Organisational Behaviour

Learning – Meaning, Nature, Importance, Theories And Principles

Meaning of Learning – It refers to the process which creates a permanent change in the behaviour of a person as a result of his direct or indirect experience or practice. It is such a process which changes the earlier behaviour of a person. The change the behaviour of the person can both be good or bad. Since learning changes the behaviour of person, it comes to have a great importance in organisational behaviour.

Whatever we do, every activity is connected with learning. It means that everything can be learnt, e.g., the leadership style, the tendency of a supervisor, the efficiency of a worker, the way of talking by an employee, etc. – all this cannot be learnt.

Feature Or Nature of Learning

(1) It Creates Change: Learning brings change in behaviour. If a person learns something but there is no change in his behaviour, it cannot be described as learning. For example, an employee undergoes a training for doing work with the help of better systems of working. As a result of this, he starts working in a better way. This will be called learning. On the contrary, if he works in his usual manner even after undergoing training, it cannot be called learning.

(2) It Creates Permanent Change: Learning is what is permanent. If after getting training to work it is forgotten it cannot be called learning. It will be called learning only when the information or knowledge obtained through training is brought into use for a long time. A change happening only for a short time does not fall in the category of learning.

(3) It must be Felt: Whatever we learn should get reflected in our behaviour. If our learning is not seen in our behaviour, it will not be called learning. For example, we have learnt the principles of management after an intensive study, but our behaviour does not reflect it, it will not be called learning. After learning about the principles of management, bringing them into use is the real learning.

(4) It is not Always for Betterment: It is often understood that we learn for our betterment. For example, a person learns various techniques of stealing and brings them into practice. This will also be called learning even if it happens to be negative.

(5) It has Two Sources: The change in behaviour after learning is the outcome of the direct or indirect experience. It means that there are two sources of learning-direct experience and indirect experience. For example, if you undergo a training for driving a car in a Car Driving School, it will be direct experience in driving a car. On the contrary, if you go to and come from your office in the car of your colleague for a long time, you daily see your colleague driving his car and you, too, learn to drive, then it will be called learning to drive through an indirect experience.

(6) Its Repetition is a Must: A thing learnt once has got to be repeated time and again in order to make it permanent. If it is not done, the acquired learning gets destroyed. In an organisation in order to help the acquired learning getting permanent some sort of reward can be instituted, e.g., the employees can be told if they give better results with the help of their new learning they will be rewarded. The desire to get rewarded will help the employees to repeatedly utilize their newly acquired learning.

(7) It is an Intangible Activity: Learning is an activity which is not visible but can only be felt in the behaviour of an individual. Therefore, learning is not a tangible object. Suppose a person has learnt the art of teaching. Learning of teaching by him cannot be seen but it can be felt while he is teaching.

(8) It is a Continuous Activity: Learning is a continuous activity. Whatever we do in our daily life, we learn something or the other, consciously or unconsciously, from it. There is no fixed time or age for learning something.

(9) It is Related with all Activities: It is not that we can learn some particular activities but a person can learn every activity related to his life.

(10) It Affects Behaviour: Learning affects one’s behaviour. In other words, whatever we learn we reflect it in our behaviour. Every thing learnt influences or changes the behaviour of a person.

(11) It Gives Satisfaction: We generally learn with a particular objective. When our determined  objective is achieved it provides us satisfaction.

Importance Of Learning

(1) Useful for Reducing Absenteeism – Learning can be used to remove the habit of absenteeism among the people. For example, there was large-scale absenteeism among the employees of a company. How to meet this situation was a worrisome question for the managers. The latter worked out a scheme. According to the scheme, any employee who registered his attendance upto a certain level, will be given a lottery ticket. On this ticket he will be rewarded.

As soon as the scheme was launched improvement in the attendance of the employees was clearly visible. So much so, that even in emergency situations the employees did not take leave. Now they learnt that registering attendance in large numbers will lead to positive results. People feel good in repeating activities that carry positive effects.

(2) Discouraging Paid Leave – By practising learning’, the habit of taking more than required number of sick leave by the employees, can be checked. Often we find that organisations pay their employees some fringe benefits (perks) in addition to their fixed remuneration. Main among these benefits is: sick leave with pay. It is also seen that employees misuse these leaves on the pretext of sickness. Rate of employees’ attendance is high in those organisations where no such benefits exist.

Thus the challenge faced by the former organisations is how to get rid of this evil. Employees of these organisations need be motivated. Offer of ‘Attendance Bonus’ can be one form of motivation. Enforcement of this motivational system will certainly yield better results. People will learn that large attendance will earn them bonus. Once positive results are secured, people will repeat that activity.

(3) Training Programmes – On the basis of learning, useful training programmes can be chalked out. According to Social Learning Theory, people learn by imitating others. During the course of training, trainees keenly watch their trainer doing work. Watching keenly his activities, the same are imprinted on their minds and they learn what, when and how they are to do work.

(4) Useful for Developing Mentor Programmes – Like Training Programmes, benefit of learning’ can be reaped by developing mentor programmes. In this case also Social Learning Theory holds good as under training programme. Mentor programme is useful for managers. Under it, the senior manager plays the role of model/ideal. He advises subordinates how to go ahead crossing all hurdles.

Learning Theories

(1) Classical Conditioning Theory – This theory was advocated by a Russian psychologist, Pavlov, in the year 1880. This is an important concept of learning. Pavlov maintained that a person learns a lot with the help of Stimulus-Response Connection. It means that if an individual is excited with the help of some stimulus, there will definitely be some response to that stimulus. It means that there is some relationship between stimulus and response.

