In this article we will discuss about:- 1. Nature of Gestalt Theory 2. Experimental Evidences of Gestalt Theory 3. Principles 4. Education Significance 5. Some Objections.
- Nature of Gestalt Theory
- Experimental Evidences of Gestalt Theory
- Principles of Gestalt Theory
- Education Significance of Gestalt Theory
- Some Objections to Gestalt Theory
1. Nature of Gestalt Theory:
Max Wertheimer is generally considered to be Gestalt psychology’s founding father. The other pioneers in this field are Kohler, Koffka and Wolfgang. ‘Gestalt’ is a German word whose equivalents in English are ‘form’ or ‘pattern’ or ‘configuration’. Max Wertheimer has explained the term ‘Gestalt’ as, that the whole is greater than the parts. For example, a flower is just not a total of sepals, petals, calyx, corolla, colour, honey and fragrance but something more than that. The total of the parts is not equal to the whole. This is known as Gestalt view-point.
According to the view, “learning is the organization and re-organization of behaviour which arises from the interaction of a maturing organism and its environment. It is the bringing about through this interaction of new forms of perception, imagination, motor co-ordination and other organic behaviour.” Sudden appearance of the solution is an essential characteristic of insight learning.
A sudden coherent pattern of solution appears at once. The individual does not perform random activities, but he perceives the situation as a whole, and intuitionally reaches the goal through. Insight is the perception of relationship between at least three factors, an agent, a goal and intervening conditions or obstacles.
Insight is often called as the ‘Aha’ experience, the flash of understanding which comes to us all of a sudden. Insight, when it occurs, is characteristically accompanied by an ‘I have got it! Exclamation’ the eyes light up, knit brows unravel, fingers snap. Main feature of learning by insight is an estimate of the whole situation and arrange the means in such a way so as to reach the desired goal. The individual discusses within himself all ins and outs of it’s before acting upon it.
The Gestaltians tend to place for more emphasis on the intrinsic organizing capacity in the grain of the individual, and they emphasize the dynamic interactions of the elements in the entire perceptual field.
Gestalt theory of learning essentially consists in problem solving by understanding the relative position of the elements in the entire perspective or situation. When a problem arises, it tends to disturb the equilibrium of the organism who seeks a balance and so the organism. Actually, Gestalt psychology began with the work of German Psychologists who were studying the nature of perception. We are all now well aware that the ‘moving picture’ is not a moving picture at all but, is a series of still pictures.
The realities of still pictures as flashed on the “movie screen” become our perception of moving pictures. The focal point of this theory is the fact that when two optical stimuli are perceived by the human eye in quick succession, the reaction is one of simultaneous patterning. Wertheimer called this the ‘phi-phenomenon’. Out of these observations of perception there emerged certain principles that have implications for the general nature of learning. One principle is that the human mind gives an organisation or pattern to the environmental world revealed to the organism through sense perception.
Thinking back to our analogy a transistor radio waves into something else-sound waves. Without stretching the analogy, it can be said that the mind does something to the stimuli from the environment. Responses are not mechanically automatic because connections that have been formed out are adoptive and ‘good’ because the mind gives an organization or meaning to the stimuli of the environment.
In other words, organization and re-organization are constantly occurring in the organism as it interacts with its environment. In other words, organization and re-organization are constantly occurring in the organism as it interacts with its environment. This activity of organization and re-organization of the organism has as one of its manifestations those changes in its responding that we call learning.
2. Experimental Evidences of Gestalt Theory:
Learning by insight also known as perceptual learning is mainly the human way of learning; but experiments show that it is not absent in higher animals. Animals do learn by insight in situations which are within their limits of intelligence.
A few important experiments are mentioned below:
A number of experiments studies are at our disposal due to the efforts of Koffka and Kohler. Kohler performed an experiment with six chimpanzees in his laboratory in the Canary Islands. He kept the animals in a room which had smooth unscalable walls. A banana was suspended from the ceiling and three boxes were put in the middle of the room, two or three yards away from the lure. A stick was also placed nearby.
All the six chimpanzees leaped repeatedly for the banana but could not get it. Then Sultan, one of the most intelligent chimpanzee, who had shown himself in the other tests also, after surveying the whole situation paced up and down, suddenly stood in front of the box, moved it quickly towards the goal, climbed, jumped, picked up the stick and finally placed the three boxes one over the other to secure the banana, taking only twenty seconds in his final continuous act with the boxes. The other apes acquired the performance with some difficulty. In this way a number of experiments were performed.
Experiment 2 (Experiment with Human Subject):
To cite another experiment of the type performed by Norman R.F. Maier subjects were asked, one at a time, to tie two strings together which were hanging from the ceiling for enough apart so that they could not both be reached at the same time, even though the subject kept one in his hand and walked as far as he could towards solved the problem at once. For the others, the experimenter walked for one of the strings, leaving it swaying a little. To a few more students the string thus became a pendulum. They immediately tied a weight on the one end and swung it until they could reach it while holding other string.
