Thorndike’s Theory of Trial and Error or Theory of connectionism

E.L . Thorndike  (1874-1949) was the chief exponent of the theory of connectionism or trial and error, this theory is known as trial and error theory as learning takes place through random repetition.

The puzzle box experiment:-

Thorndike put a hungry cat in a puzzle box and there was only one door for exit which could be opened by correctly manipulating a latch. A dish of fish was placed outside the box, the smell of the fish worked as a motive for the hungry cat to come out of the box. Consequently,  the cat made every possible effort to come out, it made a number of random movements and in one of the random movements by chance the latch was manipulated and the cat came out and got its reward.
For another trial the process was repeated and the cat was kept hungry and placed in the same puzzle box. The fish and its smell again worked as a motive for getting out of the box. The cat again made random movements and frantic efforts but this time it took less time in coming out on subsequent trial such incorrect responses like biting, crawling, dashing etc. were gradually diminished and the cat took less time in every succeeding trial. In due course it was found that the cat was in a position to manipulate the latch as soon as it was put in the box, in this was gradually the cat learnt the art of opening the door.

Educational implications of this theory: –

1) According to Thorndike readiness is the preparation for actions. It is very essential for the teacher to see that the child is ready to learn more quickly,  effectively and with greater satisfaction when he is ready to learn.
The teacher should also make an attempt to motivate the student by arousing their attention – interest and curiosity.
2) The law of effect emphasizes the role of reward and punishment. In the process of learning, getting reward as a result of some learning motivates and encourages the child to proceed on enthusiasm while punishment of any sort discourages him and diverts direction.
3) The main task of the teacher in the teaching-learning process is to make opportunities to practice the learning and this could be done through drill, repetition, and reward.
4. ) Thorndike has suggested fine aids to improve learning and they are :
 a. Interest in the work.
b. Interest in improvement.
c. Significance of the work.
d. Attentiveness.
e. Problem attitude.
Learning-Objectives-अधिगम-उद्देश्य- D.El.Ed, B.Ed-Notes
Laws of learning- E.L. Thorndike- Notes - B.El.Ed , B.Ed Notes, D.El.Ed


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