Behaviorist Learning Theory Essay

The work on experimental psychology and advocated behaviorism, that explains behavior as a function of environmental histories of experiencing consequences. Skinner also wrote a number of controversial works in which he proposed the widespread use of psychological behavior modification techniques, primarily operant conditioning, in order to improve society and

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increase human happiness; and as a form of social engineering. These things are acknowledged by James E. Mazur (2006).

Moreover, his experiment gain more attention because it can also be applied to human behavior in everyday life. Skinners reveal that there are many factors influence in human behavior like basic type of learning such as classical conditioning, and complex learned behaviors such as language. In factors mention, reward and punishment control and play a majority of human behavior that was explain in operant conditioning. This operant conditioning is mostly used in varied schools to determine responses of human behavior. The succeeding discussions will elaborate B. F.

Skinner’s theory of Psychological Behaviorism as Theory of Education in studying observable behaviors of a person relating them to previous stimuli that the teachers have encountered in classroom and encourage desired behavior and discouraged undesired behavior using the methods that have relevant to classroom application like:

  • Contracts.
  • Consequences/Reinforcements.
  • Punishment.
  • Behavior Modification Psychological Behaviorism BF Skinner believed that behaviorism subsistence of perception can be traced back to the earliest days of fallacy and unexplained and is useless (Gene Zimmer 1999).

Task of Psychological Behaviorism According to Watson, J. (1913), the task of psychological behaviorism is to identify kinds of connection, recognize how environment events manage behavior, determine and clarify basic regularities or laws or functional relations which direct the structure of associations, and foresee how performance will change as the environment changes. It is indispensable that one should understand the methods attributing behavior of students in the classroom that teachers may encounter.


Based on the research of Parent Coach Plan (2004), a contract is a written agreement between the student and a teacher that is directed toward changing the youngster’s behavior.

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Giving emphasis on desired behavior of a student and offering incentives to the student to increase the occurrence of the desired behavior. This will motivate the most stubborn child to behave positively in a proper manner. The term and conditions outlines, time and amount of limitation, reinforce to be administered are laid down on the contract design. Sample of contract Excerpted from Behavior Management Advice Site (2002):

Results of Parent Coach Plan research explained that this contract will help the child dealing responsibility properly and gain trust from teachers and parents as well. It will also build child’s creativeness in doing tasks without being supervised and the child acts in accordance with the rules set by the teachers for them to respond positively. The positive response of the students will also depend on the reinforcement given by the teacher. Consequences/Reinforcements The contract designs between the students and the teacher has something to do with the reinforcement given by the teacher.

In education, behaviorisms have effectively embraced the system of reward and punishments in their classrooms by rewarding positive behaviors and punishing negative ones. Reinforcement is the main factor in Skinner’s R-R theory. There are several kinds of reinforcements that can strengthen the students’ positive response. It could be praising the child in successfully accomplishing a task on time, a good grade for doing correct answer or a feeling of increased accomplishment or satisfaction or giving chocolate to a positive response shown.

This method has been proven effective as tested according to B. Skinner. People will behave and do good things because they know what it brings and expects to receive something good out of it. Like for example, if the students study hard, they have a better chance of garnering high scores or grades. Another, if they will obey their parents, they will receive rewards from their parents in terms may be by receiving higher allowance. This describes the Reinforcement theory of B. F Skinners. The reinforcement has three principles that typically occur after consequences.

First is the “consequence which gives rewards increases a behavior, second, consequences which give punishment decrease a behavior and third, consequences which give neither rewards nor punishment extinguish a behavior” (Skinner, B. , 1953). Punishment Melissa Standridge acknowledged that “Punishment involves presenting a strong stimulus that decreases the frequency of a particular response. Punishment is effective in quickly eliminating undesirable behaviors”. Skinner believed that the student’s learning in responding positive or negative will take a gradual development shaping a new behavior of a student.

