Psychology: Classical Conditioning

Title: Improving Thinking about Classical Conditioning
Discipline(s) or Field(s): Psychology
Authors: Craig Wendorf, Robert Nemeth, Jody Lewis, University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point
Submission Date: August 26, 2007

Executive Summary: This lesson was designed to introduce students to the basic procedures and processes of classical conditioning within the context of a single-semester course in Introduction to Psychology. We usually allocate one-week for the unit on Learning, which approximates a single 50-minute class on classical conditioning (the remaining two classes are devoted to operant conditioning and observational learning, respectively). Thus, the lesson incorporates both lecture and activity and was designed with a multi-media compatible classroom in mind.

After the introduction to the elements and procedure of classical conditioning, students complete a worksheet (see attached) designed to provide students with practice using the terminology of classical conditioning, understanding the ordering of elements in the procedure of classical conditioning, and applying their knowledge to a variety of different examples including a novel one that students create. The worksheet provides an opportunity to assess students’ knowledge of classical conditioning from basic definitions of the elements of classical conditioning to the learning of a conditioned response through a variety of real-world examples.

Four assessments (peer observation of the lesson, grading of the activity worksheet, grading of relevant exam questions, and a student survey) indicated the lesson generally worked well. Both students and observers reported that the lesson was engaging and helped introduce an admittedly difficult topic. The lesson shows promise with several suggestions for improvement included.

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