What The Old Woman Said

June 28, 2009

Guy Lefrancois is a good writer. You can trust that anything he writes is worth your reading. As a case in point, this is a great introduction to learning theory. I’m re-reading it just for fun.

It’s that kind of book. You can use it to learn more about a specific theory or approach to learning. You can use it to research a particular theorist. Or you can read to get a general overview or review of all areas of learning.

If you are looking for an introduction to learning, this is a good place to start. It’s a generalist book. You won’t get in-depth coverage of overwhelming detail. You get clear explanations of the basic principles of learning.

The concepts are presented in quasi-historical order.  So you get to see some of the give and take that occurs as theories develop and mature. All in all, it is very well done.

I think the 5th edition has the best cover but any edition will serve you well.


Theories of Human Learning
What the Old Woman Said
Fifth Edition
Guy R Lefrancois

Chapter 1 Human Learning: Science and Theory
Chapter 2 Early Behaviorism: Pavlov, Watson and Guthrie
Chapter 3 The Effects of Behavior: Thorndike and Hull
Chapter 4 Operant Conditioning: Skinner’s Radical Behaviorism
Chapter 5 Evolutionary Psychology: Learning, Biology and the Brain
Chapter 6 A Transition To Modern Cognitivism: Hebb, Tolman, Gestaltists
Chapter 7 Three Cognitive Theories: Bruner, Piaget and Vygotsky
Chapter 8 Neural Networks: The New Connectionism
Chapter 9 Learning and Remembering
Chapter 10 Motivation
Chapter 11 Social Learning: Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory
Chapter 12 Analysis, Synthesis and Integration


June 27, 2009

Born in Pergamum (Asia Minor) and educated in Alexandria, Galen became well known as a physician and writer. A Greek subject to the Roman Empire, he studied healing (medicine) in Smyna, traveled widely, and finally moved to Rome at the age of 32. [Read more]

Edward Chace Tolman

June 25, 2009


Born in Newton, Massachusetts, Edward Chace Tolman received his undergraduate degree in chemistry from MIT. Impressed by James writings, Tolman changed to psychology (earning his Ph.D. at Harvard). Best known for introducing the term “intervening variables,” he also was a pioneer investigate of cognitive maps. [Read more]

Wilhelm Wundt

June 25, 2009

As a child, Wundt was shy, awkward, and didn’t do well in school (including flunking a year of high school). Yet thanks in no small measure to Wundt’s efforts, psychology was transformed from a subsection of philosophy into its own independent science. [Read more]

Oswald Kulpe

June 24, 2009

A student of Wundt, Oswald Kulpe is best known for “imageless thought.” In contrast to many of Wundt’s students (who believed that though without sensations or images was impossible), Kulpe maintained that thinking need not have images present. Emphasizing higher mental processes, Kulpe and his colleagues at Wurzburg (sometimes they are called the Wurzburg School) looked less at sensations and more at thinking.

John Dewey

June 22, 2009

Born in Burlington, Vermon, John Dewey taught high school before receiving his Ph.D. in philosophy from Johns Hopkins (1884). After teaching at the U of Michigan, U of Minnesota, and the U of Chicago, Dewey spent the last 27 years at Columbia (he retired in 1931). An educational reformer at heart, Dewey’s psychology, like that of William James, emphasized practical functions of the mind. He held that a psychological act can’t be broken into elemental parts. Learning not to touch a hot flame is an entire adaptive function, and is not reducible to its component parts.

Soren Aabye Kierkegaard

June 19, 2009

Born in Copenhagen, Soren Aabye Kierkegaard was raised in a restrictive religious environment. His father was a Lutheran who interpreted his religion through guilt and gloom. Reacting to his father’s narrow-mindedness, Kierkegaard rebelled during his college years but returned to studying theology after his father died. [Read more]

Carl Stumpf

June 17, 2009

Influenced by Brentano’s act psychology, Carl Stumpf was Wundt’s major rival. Although he restricted his work to space perception and audition, Stumpf’s laboratory at the University of Berlin was a serious competitor to Wundt’s lab at the University of Leipzig. [Read more]

Alessandro Volta

June 16, 2009

In 1801, Napoleon honored the Italian physicist Alessandro Volta’s work on electricity by making him a count. A professor of physics, Volta built the first electrophorus and the first electric battery. He experimented with igniting gasses using an electric spark, and with animal electricity. In contrast to Galvani, Volta did not believe in animal electricity. He maintained that the flow of electricity was between two metals Galvani had placed on either side of the frog’s leg. The frog was simply a detector (a conductor) of the electricity.

Franz Brentano

June 13, 2009

Brentano, Franz (1838-1917)   Trained in the priesthood (he left the Church when the Vatican Council proclaimed infallibility of Pope), Franz Brentano emphasized empirical observation but not experimentation. His “act psychology” focused on what the mind does. In contrast to Wundt, Brentano was not interested in the mind’s content or component parts but in the active process of thinking. He held that the mind was responsible for idea-ing (having ideas), judging (affirming the presence or state of an object), and feeling (generating attitudes).

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