It will thus be evident that in the case of human individuals learning may take place at various levels of intelligences and in any particular situation it may not always be possible to distinguish the type of mental activity involved.
Basically, ‘trial and error’ learning is not an anti-thesis to ‘insight learning’. There are some problems which cannot be solved by trial and error. Rather trial and error confuses all the more. Sudden insight into the problem solves the problem. Thus, it is the nature of the problem and the capacity of the learner which determines whether learning will be by trial and error of by insight. But, trial is also essential for the development on insight.
With a slight modification in his previous experiment Kohler performed one more experiment on chimpanzee named Sultan. In this experiment Kohler put Sultan, the most intelligent of the apes, in a cage and some banana was placed outside the cage, beyond the reach of Sultan. Two bamboo sticks, each too short to reach the banana, were also placed inside the cage.
However, the two sticks were constructed in such a way that they could be joined by fitting one into the open end of the other. Sultan indulged in much trial and error and tried to reach the banana with one stick but failed. After making various kinds of attempts, the chimpanzee squat indifferently on the box kept in the rear of the cage. After sometime he got up the two sticks and started playing carelessly with them.
In course of play, he found himself holding one stick in each hand in such a way that they made a straight line. He pushed the thinner stick into the opening of the thicker one, and realizing that he had a longer stick of the cage, jumped up and ran towards the railings and drew the banana towards him with the stick. On the next day, he needed only a short time to get the banana. Thus, Kohler emphasised suddenness with which the right solution appeared and chimpanzee’s behaviour was not due to trial and error but due to his insight.
3. Principles of Gestalt Theory:
The Gestaltians have mentioned some laws involved in the learning. The age at which memory begins is determined chiefly by the development of a sufficient number of association fibres to bring about recall. There are different modes of connection or association among percepts and ideas.
Suggestive forces work according to certain laws given as under:
(a) Law of Similarity:
Makes the individual to grasp things which are similar. They are picked out as it were from the total context. Similar ideas and experiences get associated together. An object revives another object which resembles it e.g., seeing a man and remembering an intimate friend by some resemblance in his personal appearance, though never saw them together in the past. A photo reminds us of the person when it represents.
(b) Law of Proximity:
Makes proximate or near together things to be picked up first learned as to how many these are among the more distant things. In other words, perceptual groups are favoured according to the nearness of their respective parts. It tend to form groups if they are spaced together. For instance, the example of a triangle and a circle is enough to illustrate this point.
(c) Law of Closure:
The law of closure means that closed areas are more stable and satisfying than the unclosed ones. Closed areas more readily form in groups. This law also means that when the perception of the situation is incomplete, the individual is not able to solve the problem. The problem is solved when he is able to bring the separate parts of the situation together into a closed perceptual figure, consisting of the goal, and the means of achieving the goal.
(d) Law of Continuity:
Makes the individual to grasp things which are joined together in a string or along the line which constituting a whole are grasped together than the dis-connected, dis joined or scattered. In other words, experiences which occur together either simultaneously or in close succession, tend towards reviving one another e.g., the perception of a ripe mango suggests the idea of its sweet taste and flavour because they are perceived together in the past or the idea of inkpot suggests the idea of pen.
(e) Law of Contrast:
A perception or an idea tends to suggest its contrary opposite. For instance, adversity reminds a person of his days of prosperity. Similarly, the heat of summer suggests the cold of winter. In these laws of learning is brought out the Gestalt point of view that the organizational capacity of the brain makes to grasp the whole in priority with the parts.
Keeping in view these principles for learning the teacher should present all curricular material to his students in the form of simple, concrete and patterned units of experience which constitute a whole. Children should be taught tune or melody rather than separate notes, whole dance pattern rather than separate steps and simple meaningful sentences rather than discrete words and they should better be taught whole meaningful words than separate letters for alphabets.
4. Education Significance of Gestalt Theory:
Gestalt psychology’s contribution to education lies in its concepts of the organization of stimuli and of insight. The world of the classroom in which the child is living and learning is not just a body of discrete stimuli nor is his responses to it those of trial and error adaptions. The world is organized, it has meaning. The child can reach with understanding, he has insight.
Arithmetic is not isolated fact but a system of numbers. History is not names and dates but the sweep of events through time, with one thing leading to or following another. The child can respond to 3 to 4 because he can add three and four. Learning is meaningful. So say the educators and so says Gestalt psychology.
Gestalt psychologists suggest educators to conceive the problem of learning in more comprehensive terms. The teacher should organize the learning situations so that significant relations emerge and understanding of the material results. The learning experiences should be so arranged that the learner discovers and generalizes the relationship for himself. The subject matter should be organized into larger units or in meaningful wholes. The concept of unit-planning is based on the same.
The daily lesson plan is many times fragmentary. It may encourage mere accumulation of facts, principles, concepts and skills; the student does not get a clear cut picture of the whole. A lesson of prose may be taught in four or five steps or periods. But, if the matter taught on the first day and the last day fails to establish relationship on the part of the teacher, students get confused. They do not see any significance. It is thus said that whole is just not equal to its parts.
