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The Psychology of Learning

Course Code: PSYC 3365
Faculty: Humanities & Social Sciences
Department: Psychology
Credits: 3.0
Semester: 15
Learning Format: Lecture
Typically Offered: TBD. Contact Department Chair for more info.
course overview

This course provides an introduction to the psychology of learning and is concerned with the conditions, principles, and theories of learning. Traditional behaviouristic approaches (including Pavlovian and instrumental conditioning) and contemporary learning theories will be covered. The influences of biology and cognitive factors as well as the practical applications of the principles of learning will be included.

Course Content

1.  Historical Factors

 Behaviourist tradition.

 Cognitive tradition.

 Contemporary learning theory.

2.  Theoretical Approaches

 Definition of learning.

 Evolutionary perspective.

 Habituation and sensitization.

3.  Pavlovian Conditioning




4.  Instrumental Appetitive Conditioning

 Thorndike’s position.

 Skinner’s behaviourism.


 Positive reinforcement.

 Schedules of reinforcement.



5.  Instrumental Aversive Conditioning

 Escape conditioning.

 Avoidance conditioning.

 Negative reinforcement.

 Positive punishment and negative punishment.



6.  Stimulus Control of Behaviour

 The generalization process.

 Excitatory generalization.

 Inhibitory generalization.

 Discrimination learning.

 Theoretical approaches.

7.  Cognitive Control of Behaviour

 Tolman's purposive behaviourism.

 Latent learning and cognitive maps.

 The role of reinforcement.

 The covariation of events.

 Expectancy theory.

 Attribution theory

 Bandura's approach.


8.  Biological Influences on Learning

 Generality of the laws of learning.

 The preparedness dimension.

 Animal misbehaviour.

 Flavour aversion: The Garcia Effect.

 Sign tracking, autoshaping, imprinting.

 Species specific defence reactions.

 The biology of reward and punishment.

Methods of Instruction

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

The course evaluation will be in accordance with Douglas College and Psychology Department policies. 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%


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. Define learning and list the various types of learning included in the definition.
  3. List the major traditional and contemporary theoretical approaches in the psychology of learning.
  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. List and describe the various biological influences on learning such as the Garcia Effect, Seligman's preparedness dimension, animal misbehaviour, sign tracking, imprinting, and species specific defence reactions.
  12. Discuss the cognitive factors involved in learning and list the major contemporary cognitive theoretical approaches.
  13. Compare and contrast the traditional behaviourist approach with expectancy theory, Tolman's purposive behaviourism, attribution theory and social learning theory.

course prerequisites

PSYC 1100 AND 1200

curriculum 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 schedule and availability
course transferability

Below shows how this course and its credits transfer within the BC transfer system. 

A course is considered university-transferable (UT) if it transfers to at least one of the five research universities in British Columbia: University of British Columbia; University of British Columbia-Okanagan; Simon Fraser University; University of Victoria; and the University of Northern British Columbia.

For more information on transfer visit the BC Transfer Guide and BCCAT websites.


If your course prerequisites indicate that you need an assessment, please see our Assessment page for more information.