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Laws of Learning

The six laws of learning are suitable for most learning situations. Keeping these laws in mind when planning a lesson lets the instructor create a better learning atmosphere for his students.


Law of Readiness. A person learns best when he has the necessary background, a good attitude, and is ready to learn. He does not learn much if he sees no reason for learning. Getting a student ready to learn is usually the teacher’s job. A clear objective and a good reason for learning sometimes help to motivate students to learn even when they start off not caring. A student who is usually ready to learn meets the instructor halfway. Sometimes the instructor can do little to create a readiness to learn. Outside responsibilities, overcrowded schedules, health, finances, or family affairs can take away a student’s desire to learn.


Law of Exercise. Those things most often repeated are the best learned. This is the basis for practice and drill. The mind rarely retains, evaluates, and applies new concepts or practices after only one exposure. A student learns by applying what he has been taught. Every time he practices, his learning continues. There are many types of repetitions. These include student recall, review and summary, and manual drill and physical applications. All of these serve to create learning habits.


Law of Effect. This law is based on the feelings of the learner. Learning is stronger when joined with a pleasing or satisfying feeling. It is weakened when linked with an unpleasant feeling. An experience that produces feelings of defeat, anger, frustration, futility, or confusion in a student is unpleasant for him. This will decrease his learning capabilities. Therefore, instructors should be cautious about using punishment in the classroom. Every learning experience does not have to be entirely successful, nor does the student have to master each lesson completely. However, 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.


Law of Primacy. Primacy is being first, which often creates a strong impression. This means that the instructor must be right the first time. Everyone knows from experience how hard it is to break a bad habit. “Unteaching” wrong first impressions is harder than teaching them right the first time. The first experience of a student should be positive. This helps to provide a stable foundation for all that follows.


Law of Intensity. A sharp, clear, or exciting learning experience teaches more than a routine or boring one. This law implies that a student will learn more from the real thing than a substitute. For example, a student can get more understanding and appreciation of a movie by watching it than by reading the script. A student will form a clearer concept of the speed of tank ammunition by watching it fired than by reading “5500 feet per second.” The classroom places real limits on the amount of realism that can be brought in by the instructor. So, he should use his imagination to keep things as close to real life as possible. Mockups, videotapes, interactive courseware, slides, charts, and any number of other training aids add sharpness and action to classroom instruction. Demonstrations, skits, and role playing do much to increase the leaning experience of students.


Law of Recency. Other things being equal, the things learned last will be best remembered. The opposite is also true. The longer the student is away from a new fact or understanding, the harder it is to remember. For example, it is fairly easy to recall a telephone number dialed a few minutes ago, but it is usually impossible to recall a new number dialed last week. The instructor must recognize the law of recency when planning a good summary. He should repeat, restate, or reemphasize the training objectives. He also repeats important information the students need to remember.


Not all of the laws of learning are in every learning situation. It is not necessary to determine which law operates in which situation. An instructor who understands the laws of learning can deal intelligently with motivation, participation, and individual differences - the three major factors that affect learning.



The objective of teaching a class is to have students learn something, and remember what they have learned. Instructor’s constantly employ many different psychological principles of learning. This section presents 20 principles of learning, established by psychologists, which are useful for training. Some of these principles have been followed by more experienced instructors for years. All should be useful to the instructor who wants to be effective and successful.


Stimulate Students. Unpleasant things may be learned as easily as pleasant things. The worst stimuli are those which cause little or no feelings. It is better to have rewarding conditions than unpleasant conditions, but either is better than neutral conditions.


Recognize Individual Differences. What your students can do is important in determining what can be learned and how long it will take. The ability to learn changes with age. It reaches a peak around 16 years of age, then begins to decline steadily for most people. An instructor should be more patient if he is trying to teach older or slower students.


Understanding and Repetition Aid Retention. People remember what they understand better than what they try to memorize. Practicing a task over and over won’t help unless the reason for learning is understood by the students. However, remember that a lot of drill is still very important in getting facts across, in reinforcing them, and in creating performance habits.


