Learning Theory of Gestalt

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Learning Theory of Gestalt

Postby iram » Thu Sep 04, 2008 7:03 pm

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
8. Problem-solving

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
Learning Theory of Gestalt

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Postby iram » Thu Sep 04, 2008 7:04 pm

and existential remodeling…” As a challenge to conventional thinking, “Learning is not accumulation, but remodeling and insight”. (Polite) Each new experience.
Such as a new historical text, an exposition in science, or a problem rider in geometry--- beings by seeming relatively formless and unstructured. The learner, who does not yet know his way about the material, beings by seizing upon what appear to him to be important features or figures. He then reformulates the experience in these new terms. The insight gradually becomes more and more structured until finally he reaches an understanding or a solution to the problem. The interchange between learners and teachers, as well as other learners, are given value and weight. Ultimately, it is the teacher who allows the potential for this exchange to take place.
Applying Wertheimer’s research on problem solving, Gestalt theory encourages the learner to “discover the underlying nature of a topic or problem”. In other words, how do the elements relate to each other? How can they be restructured so that the learner gains knowledge? In research on Gestalt theory and instructional design, Moore and Fits (1933) state that “written instructions much be visually attractive, inviting, and easy to access, follow, and understanding”---- idea that conform to six laws that Gestalt psychologists have developed in studies on perception.

1. Law of Proximity:
The Gestalt law of proximity states “objects or shapes that are close to one another appear to form groups”. Even if the shape, sizes, and objects are radically different, they will appear as a group if they are close together. How they are grouped is important also. The same number of faces is in each graphic, but how they are grouped determines if you see rows or columns. In designing instruction, it may be sometimes necessary to eliminate or place elsewhere elements of the instruction that do not lend themselves to the grouping taking place, to “create a stronger sense of groups and differences”.

(2) Law of Closure:

Gestalt theory seeks completeness; with shapes that aren’t closed, they seem incomplete and lead the learner to want to discover what’s missing, rather than concentrating on the given instruction. Moore and Fits draw boxes around the illustrations in their instruction, to separate it form other illustrations and group the elements of one illustration together. Otherwise, the user is not sure which parts belong to what illustration. The mind must work harder to fill in the gap.

(3) Law of Symmetry:

Gestalt theory espoused the symmetrical so that the learner is not given the impression that something is out of balance, or missing or wrong. Again, if an object is asymmetrical, the learner will waste time trying to find the problem instead of concentrating on the instruction. The chunking, or grouping, of information should follow a logical pattern.

(4) Law of good continuation:

This Gestalt laws states that learners “tend to continue shapes beyond there ending points”. The lines identifying switch parts on Moore and Fitz’s example simply continued onto the graphic itself. The improved version stopped the lines before reaching the graphic and used arrowheads to identify specifically to which part of the graphic the label belonged(Moore, Fitz 1933).

(5) Law of Similarity:

Gestalt theory states that objects that appear to be similar will be grouped together in the learner’s mind. For visual instruction, this can include font, size, and color. The law of similarity says that we will tend to group similar items together, to see them as forming a gestalt, within a larger form. Here is a simple typographic example:
It is just natural for us to see the o’s as a line within a field of x’s.
Another law is the law of proximity. Things that are close together as seen as belonging together. For example...
You are much more likely to see three lines of close-together *’s than 14 vertical collections of 3 *’s each. Next, there’s the law of symmetry. Take a look at this example:
[ ][ ][ ]
Despite the pressure of proximity to group the brackets nearest each other together, symmetry overwhelms our perception and makes us see them as pairs of symmetrical brackets. Another law is the law of continuity. When we can see a line, for example, as continuing through another line, rather than stopping and starting, we will do so, as in this example, which we see as composed of two lines, not as a combination of two angles...:

Figure-ground: is another Gestalt psychology principle. It was first introduced by the Danish phenomenologist Edgar Rubin (1886-1951). The classic example is this one... Basically, we seem to have an innate tendency to pereive one aspect of an event as the figure or fore-ground and the other as the ground or back-ground. There is only one image here, and yet, by changing nothing but our attitude, we can see two different things. It doesn’t even seem to be possible to see them both at the same time! But the gestalt principles are by no means restricted to perception -- that’s just where they were first noticed. Take, for example, memory. That too seems to work by these laws. If you see an irregular saw-tooth figure, it is likely that your memory will straighten it out for you a bit. Or, if you experience something that doesn’t quite make sense to you, you will tend to remember it as having meaning that may not have been there. A good example is dreams: Watch yourself the next time you tell someone a dream and see if you don’t notice yourself modifying the dream a little to force it to make sense!
Learning was something the Gestalt psychologists were particularly interested in. One thing they noticed right away is that we often learn, not the literal things in front of us, but the relations between them. For example, chickens can be made to peck at the lighter of two gray swatches. When they are then presented with another two swatches, one of which is the lighter of the two preceding swatches, and the other a swatch that is even lighter, they will peck not at the one they pecked at before, but at the lighter one! Even something as . as a chicken “understands” the idea of relative lightness and darkness.
Gestalt theory is well known for its concept of insight learning. People tend to misunderstand what is being suggested here: They are not so much talking about flashes of intuition, but rather solving a problem by means of the recognition of a gestalt or organizing principle.
The most famous example of insight learning involved a chimp named Sultan. He was presented with many different practical problems (most involving getting a hard-to-reach banana). When, for example, he had been allowed to play with sticks that could be put together like a fishing pole, he appeared to consider in a very human fashion the situation of the out-of-reach banana thoughtfully -- and then rather suddenly jump up, assemble the poles, and reach the banana.
A similar example involved a five year old girl, presented with a geometry problem way over her head: How do you figure the area of a parallelogram? She considered, then excitedly asked for a pair of scissors. She cut off a triangle from one end, and moved it around to the other side, turning the parallelogram into a simple rectangle. Wertheimer called this productive thinking.

The idea behind both of these examples, and much of the gestalt explanation of things, is that the world of our experiencing is meaningfully organized, to one degree or another. When we learn or solve problems, we are essentially recognizing meaning that is there, in the experience, for the “dis-covering.”
Most of what we’ve just looked at has been absorbed into “mainstream” psychology -- to such a degree that many people forget to give credit to the people who discovered these principles! There is one more part of their theory that has had less acceptance: Isomorphism. Isomorphism suggests that there is some clear similarity in the gestalt patterning of stimuli and of the activity in the brain while we are perceiving the stimuli. There is a “map” of the experience with the same structural order as the experience itself, albeit “constructed” of very different materials! We are still waiting to see what an experience “looks” like in an experiencing brain. It may take a while.
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