In order to prove his concept Pavlov used dogs as his subject of experimentation. In his experiment Pavlov showed the dog a piece of meat and saliva started dropping from its mouth. During the second trial, when Pavlov rang a bell, there was no saliva from the mouth of the dog. Again, he showed the piece of meat while ringing the bell. This action was repeated time and again. After this it was observed that merely the ringing of bell caused the saliva drop from the mouth of the dog. This clearly establishes the fact that the mind of the dog had been conditioned to the fact that the ringing of the bell will be accompanied with a piece of meat. It was because of this that the mere ringing of the bell resulted in the dropping of saliva.

(2) Operant Conditioning – This theory was advocated by B.F. Skinner. This concept believes that behaviour is a function of its consequences. In this case the word ‘operant’ means that a person works actively in order to create favourable results. A person behaves in a particular way to achieve something. If the consequences of his behaviour happen to be positive, he repeats his behaviour in future. On the contrary, if the consequences of his behaviour are negative, he does not repeat his behaviour in future. This clearly means that an individual learns from the consequences of his behaviour. In this way, it can be said that result and behaviour relation is the essence of the process of learning.

(3) Social Learning – The propounder of this theory is Albert Bandura. According to Bandura learning is possible through observation and direct experience. This concept stresses the fact that when a person observes the behaviour of other people, he tries to follow them. A person usually observes his parents, colleagues, teachers, friends, successful persons, etc. behaving in different situations and learns from them. All of them appear before him as models. When a person observes them behaving, he mainly keeps his eyes on three things:

  1. What was the problem before them?
  2. What did they do for it? and
  3. What were the results?

In this way, the person concerned prepares a map of the whole activity and keeps it in his mind. The person from whom this image has been received becomes his model. Thus the image received becomes a part of his behaviour. If he gets positive results from it, he repeats it, otherwise he abandons such a behaviour. In this way, it can be said that people can learn from others.

(4) Cognitive Learning – This theory was advocated by Edward C. Tolman. According to him a person by using his cognition correlates the cues and expectations available in the environment and achieves his targets. (Here cognition s understanding of a person about the environment and his own self.) According to Tolman the relation between the cues and expectations makes the learning activity happen.

Principles Of Learning

(1) Principle of Discrimination – According to this principle, by discriminating between two situations a person learns to respond positively or negatively. For example, a manager has four subordinates. All are having equal ability and work in a similar environment. Two out of them work magnificently while the other two are poor workers. The manager will have a positive response towards the former and negative response towards the latter. This behaviour of the manager will encourage the workers doing inferior work to improve the quality of their work. If the manager does not learn anything from the present situation he will behave in a similar fashion with all. As a result of this, workers doing inferior work will not improve.

(2) Principle of Generalisation – This principle is absolutely different from the principle of discrimination. In case of the principle of discrimination the difference between the two situations is observed while in case of the principle of generalisation, the two situations are seen as the same According to the principle of generalisation, if some earlier situation takes place in future, the response of the person happens to be the same as was the case in the earlier situation. He looks at both the situations as being similar. In other words, he generalises the situations. Because of generalisation the person does not have to learn anew in order to face the situation. Instead his old experience serves him well.

(3) Principle of Extinction – According to this principle, if the response is not connected with the result, the response becomes extinct. For example, if a manager appreciates the work done by his subordinates (meaning response), gives them bonus (means results) to motivate them, the desire to lean will be sharpened in them. They will learn more and more and work better. On the contrary, if the work done by the subordinates is not related to the results, their willingness to learn will gradually disappear or become extinct. As a result of it efficiency will suffer.

Pavlov pointed out in his experiment that when the dog was shown a piece of meat along with sounding the bell, saliva dropped from its mouth. After this saliva dropped from its mouth at the sounding of only the bell. When this activity is repeatedly shown, the saliva stops dropping. In other words, in the absence of result (food), response does not appear. This absence of response is called extinction.

(4) Principle of Spontaneous Recovery – This principle is linked with the principle of extinction. According to this principle, in the position of extinction the learned response is not completely extinct but instead is suppressed. This principle shows that when after some interval when the response is associated with results, its affect starts becoming apparent. It means that the work starts getting completed quickly and efficiently. On the basis of the experience of Pavlov when the sounding of bell is not accompanied by the show of the piece of meat and this activity is repeated time and again, the response gets stopped (dropping of saliva). But after some days when only the bell is sounded in front of the dog, his learned activity gets refreshed and it starts dropping saliva only on the sounding of the bell. The principle of spontaneous Recovery is based on the same fact.

(5) Principle of Effect – According to this principle of learning, a person learns something on the basis of the effect of the activity. The effect of the activity is either satisfying or not satisfying. If the effect happens to be satisfying the person learns that activity and repeats it. On the contrary, if the effect is not satisfying the person does not learn it and neither does he repeat it. Therefore, a person learns some activity because it gives him satisfaction.

(6) Principle of Readiness – According to this principle, a person can learn when he is physically and mentally ready to learn. When he is ready to learn without any pressure from outside, only then learning becomes possible. Readiness strengthens his resolve to learn.

(7) Principle of Exercise – According to this principle, if an activity learnt by an individual is repeated, it gets strengthened. This principles is based on the fact that if the learnt activity is repeated time and again, it gets strengthened and it gets fixed in the mind of the learner. This principle is based on the fact that ‘practice makes a man perfect’.

About the author

Sarvesh Arora

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