Over a century ago, Ivan P. Pavlov, in a classic experiment, demonstrated how dogs can learn to associate a ringing bell with food, thereby causing a ring to result in salivation. Today, however, it is rare to find the use of Pavlovian type associative learning for artificial intelligence (AI) applications. Instead, other biologically-inspired learning concepts, in particular artificial neural networks (ANNs) have flourished, yielding extensive impact on a wide range of fields including finance, healthcare and transportation. However, learning in such "conventional" ANNs, in particular in the form of modern deep neural networks (DNNs) are usually carried out using the backpropagation method, is computationally and energy intensive. Here we report the experimental demonstration of backpropagation-free learning, achieved using a single (or monadic) associative hardware element. This is realized on an integrated photonic platform using phase change materials combined with on-chip cascaded directional couplers. We link associative learning with supervised learning, based on their common goal of associating certain inputs with "correct" outputs. We then expand the concept to develop larger-scale supervised learning networks using our monadic Pavlovian photonic hardware, developing a distinct machine-learning framework based on single-element associations and, importantly, using backpropagation-free single-layer weight architectures to approach general learning tasks. Our approach not only significantly reduces the computational burden imposed by learning in conventional neural network approaches, thereby increasing speed and decreasing energy use during learning, but also offers higher bandwidth inherent to a photonic implementation, paving the way for future deployment of fast photonic artificially intelligent machines.