Whenever any students appreciate, the beauty of a poem, the sip of a soft drink or the beauty of a song or picture, he appreciates it as a whole. The flower is just not equal to its various parts. Similarly the taste of lemonade cannot be analysed into coldness and yellowness and taste of lemonade cannot be analysed into coldness and yellowness and taste etc. That is why it has been seen that for fuller aesthetic appreciation poetry should not be taught in the same manner as prose. It should be taught as far as possible as a whole, not for meanings, grammar or translation sake.
When there is no clear connection between act and goal, when the parts are presented singly, so that no view of the whole is possible, when the level of performance lies far beyond the pupil’s equipment and experience, blundering occurs and blundering is time consuming and in itself fruitless. But with properly graded steps and with adequate preparation of expectancy from stage to stage, this blundering can be reduced to a minimum. The presence of blundering is thus a barometer which measures the intelligence of the teacher and not merely of the performer.
There are two important stresses with regard to the presentation of material. Firstly, where possible one should use visual presentations, outlines, maps, charts, graphs. In short, those devices which permit a survey of the whole problem, which being out configurationally and relational factors-simultaneously presenting what otherwise would remain discrete-have special value. The child who is learning colours finds it difficult to dissociate the film of colour from the object itself and he does not see the blue to which the teacher points but the dress itself.
To overcome this difficulty the teacher will have to discover the gaps which exist between his perceptual tendencies and those of the pupil for what appears to be clear and definite configuration to the experienced and intelligent may not be to the novice. Secondly, there is clear distinction between a ‘psychological’ and a ‘logical’ order of presentation.
If we want to teach something the logical process will be to start with the smallest unit and from thence elaborate the whole frame work of that think e.g., in teaching ‘matter’ one will proceed as, sub-electronic particles → electrons atoms → molecules → matter. However, satisfying this might look to an expert, who can fully appreciate the significance of each step of the process; the Gestaltists insist that it is not pedagogically sound.
The abstract conceptual items with which science works are really the last items to become knowledge. If this is correct one should begin with the living totality and reach last of all the abstract formulations, the unitary process. We can further make this point clear by taking an example from Geography. One teacher begins teaching geography by considering the map of the world an orange, and the relation of sun and earth.
Now, while this illustrates one way of considering the whole before the parts are taken up, it represents the worst possible use of the method. For, the world has little meaning and was quite foreign to childish experience. Orange, had meaning it is true, but nothing remotely connected with the problems of Geography.
A much more meaningful method would begin with the world of the child, his own home, and the houses in the locality or with his school house and surrounding town. These are wholes too and meaningful ones and from this base a significant geography could be taught.
A major point in this learning is that initial insight is only instinctive and automatic. This insight can be brought about through maturation, experience and good arrangement of the environmental forces. The teacher must postpone the task until circumstances are more propitious. If for example, the child is unable to appreciate a poem, no amount of analysis into rhymes, schemes, grammatical constructions, similes will supply the want.
Details must always follow general grasp or vague emotional insight. Further, since it is under the left want that perceptual fields take shape and configurationally relationships appear, motivation is of first importance. But, motivation is here much more than interest, more than some impelling stimulation. It is more of the nature of expectancy, a goal-ward orientation, an awareness of all-but-complete relationships.
Briefly speaking, this type of learning is very important in education because it discards memoriser type of learning. It does not consume much time and emphasizes upon meaningfulness, organization and interpretation of the lesson, Here, the individual is engaged in problem solving attitude. It encourage reasoning, develops thinking and trains imagination and creative activity of the child. Learning by insight can be cultivated. Thus, the teacher should emphasize it by encouraging, helping and guiding the child. This aspect of teaching is also called for by Prof. Dewey and those who advocate creative activity, the Dalton plan or the Project method.
5. Some Objections to Gestalt Theory:
As regards the criticism of the Insight theory of learning is concerned, it is worth mentioning that the theories of Trial and Error and of the conditioned Reflex are not absolutely wrong. Insight like a flash of lightning as it occurs; the base for it should be prepared through trial and error. For instance, the chimpanzee who plucked banana joining two sticks altogether, does not do so instantaneously, but through trial and error by manipulating the two sticks repeatedly till Sultan reaches his goal. The only difference in the two theories is that the later (Trial and Error) is governed from the initial stage by the perception of the situation as a whole.
Further, insight is hindsight and foresight as well. It does not lie merely in perceiving the presented situation but also what proceeds and what succeeds it. The controversy whether trial and error leads to insight or not is meaningless since the two concepts are of different nature. But, one has to admit here that Gestaltian view is subjective, less sophisticated and childlike.
It is wrong to say that every behaviour is the product of insight. For instance, many of our day-to-day experiences are the outcomes not of insight but chance continuous associations. Again, the laws of perception, also known as laws of learning according to Gestaltian are not very convincing, because they do not throw light on the role played by cognitive factors in the learning process, while one cannot think about learning without cognition.
Above all, whatsoever may be the inadequacies of Gestalt theory, its contribution in the field of education is quite praiseworthy.