July 24, 2010
-- The behavioral view of education became predominately noticed in the 20th century. As a result, behaviorism has influenced many notable researchers and theorists. In fact, the theory can be traced to Ivan P. Pavlov, who is credited with studying the observable behavior of dogs before they were fed in his laboratory. From his studies, he developed the model of classical conditioning to explain the phenomenon. John B. Watson extended Pavlov’s classical conditioning to include an operational model that explained emotional learning. Soon after, Edwin L. Thorndike introduced the concept of reinforcement. The most famous behaviorist was B. F. Skinner because of the influence of his writings. Skinner shows many similarities to other behaviorists, yet he is unique in his opposition to explanations of behavior in terms of unobservable mechanisms (Hamilton & Ghatala, 1994). He believed that observable behavior could be determined by the environmental stimuli.
Skinner is associated with the most common meaning applied to the behavioral view which is that our responses to environmental stimuli shape our behaviors. Hamilton and Ghatala (1994) explain that a behavioral approach to learning includes analysis of behavior in units and includes only stimulus-response relationships in its explanations while it focuses on the laws of behavior (p. 19). Therefore, behaviorists are concerned with the analysis of observable stimulus and response to the event.
In order to explain the connection between stimulus and response, B. F. Skinner developed the radical behaviorism view. His approach to learning was notable in that he searched for the functional relationship between the environmental variables and behavior. Driscoll (2005) explained that Skinner believed behavior could be fully understood in terms of environmental cues and results (p. 33). Skinner went on to develop a system to classify the respondent behavior.
Skinner classified respondent behavior into two schemes—respondent and operant. The respondent behavior is best described as behavior that elicits an involuntary reaction to a stimulus. For example, if one touches a hot stove, he pulls his hand back. In contrast, operant behavior classifies responses that operate in the environment. This would be similar to a driver stopping a car when they see a red light at the intersection. Skinner asserted that to understand why some operates are expressed while others are not, he argued that we must look at the behavior in relation to the environmental events surrounding it (Driscoll, 2005). With this view, one would observe the entire process and then classify the behavior as respondent or operant in relation to the environmental stimulus.
In order to describe the relation of operant behavior and the environment, Skinner developed a stimulus response model. The model constructs include the stimulus, operant response, and contingent stimulus. The relationship provides the framework from which all operant learning laws are derived (Driscoll, 2005). This model allows the learning process to be studied objectively when the focus of the study is on the stimuli and response (Ormrod, 2008). Researchers can establish objectivity by sampling and reporting what is observed. The observation constructs then can be overlaid into the stimulus response model to determine the relationships present. Afterwards, the stimulus response model was extended to include positive and negative reinforcement principles. These are principle learning contingencies that Skinner identified to manage behavior. He formulated the principles to account for the strengthening or weakening of existing behaviors as well as the learning of altogether new ones (Driscoll, 2005). Application of this type of behavior management can be found in the classroom. For instance, it would be up to the teacher to identify learning goals and to determine the contingencies of reinforcements or consequences.
Overall, the behavioral view of education centers on observable behavior. Learning outcomes connected with the behavioral model are active with the environment and are tied with reinforcement consequences which follow the behavior. This connection determines if the behavior is repeated. Ormrod (2008) explains that within the behavioral view, learning is largely the result of environmental events. B. F. Skinner’s work allows us to classify the behaviors associated with events.