Basis of Learning according to Sign Theory Edward C. Tolman (1886- 1959), like behaviourists rejected the idea of introspection as a method of studying human behaviour. On the contrary, he believed the objective method of collecting data. He remarked that we do not only respond to the stimulus but we act on beliefs, and express attitudes. Behaviour can be modified by experience and training.
Tolman’s theory combines the advantages of stimulus-response theories and cognitive field theories.
Tolman published his major work entitled. Purposive Behaviour in Animals and Men (1932) and recorded the results of his experiments. He revised his theory in 1949. According to the findings of these experiments, the learner does not reach the goal in fixed sequence of movements but changes his behaviour according to the variation in conditions.
Tolman’s theory of learning is known by several names such as “sign significance theory”, “expectancy theory”, “purposive behaviourism” or simple “sign theory”.
The main features of this theory are as follows:
1. It accepts behaviourism as basis:
Main characterstics of behaviour are:
(a) Behaviour is goal-directed i.e. it is purposive.
(b) Behaviour makes use of environmental factors as means for getting at the goal.
(c) Behaviour consists of the formation of cognitive maps.
(d) The organism has a selective preference for the “principle of least effort”, for arriving at the goal.
(e) Molar behaviour is docile.
2. According to Tolman, the behaviour depends upon:
(a) The need system,
(b) The belief value matrix, and
(c) The behaviour space.
3. This theory takes into consideration that learning is based upon some signs or clues leading to the goal. The organism learns not the movement patterns, but the sign-significative relations.
Typical Learning Problems:
The learning of a task depends upon the capacity of the learner.
Tolman believes that practice or exercise cannot help the learner in the initial selection of a right response. Mere frequency without belongingness does not establish a connection.
Motivation does not help in learning something new. It simply encourages the performance as such.
Tolman believes in learning by creative inference, inventive ideation and so on. Insightful learning is emphasized.
Transfer of training depends upon applicability of the essential relationship perceived by the learner in one situation to some other situation.
Repression and ratio-active inhibition cause forgetting Tolman attributes forgetting to the resistance of cathexis (relationship between a drive and object) also.
Laws of Learning:
Tolman stated the following laws of learning:
1. Law of Capacity:
This relates to traits, characteristics and aptitudes of the learner which determine type of tasks and situations which can be mastered successfully.
2. Law of Stimulus:
It deals with conditions inherent in the material itself such as belongingness of its parts and how successfully it leads to insightful solution.
3. Law of Manner:
It is concerned with the manner of presentation of material such as frequency of presentation, distribution of practice and use of rewards.