Learning Theory of Gestalt
Meaning and Definition of learning
Learning means to bring changes in the behaviour of the organism. It is very difficult to give a universally acceptable definition of learning because various theories developed by psychologists attempt to define the term from different angles. Learning in psychology has the status of a construct. Construct means an idea cr image that cannot be directly observed like electrons or genes but which is inferred from the behaviour of the organism. Melvin H.Marx defines learning as
“Learning is a relatively enduring change in behaviour which is a function of prior behaviour (usually called practice).”
The definition given above emphasizes four attributes of learning as a process ---- the first is that learning is a permanent change in behaviour. It does not include change due to illness, fatigue, maturation and use of intoxicants. The second is that learning is not directly observable but manifests in the activities of the individual. The third attribute of learning is that it results in some change of enduring nature. The fourth and the last is that learning depends on Practice and experience. Hilgard defined learning as, “ a change in a subject’s behaviour to a given situation brought about his repeated experiences in that situation, provided that the behaviour change can not be explained on the basis of native response tendencies, maturation, or temporary states of the subject (e.g. fatigue, ., etc.)
Let us illustrate learning process with the help of a concrete example. Suppose there are three children in a class from three different religions, one is from an orthodox Hindu family, second is from Muslim family and the third one is from a Sikh family. They greet the teacher in three different ways one by “folding his hands” other by “salam sahib” and third by “sat sri akal” You see, why is it so? It is the result of their early training and experiences in home. The early training has brought a permanent change in their behaviour. This type of change can be termed as learning.
There are certain terms, which are confused with learning such as instincts, imprinting and maturation. If we examine the behaviour of an organism we find that some behaviour of the organism is reflexive or inborn as for example we breathe, our heart pumps, our cells apparently team with activity, our knee jerks etc. All these activities take place without the benefit of learning. As we move to lower animals, reflexes and instincts account more and more for their behaviour. An instinct according to R. Haber 1966 is “A pattern of behaviour, usually complex in nature which is found universally among the members of a species, occurs without the need for prior learning or experience, as relatively invariant in from, and is reliably elicited or released by a particular and usually very simple stimulus.”
Kinds of Learning:
Learning has been classified in various categories as learning of motor skills such as walking, writing, swimming and typing etc. which require the use of motor skills and verbal learning involving verbal expression. Affective learning and cognitive learning emphasize the role of learning emotional responses and learning of facts, understanding of facts and problem solving. It is very difficult to dichotomies learning into clear-cut categories because one category overlaps the other. Gagne has classified learning into eight types in a hierarchical order as given below:
1. Signal learning.
2. S-R learning
3. Chain learning
4. Verbal associate learning
5. Multiple discrimination
6. Learning of concepts
7. Learning of principles
What is Gestalt?
Gestalt theory focused on the mind’s perceptive. The word “Gestalt” has no direct translation in English, but refers to “a way a thing has been gestalt; i.e., placed, or put together”; common translations include “form” and “shape”. Gaetano Kanizca refers to it as “organized structure”. Gestalt theorists followed the basic principle that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In other words, the whole (a picture, a car) carried a different and altogether greater meaning than its individual components (paint,canvas,brush;or tire, paint, metal, respectively). In viewing the “whole,” a cognitive process takes place –the mind makes a leap from comprehenending the parts to realizing the whole.
At the time that Gestalt theory emerged, associative and structure schools psychology and schools of though. Essentially, they espoused “similarity and contiguity, whereby an idea of something is followed by an idea of a similar or related thing.” As for behaviorist theory “connections among psychology contents are more readily and more permanently created on the basic of substantive concrete relationship than by sheer repetition and reinforcement.”In contrast to this “psychological structurism” the “qualities of form, meaning, and value” interested Gestalt theorists. Associative theorists broke down and analyzed individual stimuli, or the elementary constituent parts of the mind; for Gestalt theorists the grouping of these stimuli, the viewing of the “organized wholes” produced a different view.
These factors we are called the laws of organization.
