Every class I participated in as a student or as a teacher had at least one student who was challenging to manage. Their behavior was usually hard to control and creates extra work for the teacher to get them to pay attention and stop distracting other students. Skinner's behavioral learning theory gives teachers tools to use to modify this behavior by focusing on how students learn.
Behavioral learning theory emphasizes the impact environment has on learning behavior and is crucial to understand how to motivate and help students in the classroom. This theory is essential for teachers because it suggests that teachers can directly affect how their students learn. It also allows teachers to understand that a student's home environment and lifestyle can impact their behavior, helping teachers see it objectively and improve their behavior. Teachers show students how they should react and respond to certain stimuli to remind students of the desired behavior continually. Behavioral learning theory has been a game-changer in the classroom, allowing teachers to make significant student behavior and learning changes.
Positive reinforcement and repetition are critical to the success of the behavioral learning theory. Reinforcing desired behavior with consistent, positive feedback from the teacher will increase the desired behavior. Repeating the reinforcement is necessary, so the student's behavior is tied to a reward, so the student sees a direct correlation between the behavior and the reward. The correlation between behavior and the reward is another example of the stimulus-response sequence. In education, behavior is observed before and after instruction to determine if there are behavior changes after instruction. Observing behavior changes after instruction indicates the teaching was effective. If there is no change in behavior, the instruction is not effective, and the instruction needs to change to improve the student's performance. These observations are an essential part of formative evaluation that continues to be used in education today. By observing students before instruction, desired behaviors are identified as objectives of the instruction. Using these observations to determine learning outcomes also reinforces the need for repetition of the behaviors.
Positive and negative reinforcement can motivate student behaviors. If two students perform similarly on a test, but only one receives positive reinforcement from the teacher, the student who did not receive praise is experiencing negative reinforcement and will not feel that his/her performance matters. The students receiving the positive reinforcement correlates this with continuing to get good grades. Feedback and reinforcement are considered equals in Skinner's theory, and this influenced the importance of instructional feedback in future instructional design models.
Atkinson and Shiffrin's cognitive information processing theory is similar to Skinner's behavioral approach in the belief that environment plays an essential role in learning. The critical difference is that cognitive information processing theory assumes that each learner has internal processes that explain how they learn (Reiser & Dempsey, 2018). Cognitive information processing theory is based on a multi-store memory model with three different memory stores: sensory, short-term, and long-term memory. Stimuli from the environment are inputs that are recognized and coded through the five senses in the sensory memory. Short-term memory filters the information briefly and maintains the information by verbally or mentally repeating it, connecting it to long-term memory information.
The focus shifts to how instruction can promote or hold back learning based on how information is processed in cognitive information processing theory. Feedback is used to reinforce correct behavior and to modify behavior by providing correct information to the learner. Prior knowledge retained long-term is a necessary part of learning new knowledge. This new way of thinking of feedback and how information is processed impacted the strategies teachers used in their classroom. This theory continues to be influential and is the basic outline for later instructional design models.
Gagne's nine events of instruction model is based on the learning conditions that support the internal processes students use to learn. The focus is on how what we know about learning can design instruction that facilitates the desired outcomes. The nine events are presented in three phases: preparation and planning, instruction and practice, and assessment and transfer. This model has survived the test of time and continues to be used today. Selecting appropriate instructional events and planning them in the right format and sequence is crucial in a successful lesson plan.
Both behavioral and cognitive information processing theories were developed out of psychology research programs in the 1960s and 1970s and are the basis for instructional design development. Future models were developed based on both theories, and they continue to play a role in education today.
Teachers use behavioral learning strategy techniques in their classroom in many ways, including drills, question and answer, demonstration, repetition, and consistent positive reinforcement. These techniques give teachers the ability to modify students' behavior and create an environment in which their students learn. Behavioral learning works better for some course content than others. For example, learning a foreign language requires repetition and drills using the language. Analytical knowledge does not. Using formative evaluation to adjust instruction to attain the desired outcome continually is crucial to higher education today and is something every instructor should be doing.
Similarly, Gagne's nine events of instruction are still used in higher education today and are even more critical for online learning. I use the nine events with my online students, and it works exceptionally well.
technology (4th ed.). Pearson.
I am a higher education administrator with over 15 years of experience in communications and operations. The views in my blog are my own.