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Behaviourism theory of Learning

By rbitegeko Feb 27, 2014 4923 Words
 Behaviorism Theory of Learning.
By
Mutasingwa Bitegeko,
Assistant Lecturer, Josiah Kibira University College.
Introduction
Behaviourism is a point of view in psychology, directed to a scientific study of the behavior of a man and other animals behavior. Behaviourism stresses an objective, natural science approach to psychological questions such as human learning and personality. Behaviourists maintain that, all human behavior can be explained without the need to consider the humans’ internal mental state such as feelings, emotions and thoughts (Wyrwicka,1999). Therefore, behaviourism can be viewed as a form of materialism, denying any independent significance to the process of mind. That is why they exclude internal cognitive process in studying behavior. Behaviourism refuses to acknowledge the internal workings of a person. In the mind of the behaviourists, persons are nothing more than simple mediators between behavior and the environment (Skinner, 1984). According to behaviourists, learning takes place when there is a response which followed a specific stimulus (Stimulus-response principle).However, this dismissal of the internal workings of human beings leads to one problem opponents have with the behavioral theory. Behaviourism was the first learning theory that came about as a result of scientific research. The emergence of behaviourism in late 19th and early 20th Century, was a paradigm shift of schools of thought in psychology from introspection approaches which emphasis the study of conscious to scientific study of observable behavior. Introspection approach studied human behavior by looking inward, at experience. Behaviourists wanted psychologists to study human behavior from outward and study man as an objective in nature like any other natural science studies (Munn et al, 1972). Thus, unlike to introspection approach, behaviourism restricted to the studies of observable overt responses, the stimuli that arouse them and also the observable aspects of underlying physiological mechanisms, such as nerves, glands and muscles.

A psychologist John B. Watson (1878-1958) led the behaviourism movement; he did extensive research on animal behavior. He stressed the point that, introspection data are subjective, evident only to the experiencing individual. Though he did not deny that conscious experience exist; he merely argued that since conscious is private, it can not be studied scientifically. He wanted psychologists to look outward, as natural scientists do, and study man as object in nature like any other. Thus, Watson led behaviourism movement to dismiss introspection approach as the early main technique of studying psychology following Wilhelm Winndi’s experimental psychology.

Another forerunner of objective behavioral psychologists was Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936), whose findings on learning were of great interest to other behaviourists as well as psychologists in general. In Pavlov’s experiments, behaviourists had seen a method, which circumvented the limitations of introspective reports and provided objective data, not only experience but also on sensitivity of organisms to various stimuli. In the evolution of behaviourism, Pavlov is credited for being a father of classical conditioning form of learning; where organism’s behavioral change is subject to stimulus- response connections. Others known behaviourists of that time were; B.F. Skinner ( 1904-1990) and his Operant Conditioning theory of learning, and Edward Thondaike (1874-1949). General Assumptions of Behaviourism Theory in Learning.

The first assumption is that, primary means of studying behavior is through observation. Behaviourisms are mainly concerned with overt behavior rather than internal mental states such as feelings, and emotions. However, this premise of behaviourism of studying the organism’s overt behavior without putting into consideration organism’s internal state is questionable. For example, psychodynamic psychologists like Sigmund Fraud criticized behaviourism as it does not take into account the “unconscious mind” influence on behavior (Mayer, 1982)). To Fraud, drives motivate learning and these drives are unconscious. We too feel that dismissal of the internal workings of human beings leads to to rise many questions that how individual can behave in a certain manner without involving the function of the mind. Moreover along with it is incapability of explaining the human phenomenon of language and memory, build a convincing case against behaviourism as a comprehensive theory. The second assumption is that, principles of learning apply equally to different behaviors of different species of animals. Behaviourists typically state that human being learn in similar way. That is why they used animals as substitutes for humans in the exploration of human behavior. For instance, Skinner made the big assumption that general laws relating to the behavior of animals can be applied to describe the complex relations in the human world. This homothetic approach of behaviourism is rejected by humanism as they view human being as being unique and believed that human can not be compared with other animals (who are not susceptible to demand characteristics). I agree with humanisms’ proposal concerning the inadequacy of animal experiments' application to human behavior. Human behavior is too complex to be explained solely through animal models. The third assumption of behaviourism is learning process can be studied objectively when the focus of the study is on stimulus and response. Typically, learning is described as a stimuli and response relation. According to behaviourism, learning is largely the results of environmental events (Nelson,2000) .They tend to use the term conditioning instead of learning, to reflect that learning occurs through interactions with environment. However, today is widely recognized learning is not only attributed to environment since there are other factors that can affect learning processes. For example, learner’s intrinsic motivation and his learning style do determine how learner learns. Also, learning does not take place merely by conditioning where learners are passive. Environment certainly plays a great role in the life of people, but nevertheless it is very hard to interpret the behavior of people only focusing on the environmental factors.

