6 Laws of Learning Postulated by Edward L. Thorndike

Edward L. Thorndike in the early 1900’s postulated several “Laws of Learning,” that seemed generally applicable to the learning process.

Since that time, other educational psychologists have found that the learning process is indeed more complex than the “laws” identified. However, the “laws” do provide the instructor with insight into the learning process that will assist in providing a rewarding experience to the trainee.

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The laws that follow are not necessarily stated as Professor Thorndike first stated them. Over the years, they have been restated and supplemented, but, in essence, they may be attributed to him.



The first three are the basic laws: the law of readiness, the law of exercise, and the most famous and still generally accepted, the law of effect. The other three laws were added later as a result of experimental studies: the law of primacy, the law of intensity, and the law of regency.

As with anything else relative to the instruction and learning process, nothing that we do is a singular item; a combination of activities occurs at the same time to make the experience complete.

1. Law of Readiness:

The Law of Readiness means a person can learn when physically and mentally adjusted (ready) to receive stimuli. Individuals learn best when they are ready to learn, and they will not learn much if they see no reason for learning.


If trainees have a strong purpose, a clear objective and a sound reason for learning, they usually make more progress than trainees who lack motivation.

2. Law of Exercise:

The Law of Exercise stresses the idea that repetition is basic to the development of adequate responses; things most often repeated are easiest remembered.

The mind can rarely recall new concepts or practices after a single exposure, but every time it is practiced, learning continues and is enforced. The instructor must provide opportunities for trainees to practice or repeat the task.

3. Law of Effect:

This law involves the emotional reaction of the learner. Learning will always be much more effective when a feeling of satisfaction, pleasantness, or reward accompanies or is a result of the learning process.


Learning is strengthened when it is accompanied by a pleasant or satisfying feeling and that it is weakened when it is associated with an unpleasant experience. An experience that produces feelings of defeat, frustration, anger or confusion in a trainee is unpleasant.

4. Law of Primacy:

This law states that the state of being first, often creates a strong, almost unshakeable impression. For the instructor, this means that what they teach the first time must be correct. If a subject is incorrectly taught, it must be corrected.

5. Law of Intensity:

The principle of intensity states that if the stimulus (experience) is real, the more likely there is to be a change in behavior (learning). A vivid, dramatic or exciting learning experience teaches more than a routine or boring experience.

6. Law of Regency:

Things most recently learned are best remembered, while the things learned some time ago are remembered with more difficulty. It is sometimes easy, for example, to recall a telephone number dialed a few minutes ago, but it is usually impossible to recall a telephone number dialed a week ago.


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