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E.C. Tolman on Learning and Modified Behaviorism

Tolman initially was attracted to Watsonian behaviorism but eventually developed a more sophisticated view of animal and human behavior as purposive and goal-driven. We must focus on Tolman's legacy in the research on motivation.

Examine Tolman's legacy in research on motivation. In your response, include discussion of the following:

1. What does Tolman's theory of animal learning tell us about the motivation for human learning?

2. How does what we learn about motivation for human learning affect the way we should teach both formally and informally?

3. Are current views of human motivation consistent with Tolman's ideas? If current views are different, are they superior to Tolman's? Why or why not?

Solution Preview

Abstract: Tolman's work is essential because it incorporates the insights of behaviorism while eliminating its overly simplistic assumptions. What matters here for learning and motivation is process, and this process is tightly bound with the expectations and needs of students.

Behaviorism can be an arid, overly simplistic and mechanistic approach to motivation. It is based around the learned connection between stimulus x and action y. It's insights can be used and modified however, to incorporate a more sophisticated mental picture of learning, motivation and method.

Rats and Human Learning

E.C. Tolman used rats in experiments to illustrate his concept of purposive behaviorism. This was an idea that stressed the disposition of the will to accomplish some task. This is quite different from the typical behaviorist concept of associationism and learned responses. Tolman was far more voluntarist than the tradition of Skinner, etc.

In his (1932) work Purposive Behavior in Animals and Men, he stresses that behavior and motivation cannot be reduced to simple stimulus coming from the outside. Instead, man is governed by a complex web of concepts, ideas and tasks that cannot be reduced to their component parts - they are results of a lifetime of adaptation to circumstances. Eventually, however, these tasks become habitualized or ritualized and then take on the more familiar learned behavior of the Skinnerian tradition (Hergenhahn, 2009).

Animals have purposeful wills very similar to humans. In his rat experiments, he observes that once there is some sense that performing an action will lead to a reward, the animal will slowly begin to learn that fact, and, over time, develop a weak hypothesis and then, expectation of the result. Finally, a "cognitive map" is formed that then governs behavior. The given nature of the maze and hunger, the results of trial and error, the analysis of that trial, and finally, a grasp of the connection between certain actions and rewards. For modern students, this suggests that a great degree of individual experimentation is needed to truly learn and reinforce concepts. The slow connections between behavior and result, over time, are the essence of learning (Hergenhahn, 2009 and Curzon, 2004).

As far as human learning and motivation, Tolman's animal experiments forces one to look at the complex web of behaviors and ideas in approaching a subject rather than a mere learned reflex to study it. His schema was quite simple: the environment affects man. From observation and analysis, people achieve a set of more or less coherent concepts that make sense out of the world and give ...

Solution Summary

The expert examines E.C. Tolman on learning and modified behaviorism. The motivation for human learning affects the way we should teach both formally and informally is determined.

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