The forth, assumption is learning involves a behavior change. Some behaviourists proposed that, if no observable change happened, then no learning as happened. That is why according to behaviourism learning is defined as relative permanent change in behavior due to experiences(Mayer, 1982). According to behaviourism, behavior change as indicator of learning is relative long term rather than a short term one, the place or locus of change is the content and structure of the knowledge in the behavior of the learner and the cause of that change the learner’s experience in the environment.

Classical conditioning
Ivan Pavlov, (1849-1936) the Russian physiologist (While researching the physiology of digestion, he observed that dogs salivate in anticipation of receiving food. Pavlov accidentally came upon an interesting learning phenomenon while working with dogs in his laboratory. His investigation of the behavior led to the study of classical conditioning. (Dembo, 2004) Pavlov Experiment

Pavlov did his experiment with dogs, his experiment developed a classical conditioning theory. In his experiment he involved food, a dog and a bell. He began by presenting the dog with a neutral stimulus such as a bell, several seconds after the bell he dropped food into the dog’s feeding tray. When the dog put food in its mouth salivated. As the pairing of the bell and the food continued, the bell began to elicit salivation by itself, even if no food was given to the dog (Wortman et al, 1999). Pavlov identified the food as an unconditioned stimulus and salivation as an unconditioned response (UR) (an example of a stimulus that produces some observable response without prior learning). The bell, which originally had no particular meaning for the dog neutral stimulus, and took on meaning or became a conditioned stimulus, (CS) because of its association, or pairing with the food which elicited conditioned response (CR) salivation (Dembo, 2004). This manner of learning is called classical conditioning , or stimulus substitution, because the conditioned stimulus after being paired with the unconditioned stimulus often enough, can then be substituted for it. Here is a symbolic representation of Classical Conditioning:

Adapted from Tomei (2004).
Pavlov found that when a dog was conditioned to salivate at the sound of a bell, it would also salivate at other similar sounds such as that of a warning sound, even though the new stimuli were never used in training. He termed this new experience stimulus generalization (Dembo, 2004). From that experiment we have learned that, if a dog was trained for a long time it could be able to respond to the only sound associated with food, and term it stimulus discrimination. We also found that, if conditioned stimulus is no longer paired with unconditioned stimulus the response can disappear, the situation known as extinction. Pavlov Assumptions on Learning

