Return to the Learning Systems Page

How is knowledge processed?

Lisa Schuman and Donn C. Ritchie


1. Knowledge and behavior. Is there a link?

The learner adapts his behavior to contingencies of events and objectives.

Learning is a gradual strengthening of the learned relationship between cue and behavior, driven by a pattern of consequences (reinforcement). This is called shaping. With enough practice, the link becomes so strong that the time between cue and behavior gets very small.

2. Reality and rules

Learning takes place when a predictable connection is established between a cue in the environment (stimulus), a behavior (response), and a consequence (reinforcement). Everybody has a reinforcement history.

"Reinforcement history" is the sum of all your past experiences with all the connections between cues, behaviors, and consequences. These influence what you are likely to do when you encounter a pattern of clues you have seen before.

For example, you file the way you have successfully done it in the past, even if it is not the most efficient way

3. Control of learner

The learner is in control of practicing the new behavior , based on new "cues", until the behavior becomes automatic.

The basic types of connection between cues and behavior:

An association

A simple connection between a unique cue and a behavior that leads to certain consequences.

For example, when a phone rings you answer it.

A chain

An association in which one behavior is a cue for the next behavior.

For example, when people recite their phone number they cannot recite last four digits unless going through first three digits.

A discrimination

This is like an association except more than one cue is involved and all act together to cue the behavior.

For example, when a person answers the phone, he is responding to two cues :

1. The ringing of the phone

2.He is home (not out).


1. Knowledge and behavior. Is there a link?

Changes in behavior are carefully studied, but as indicators to what's going on inside the learner's head.

2. Reality and rules

Reality is socially imposed and universally agreed upon. The learner mirrors objective reality by using external reality as a mental model.

For example, if you grow up in Singapore, you will take on a reality based on the social viewpoint in Singapore. This will affect your view of every situation you encounter.

Rules involve actions. If you run through the steps often enough, the procedure will be integrated into a single, smooth action.

3. Control of learner

The learner processes symbols and grasps the meaning of the symbols. He is able to distinguish between the knowledge of concepts and the knowledge of the procedural steps involved with those concepts. His knowledge is organized in his schema.

For example, if a person habitually hits the snooze button of his alarm clock when the alarm goes off, and he wants to change this behavior, he needs to retain his knowledge of the concept "alarm is going off", but incorporate this concept into the new procedure of getting out of bed. The meaning or mental interpretation of the procedure related to the concept "alarm went off" becomes getting out of bed. The new mental interpretation is integrated into the procedure.

First, there is a rule. Then, there is an action.

New rule: When the alarm goes off, get out of bed.

New action: Get out of bed.


1. Knowledge and behavior. Is there a link?

There is a link between cues and behavior, but behavior is an indirect indicator of the state of a person's knowledge structure.


A kind of knowledge about thinking and learning that guides strategies you use to the learner so he can solve problems. You are your own "referee" in weighing out your decisions.

2. Reality and rules

Learners interpret external reality based on individual experience.

Knowledge is based on the premise that we all construct our own perspective of the world, using reflection of our individual experiences as a basis. We create our own "rules" in order to make sense of our experiences. By adjusting our mental models to incorporate our new experiences, we are experiencing the process of learning.

3. Control of learner

Reality is internally controlled. This puts the learner in control of what he learns and how he learn it. People create their own interpretation of objective reality, based on his schema.

For example, if a student receives a `C' in a class, his reaction might be one of satisfaction or failure, depending on his existing schema. If he grew up with his parents stressing that grades are not important or that the grade of a `C' is a pretty good grade, his schema has incorporated that knowledge. When he receives a `C', he will feel satisfied.

In contrast, if he grew up with parents who viewed any grade lower than an `A' as incompetent, his schema will reflect that. When he receives a `C', he will feel like he was not successful.


Return to the Learning Systems Page Hari Srinivas -
Return to the Learning Systems Page