A founding learning theory based on direct response to stimulation.
What is Behaviorism?
Behaviourism is a learning theory that came to prominence in 1913 and focuses on how people react and behave to what they see or hear. The internal workings of the brain is not considered (like it is in Cognitivism) because it is not observable, while actual behaviour is.
Behaviourism contains two main areas identified through behavioural experiments with animals:
- Classical conditioning (automatic behaviour): made famous through Ivan Pavlov’s dog experiments in 1897. Pavlov would ring a bell before presenting his dog with food. He found that when the ring of a bell was not accompanied by food, the dog still salivated in anticipation. This conditioned response to an environmental influence provided observable behaviour change.
- Operant conditioning (voluntary behaviour): from B.F. Skinner’s experiments with rats in 1948. The rats were exposed to reinforcement (food pellets) and punishments (losing out on food) to actions, and changes to the rat’s behaviour was observed after they learned the consequences of their actions.
Why use Behaviourism?
Behaviourism feeds into our natural responses and how we’re wired, activating the Limbic area of the brain. The reinforcement components influence how people behave in the future. If they are rewarded, the behaviour will continue. If they are punished or a reward is removed, their behaviour will change in response to this.
It is effective in rote learning — repeating something until you remember it
— and is particularly effective in learning a new language.
How to use Behaviourism
Behaviourism can be beneficial in certain learning circumstances, especially in the lower-end of Bloom’s Taxonomy (such as identifying or recalling facts). Ways to successfully apply behaviourist concepts to your designs include:
- Quizzes with detailed feedback (both negative and positive reinforcement)
- Offer rewards for good performance
- Remove rewards for poor performance
- Schedule the reinforcements periodically in your training
- Highlight consequences of actions taken via scenarios
- Repetition for reinforcement (repeated content, quizzes, summaries)
- Offer immediate feedback on actions or quiz answers
- Focus more on positive reinforcement than punishment
Pros: Can be used to learn facts and languages. Observable elements good for compliance-based learning.
Cons: Doesn’t take into account the learner’s mind; not suitable for higher order thinking skills.
Related reading: Cognitivism, Constructivism, Connectivism, Instructional Design