-Pavlov main argument is associative learning which involves learning various events which are related to each other (association of stimulus and response). -Every individual can learn if the environment is well prepared in terms of stimulus and responses. -Like Locke, he assumed that humans are biologically wire or equipped so that they could interact with the environment and profit from the interaction (Mwamwenda, 1995). Implications of Pavlov experiment in the Classroom situation Many students' attitudes are learned through Classical Conditioning. For example, they may learn to acquire knowledge of telling time by using real objects, such as watch and clock in the classroom, (acquisition) or they may learn to acquire negative reactions to learn a foreign language, (a neutral stimulus) because they associate these languages with the unpleasant experience of being asked to translate sentences aloud in class. Being asked questions (US) elicits anxiety (UR). Students who are conditioned to fear foreign languages may generalize that fear to other subjects in the curriculum which are using the same language. Thereafter, teaching of foreign language by using real things such as apples hibiscus flowers, grapples and the like can lead the learner to get real meaning of them, also understand the language hence starting to discriminate familiar subjects within the curriculum, and be able to learn them effectively. Therefore, teachers must associate natural stimulus through using teaching aids which are pleasant to learners so as they can respond to leaning with pleasure and joy. Moreover, extinction can be used to stop bad behavior in the classroom. For example, a learner does not raise her/his hand and wait to be called on to answer the question. Instead, she/he shouts out the answer. The teacher tolerates behavior during the first few days of class, accepting the shouted answers. By the second week of school, the teacher decides to ignore (extinction) shouting learners so as to stop shouting. The teacher will not respond when learners shout, instead calling on those with their hands in the air and reinforcing those complying. When they shout, the teacher ignores them, as a result to push away their view and the behavior of shouting in the class. That means, extinction is used in schools mainly to correct the behavior of the learners. Students should experience academic tasks and contexts that cause or encourage pleasant emotions. They should be able to feel enthusiasm, excitement, or enjoyment in their learning context. Rather than being in context that cause anxiety, disappointment, or anger ( Mbunda, 2006). In reality, people do not respond exactly like Pavlov’s dogs. There are, however, numerous real-world applications for classical conditioning. It can be effective tool for teachers in maintaining a class room that is conductive to learning. These techniques are useful in the treatment of phobias or anxiety problems. Teachers are able to apply classical conditioning in the class by creating a positive classroom environment to help students overcome anxiety or fear. Pairing an anxiety-provoking situation, such as performing in front of a group, with pleasant surroundings helps the student learn new associations. Instead of feeling anxious and tense in these situations, the child will learn to stay relaxed and calm. Moreover, classical conditioning can occur unintentionally. Too frequent exposure to humiliation, failure, or other negative feedback may lower an individual’s self-confidence and lead to withdrawal. For example, if a child is constantly corrected during a reading exercise, the child’s feelings of humiliation may ultimately be replaced by a fear of reading aloud. Eventually whenever the teacher announces read-aloud-time, the child may withdraw or begin exhibiting undesirable behavior. For this reason, it is important for teachers to be careful or prepare their students well when engaging in such potentially risky activities in the classroom; it is important to minimize embarrassment or disappointment in the case of failure. However, one important thing to note is on how theory used in classroom situations. They all involve a learned behavior that is non-conscious and basic, usually involving some response of the autonomic nervous system such as fear, sadness, anxiety, excitement, or joy. This is an evidence that mind has used and cognitive process is very important in learning. Therefore, in order to provide effective learning to the learners we should bear in mind the contribution of environment, as well as cognitive perspectives.

Operant Conditioning
Operant conditioning is a learning theory followed after classical conditioning. The founder of operant conditioning was an American psychologist, known as Burrhus Frederic Skinner (1904 1990). He called operant to refer to any “active behaviour” that individual operates upon the environment to generate consequence. Skinner’s main idea is based on punishment and reward (reinforcement) aimed to observe the relationship between observable stimuli and response as developed by classical conditioning. (Santrock, 2006) Through operant conditioning, an association is made between behaviour and a consequence of that behaviour. The Skinner box [cage] was used in a laboratory to observe an organism’s natural flow of behavior.  Within the box, there is a lever for the rat to pull in order to obtain food and water (reinforcer).  All presses on these levers can automatically be detected and recorded.  Skinner experimented this box with a rat.  When the rat would press down the lever accidentally, the food pellets would be dropped down into the tray.  The rat learned that every time the lever was pressed down, food would come out. As a result, the rat learned to press the lever to receive a food every time it feels the need of eat. However, sometimes the food was replaced by electrical shock, and a rat receives a mild electrical shock in its feet. When the food was replaced with shocks, the lever depressing stopped almost immediately due to punishing consequences. Similar results were produced by stopping the food in a process called extinction. He found that, his rats learned very effectively if they were rewarded fairly frequently but randomly (Huitt & Hummel, 1997; Sikazwe, 2009; Wortman, 1999). Principles of Learning Developed by Skinner after Experiment After his experiment he developed principles of operant conditioning as follows: - reinforcement, punishment, shaping, extinction, discrimination, and generalization and the way applied in school settings. Operant conditioning is more applicable in behaviour modification as well as classroom management. Reinforcement refers to any stimulus that strengthens a particular behaviour or increases the chances that the desired behaviour reoccur. For example smiling to a student or using encouraged statements to those volunteering to answer a question correctly. The weakness of skinner to this idea is that, learning cannot occur without reinforcing. He undermined the intrinsic motivation or innate abilities of learners.

