Behavioural views of learning

Essay by richardvanraayCollege, Undergraduate August 2007

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The behavioural approaches (contiguity, classical conditioning and operant conditioning) to learning are just some of many theoretical approaches to learning; others include humanist, cognitive, social cognitive and constructivist approaches to learning (Huitt & Hummel, 2006: Ertmer & Newby, 1993: McInerney & McInerney, 2002). These different theories are not necessarily mutually exclusive and may be used in unison.

Applied behavioural analysis, the application of behavioural learning principles, can influence teachers' behaviour in the classroom by consciously or unconsciously focusing their attention on providing learning techniques that provide a reinforcer, be that a reward or punishment as deemed fit, at strategic moments to promote the likelihood of an activity the teacher desires to recur (Roper, 1974). Teachers' behaviour in the classroom is focused on behaviour reinforcements relating not only to social behaviour but also to cognitive development. Examples are issuing gold stars for good work or demerit points for disruptive behaviour.

A good example of modified teachers' behaviour is ignoring students who break the rules and praising students who perform tasks diligently (Woolfolk & Margetts, 2007). It is import for teachers' to systematically reduce students' dependency on extrinsic rewards (McInerney & McInerney, 2002).

Teachers' classroom behaviour for the implementation of applied behaviour analysis should involve specifying the behaviour desired, setting standards, acknowledging appropriate student behaviour, emphasising consequences for inappropriate behaviour, instigating effective reward systems, working out appropriate reinforcing strategies and taking appropriate action promptly, justly, strongly and consistently.

Although the behavioural approach to learning has been used successfully to modify human behaviour, particularly anti-social behaviour (Greenwood, Terry, Arreaga-Mayer & Finney, 1992) it is not without its sceptics. McInerney (2005) cautions students might be perceived "more as bundles of operants shaped by reinforcement than active thinking and perceiving processors of information" (p.587). It is not the only learning theory and as such...