In this article we will discuss about:- 1. Meaning of Trial and Error Theory 2. Experiments on Trial and Error Theory 3. Educational Implications of Trial and Error Theory 4. Limitations of Trial and Error Theory.
Meaning of Trial and Error Theory:
Thorndike explained this theory and he arrived at it after a number of experiments. According to him learning takes place through a process of approximation and correction. A person makes a number of trials some responses do not give satisfaction to the individual, but he goes on making further trial till he gets satisfactory response.
The basic principles of this method are:
(a) All learning is a matter of bond connections, i.e., strengthening neutral connections between situations and responses. A stimulus (S) is connected with response (R) by S-R bond. These bonds may be motor, perceptual, conceptual, emotional or attitudinal (see ‘types of learning above). Learning is the process by which these bonds are formed.
(b) The stimulus may be in the form of a motive, need or desire to reach the goal. This impels one to activity.
(c) In order to reach the goal, the individual makes a number of responses to the situation, i.e. he makes a number of trials. Let the trials be R1,R2,R3,R4, etc.
(d) Some responses may not be successful as these do not help the individual to reach the goal. Such responses are automatically eliminated. This is in accordance with Thorndike’s Law of Effect, which states that the connection is strengthened by satisfactory responses, and weakened by annoying response, (this is explained below).
(e) In this manner progressive elimination of unsatisfactory, unsuccessful and irrelevant responses take place. Out R1,R2,R3,R4,R5, the first four responses may be unsuccessful.
(f) The final response by which the goal is reached has a strengthening effect. If Rs is the satisfactory response, there is established strong bond between the stimulus and the response (S-R5).
Thus the individual has in the beginning no knowledge about the method which he should follow in order to reach the goal. But after making a number of trials, in which some fail, he comes to the successful attempt. This is explained through some experiments conducted by psychologists.
Experiments on Trial and Error Theory:
(i) Cat Experiment by Thorndike:
Thorndike put a cat is a puzzle-box with iron bars on the sides, and a door which could be opened by catching and pulling a loop which was bending above in the centre of the box. The cat, hungry for 24 hours, had the motivation of eating fish outside the box. But how to open the door? The cat made several unsuccessful attempts of biting the irons, striking head against these, and finally it was successful in pulling the loop.
The same experiment was repeated several times and it was found that the cat in each successive attempt took less time in reaching the goal. It took 160 seconds for the first successful attempt, but a few seconds for the last trial.
(ii) Dog Experiment by Loyd Morgan:
The dog was put into an iron cage, with a door not clearly visible or discernable. The dog made a number of attempts before he could discover the door.
(iii) Rat Experiment by Mc Dougal:
The rats were similarly confined in a small box with secret passage. After committing mistakes for 165 times, they succeeded in finding out the correct passage.
(iv) Fish Experiment:
Thorndike put Fundulus (a type of fish that live in shade) in an aquarium with a glass partition, and one part of which was in sun. There was a small hole in the partition. First they were put in shade, and then in sun. In order to escape sun, the fish made attempts to find out the passage to the shade, until they did discover the hole. The experiment, was repeated, and it was found that in the succession experiments, the number of unsuccessful attempts went on decreasing progressively.
Educational Implications of Trial and Error Theory:
Ordinarily trial and error learning is connected with motor learning. But it has also some implications for abstract thinking. Some of the school subjects that require abstract thinking like science and mathematics, are affected by this process. The pupils has to make a number of unsuccessful attempts before he arrives at the desired result. He should, therefore, be trained to make attempts over and over again, and without feeling bored. The school boys motto should be ‘try, try again’.
Important Educational Implications of Trial and Error Theory of Learning are given below:
1. Importance of readiness:
Thorndike believes that readiness is preparation for action. It is essential for learning. If the pupil is ready to learn, he learns more quickly and effectively and with greater satisfaction than if he is not ready to learn. He warns us not to make the child learn till he is ready to learn and allow not to miss any opportunity of providing learning if the pupil is already prepared to learn.
2. Importance of motivation:
Thorndike emphasised the importance of motivation in learning which was totally neglected his time. Arousal of motivation makes the students ready for learning. Students must be properly motivated before they are taught.
3. Importance of experience:
The theory recognises the importance of previous experiences. Understanding grows due to previous experiences. The best way to develop understanding is to develop a body of connections appropriate to that of understanding.
4. Strengthening of bonds:
An important task of the teacher is to see what theories, principles and generalizations, etc. he likes to be remembered or forgotten by the students. Consequently, he must try to strengthen the bonds or connections between the stimuli and the responses which are to be remembered. This could be done through drill, repetition, practice and reward. For forgetting he should make attempts to weaken the connections through disuse and annoying students.
5. Importance of repetition:
For effective learning more repetitions should be made. Students should follow the rule that “practice makes a man perfect.” Forgetting takes place because of the law of disuse.
6. Role of reward and punishment:
The theory (law of effect) recognises the role of rewards and punishments in learning. Getting reward as a result of some learning motivates and encourages the child to proceed on the same path with more intensity and enthusiasm while the punishment of any type discourages him and creates distaste and distraction towards that learning.
Thus the theory implies that:
(i) Mere repetition is of no use. Repetition becomes useful when the response is rewarded. In that case repetition strengthens the connections.
(ii) Rewards have more strengthening effect than the corresponding weakening effect of punishments.
7. Grading of the task:
Theory contributes the grading of the task from simple to complex. So teacher should proceed from simple to complex, known to unknown, concrete to abstract.
8. Use of experiments:
Thorndike placed much emphasis on experimental verification. So the teacher should make use of experiments and learning by doing wherever possible for better and effective learning.
9. Learning of skills:
Various skills like sitting, standing, walking, running, cycling are learnt by trial and error.
10. Scientific inventions:
Many scientific inventions, machines and improvements are the results of trial and error.
11. Formation of habits and sentiments:
Habit formation is based on trial and error. Teachers and parents can form good habits and sentiments in the students on the basis of trial and error.
12. Use in insightful learning:
Even in insightful learning, trial and error is involved.
13. Transfer of learning:
Transfer in learning takes place because of identical elements in the two situations.
14. Aids to improve learning:
Thorndike advocated the following aids of learning:
(ii) Interest in work.
(iii) Interest in improvement of work.
(iv) Problem solving attitude.
Limitations of Trial and Error Theory:
1. Energy consuming:
The theory requires a good deal of energy because transfer of learning is minimum under trial and error.
2. Random efforts:
It is not desirable to do random efforts because doing anything without insight is meaningless. The theory ignores the role of understanding, experience, discrimination and insight in learning.
3. Emphasis on rote learning:
The theory over-emphasises the role of rote learning.
4. Not much useful for bright students:
The theory may be useful for less intelligent and backward students but not much useful for bright and intelligent students.
5. Not much useful for higher classes:
The theory is useful in case of students of lower classes, but for students of higher classes, the theory does not provide much guidance.