look at the positives on the road to success. As that road to success is never a flat and easy one – otherwise everyone would get to the top and be champion! Look for the little margins of improvement that then add up to the large improvements. Also look at the longer term view, that what may seem like only minor improvements or things learned now, over time add up to huge improvements!

never lose, learn

There are also several ways to learn something and you might find one way suits you better than another. One option is to take the VARK questionnaire, which analyses your learning preferences, including:

  1. Visual strategies: This preference uses symbolism and different formats, fonts and colors to emphasise important points. It does not include video and pictures that show real images and it is not visual merely because it is shown on a screen.
  2. Aural strategies: This preference is for information that is spoken or heard and the use of questioning is an important part of a learning strategy for those with this preference.
  3. Read/write strategies: This preference uses the printed word as the most important way to convey and receive information.
  4. Kinesthetic strategies: This preference uses your experiences and the things that are real even when they are shown in pictures and on screens.
  5. Multimodal – combination of all

For example: GBBO – some people might watch it and then go bake, others might go read a cook book and others find a friend to help them bake, or you might do a combination of all three before creating your showstopper! think you can or cant

Then of course you also need to believe you can achieve what you want to learn.

Again why positive intrinsic motivation is key. If you read my previous blog article on my Uni dissertation: “Is there such a thing as a personality of a successful sports person?” that research showed how mental toughness with the vital components of confidence, control, commitment, challenge and self-belief were key to an athletes ability to dream believe achievereach the highest levels of competition and win (Gould, Dieffenback & Moffett, 2002). Which adds more evidence that they would have been committed to learning and improving, while also believing they could do it.

Believing you can do something is mental combatoften the toughest challenge. So alongside learning the skills I need to be champion I’m also learning about mental strength. I recently got Phil Pierce’s book Mental Combat and the single most powerful techique he says is mindfulness and being present in the moment.

I’ve already written a post on “Needing to train your mind as well as your body” so as pyschology often does, these things are all interlinked and need to be considered to learn anything and become a true master or champion at it.

Hopefully if you want to learn to be able to do a kick combination, learn a language, or like me learn to be World Champion, something in the above will help.




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