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Thorndike Theory of Learning - A Guide


Learning is a lifelong process and having goals and objectives for learning makes it more challenging and fulfilling. Students learning experiences can be improved by using Thorndike’s theory of learning, which is a powerful learning strategy. Learning is best understood as connections forming between ideas and experiences. The key to learning, according to Thorndike, lies in the ability of learners to form new connections in their brains that can be used later on.

The inception of Thorndike Theory of Learning

The connectionism theory is based on the notion that internal factors have no influence on behavior or cognition. This indicates that our behaviors are strongly influenced by our environment. Edward Thorndike, an American psychologist, created this theory (1874-1949). He was fascinated by the way in which animals pick up new behaviors by receiving reinforcement or positive remarks from their surroundings. This theory is applicable in any learning environment because with positive feedback and through rewards students develop an interest in learning. It would lead to their academic excellence. In the Thorndike theory of learning, he discusses three laws of learning. Let us learn what they are.

Thorndike’s Three Laws of Learning.

  • Law of Effect: A behavior that produces a response will be reinforced.
  • Law of Exercise: When actions are repeated frequently, it leads to better performance that the actions that are performed rarely.
  • Law of Readiness: The learning capacity is improved by how quickly you can react to stimuli.

Now that you have understood what the three laws of learning are, let us look at each of them in detail.

Law of Effect

The law of effect was developed by Thorndike. According to the law of effect, responses that result in positive outcomes are more likely to happen again, while responses that result in negative outcomes are less likely to happen again.

Thorndike's concept was based on his extensive research on rats that he observed in experimental settings over an extended period of time. His research shows that once a rat learns a skill, such as how to press a lever, it would continue to do so even if there is no longer a reward for doing so (for example, food). This argues that learning happens because it enables us to modify our behaviour in order to accomplish a certain objective or result—or what psychologists refer to as "reinforcement"

According to this law, when learners receive positive outcomes, it would be a huge motivation for students to learn. Educators ought to adopt effective teaching strategies that can kindle motivation among learners to learn.

Law of Exercise

The law of exercise states that response becomes stronger and easier with use, just like a muscle grows in strength if it is exercised regularly.

The more you practice a skill, the better you get at it. The more often you practice something, the easier it gets to do again. And when we get good at something, say, riding a bicycle. It becomes second nature and then we're less likely to forget how to do it!

It basically can be interpreted as how students will perform better in studies if they practice more.

Law of Readiness

The law of readiness is the theory that particular behaviors will be carried out more quickly if someone is physically and mentally ready. It says that if you are ready for something, then you will learn more about it. This can be demonstrated by the example that if your muscles are fatigued, you might not be able to lift as much weight as you normally would.

However, after a short period of rest, such as an afternoon sleep, those same muscles can be used again with more strength, allowing you to lift twice as much weight!

Learning cannot be automatically ingrained in someone if they are not ready to learn. Hence, teachers ought to make sure that the students are ready to engage in learning to bear positive results.


Learning is best described as the development of links between concepts and experiences. You learn more and understand more the more connections you have. Your learning will progress more quickly the more connections you have. The newer the connections you make, the stronger your memory gets because they aid in both recall and retention of prior learning. Hence, the Thorndike learning theory is a great way to understand learning and how we learn.

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