Wolfgang Köhler, (born January 21 [January 9, Old Style], 1887, Revel, Estonia, Russian Empire [now Tallinn, Estonia]—died June 11, 1967, Enfield, New Hampshire, U.S.), German psychologist and a key figure in the development of Gestalt psychology, which seeks to understand learning, perception, and other components of mental life as structured wholes.

The learning theory named as “Learning by Insight” is the contribution of Gestalt Psychologists, Gestalt Psychology began with the work of German Psychologists who were studying the nature of perception. Wertheimer is generally considered to be the Gestalt Psychology’s founding father. Wertheimer, Kohler, Koffka and Lewin-all four of these men, originally German, eventually settled in America-are the leaders of what is historically Gestalt Psychology.

“Gestalt” is a German noun for which there is no English word equivalent so the term was carried over in English Psychological literature.  The nearest English translation of Gestalt is ‘configuration’ or more simply ‘an organized whole’  in contrast to be collection or parts.  Gestalt psychologists consider the process of learning as a gestalt-an organized whole.  A thing cannot be understood by the study of its constituent parts but only by the study of it as a totality-is a basic idea behind this theory.

Meaning of Theory of Learning by Insight:

This theory is also called Gestalt Theory of Learning. An explanation of Gestalt School of Psychology. The word Gestalt in German language means ‘whole’, ‘total pattern’ or ‘configuration’. This school believes that the whole is more important than the parts. So learning also takes place as a whole’. In this respect Kohlar performed a number of experiments on monkeys, and arrived at the result that highest types of learning is through insight.

Learning by insight means sudden grasping of the solution, a flash of understanding, without any process of trial and error. All discoveries and inventions have taken place through insight. Of course the discoverer possessed a complete knowledge of the whole situation in peace-meal.

The Gestalt psychologists dismiss the theory of ‘trial and error’, hit and miss’ strive and succeed’. Another modern psychologist E.C. Tolman also rejects the trial and error theory and approaches the insight theory.

According to Tolman, in all learning some intelligence is at work. It is the learner who actively participates in the act of getting new experience. He organises his perceptions and observations and gives meaning to them. It is his whole mind that perceives, constructs and reconstructs experience. In his ‘purposive theory of learning’, he explains the behaviour or rats in teaching the goal through many trials as a result of ‘insight’ or ‘making cognitive map’ of the maze.

Experiments of Theory of Learning by Insight:

(i) Kohler s experiment on Sultan (Experiment with box):

Kohlar kept a monkey (named Sultan) hungry for some time, and then shut him in a large cage. He hung bananas from the ceiling, and kept a box on the floor of the cage, fast beneath. The monkey could not reach the banana. Another box was put in a corner of the cage.

But Sultan could not get the idea of placing one box on the other and thus reaching the banana. Ultimately Kohlar gave demonstration of putting one box on the other. Sultan could now learn the whole situation. He used his intelligence and insight to put the two boxes one upon the other, stand on these and then reach the bananas.

(ii) Experiment with two sticks:

In another experiment Kohler kept two sticks in the cage. One end of the shorter sticks could be fitted in the one end of the longer sticks, so as to make them longer. The monkey did not get the idea of forming the two sticks through trial and error. When Kohlar gave a hint through putting his finger in the whole of the bigger stick, the monkey viewed the whole situation and performed the right task through understanding the insight.

Kohler's Experiment on Chimpanzee

Criterion or Essentials of Learning by Insight:

1. Comprehension as a whole:

Learning by insight requires full comprehension of the situation as a whole.

2. Clear goal:

The goal must be quite clear to begin with.

3. Power of generalisation:

The learner must possess power of generalisation along with those of differentiation.

4. Suddenness of solution:

Suddenness of the solution is the hall mark of learning by insight i.e., the solution flashes suddenly to the learner. No lengthy reasoning is involved.

5. New forms of objects:

As a result of insight into the problem or situation objects appear in new forms and patterns.

6. Transfer:

Transfer of learning occurs as a result of insight. The principles learnt in one situation are applied to the other situation.

7. Change in behaviour:

Insight changes our behaviour to the extent which we have learnt through insight.

Laws of Insight Formation:

1. Capacities:

Insight depends upon the capacity of the organism. Individuals offer in their capacities. The more developed is the individual, the more will be the capacity to develop insight.

2. Previous experience:

Insight depends upon relevant previous experience and maturation. Some practice, trial and error and maturation upto the level is essential before insight develops. A child of five years cannot develop mathematical insight since he has not done sufficient practice in it.

3. Experimental arrangement:

Development of insight depends upon experimental arrangement also.

4. Fumbling and search:

Insight follows a period of fumbling and search.

5. Readily repeated:

Insightful solutions can be readily repeated.

6. Use in new situation:

Insight once achieved can be used in new situation.

7. Wholesome experience:

Experience of insight is always wholesome. Whole is just not equal to its parts.

Educational Implications of Learning by Insight (Role of Teacher in Insight Learning):

1. Integrated curriculum:

The curriculum of the class should be an integrated whole i.e., there should be correlation between various subjects.