Distributed Practice Aids Retention. Practice broken into several periods is better than the same amount of practice crammed into a single session.


Show It Like It Is. Hands-on skills should be shown in the same way that the learner sees it in front of him. This is very important when you use classroom video. The video tape should show the student exactly what he would see if he were doing the task.


First and Last Impressions Are Retained. The order of presentation is very important. Points or objectives presented at the beginning and end of the class are remembered better than those given in the middle. So, if four objectives are given during an hour, the two most important points should be given first and last.


Exotic Experience Is Remembered. Students remember change or unusual examples better than normal ones.


Showing Errors Can Aid Learning. Showing how errors happen can lead to increases in learning. Showing not only “what to do” but “what not to do.” This can be critical in teaching safety points. This doesn’t mean teach “the wrong way” to do something, just show what could go wrong.


Rewards Aid Learning. Irregular or unexpected rewards are better then expected or constant rewards. Rewards that are always given at the same time (answering a question, when finishing a project, grading an exam, etc.) sometimes seems phony. Unexpected rewards provide tremendous encouragement and motivation and keep student’s “on their toes.”


Recognition is Easier Than Recall. It is easier to identify something than it is to remember it.


Much Is Forgotten Rapidly. The rate of forgetting tends to be very rapid right after learning. It takes a lot of repeating in the early weeks of a class to overcome rapid forgetting.


Known Authorities Are Believed. Students will believe a known expert’s quotes more than regular instruction. However, information which is repeated often enough works just as well as quotes. Good, lesser known instructors can help their students remember just as well as older or better known instructors.


Exact Repetition Effective. Repeating the facts over and over helps memory just as much as using new examples each time.


Fear Is Effective In Small Doses. The use of a moderate fear appeal is better than a strong fear appeal. “No stress produces no learning.” However, too much stress is likely to turn off the students. A good instructor finds the right balance.


Success Begets Further Success. Knowledge of how well they are doing leads students to greater learning. So does telling them how the lesson will help them. Tell your students when they are doing well.


Tie-In Is Essential To Learning. The student must see some relation to his experience in order to learn. Few students can “leap frog” and learn facts that can’t match up with what they already know. New information is easier to learn and accept if it doesn’t go against earlier habits.


“Belongingness” and “Satisfiers” Aid Learning. Just repeating facts does not always lead to learning. Two things are necessary - “belongingness” and satisfiers.” Belongingness means that the things to be learned must belong together. They must show some connection or order. It is easier to learn 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 which belong together, than to learn 2, 1, 5, 7, 43 which do not. Satisfiers are real or symbolic rewards. It has been shown that just saying the word “right” when the person is making the correct response is a satisfier. This helps speed up the learning process. The word “wrong” is an annoyer or “punishment” and is not as effective.


Old and Strong Ideas Are Best Retained. Review of an ideas that you have had for a long time causes more learning than review of a new one. You will not forget an old idea as fast as a new one. So, if you can tie your instruction to older ideas, your students will remember more.


Active Practice is Best. Learning is aided by hands-on practice rather than just listening. “Class Participation” is active practice. Make your students be an active part of your class.


New Learning May Detract From Previous Learning. Learning something new may cancel out something learned earlier. A person who studied French for an hour and then studies Chinese for an hour will not remember much French. He would remember more if he substituted an hour of rest in place of the study of Chinese.


Instructors should not blindly attempt to apply every one of these principles. You will go crazy trying. But, use of those principles when you “can” fit them in will help your students to learn and remember. After all, students are all much alike, in that they are people reacting to materials that someone wants them to learn.

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  • Please welcome Ms. Melody Graveen as the Acting Director of San Diego City College Military Education Department


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Spotlight News

Director's Welcome

  • Please welcome Ms. Melody Graveen as the Acting Director of San Diego City College Military Education Department


San Diego Community College District Students Receive Prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Scholarships
San Diego City College dominates 20th Annual MESA Calculator Olympics & Robotics Challenge!
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