Afro-Asian Institute, Tel-Aviv, Israel
(From the Lectures of Dr. Chanoch Jacobsen, Professors Shimon Zuckerman, Shulamit Elfassy, Michel Isaak, and Gershon Tabor)
“They will tell us we can’t change human nature. That is one of the oldest excuses in the world of doing nothing – and it isn’t true.”
Teaching is the art of changing people’s behavior by facilitating the learning process for them.
Learning is the process whereby new behavior patterns are acquired.
All the manifold ways in which a person can behave come from one of two possible sources: either they are inherited or they are learnt
Inherited behavior patterns are more or less fixed and almost impossible to change. On the other hand, anything that has been learnt can, in principle, be modified by further learning. It is difficult, of course, to uproot long-standing habits, but even those can be changed, provided they are correctly analyzed and appropriately handled.
By far the greatest part of our behavior consists of activities which we have learnt during our lives. In principle, most human activities can be modified by additional learning.
Knowledge is any information that a person has perceived through one of his five senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. It will be appropriate, therefore, to try and explain the learning of knowledge with the help of the principles of perception.
Skills are actions or activities that a person is able to perform rapidly and smoothly. There are motor skills (activities we carry out with our limbs), and mental skills, which are performed with the brain (e.g., solving mathematical problems). Acquisition of skills requires repetition of the activity, thus the use of learning principles - the dynamics of repetitive behavior, namely reinforcement theory.
Attitude is a person’s habitual patterns of thinking about his social environment. Attitudes are complex structures of the mind, made up of knowledge, beliefs, emotions and evaluations. Being habitual, they predispose people to make ready-made generalized responses to their social environment in many different circumstances. Attitudes are formed and changed with cognitive balance theory.
The Perception of Knowledge.
We perceive our environment selectively. We filter out certain things which we hear, see, smell, touch and taste.
Selective perception enables the organism to conserve its cognitive resources, taking note only of those stimuli that are interesting in themselves or are important to its well-being.
The human brain regulates the selective perception of environmental stimuli according to their relevance to the person’s needs, his expectations and his previous experience. In other words, we tend to perceive those things to which our senses are attuned.
To be effectively learnt, knowledge must be relevant to the learner.
The human brain not only perceives selectively, it also remembers selectively what it has perceived. Some things etch themselves on the mind, while others are quickly forgotten.
We tend to remember those items of knowledge, which we feel are relevant and important to ourselves.
When teaching link items to one another than to present them disconnectedly. Systematically ordered items make for better learning than haphazardly presented knowledge.
The successful communicator/teacher takes pains to explain things thoroughly, giving adequate reasons, rather than throwing knowledge at the learner as if to say “take it from me.”
Reinforcement of Skills
Based on principles of learning is that of reward of punishment (positive and negative reinforcement.) Common sense and ancient folk-wisdom would suggest the same thing: it is nothing else than the well-known idea of the carrot and the stick.
The extrinsic reinforcement may be either positive (e.g., praise encouragement, payment, etc.) or negative (e.g., scolding if he doesn’t practice, withholding of reward, etc.), but without either of these it is unlikely that a person will continue the activity long enough to acquire the skill. Note, however, that once the skill has been acquired it is frequently self-reinforcing, since normally a person will enjoy doing something he can do really well (self-actualization).
Positive reinforcement is more efficient than negative reinforcement, because it does not have to be given every time the behavior is emitted. In fact, irregular and intermittent schedules of positive reinforcement are even more efficient in maintaining the activity than regular and continuous rewards. It is as if the organism went on “hoping” - as it were (up to a certain limit, of course) than the next activity will be rewarded, and therefore keeps it up. Negative reinforcement, on the other hand, must be continuous and consistent to be effective.
The Cognitive Balance of Attitudes
The important point about habits is that we rarely think about them at all. From a psychological point of view, therefore, they function to conserve mental effort. As we can do these things by habit we do not have to think about them and our mind is left free to deal with those matters that do need the investment of mental effort.
Attitudes are generalizations, and like all generalizations they are frequently not very accurate, and sometimes they can be quite unrealistic. But they do save us the trouble of carefully considering each and every event or idea that comes our way.
They also provide us with ready-made responses for a host of different social situations with which we may be confronted.
If our attitudes are to give us this kind of psychological support, they must be consistent with one another as well as with our personal experience. This is what we mean by cognitive balance. We feel uncomfortable when we are faced with facts which obviously contradict our attitudes, and we take considerable trouble to prevent this from happening.
Sometimes we attempt to change the facts by adjusting our behavior to our attitudes and thus restore cognitive balance. At other times we adjust our attitudes to bring them in line with our experience.
Generally, we take the line of least resistance. We tend to do what seem easiest in order to maintain our cognitive balance.
Learning attitudes and changing attitudes depends on the real-life situations. Being habits upon which we are accustomed to depend, we do not change our attitudes easily.
But we do change them when we feel we must, when we are faced with the realities of our personal experience.
The communicator and extension worker who wants to change other people’s attitudes should know that his powers in this area are severely restricted.
We communicators and educators can provide learning experience, but we can not change the attitudes directly.
Only life itself can do that.
Dr. A.V. Rotor