According to skinner reinforcements are divided in to two categories:- a) Positive reinforcement (reward):- refers to something is added to increase a desired behaviour. In schools it can be applied to student’s having good performance by providing them the rewards, so the rewarded students will struggle to continue to perform better in order to retain his/her position. (b) Negative reinforcement: occurs when behaviour is strengthening by removal of unpleasant stimulus from the situation. For example, students who are performing poor for not studying hard, teacher may decide to give them extra work related to the subject. Punishment: present a painful or a strong stimulus (unpleasant) that decreases the frequency of an undesired behaviour. For example students who fight at school are immediately referred to the principal for suspension. Although, Skinners tried to make differences between punishment and negative reinforcement in terms of functions of weakening undesirable behaviours and how it administered. Both make the use of unpleasant consequences like causing fear, pain or discomfort to individual. But it depends on the individual perceptions and interpretations since negative reinforcement it is a punishment but may not be a punishment when individual enjoys the stimulus provided. Moreover, sometimes inappropriate use of punishment is not enough to get a learner behaving better, contrary it can lead to increase more undesired behaviours. For example when a leaner come late in the classroom and be punished by administering corporal punishment, the next day when she or he will come later again will decide not to inter in the classroom for avoiding to be punished. Shaping: involves reinforcing the organism every time its behaviour comes close to the desired behaviour until such time as it masters the desired behaviour. For example, for a complex task a teacher can allow a learner to repeat until he/she master correctly. Extinction: Occurs when a previous reinforced response is no longer reinforced and the results in the weakening of the frequency of the response. For example, a student who was studied hard and performs better because of reward, he or she might reduce studying hard when the reward could no longer provide to him or her. Generalization: In generalization, a behavior may be performed in more than one situation (giving the same response to similar stimuli). For example, in classroom situation there are some topics used to be taught in more than one subject, since a learner can generalize the similar concept to the other subject such as soil topic usually appeared in Chemistry, Biology and Geography. Therefore, by doing so, it leads to better understanding.  Discrimination: - Learning that a behavior will be rewarded in one situation, but not another. For example, a learner who learned time telling in English and Kiswahili subjects, when she or he is able to distinguish time in Kiswahili or English it means that, the principle of discrimination applied (Hiutt & Hummel, 1997; Santrock, 2006) Reinforcement Schedule

A schedule of reinforcement refers to a deliberate plan which determines when and how often reinforcement is given for appropriate behaviour. Skinner explained the plan which behaviour is to be reinforced; it can be consistently or inconsistently. Reinforcement schedules have a dramatic impact on the strength and rate of the response, and are more effective in specific situation. They are divided in to two basic categories: Continuous and partial reinforcement schedules. Continuous Reinforcement Schedule

In continuous reinforcement, the behavior is reinforced every single time it occurs or an individual make a response. This schedule is best to be used during initial stages of learning in order to create strong association between the behaviour and the response. However, it is recommended that once the response is firmly attached, reinforcement is usually switched to the partial reinforcement schedule. Partial reinforcement schedules

In partial reinforcement, the response is reinforced only part of the time. Learned behaviour is acquired more slowly with partial reinforcement, but the response is more resistance to extinction. There are four categories of partial reinforcement schedules, based either on the passage of time (interval schedules) or the number of correct responses emitted (ratio schedules). The consequence can be delivered based on the same amount of passage of time or the same number of correct responses (fixed) or it could be based on a slightly different amount of time or number of correct responses that vary around a particular number (variable). 1. Fixed interval schedule: - occurs when the first correct response is reinforced after a set amount of time has passed (length of time). The time required is always the same, for example may receive a response after every fives minutes responses. In schools, the instructor can administer a quiz in every Monday. This schedule is not good because to learners they can discriminate the time interval between reinforcements quite accurately, so the amount of responding usually become slower after the delivery of the reinforcer. 2. Variable interval schedule: -occurs when a first response is rewarded after unpredictable amount of time passed instead of amount of work done (variation of time it can be shorter or longer). It can be after 5, 10 or 15 minutes. For example, when an instructor maintain a surprise method of administering quizzes to students leads to study hard continuously or learners will increase their preparation rate. 3. Fixed ratio schedule: - occurs when a reinforcer is given after a specified number of correct responses, it can be after every 3, 8 or 5 responses. For example, the teacher can arrange after five lessons, a test will be written. This schedule is best for learning a new behavior.

