Laws of Learning - Edward L. Thorndike (1974-194)

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Laws of Learning

Edward L. Thorndike (1974-194)


  • Based on his experiments on animal learning, Edward L. ThoSeptember 18, 2013he laws of learning.
  • Thorndike's laws are also called S-R learning.
  • Laws (principles) of learning are:
    • Readiness
    • Exercise
    • Effect
    • Primacy
    • Intensity
    • Recency
    • Freedom

Primary Laws

Three primary laws of learning are:

  • Law of effect
  • Law of exercise
  • Law of readiness
Law of effect.
  • learning is strengthened when accompanied by a pleasant or satisfying feeling.
  • learning is weakened when associated with an unpleasant feeling.
  • learning takes places properly when it results in satisfaction and the learner derives pleasure out of it.
  • The class room experiences should be satisfactory and pleasant. The teacher must enjoy his teaching work.
  • Learning experiences and other activities must be meaningful and understandable in terms of the personal life of the learners.
  • School activities should be organized in increasing difficulty order so that the students may progress without any failure..
The law of exercise
  • This principle states that the S-R connection is strengthened by use and weakened with disuse.
  • It has two parts: law of use and law of disuse.
  • Things most often repeated are best remembered.
  • Students do not learn complex tasks in a single session.
  • The instructor must repeat important items of subject matter at reasonable intervals.
Law of readiness
  • This principle states that motivation is needed to develop an association or display changed behavior.
  •  Individuals learn best when they are physically, mentally, and emotionally ready to learn, and they do not learn well if they see no reason for learning.

Additional Laws (Principles)

Law of Primacy
  • Things learned first create a strong impression.
  • What is taught must be right the first time.
  • “Unteaching” wrong first impressions is harder than teaching them right the first time.
  •  What the student learns must be procedurally correct and applied the very first time.
Law of Recency
  • things most recently learned are best remembered.
  • frequent review and summarization help fix in the mind the material covered.
  • this principle often determines the sequence of lectures within a course of instruction.
Law of Intensity
  • the more intense the material taught, the more likely it will be retained.
  • a student will learn more from the real thing than from a substitute. 
  • In the class room, demonstrations, skits, and role playing increase the learning experience of students.
Law (Principle) of Freedom
  •  things freely learned are best learned.
  • the greater the freedom enjoyed by the students in the class, the greater the intellectual and moral advancement enjoyed by them.


  • Knowledge of these laws helps the teacher for better understanding of learning behaviours of the students.


Thorndike, E. (1932). The Fundamentals of Learning. New York: Teachers College Press.
This page was last updated on: 05/12/2020