The Psychology of Learning

Humanities & Social Sciences
Course Code
PSYC 3365
Semester Length
15 weeks
Max Class Size
Method(s) Of Instruction
Typically Offered
To be determined


Course Description
This course provides an introduction to the psychology of learning and is concerned with the conditions, principles, and theories of learning. Students will learn about research methods, theories, and findings associated with traditional and contemporary learning research. A variety of learning theories behaviouristic approaches (such as Pavlovian and instrumental conditioning) will be emphasized. The degree to which these theories adequately account for observable data will be considered. Additional topics to be explored include complex learning phenomena such as motor skill, expertise, and study. Students will apply their theoretical learning by critically analyzing everyday learning problems (e.g., ‘how should I study’, ‘how can I improve’, etc.) in light of empirical research.
Course Content

1. Historical Factors

• Definitions of behaviourism
• Predecessors of behaviourism
• Contemporary learning theory
• Definition of learning
• Distinction between learning and memory

2. Methods and foundations

• Habituation and sensitization
• Experimental and quasi-experimental methods

3. Classical Conditioning

• Foundations of classical conditioning
• Higher-order conditioning
• Theories/models of conditioning (e.g., the Rescorla - Wagner model)
• Nuances of classical conditioning (e.g., Blocking, Salience)
• Applications

4. Instrumental/Operant Conditioning

• Foundations of instrumental/operant conditioning
• Reinforcement schedules
• Nuances of reinforcement (e.g., primary versus secondary reinforcers)
• Applications

5. Avoidance Behaviour

  • Theories of avoidance conditioning (e.g., Two-process theory)

6. Stimulus Control of Behaviour

• Stimulus generalization
• Generalization gradients
• Discrimination learning

7. Constraints on Conditioning

• Biological preparedness
• Instinctive drift
• Animal misbehaviour
• Theoretical implications of constraints on conditioning

8. Expertise and Motor Skill

• Transfer of complex skills to new domains
• Deliberate practice theories of expertise
• Motivation
• Interference

9. Choice

• Delay discounting
• Theories/models of choice (e.g., Ainslie-Rachlin Theory)

10. Study

• Retrieval practice
• Distributed practice
• Interleaved practice

11. Examine Critical Issues in Learning Research. For example,

• Is teaching more effective when it caters to learning style?
• Are growth mindsets strongly associated with better learning outcomes?
• How strong is the role of talent in determining expert performance?

Learning Activities

The course will employ a variety of instructional methods to accomplish its objectives, including some of the following:          

-         lecture

-         audio-visual materials

-         seminar presentations

-         small group discussion

-         research projects/papers

-         computer based cognitive experiments and exercises

-         mediated electronic forums/discussion groups

-         computer based tutorial exercises

Means of Assessment

Assessment will be in accordance with the Douglas College Evaluation Policy. Evaluations will be based on the course objectives. The specific evaluation criteria will be provided by the instructor at the beginning of the semester.

An example of a possible evaluation scheme would be:

4 quizzes                                                            40%
Mid-term paper                                                   15%
Term paper                                                         15%
Oral presentation                                                  5%
Seminar attendance and participation                     5%
Final exam                                                          20%
TOTAL                                                               100%

Students may conduct research with human participants as part of their coursework in this class.  Instructors for the course are responsible for ensuring that student research projects comply with College policies on ethical conduct for research involving human subjects.

Learning Outcomes

At the conclusion of the course the successful student will be able to:

  1. List the major historical figures in the history of the psychology of learning and describe their contributions.
  2. Distinguish among different forms of learning.
  3. Define learning and list the various types of learning included in the definition.
  4. Describe the classical conditioning paradigm and the procedures for acquisition and extinction.
  5. Explain how the principles of Pavlovian conditioning can be applied in clinical and other settings.
  6. Describe instrumental conditioning procedures and the effects of various schedules of reinforcement.
  7. Discuss the effects on behaviour of positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive and negative punishment.
  8. Explain how the principles of instrumental conditioning can be applied to practical settings.
  9. Define generalization and discrimination and describe the major paradigms and phenomena associated with these processes.
  10. Explain the major biological constraints on the generality of the laws of learning.
  11. Discuss research on a variety of complex learning phenomena. This includes discussing research on different kinds of skill (e.g., motor and studying skills) as well as research on extremely skilled individuals (i.e., experts).
  12. Critically analyze learning strategies based on scientific research on learning.
Textbook Materials

Textbook(s) such as the following, will be used. The list will be updated periodically.

Domjan & Grau. The principles of learning and behavior (current edition). Stamford, CT: Cengage.

Mazur, J. E. Learning and behavior (current edition). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Powell, Honey, & Sambaluk. Introduction to learning and behaviour (current edition). Stamford, CT: Cengage.


Course Guidelines

Course Guidelines for previous years are viewable by selecting the version desired. If you took this course and do not see a listing for the starting semester / year of the course, consider the previous version as the applicable version.

Course Transfers

These are for current course guidelines only. For a full list of archived courses please see

Institution Transfer Details for PSYC 3365
Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) KPU PSYC 2328 (3)
Langara College (LANG) LANG PSYC 2XXX (3)
Simon Fraser University (SFU) SFU PSYC 3XX (3)
Thompson Rivers University (TRU) TRU PSYC 2XXX (3)
Trinity Western University (TWU) TWU PSYC 409 (3)
University of British Columbia - Okanagan (UBCO) UBCO PSYO 2nd (3)
University of British Columbia - Vancouver (UBCV) UBCV PSYC 2nd (3)
University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) UFV PSYC 302 (3)
University of Victoria (UVIC) UVIC PSYC 2XX (1.5)
Vancouver Island University (VIU) VIU PSYC 2nd (3)

Course Offerings

Winter 2023

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