These are the three major theories explained how children learn: Classical conditioning, Operant conditioning, and Observational learning. These theories deal only with observable behaviours and purely focus on how experience shapes who we are instead of considering internal thoughts or feelings (Cherry, 2020).
Classical Conditioning: Type of learning that automatic conditioned response is paired with a specific stimulus, in order to produce a behavioural response known as a conditioned response (Jamie, 2020). To make this a bit more concrete, let’s use a classic experiment as an example. Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist discovered over time that, dogs were salivating not only when their food was presented to them, but when the people who fed them arrived. In order to test his theory that the dogs were salivating because they were associating the people with being fed, he began ringing a bell and then presenting the food so they’d associate the sound with food. These dogs learned to associate the bell ringing with food, causing their mouths to salivate whenever the bell rang, not just when they encountered the food (Clark, 2004). Children learn in much the same way, developing associations between things in their environment and potential consequences. For example, an infant might quickly start to associate the sight of a baby bottle with being fed. Or when a child sees needle, he or she will immediately associate the needle with pain and cry at the sight of it.
Operant Conditioning: Type of learning that when a behaviour is rewarded, the chances that the same behaviour is likely to occur again. When a behaviour is punished, the chance of the same behaviour is less likely to occur again. In other words, it is a set of learning techniques that utilizes reinforcement and punishment to either increase or decrease a behaviour (Grant, 2014). For example, whenever a child goes to bed on time, his parent reads him a bedtime story. The story reading is a positive reinforcement used to increase his child’s behaviour which is going to bed on time.
Observational Learning: A process of learning through watching others, retaining the information, and then later replicating the behaviours that were observed. It can take place at any point in life, but it tends to be the most common during childhood as children learn from the authority figures and peers in their lives. For example, a child watches his mother folding the laundry. He later picks up some clothing and imitates folding the clothes.
It also plays an important role in the socialization process, as children learn how to behave and respond to others by observing how their parents and other caregivers interact with other people. Therefore, it is important to ensure that children are observing the right kind of behaviour, and parents have to be sure that their children are learning how to act responsibly by modelling good behaviours and appropriate responses.
In addition to the types of learning that happen in a day-to-day basis, there are also other experiences that play a role in shaping a child’s development such as their peers like kids at the playground, neighbourhood and school. Children are very influenced by their peers, and these social experiences help shape a child's values and personality (Blazevic, 2016).
Besides that, teachers and classmates play a major role in making up a child's experiences, and academics and learning also leave their mark on development (Osher, Kendiziora, Spier, and Garibaldi, 2014). Because genetics and the environment are always interacting in a dynamic way. A child's genetic background will influence his ability to learn, hence, good educational experiences can enhance these abilities. Other than that, the culture that a child grows up and lives in has also played a role in how a child develops. For example, a child who raised in individualistic cultures might help on developing the autonomy and self-esteem; in the opposite, a child who raised in collectivist cultures tend to express higher levels of sadness, fear and discomfort (Putnam & Gartstein, 2019).
Thus, we can see how genetics, environmental influences, and parenting styles are interacting in a child’s development. Each part of our life plays an important role in shaping our behaviour and personality as well as determining what kind of person will be in the future.