Organizational Behavior - Learning


Learning can be defined as the permanent change in behavior due to direct and indirect experience. It means change in behavior, attitude due to education and training, practice and experience. It is completed by acquisition of knowledge and skills, which are relatively permanent.

Nature of Learning

Nature of learning means the characteristic features of learning. Learning involves change; it may or may not guarantee improvement. It should be permanent in nature, that is learning is for lifelong.

The change in behavior is the result of experience, practice and training. Learning is reflected through behavior.

Factors Affecting Learning

Learning is based upon some key factors that decide what changes will be caused by this experience. The key elements or the major factors that affect learning are motivation, practice, environment, and mental group.

Coming back to these factors let us have a look on these factors −

  • Motivation − The encouragement, the support one gets to complete a task, to achieve a goal is known as motivation. It is a very important aspect of learning as it acts gives us a positive energy to complete a task. Example − The coach motivated the players to win the match.

  • Practice − We all know that ”Practice makes us perfect”. In order to be a perfectionist or at least complete the task, it is very important to practice what we have learnt. Example − We can be a programmer only when we execute the codes we have written.

  • Environment − We learn from our surroundings, we learn from the people around us. They are of two types of environment – internal and external. Example − A child when at home learns from the family which is an internal environment, but when sent to school it is an external environment.

  • Mental group − It describes our thinking by the group of people we chose to hang out with. In simple words, we make a group of those people with whom we connect. It can be for a social cause where people with the same mentality work in the same direction. Example − A group of readers, travelers, etc.

These are the main factors that influence what a person learns, these are the root level for our behavior and everything we do is connected to what we learn.

How Learning Occurs?

Learning can be understood clearly with the help of some theories that will explain our behavior. Some of the remarkable theories are −

  • Classical Conditioning Theory
  • Operant Conditioning Theory
  • Social Learning Theory
  • Cognitive Learning Theory

Classical Conditioning Theory

The classical conditioning occurs when a conditioned stimulus is coupled with an unconditioned stimulus. Usually, the conditioned stimulus (CS) is an impartial stimulus like the sound of a tuning fork, the unconditioned stimulus (US) is biologically effective like the taste of food and the unconditioned response (UR) to the unconditioned stimulus is an unlearned reflex response like salivation or sweating.

After this coupling process is repeated (for example, some learning may already occur after a single coupling), an individual shows a conditioned response (CR) to the conditioned stimulus, when the conditioned stimulus is presented alone. The conditioned response is mostly similar to the unconditioned response, but unlike the unconditioned response, it must be acquired through experience and is nearly impermanent.

Classical Conditioning Theory

Operant Conditioning Theory

Operant conditioning theory is also known as instrumental conditioning. This theory is a learning process in which behavior is sensitive to, or controlled by its outcomes.

Let’s take an example of a child. A child may learn to open a box to get the candy inside, or learn to avoid touching a hot stove. In comparison, the classical conditioning develops a relationship between a stimulus and a behavior. The example can be further elaborated as the child may learn to salivate at the sight of candy, or to tremble at the sight of an angry parent.

In the 20th century, the study of animal learning was commanded by the analysis of these two sorts of learning, and they are still at the core of behavior analysis.

Operant Conditioning Theory

Social Learning Theory

The key assumptions of social learning theory are as follows −

  • Learning is not exactly behavioral, instead it is a cognitive process that takes place in a social context.

  • Learning can occur by observing a behavior and by observing the outcomes of the behavior (known as vicarious reinforcement).

  • Learning includes observation, extraction of information from those observations, and making decisions regarding the performance of the behavior (known as observational learning or modeling). Thus, learning can occur beyond an observable change in behavior.

  • Reinforcement plays an important role in learning but is not completely responsible for learning.

  • The learner is not a passive receiver of information. Understanding, environment, and behavior all mutually influence each other.

Social Learning Theory

Cognitive Learning Theory

Cognition defines a person’s ideas, thoughts, knowledge, interpretation, understanding about himself and environment.

This theory considers learning as the outcome of deliberate thinking on a problem or situation based upon known facts and responding in an objective and more oriented manner. It perceives that a person learns the meaning of various objects and events and also learns the response depending upon the meaning assigned to the stimuli.

This theory debates that the learner forms a cognitive structure in memory which stores organized information about the various events that occurs.

Learning & Organizational Behavior

An individual’s behavior in an organization is directly or indirectly affected by learning.

Example − Employee skill, manager’s attitude are all learned.

Behavior can be improved by following the listed tips −

  • Reducing absenteeism by rewarding employees for their fair attendance.

  • Improving employee discipline by dealing with employee’s undesirable behavior, drinking at workplace, stealing, coming late, etc. by taking appropriate actions like oral reprimands, written warnings and suspension.

  • Developing training programs more often so as to grab the trainees’ attention, provide required motivational properties etc.