4. Variable ratio schedule: - occurs when a response is reinforced after unpredictable number of responses. After first reinforcement the number of correct responses necessary for reinforcement changes. This schedule is best for maintaining behavior because individual cannot predict exactly how many responses are required for the next reinforcement. For example, in classroom unannounced tests are based on this schedule, which will keep students studying since they do not know when they will be tested. (Hiutt & Hummel, 1997; Santrock, 2006; Mwamwenda, 1995)

Choosing a wrong type of reinforcement schedule can affect the improved behaviour. For example a learner who already possesses a desired behaviour continuous reinforcement is no longer needed. However the nature/type of reinforcement delivered should be appropriate for each individual learner depending on his or her age, interest and amount of work done. If what delivered to a learner, as reinforcement is not preferred by him or her none of these schedules will work and no more behaviour can be learned. For example a form four students who performed better in terminal examination you give them a pen as a motivator.

Edward Lee Thorndike (1874-1949)
An American psychologist, whose work on animal behavior and the learning process led to the theory of connectionism. The theory states that behavioral responses to specific stimuli are established through a process of trial and error that affects neutral connections between the stimuli and the most satisfying responses. Thorndike was striving to understand the learning process through studying animals to develop applications in education and thus benefit society. He developed the trial and error learning which states that learning is based on the idea that when placed in a problem situation an individual will emit a variety of responses but will eventually learn the correct one as a result of reinforcement. Thorndike’s Laws of Learning:

The law of effect. This states that the association between a stimulus and a response will strengthen or weaken depending on whether a satisfier or an annoyer follows the response. An act, which is followed by satisfaction in a given situation, will generally become associated with that situation; so that when it recurs the act will also be likely to recur. On the other hand an act which results in discomfort tends to be disassociated from the situation so that when the situation recurs the act will be less likely to recur. The greater the satisfaction or discomfort experienced, the greater the degree to which the stimuli-response bond will be strengthened or loosened. For example , in classroom situation,the learner who perform better in certain subject will struggle to perform better in that particular subject. Teacher should encourage and create conducive environments that allow the learner to excel better. The law of exercise. This law states that response to a situation may be strongly connected with the situation depending on the number of times it has been so connected and to the average strength and duration of connection. The exercise here refers to practice which makes something more perfect. Connections become strengthened with practice and weaken when practice is discontinued. For example the teacher should provide more exercise in order to enhance student’s learning The law of readiness. This law states that, a learner’s satisfaction determined by the extent of his or her preparatory set, that is, his readiness for action. The law was summarized into two aspects; first, when someone is ready to perform an act to do so is satisfying, second, when someone is ready to perform some act, not to do so is annoying. An interference with goal directed behavior causes frustration and making someone to do something he does not want. It seems obvious that a learner who is ready for a specific type of learning is far more likely to profit from such learning experiences than another who is not ready. Readiness can depend on physical maturation, on the development of intellectual skills and motivation. Hence, to access and to enhance readiness, teachers need a knowledge of children’s emotional and intellectual developmento do is frustrating.

Thorndike also outlined other subsidiary laws as follows
Law of multiple responses. A response which fails to produce satisfaction will trigger off another until success results and learning becomes possible. Teachers and schools ought to provide opportunities for students to emit a variety of responses and that correct responses need to be rewarded Law of set, this law states that the individual’s total attitude or disposition affects learning. Law of response analogy, this states that a person’s response to a novel situation is determined by innate tendencies to respond and by elements in similar situations to which he has acquired responses in the past. This occurs whenever a previously learned response is transferred to a new situation. The transference of a response to a new stimulus is a function of the similarity between the two stimuli, hence the law of response by analogy. Teachers can facilitate transfer by pointing out a variety of situations where a single response is applicable. This emphasizes the importance of pointing out connections among ideas. Law of selectivity of response, this states that as an animal learns it becomes capable of ignoring some aspects of a problem and responding to others. Learner, respond to the most significant or the most striking aspects of a stimulus situation and not necessarily to the entire situation. Hence, teachers must be careful to stress important aspects of the learning situation for example by underlining or boldfacing through the use of color, use of voice and gestures and through repetition Law of associative shifting,this states that a learner first responds to a given stimulus then transfers the responses by association to another stimulus. Law of spread effect, this states that if an act had pleasurable consequences the pleasure tended top become associated with not only the act and the eliciting stimulus, but also with other actions which occurred approximately the same point in time. .

