The dominant paradigm for learning in China today is “gradual learning”, that is, learners acquire knowledge gradually from a lower to a higher level with the help of teachers. Based on theories of adaptive learning and “meta-learning self”, we advanced the alternative of “integrative learning”, that is, “under the role of ‘meta-learning self', learners actively integrate learning materials to achieve rapid and in-depth understanding of knowledge.” Furthermore, we designed an animal behavioral model to explore the effects of integrative learning versus progressive learning.
Forty SD rats were selected as subjects, a two (Learning mode: Integrative Learning-IL, Progressive Learning - PL) by two (Sex: Male, Female) factorial design was employed, and a fourteen-unit integrative T-maze was constructed for the study. Five task stages were conceived to test the phenomenon and mechanisms of integrative learning: a learning stage, a retest stage after one week, a Gestalt transfer learning stage, a generalization/analysis test stage, and a segment fixation test stage.
The results showed that: 1. During the learning stage, the number of errors in each trial in the IL group decreased exponentially over time, while that curve in the PL group was wavy; males exhibited significantly fewer errors in total than females; and the number of days to learning success in the IL-male group was significantly less than in the PL-male group, though the difference between female groups was not significant. 2. During both Gestalt transfer learning and generalization/analysis test stages, the IL group performed better than the PL group overall; during the segment fixation test stage, all groups appeared fixed more on the first segment of the original correct path. 3. To identify mechanisms for the IL groups' better performance, a dynamic heat-map path analysis was employed, showing that the IL group (especially males) appeared to consolidate the first key segment of the correct path repeatedly before quickly apprehending the rest of it, which had elements similar to the first one. Males in the PL group, however, were more likely to return to explore the earlier segment than females when allowed to enter a new segment of the maze. 4. The IL group as a whole either ate less of the chocolate reward at the finish of the correct path or moved the pellet elsewhere to eat, a pattern that was much more obvious in females.
We arrived at the following conclusions: 1) Integrative learning is more efficient than progressive learning, and is characterized by the acquisition of more layered knowledge which can better assist long-term migration learning. 2) During the process of forming a “cognitive map”, information stored in memory has the characteristics of entirety, chunking, and categorization. 3) In a maze learning task, performance among males is more consistent than among females. 4) Some individuals may appear anxious or maladjusted during integrative learning.