Latent Learning


Latent learning is a pretty weird concept.  Latent literally means hidden, and latent learning is learning that becomes obvious only once a reinforcement is given for demonstrating it.  Edward Toleman studied latent learning by using rats and showing us that learning can occur but may not be immediately evident.  Toleman had three groups of rats run through a maze on a series of trials.  One group (Group A) got a reward each time it completed the maze, and the performance of these rats improved steadily over time.  Another group of rats (Group B) never got a reward, and their performance improved only slightly over the course of the experiment.  A third group of rats (Group C) was not rewarded during the first half of the experiment, but was given a reward during the second half of the experiment.  Not surprisingly, during the first half of the trials, Group C was very similar to the group that never received a reward (Group B).  The interesting finding, however, was that Group C's performance improved dramatically and suddenly once it began to be rewarded for finishing the maze.  In fact, Group C's performance almost caught up to Group A's performance even though Group A was rewarded through the whole experiment.

Toleman came to the conclusion that these rats must have learned their way around the maze during the first half of the experiment.  Their performance did not improve because they had no reason to run the maze quickly.  Toleman believed that their dramatic improvement in maze-running time was due to latent learning.  He suggested they made a mental representation, or cognitive map, of the maze during the first half of the experiment and displayed this knowledge once they were rewarded.  What are the implications of latent learning on some students in school?