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Introduction to Behaviorism Video

Video used with permission from the Masie Center

Behavioral theories define learning as a "semi-permanent change in behavior." In other words, learning has only taken place if a change in behavior is evident. Pure behaviorists are not concerned with internal process, but with external exibitions. There are two main theories involved: Classical conditioning and operant conditioning.

Classical conditioning hearkens back to Pavlov's experiment with his salivating dogs. It's basic premise is that behaviors can be conditioned by pairing stimuli with responses. Educational examples may include test anxiety or a general dislike or enjoyment of a subject. In classical conditioning, responses are involuntary.

Another type of behaviorism is operant conditioning, which involves the use of reinforcement to encourage behaviors. There are several kinds of reinforcers, and reinforcers may vary from student to student. Responses are voluntary in operant conditioning

The key thing to remember in this section is that, in Educational Psychology, we are concerned with the use of behavioral methods to encourage learning rather than for classroom or behavior management.

Key Questions to Ask About Behaviorism:

  • What are the basic assumptions underlying behavioral theories?
  • How might classical conditioning help you understand some students' emotional responses to instructional events?
  • What are ways you might use behavioral principles to manage behaviors or promote learning?
  • Do you think using rewards help or hinder learning?

Example from the classroom: Kelly and Susan Adams

(compare this to the examples on motivation theory)

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© 2011 Richard Culatta