Thorndike’s trial and error theory B.Ed notes | Thorndike Experiment – Educational implications, Limitations

Thorndike’s trial and error theory


¢Behaviorism is the study to understand the behavior of humans and other animals.

¢The approach is only concerned with observable stimulus-response behaviors.

¢It states all behaviors are learned through interaction with the environment and not by heredity.

Edward Lee Thorndike

¢Edward Lee Thorndike (August 31, 1874 – August 9, 1949) was an American psychologist

¢Thorndike created a theory of learning based on his research with animals.

¢Thorndike studied learning in animals.  He devised a classic experiment in which he used a puzzle box to empirically test the laws of learning.

Thorndike’s trial and error theory

¢Thorndike propounded this theory in 1898 and was published in 1913.

¢According to this theory if an organism is kept in a new situation, it shows different kinds of faulty responses.

¢When that being is repeatedly kept in that situation, its error in responses keep decreasing. ¢After putting the being through a number of trials repeatedly a situation is reached when there is no error in the responses.

Thorndike Experiment

¢Thorndike has expounded his theory of trial and error on the basis of experimental studies on rats, cats, monkeys, chicken, fishes etc

¢His experiment on cats were widely acknowledged.

¢He prepared a puzzle box of iron bars with only one door that could be opened by pressing a lever.

¢He put a hungry cat in the puzzle box with the door closed.

¢A fish was placed outside the box.

¢The cat could eat the fish only if it could get out of the puzzle box.

¢The door of the box could be opened only by manipulating the lever.

¢The fish was a stimulus for the cat. ¢The cat could see the fish but did not know how to get out of the puzzle box.

¢The cat reacted in a variety of ways to come out of the box.

¢It jumped, it scratched and pushed the door, it tried to rip the lever with its teeth.

¢However after severel attempts it managed to open the door.

¢Thorndnike repeated the same process several times.

¢The cat was kept hungry inside the box.

¢It repeated the same random efforts to come out of the box.

¢Gradually and by repeated attempts it came to learn that the key to open the door is near the level.

¢During the experimentation it was observed that the cat stopped making incorrect responses.

¢Finally it came to realize that the door opened when the lever was pressed.

¢Now when the cat was kept hungry it simply came out by pressing the lever and ate the fish.

Essential elements of Thorndike’s theory

¢Definite Goals: Learning needs definite goals.

¢Motivation contributes a lot in learning process. And motivation arises from necessity that inspires a person to work for the achievement of a goal.

¢A person face obstacles in achievement of goal. The person tries to overcome obstacles in order to achieve his aim.

¢Various responses: Achievement of goal provokes various responses. These responses may be useless,  meaningless and unsuccessful. But the unsuccessful responses help indirectly in achieving the goals.

¢Chance success: Out of the various unsuccessful responses there are some successful response which comes by chance.

¢Elimination of unsuccessful responses

¢Establishment of right responses

¢Achievement of goal

Educational implications of Thorndike’s theory

¢Setting Goals: When somebody has a goal before him, he wants to attain it.

¢Motivating the students: Teacher should motivate the students by setting a goal and also by reward and punishment.

¢Learning is a gradual and systematic process. There fore they should not be pressurized to learn things quickly.

¢From easy to difficult: Teacher should proceed from simple things to complex one.

¢Emphasis on exercise: Theory of trial and error lays emphasis on exercise and practice.

¢Useful for mentally retarded students: Mentally retarded students learn slowly and through trial and error method they learn gradually by practicing.

¢Development of positive attitudes

¢Development of skills

¢Self learning

Limitations of Trial and Error Theory

¢Energy consuming ¢The theory requires a good deal of energy because transfer of learning is minimum under trial and error.

¢Random efforts ¢It is not desirable to do random efforts because doing anything without insight is meaningless. The theory ignores the role of understanding, experience, and insight in learning.

¢Emphasis on rote learning ¢The theory over-emphasises the role of rote learning.

¢Not much useful for bright students ¢The theory may be useful for less intelligent and backward students but not much useful for bright and intelligent students.

¢Not much useful for higher classes ¢The theory is useful in case of students of lower classes, but for students of higher classes, the theory does not provide much guidance.

Laws of Learning from Thorndike’s theory

¢On the basis of experiments Thorndike gave some laws of learning

Primary Laws

¢Law of Readiness ¢This law states that learning can only take place when a student is ready to learn. When students feel ready, they learn more effectively and with greater satisfaction.

¢Law of Exercise ¢The more a person practices something, the better he or she is able to retain that knowledge.   ¢It is further divided into ¢Law of Use ¢Law of Disuse

¢Law of Effect ¢Learning is strengthened when associated with a pleasant or satisfying feeling. Learning is more likely to happen again in the future and it is weakened when associated with an unpleasant feeling,

Secondary Laws

¢Law of Multiple Response ¢Confronted with a new situation the organism responds in a variety of ways arriving at the correct response.

¢Law of Mental Set or Attitude ¢The learner performs the task well if he has his attitude set in the task.

¢Law of Partial activity ¢In trial and error process an individual selects the correct responses and leaves the unnecessary ones.

 This law states that teaching should be done in parts. It is more true in the case of children’s education.

¢Law of Analogy and assimilation ¢The organism makes responses by comparison or analogy and assimilation. A new situation provokes similar responses in an individual that he had made earlier in similar situations and had met with success

¢Law of Associative Shifting ¢According to this law we can get any response, from the learner of which he is capable, associated with any situation to which he is sensitive.

¢Law of Primacy ¢Primacy, the 1st impression is the last impression . It creates a strong, almost unshakable impression and underlies the reason an instructor must teach correctly the first time and the student must learn correctly the first time.

¢Law of Recency ¢The principle of recency states that things most recently learned are best remembered.

¢Law of belongingness ¢This law tells if the answer is relevent to situation  then this can be memorized very rapidly.

¢Law of Intensity of stimulus : According to this law if the stimulus is intense, his response would also be intense

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