At their most basic, behavioural theories of learning, as opposed to cognitive explanations, focus on how a stimulus relates to an observable response from a respondent. It could be said that the pathways and associations - contiguity - that this learning creates define responses and thereby pattern the behaviour. Clearly, in a Primary school context, this can have impact at a variety of levels, be it individual behaviour management or policies and attitudes advocated throughout the whole school. This essay looks at behaviourism from the perspective of two theoretical approaches and their practical applications. However, it acknowledges a far larger contribution to the evolution of behavioural theories than can be more than mentioned here. For example, Krause et al (2003) go as far back as Aristotle's concept of the child's mind as a blank slate later taken up by Locke as the tabula rasa, where the learning is through sensory perception and association.
(p 110) Schwartz et al (2002) develop this on through those such as Descartes, Hobbes and Hume.(p 8-17) For behaviour theory to be effective in a class and whole school context, the onus is on teachers and schools to adapt and apply these theories in an appropriate and practical manner in order to establish and maintain a purposeful positive learning environment.
The traditional application of behaviourism to education tends to start with Pavlov and Watson's work on classical conditioning. Whilst recognising the various contributions these have made, this work will look at the theories of B.F.Skinner and operant conditioning and A.Bandura and social learning.
B.F.Skinner went beyond the gaps unexplained by classical conditioning to explore the self-directed behaviours of individuals (operants) and the establishment of responses - both elicited or reflex - to previously experienced stimuli (respondents). The main contrast between classical and operant conditioning is that...