Who is Edward Thorndike, and why does it matter?

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October 14, 2023
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Patrick J. Karol,

Training and education are domains in the ASP and CSP, making up 12.35% and 10.18% respectively. This means you will likely get about 25 questions on the ASP and 20 on the CSP about training and education. Questions could range from training development to adult learning theory. It’s adult learning theory where Thorndike comes into play and why you need to know him. So, let’s get to know Thorndike.

Edward Thorndike was a psychologist in the early 1900s who pioneered laws and theories on adult education. His laws still shape learning development today, and he is considered the founder of adult education.

Thorndike developed the first three “Laws of Learning: ”readiness, exercise, and effect. All training developers should consider these laws when developing and delivering training.

The Law of Readiness states that trainees must be physically and mentally prepared. Physically, trainees are prepared with adequate sleep, good health, and nutrition (think brain foods like nuts, berries, and fish.) Mentally, trainees are ready when distractions, outside responsibilities, and other worries are minimized. Conducting confined space training at the end of a midnight shift without offering breakfast flies in the face of this law.  

The Law of Exercise states that every time a trainee studies or practices, learning occurs, and retention increases. This includes recall using flashcards, reviews, summaries, manual drills, and hands-on applications. All create learning habits. As a trainer, repeating key points until retention is achieved leverages this law.

The Law of Effect states that responses closely followed by satisfaction are firmly connected to that situation and are more likely to be repeated. In the learning context, learning is strengthened when it is accompanied by a pleasant, satisfying, or positive feeling and is weakened when it is associated with an unpleasant feeling. If training is considered mandatory and enforced, it’s likely to be connected to unpleasant feelings that result in lower retention. Consider how you can make your training enjoyable. There are multitudes of games that reinforce learning points and make training enjoyable. A good resource is the book, SafetyFUNdamentals, 77 Games and Activities to Make Training Great, by Linda Tapp. Check out Linda’s website at safetyfundamentals.com for more info.

The Law of Primacy states that the things we learn first, we remember. Trainees are more likely to remember training delivered in a logical, step-by-step order, as opposed to learning steps in isolation.

The Law of Recency states that things we learn most recently will stick with us. A key point we reiterate with attendees in our ASP, CSP, and CHST workshops is to take the exam as soon as practical after the workshop. The longer you wait, the more you are likely to forget.

The Law of Intensity states that learning material that is vivid, clear, or dramatic will have a higher retention rate. Using personal experiences, worker testimonials, relatable stories, or photographs enhances learning.

Getting to know Edward Thorndike and his learning principles is time well spent preparing for the ASP or CSP exam. If you are a trainer, employing these laws during the development stages will improve your trainee’s retention.

Considering an ASP, CSP, or CHST exam prep workshop? We offer exam materials, including guidebooks and practice tests. Go to the Exam Materials tab. See American Society of Safety Professionals for our scheduled workshops.

Please feel free to contact us directly if you are interested in a workshop at your facility.