While many people may believe that learning is just a natural response that all animals are capable of, there is actually a more complex explanation on how we learn the things we do in order to survive in the world. Classical conditioning and operant conditioning are both basic forms of learning, they have the word conditioning in common. Conditioning is the acquisition of specific patterns of behavior in the presence of well-defined stimuli.
Classical conditioning is a type of learning in which an organism learns to transfer a natural response from one stimulus to another, previously neutral stimulus. Classical conditioning is achieved by manipulating reflexes. Operant conditioning is a type of learning in which the likelihood of a behavior is increased or decreased by the use of reinforcement or punishment, "operant conditioning involves learning a link between a response and its consequences-a contingency" (Howard, 1995, p. 43). Operant conditioning deals with the cognitive thought process and many everyday activities are made possible through the act of operant conditioning.
In classical conditioning responses are largely controlled by stimuli that precede the response. For example, in the experiment held by Pavlov (1906) it was demonstrated that a dog would salivate after being presented with meat powder. As a result of conditioning Pavlov discovered that he could make the dog salivate after hearing the sound of a bell if the bell was presented prior to the meat powder for a certain amount of time. The results of this experiment indicates that the CR (salivation) is controlled by the stimuli that came before it, the CS (sound of the bell). In contrast, operant conditioning results from stimuli that follow the response, the stimuli are the consequence, ie. negative or positive reinforcement and punishment. It is argued by Cooper & Heron (1987) that behavioral consequences whether they are positive or negative, affect the possibility of similar responses recurring. Organisms will be inclined to comply to the desired response if they are rewarded for doing so. If an organism is punished for a certain behavior they will not risk the same punishment recurring.
In operant conditioning, it is possible to strengthen responses by either presenting positive reinforcement or by the removal of negative reinforces. "New responses can be learned by organisms by gradually reinforcing closer and closer approximations of the desired response" (Weiten p. 238). This is what is meant by shaping, It is the gradual use of reinforcement until the desired response has been reached.
Reinforcement is the main contributing factor in operant conditioning. There is more than one way to go about establishing reinforcement, if a delay occurs between the response and the reinforcement the response may not become strengthened. It is likely that if the reinforcement occurs immediately after the response that there will be a definite strengthening of the...