Differences Between Classical and Operant Conditioning
Similarities
Both operant and classical conditioning provides incentives (stimulus) to a learner, although in classical conditioning incentives (stimulus) leads to occurrence of certain behaviour while in operant conditioning incentives comes after occurrence of certain behaviour. Differences

In classical conditioning the learners’ consequence precedes behaviour. For example in classroom situation, the learner can be provided with a task and required to respond on it, such as the question posed to him or her that needs learner’s response while in Operant conditioning the behaviour precedes the consequences that is learner actively participate in the learning process in finding the correct answers then receives rewards.

In classical conditioning usually deals with reflexive or involuntary responses such as physiological or emotional responses. For example in classroom situation the learner develops fear or anxiety against the teacher who frequently uses punishment during teaching and learning processes whereby in operant conditioning usually deals with voluntary behaviors such as active behaviours that operate on the environment like participating in learning through asking questions, answering it or experimentation. Generally, classical and operant conditioning has different approaches, for effective teaching and learning to occur it should be better to involve both.

Acknowledgements
I am greatly indebted to Sarah and Valentine who made sure that I have the social life in which to relax during my whole stay at the University Hostel and especially when I was composing this article.

REFERENCES
Dembo, M. H., (2004). Applying Educational Psychology in the Classroom. University of Garry, D. (1998). A Complete Manual for the Rigors of Academic Combat. Wolgemuth and Hyatt Inc Heinemann: Isando. Huitt, W. and Hummel. T. (1997). An Introduction to Operant (Instrumental) Conditioning. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University Mayer, R,F. (1982) Educational Psychology. Little:Brown and Company. Mbunda, F.L., (2006). Application of Teaching and Learning Theories. Dar es Salaam. OUT.

Ministry of Education and Vocational Training (MOEVT) and The Open University of Tanzania (OUT). (2007). Theories of learning and Models of Teaching. Munn, L N, Ferdinand. D, & Ferdinand, P. S (1972). Basic Psychology. (Third edition). New York :Houghton Mifflin Company. Mwamwenda, T. S. (1995). Educational Psychology: An African Perspectives (2nd Edition). Durban: Butterworths Nelson L.N. (2000). The Nature of Teaching. A Collection of Reading. Toronto : Ginn and Co. Phillips, D. C. and Solits, J. F. (1998). Perspectives on learning (3rd Edition). Teachers College Press Santrock, J. W. (2006). Educational Psychology: Update Preparing for PRAXISTM and Practice. (2nd Edition). New York. McGraw-Hill Sikazwe, H. C. (2009). Behavioural Theories and the Impact on Human interactions. Newcastle: Upon Tyne Skinner, B. F. (1984b). Selection by consequences. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 7, 477-481. Retrieved from from www.saybrook.edu. On 24/may/201 Southern California:Brass Tomei, L, (2004). Learning Theories: A Primer Exercise, Journal of Education Psychology, University of Southern California.

Wortman, C. B., Loftus, E. F., & Weaver, C. (1999). Psychology (5th Edition). McGraw-Hill College Wyrwicka, W. (1999). Natural Selection and Operant behavior. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 7, 501-502. http://psychology.about.com/od/behaviorlpsychology/a/Introopcond.htm) http://theotherbps.googlepages.com/press for food-full; crop: 0.12.0.06, 0.97, 0.92.jpg http://www.newworld encyclolopedia.org/entry/Edward Thorndike retrieved 23-03-2011 http://www.associated content.com/article/299947/Thorndike laws of learning retrieved 23-03-2011 at 16:30

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