Challenging the idea that “ perceptual organization was the product of learned relationships. Gestalt theorists argued that” the percepts themselves were basic to experience. For example in an ellipse one does not see individual dots, but a dotted line – the dots grouped together from something more meaningful than just a group of dots. In addition, Gestalt theorists asserted that memory structures information “based on associative connections” and a “tendency for optimal organization.”
For example, motion pictures are just that: pictures in motion. The pictures themselves are static, but when played at 24 frames per second, the images on screen appear to be in motion.
With these components of grouping and perception, Gestalt theory influences thinking and problem-solving skills by “by appropriate substantive organization, restructuring, and centering of the given in the direction of the desired solution.” Gestalt theory introduces the idea of regrouping and restructuring the whole problem, or idea, in order to solve it or makes sense of it.
The founders of Gestalt theory are Germans Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Kohler, and Kurt Koffka. These theorists focused on different aspects of Gestalt that have, throughout the 20th century, continued to develop across multiple disciplines.
Wertheimer applied Gestalt theory to problem solving. According to Wertheimer, the parts of the problem should not be isolated but instead should be seen a whole. This way, the learner can obtain “a new, deeper structural view of the situation. Wertheimer developed a concept titled “Pragnanz”(the German word for “precision”), which states that “ when things are grasped as whole, the minimal amount of energy is exerted in thinking”.
Directed by what is required by the structure of a situation…. one is led to a reasonable prediction, which like the other parts of the structure, calls for verification, direct or indirect. Two directions are involved: getting a whole consistent picture, and seeing what the structure of the whole requires for the parts.”
Koffka applied Gestalt theory to applied psychology and child psychology. His research with infants led to a theory that infants “initially experience organized wholes” as opposed to discrete elements. Kohler’s experiments with animal learning led him to conclude that they exhibited insight, where relations among stimuli and Reponses were learned, rather that simple stimulus response connections critical to behaviorist theory. In these experiments, apes were subjected to different trials of having to obtain food that was just out of their reach. They learned how to construct a way to get the food, whether standing on a box to get it, making a long stick to reach it, through trial and error. Kohler determined that the apes generated an “interconnection based on the properties of the things themselves” and thus developed insight on how to get the food based on the tools they had available at a given time.
The Theory Gestalt psychology is based on the observation that we often experience things that are not a part of our simple sensations. The original observation was Wertheimer’s, when he noted that we perceive motion where there is nothing more than a rapid sequence of individual sensory events. This is what he saw in the toy stroboscope he bought at the Frankfurt train station, and what he saw in his laboratory when he experimented with lights flashing in rapid succession (like the Christmas lights that appear to course around the tree, or the fancy neon signs in Los Vegas that seem to move). The effect is called the phi phenomenon, and it is actually the basic principle of motion pictures! If we see what is not there, what is it that we are seeing? You could call it an illusion, but its not an hallucination. Wetheimer explained that you are seeing an effect of the whole event, not contained in the sum of the parts. We see a coursing string of lights, even though only one light lights at a time, because the whole event contains relationships among the individual lights that we experience as well.
Furthermore, say the Gestalt psychologists, we are built to experience the structured whole as well as the individual sensations. And not only do we have the ability to do so, we have a strong tendency to do so. We even add structure to events which do not have gestalt structural qualities. In perception, there are many organizing principles called gestalt laws. The most general version is called the law of pragnanz. Pragnanz is German for pregnant, but in the sense of pregnant with meaning, rather than pregnant with child. This law says that we are innately driven to experience things in as good a gestalt as possible. “Good” can mean many things here, such a regular, orderly, simplicity, symmetry, and so on, which then refer to specific gestalt laws.
For example, a set of dots outlining the shape of a star is likely to be perceived as a star, not as a set of dots. We tend to complete the figure, make it the way it “should” be, finish it. Like we somehow manage to see this as a "B"...
Gestalt is not so much concerned with what students learn as much as how they learn it. For Gestalt theorists, “Knowledge is conceived as a continuous organization and rearrangement of information according to needs, purposes meanings”. Essentially, as the learner ingests new material, the new material undergoes “assimilation and…cognitive