Skinner believed more on positive punishment, that if the students do something bad, something bad will also happen. This correlates the teacher’s punishment to the students who are not doing assignments or homework, thus penalized for more extra work (cleaning the classroom before going home) as punishment. On the other hand, a student receives punishment (negatively), if he insults his classmate he cannot take his recess. These are just simple punishments that can help change the behavior of the students.

Behavior Modification

Behavioral modification is a therapy technique according to Skinner. Extinguish a negative behavior by taking away the reinforcer and change it with positive behavior by giving reinforcement (Skinner, B. F. , 1971). Behaviorist Melissa Standridge explained that behavior modification offers educators a way to shape students’ behavior to promote better classroom performance. It needs a combination of methods that consists series of steps outlined by Standridge as excerpted below: Specify the outcome you desire for a child. Catch the child being right.

Ask for a response when you know the student has the answer to help develop confidence. Identify and use positive reinforcement when the student responds correctly. Reinforcement continues until the child consistently exhibits the desire behavior. After the child consistently exhibits the behavior, begin reducing the amount of reinforcement. Finally evaluate and assess the success based on the continuance of the behavior with no reinforcement. (Standridge, M. , 2002) This theory can be an effective method to cause change in student’s behavior.

Students enjoy having positive rewards and positive comments from teachers and other students. Accordingly, this desire for positive comments from teachers and other students is a powerful stimulus. Conclusion B. F. Skinner’s theory of education is a powerful tool that has been tested through several experiments which are likewise used by teachers who are even unaware of Skinner’s theory. The reward and punishment system has been publicly accepted not only applicable in schools for students but also in jobs or works where employees’ productivity is the main concerned of employers.

Employers’ personnel management is geared towards the attainment of corporate vision and mission. The application of this theory helps a lot in shaping the students’ behavior which will then be useful in shaping the entirety of a person to attain the good future everyone is looking for.


“ Behavior Management Package” Parent Coach Plan ,2004. 26 March 2007, from <http://www. parentcoachplan. com/behavior_contract. php#anchor1>.

“Behavior Contract” Dr. Mac’s Behavior Management Advice Site, 2002. 26 March 2007, from <http://maxweber.hunter. cuny. edu/pub/eres/EDSPC715_MCINTYRE/Contracts. html>.

“B. F. Skinner, behavioral psychology, behaviorism” Gene Zimmer 1999. 26 March 2007, from <http://www. sntp. net/behaviorism/skinner. htm>.

Hopkins, B. L. (1968). Effects of candy and social reinforcement, instructions, and reinforcement schedule learning on the modification and maintenance of smiling. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 1, 121-129.

Mazur, James E. “Learning. ” Microsoft Encarta 2006 [CD]. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation, 2005.

Skinner, B. F. (1953). Science and Human Behavior. New York: Macmillan. 26 March 2007, from <http://www. as. wvu. edu/~sbb/comm221/chapters/rf. htm>.

Skinner, B. F. (1971). Beyond Freedom and Dignity. New York: Knopf. Standridge, Melissa. Behaviorism. In M. Orey (Ed. ), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology, 2002. 26 March 2007 , from <http://www. msu. edu/~zendlerm/Matrix/theories/Behaviorism. htm>. Watson, J. “Psychology as a Behaviorist Views IT,” Psychological Review, 20158-77

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Modern methodologists put a lot of effort defining the best methodological model for students and for the future perspective. There are a lot of learning approaches and it’s not easy to choose the best one. In the papers I will concentrate on behaviorist and constructivist models of learning, their definitions, differences and similarities.

Behaviorism concentrates on learning through observing. Behaviorists believe that individuals need reinforcements as positive stimulus for their good actions and punishments for mistakes and blunders. According to this theory the surrounding shapes behavior and the learning process must be composed of small steps. Lefrancois defines main principles of behaviorism as following “They make use of one or both of two principal classes of explanations for learning: those based on contiguity (simultaneity of stimulus and response events) and those based on the effects of behavior (reinforcement and punishment)”.

