behaviorism theory in education
While behaviorists often accept the existence of cognitions and emotions, they prefer not to study them as only observable (i.e., external) behavior can be objectively and scientifically measured.
Behaviorism is a theory of learning which states all behaviors are learned through interaction with the environment through a process called conditioning. Thus, behavior is simply a response to environmental stimuli. Behaviorism is only concerned with observable stimulus-response behaviors, as they can be studied in a systematic and observable manner.
Pavlov didn’t stop there. Next, he rung a bell every time the dog was about to eat to see whether the bell would also cause the dog to salivate.
Experiments by behaviorists identify conditioning as a universal learning process. There are two different types of conditioning, each yielding a different behavioral pattern:
- Behaviorism does not account for all kinds of learning, since it disregards the activities of the mind.
- Behaviorism does not explain some learning–such as the recognition of new language patterns by young children–for which there is no reinforcement mechanism.
- Research has shown that animals adapt their reinforced patterns to new information. For instance, a rat can shift its behavior to respond to changes in the layout of a maze it had previously mastered through reinforcements.
Behaviorist teaching methods tend to rely on so-called “skill and drill” exercises to provide the consistent repetition necessary for effective reinforcement of response patterns. Other methods include question (stimulus) and answer (response) frameworks in which questions are of gradually increasing difficulty; guided practice; and regular reviews of material. Behaviorist methods also typically rely heavily on the use of positive reinforcements such as verbal praise, good grades, and prizes. Behaviorists assess the degree of learning using methods that measure observable behavior such as exam performance. Behaviorist teaching methods have proven most successful in areas where there is a “correct” response or easily memorized material. For example, while behaviorist methods have proven to be successful in teaching structured material such as facts and formulae, scientific concepts, and foreign language vocabulary, their efficacy in teaching comprehension, composition, and analytical abilities is questionable.
Methodological behaviorism began as a reaction against the introspective psychology that dominated the late-19th and early-20th centuries. Introspective psychologists such as Wilhelm Wundt maintained that the study of consciousness was the primary object of psychology. Their methodology was primarily introspective, relying heavily on first-person reports of sensations and the constituents of immediate experiences. Behaviorists such as J. B. Watson and B. F. Skinner rejected introspectionist methods as being subjective and unquantifiable. Instead, they focused on objectively observable, quantifiable events and behavior. They argued that since it is not possible to observe objectively or to quantify what occurs in the mind, scientific theories should take into account only observable indicators such as stimulus-response sequences. According to Skinner (1976, 23), “The mentalistic problem can be avoided by going directly to the prior physical causes while bypassing intermediate feelings or states of mind. The quickest way to do this is to … consider only those facts which can be objectively observed in the behavior of one person in its relation to his [or her] prior environmental history.” Radical behaviorists such as Skinner also made the ontological claim that facts about mental states are reducible to facts about behavioral dispositions.
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