Learning can be defined as “relatively permanent change in behavior that occurs as a result of experience or reinforced practice”. This definition contains the following points.

(i) Learning involves a change, though no necessarily improvement in behavior. Learning may be good or bad from organization’s point of view. For example, bad habits, prejudice, stereotype and work restrictions also can be learned.

(ii) Change must be relatively permanent. Temporary changes may be only reflexive and fail to represent any learning.

(iii) Some form of experience is necessary for learning to occur.

(iv) The practice of learning must reinforced in order that learning occurs. If reinforcement does not accompany the practice or experience the behavior will eventually disappear.

Learning is, therefore, acquisition of knowledge, skills, and expertise etc., and reinforcement strengthens and intensifies certain aspects of ensuring behavior. Learning is very important because it gives insight into how best to develop the talents and skills that employees need to perform effectively.

Learning can be viewed as the process of conditioning. Conditioning, in fact, is often used as a synonym for learning. More precisely conditioning refers to the process of acquiring a particular pattern of behavior. There are two types of conditioning – classical and operant. But before we proceed to explain the types of conditioning, it is necessary to understand learning process.

29.4.1 Learning Process

Most human behaviors are acquired through learning. Rewarded behaviors are learned and repeated, and unrewarded behaviors are discontinued. Reinforcement is an important concept in the learning process. Individuals tend to retain a behavior or practice for which they are given reinforcement. Reinforcement is the process by which an external rein forcer or reward produces and maintains a behavior. Reinforcement increases the strength of response and tends to induce repetitions of the behavior that precedes the reinforcement. Reinforcement generates a reproducible behavior process in time and usually it intensifies and enhances that behavior after wards. The positive reinforcement model is based on two principles:

(i) People perform in ways that they find most rewarding to them.

(ii) By proper reinforcement it is possible to improve performance.

29.4.2 Learning Theory and Organization Behavior

Traditional literature dealing with learning is interesting to read but the relevance of the material to the explaining and predicting of organizational behavior is marginal. This does not mean that learning theories are totally irrelevant. Learning concepts provide a basis for changing behaviors that the unacceptable and maintaining those that are acceptable. When individuals engage in various types of dysfunction behavior (late for work, disobeying orders, poor performance), the manager will attempt to educate more functional behavior. Learning can also be employed as a basic explanation of why employees prefer to hire people with college degrees and sufficient job experience. The basic presumption is that employees with learning can give insights into how best to develop the skills and talents that employees need to perform most effectively. Learning can result in higher job performance.

Learning theory can also provide certain guidelines for conditioning organizational behavior. Managers know that individuals capable of turning out superior performance must be given more reinforces than those with average or low performance. Managers can successfully use the operant conditioning process to control and influence the behavior of employees by manipulating its reward system. The application of positive reinforcement at Emery Air Freight clearly pointed out the need and benefits of using a systematic approach to reinforcement. The positive reinforcement programme saved the company $ 2 million in three years. Ar 3M company’ a conservative estimate of….cost savings in 1977 alone is$ 3.5 rml1on, and that is not including employee morale, which is difficult to quantify. Hamner and Hammer listed out three essential components in a correct positive reinforcement programme:

(i) Rein forcers selected must be sufficiently powerful and durable to establish and strengthen behavior.

(ii) The manager must design the contingencies in such a way that the reinforcing events are made contingent upon the desired level of performance.

(iii) The programme must be designed in such a way that it is possible to establish a reliable training procedure for inducing the desired response patterns.