Constructivism regards learning as a process, where the new ideas are built of constructed in the minds of learners and these models are based on the past knowledge. It puts the individual in the center of learning process and learning is regarded view as highly individual process. The knowledge is acquired through internalization. According to the constructivism theory the teacher works as a facilitator who helps to acquire the students the new material by problem-solving tasks and giving them interesting tasks. Gredlers defines constructivism as “Several related perspectives that view knowledge as a human construction. This theory was derived from Piaget’s perspective of learning, which views the learner’s knowledge as adaptive. The teacher’s role is to challenge the child’s way of thinking.” Constructivism model is associated with construction; constructing in the minds of minds of students.

Constructivism is often opposed to behaviorism. Behaviorism is interested in the study of changes of behavior caused by the changes of mental state. Learning is regarded as a process of changing or conditioning observable behavior as a response to selective reinforcement of an individual’s response. The mind of the child born is regarded as an empty vessel or “tabula rasa” to be fulfilled by the information from the surrounding. Teacher is supposed to transmit the knowledge from the world to the minds of pupils. Behaviorism relies on transmission, instructionism and hard control from the side of the teacher. It’s a teacher directed method. Behaviorists believe that there can be chosen the objective knowledge to describe the world and the process of learning can be reduced to the transmission and it states that what one person (the teacher) knows can be passed to the minds of others (students). “The goal of designers or teachers is to interpret events for them. Learners are told about the world and are expected to replicate its content and structure in their thinking” (Jonassen 1991, p.28). The behaviorist approach has created a stereotyped model of teaching which is often criticized by modern methodologists. The main points which are criticized are teacher-directed model where the students and given little possibilities for creativity and self-realization. It realizes a lot on the text books and fixed picture of what should be studied and there is very little space left for students’ creativity, making questions. While behaviorism relies on the objectiveness and behavior manifestation, cognitivism counts on the meaning, representation and thought or, to express it in few words counts on cognitive approach. Here lie the main differences in these two approaches and the way in which the knowledge is acquired, the prioritized types of knowledge, skills and activities chosen for learning process. Different goals are established and different means are chosen for their realization.

The roles of students and teachers are radically different in these two approaches. According radical constructivist conception of learning, the teachers play the role of a “midwife in the birth of understanding” which is opposed to the behaviorism “mechanics of knowledge transfer”. In constructivism the teacher isn’t supposed to transfer the new material to the students, but to make the willing to acquire new things setting up problem tasks and questions and prepare the soil for cognition, to show the way but to let the student to make the steps themselves. Gergen views, teachers as coordinators, facilitators, resource advisors, tutors or coaches. The concept of learning is central to constructivism. Unlike behaviorism which’s main goal is to give the new knowledge to the students by the way of punishment and reinforcement constructivism emphasizes the necessity to show the students the way to study correctly. Von Glasersfeld views its main goal in teaching the “self-regulation and the building of conceptual structures through reflection and abstraction”. So, we can say that behaviorism concentrates on the product of study and constructivism concentrates on the process itself. In constructivism the process of problem-solving is important but not the solutions itself. If to teach the students to look for the answers themselves they will be able to choose any problem in the future even if they don’t succeed in this very task. And different attitude to the mistakes of the students come from these differences in the approaches. In behaviorism the mistakes are corrected immediately and ambiguity is not supposed. The constructivist approach allows multiple choices and since it doesn’t concentrate on the result gentle correction of mistakes is saluted.

In modern methodology there is a tendency to change the behaviorist approach which was popular during past years into new approaches such as constructivism and others which let develop thinking, creativity and imagination.


  • Tynjala, P. 1999. Towards Expert Knowledge? A Comparison between a Contructivist and a Traditional Learning Environment in University. International Journal of Educational Research 31(5), 357- 442.
  • Extraordinary Teachers by Fred Stephenson Jr
  • Students’ ideas of learning: Conceptions, approaches, and outcomes in different educational contexts by Gunilla Eklund-Myrskog
  • Multimedia Learning by Richard E. Mayer
  • Collaborative Learning Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty by Elizabeth Barkley, l 2003 Can Write an Essay on Teaching and Learning Theories for You!

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