2. Problem as a whole:

The whole problem is to be presented in the class. A piece meal approach will not develop learning by insight. This theory believes, “The whole is not a sum of the parts.” The teacher should present the things in the class as a whole atleast to start with. To give a complete insight into the learning material, we should always proceed from whole to the part. The lesson should form an integrated unit because insight is possible if the situation is perceived as a whole.

(i) The whole sentence should be presented first and then analysed into words or letters.

(ii) While teaching Biology, the model of the whole body should be presented before the children and then the various parts and organs of the body should be emphasied.

(iii) While teaching geography, we should part from the globe and then come down to country, state, district and city.

3. Child as a whole:

Parents and teachers should see the child as a whole and in total setting. It is not wise to conclude on the basis of single act about the child’s behaviour.

4. Importance of motivation:

The theory stresses the importance of motivation in learning. Therefore, the teacher should motivate the students properly for insightful learning.

5. Importance of transfer:

The theory also emphasises the importance of transfer of learning. Previous experiences are helpful in learning. Hence the teacher should encourage the students to make the best use of transfer of learning.

6. Emphasis on intelligent learning:

The theory is economical in terms of human energy. It puts emphasis on insight and understanding rather than rote learning. So spoon feeding and cramming should be discouraged. There are no useless and random efforts. The teacher should encourage the students to learn by understanding and insight i.e., intelligence.

7. Development of higher mental faculties:

Insight involves the maximum use of intelligence. Therefore, learning by insight is helpful in developing and improving higher mental processes like thinking, imagination, reasoning, analystical ability, problem solving, creativity etc. The theory specially encourages creative activity of the child. The teacher has to view the situation as a whole and then decide the line of action.

8. Problem solving approach:

Insight helps in solving problems through one’s own efforts. This approach trains the child to solve his problems in life. Therefore, the teacher should make use of problems solving approach for better learning. He should prepare children emotionally and intellectually to solve the problem.

9. Useful for difficult subjects:

The theory is specially useful for learning difficult subjects like science, mathematics and literature.

10. Useful for scientific inventions:

The theory is very useful for scientific inventions and discoveries.

11. Individual differences:

(a) The teacher keep in mind the intelligence level, maturity and other types of individual differences. Intelligence plays a major role in learning by insight. The more intelligent a child is, the more he will learn through insight. The less intelligent child takes more time and makes more efforts to gain insight.

(b) Insight of the child should be carefully handled by the teacher. He should know that its development is related to the physical maturation of the child. He should present the problem keeping in view the maluratior, of the child.

12. Logical presentation:

The teacher should present his lesson logically. He should proceed from ‘simple to complex’, ‘concrete to abstract’, ’empirical to rational’ and ‘psychological to logical’. The problems presented in the class should be linked with life so that the learners have the greatest benefit out of them.

13. Persistent efforts:

It needs a lot of patience on the part of the teacher. Insight does not develop in the learner immediately. It needs persistent efforts.

14. Goal-oriented approach:

The teacher should develop in the learner the purpose of striving towards a goal on the basis of child’s experience. He should relate the topic taught to the experiences of the child and then lead him towards the goal.

15. Multiple approach:

Ability of the learner and his past experiences play an important role in insight.

Therefore, the teacher should adopt a multiple approach in learning in the following manner:

(i) Planning lesson:

The teacher should plan his lesson appropriately.

(ii) Providing experiences:

He should provide significant and meaningful experiences to the pupil.

(iii) Bringing integration:

He should bring an integration between theory and practice.

Educational Implications of Theory of Learning by Insight:

(i) Proceeding from whole to the part:

This theory explains to us the efficacy of the principle. We must always proceed from the whole to the part, so as to give a complete insight into the subject. Begin from the globe, and then come to our country, our state and our city. Teach about the whole flower and then analyse the parts. Teach the whole sentence or word, and then analyse into words of letters.

(ii) Creating motivation:

In Kohlar’s experiment enough of the motivation was created by keeping the monkey hungry. He was impelled to acquire the food, and this made him to put his heart and soul in the solution of the problem. The teacher should, therefore arouse motivation.

(iii) Emphasis on Understanding:

For all higher learning, mechanical repetition, learning by rote, trial and error and blind processing are useless. What is needed is deep understanding and insight into the problem. Learning by insight (whether it is a geometrical problem, arithmetical sum or scientific experiment) saves time and energy.

Limitations of Theory of Learning by Insight:

The method of learning by insight has some limitations also. Small children and dull children learn more through trial and error than through insight which they lack.

Even for insight trial and error in ruled out. Insight is the final stage of trial and error.

Some difficult problems may be solved by insight. But intricate and complex problems may be beyond normal understanding and insight.

Inspite of the above limitations, learning by insight needs to be encouraged in the ordinary instructional programme of the school. The teacher can adopt the Heuristic Method of teaching. In this way, he will develop the pupil’s reasoning power and put him in the capacity of a discoverer of new faces.

In the teaching of geometry, for instance, a problem may be presented, and the pupil asked to think out and reason out the solution. The teacher may suggest some clues, to help the pupil arrive at the right solution. The task of the teacher is not in spoon-feeding and transmitting knowledge, but in helping the child to acquire knowledge himself.