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BEHAVIORAL LEARNING THEORIES
Educational Psychology Journal Article Presentation
Most theorists agree that learning occurs when experience causes a change in a
person's knowledge or behavior . Behaviorists emphasize the role of environmental
stimuli in learning and focus on the behavior, i.e., an observable response. Behavioral
theories are based on contiguity, classical and operant conditioning, applied behavior
analysis, social learning theory and self-regulation/cognitive behavior modification.
Early views of learning were contiguity and classical conditioning. In contiguity
learning, two events are repeatedly paired together and become associated in the
learner's mind. Pavlov took this idea one step further in his experiments on classical
conditioning where a previously neutral stimulus is repeatedly paired with a stimulus that
evokes an emotional or physiological response. Later, the previously neutral stimulus
alone evokes the response. In other words, the conditioned stimulus brings forth the
Operant conditioning is the most applicable of all the behavioral theories to actual
classroom learning. Operant conditioning was developed by B.F. Skinner and states that
people learn through the effects of their deliberate responses. The effects of
consequences following an action may serve as a reinforcement or as a punishment for
that action. Both positive and negative reinforcers strengthen or increase a response.
Punishment decreases or suppresses the behavior. Also, the scheduling of reinforcers
influences the rate and persistence of behaviors. In a paper presented at the Annual
Convention of the American Psychological Association in 1994 the principles of operant
conditioning were evaluated.
This paper discusses the integration of educational and mental health services for
children and adolescents within a psychiatric day treatment setting at the Bradley School
housed in a private psychiatric hospital affiliated with Brown University in Rhode Island.
A 6-week inservice program focusing on the principles of operant conditioning and
positive reinforcement was implemented. The study was designed to evaluate the use of
behavior management strategies in the classroom, and positive results were found in the
decrease in restraints and crisis incidents. Crisis incidents were defined as a child being
required to leave the classroom because of unacceptable behavior, e.g., persistent
noncompliance. As the revised treatment module began to work, community special
education programs began to send students for short term diagnostic placements, and a
plan is in development for transition classrooms intended for children who no longer
need intensive treatment but are not yet ready to return to the community.
Applied behavior analysis provides teachers with methods for encouraging
positive behaviors and coping with undesirable ones. Negative reinforcement and forms
of punishments like reprimands and social isolation can help alter behavior, but should
be used with caution. Teachers can reinforce desirable student behavior through
attention, recognition, praise and other reinforcers. An article entitled Food For
Thought: Teacher Nonverbal Immediacy, Student Learning, and Curvilinearity touched
on immediacy behaviors as a type of reinforcer.
The article states that teachers can use these immediacy behaviors to
communicate a positive regard and stimulate their students. Immediacy behaviors are
those that enhance closeness to and interaction with others because they reduce
psychological and/or physical distance between communicators, increase overall sensory
stimulation and arousal, and promote liking. Nonverbal immediacy behaviors are
particularly useful to teachers in this regard because most relational messages are
communicated nonverbally, leaving the verbal channel available for messages of course
content. Immediacy is communicated by a set of nonverbal behaviors including
proxemics - decreased physical distance; haptics - socially appropriate touch; vocalics -
vocal variation and vocal expressiveness; kinesics - facial animation, open postures,
gestural activity and body relaxation; eye contact; chronemics - spending more time with
students, arriving early, staying late; and physical appearance - informal but socially
appropriate attire which is not overly conservative. Substantial evidence supports a
linear relationship between teachers' nonverbal immediacy and students' attitudes toward
the proposed behaviors and their intentions to engage in the proposed behaviors.
Social learning theorists emphasize the role of observation in learning.
Observational learning occurs through vicarious conditioning and modeling. In an article
obtained online entitled Been There, Done That, Didn't Work: Alternative Solutions For
Behavior Problems the author lists as one of the most important guiding principles for
educators the understand[ing] that behaviors are communication. Teachers can use
observational learning to teach new behaviors through the use of providing peer models.
Teachers can also use this type of learning to encourage already-learned behaviors,
strengthen or weaken inhibitions and focus attention. Teachers can use this knowledge
of observational learning to their benefit, e.g., by performing preliminary grabber
experiments in front of the class in the anticipatory set of a new science lesson, the
teacher focuses the learners' attention.
Cognitive theorists have influenced behavioral views particularly with regards to
the importance of self regulation in learning. Students can apply behavior analysis on
their own to manage their own behavior. Teachers can encourage the development of
self-management skills by allowing the learners the participate in setting goals,
monitoring progress, evaluating accomplishments, and selecting their own
reinforcements. Educational Leadership ran an issue on the renewal of schools. One
Article Results: The Key to Renewal emphasized just two principles that need to be
carefully followed: 1) regular collaboration focused on well-defined, measurable student
performance goals; and 2) frequent monitoring of progress that enables teams to share
concrete insights and adjust processes toward better results. This kind of
student-involved teamwork is more than causal or informal. It is focused and
Critics of behavioral learning note that these methods could have a negative
impact by decreasing interest in learning by overemphasizing the use of rewards. Also,
since the existence of the mind could not be proven from the observation of behavior,
and since behaviorists were concerned primarily with discovering the laws of human
behavior, the mind was an unnecessary construct in the learning process. The exclusion
of the mind from the learning process by behavioral laws was a primary theoretical cause
of the paradigm shift in learning psychology.
Word Count: 976
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