One of the most accredited among all the current theories on the law of learning is the one presented by Thorndike, in America. Talking of its importance Tolman says, “The psychology of animal learning, not to mention that of child learning has been and still is primarily a matter of agreeing or disagreeing with Thorndike or haying in minor ways to improve up him.
Gestalt psychologists, conditioned reflex psychologists, sign gestalt psychologists, all of us here in America seem to have taken Thorndike, overtly or covertly, as our starting point.”
Thorndike first presented his theory in his book ‘Animal Learning’ published in 1968. The clearest form of his theory is seen in the three volume treatise ‘Educational Psychology’. His theory may be understood in a systematic way with the help of three major laws which are as follows:
1. Law of Readiness.
2. Law of Exercise.
3. Law of Effect.
Writing on the subject of the importance of his laws in the action of learning Thorndike says, “Both theory and practice need emphatic and frequent reminders that man’s learning is frequently the action of the laws of readiness, exercise and effect.” Accordingly, in Thorndike’s opinion, man’s learning takes place according of these laws.
He drew a learning curve for men and animals and concluded from it that usually the methods employed are similar in both classes of creatures. Until 1930, Thorndike laid particular emphasis on these three laws.
Law of readiness
The law of readiness describes those situations in which the person who learns either invites the object of his learning or rejects it. Readiness includes all those preparatory adjustments which immediately precede the action.
Reminding the learning of his past experience mental preparation for the understanding of new things, diverting his attention towards the subject to be learned, the altering of the environment to suit the learning, is all included in learning. This readiness creates a desire for learning and turns the learners’ mental attitudes towards the subject to be learned.
In Thorndike’s the view law of readiness is active in three following conditions:
1. When a conducting unit is prepared to go into action, its work is quite satisfactory because nothing is done to alter its working.
2. When a conduction unit is forced to act while it is not prepared to do so its behaviour is of a nature calculated to excite anger.
3. The inactivity of a conduction unit which is ready to behave, may be unsatisfactory and any reaction may arise is connection with that deficiency.
Law of Exercise
The second law, of any consequence in human and animal learning is the law of exercise, which is based on the laws of use and disuse.
The repeated application of an activity fixes it firmly in the mind while on the other hand no psychological reference is intended. The relation is weakened through continuous disuse. Whenever there is an appropriate situation, the activity which is firmly entrenched might take place.
This law, taking a cue from this universal experience, emphasizes repetition in the activity of learning. Repetitive application of the activity results in the formulation of a habit in the muscles and the nerve fibers of the brain so that there is a facility in its execution in time of need.
The element of understanding in repetition was not adequately stressed in Thomdike’s law of readiness. For example, it is a rule that if repetition in the memorizing of a poem is complemented by an attempt to understand and mutual relate the different stanzas, the learning may be affected with ease.
Not so with Thorndike, who considered the mechanical repetition of learning individually sufficient.
This type of memorizing becomes rote learning highly undesirable thing, and the forgetting of one line results in the forgetting of the rest while the recollection of the important makes a clear understanding of the subject-matter and constant renewal quite as important and constant repetition.
Thus, Thomdike’s mechanical repetition came in for a lot of criticism and he reached by effecting modifications.