Implications And Classroom Applications


This paper presents the behaviorist theory of learning and thus, provides a comprehensive review of its principles, as well as assumptions about learning. Moreover, it also provides its implications on teachers and learners in education. In this regard, this paper is categorized into two parts, whereby, the first part provides a detailed explanation of the theory, presenting its main ideas, how it leads to the achievement of learning, the involved learning process, and finally, the roles played by the environment and the learner. The second part presents how the discussed theory translates into classroom practice, thus, providing how teachers use the ideas of the theory to support learners, and whether these ideas impact on how children learn.

Behaviorist learning theory

The behaviorist theory focuses majorly on observation, measurement, and modification of behavior. This theory stresses on the idea that all behaviors are learnt, and the learning is based on the impression that all human behaviors can be developed through conditioning (Staddon, 2014). The major contributors to behaviorist theory are John B. Watson, B.F Skinner, as well as Ivan Pavlov. The major principles of this theory are classical conditional, contributed by Skinner and Watson; and operant conditioning, contributed by Pavlov (Lee, 2016).


Watson expounded on Pavlov’s idea on conditioning, and thus, applied his idea to humans. He notes that classical conditioning refers to a reflex learning process, and his approach made much emphasis on the role of stimuli in the production of conditioned responses. As such, Watson described it as a stimulus-response called reflexes (Watson, 2017). Watson believes that an individual’s surrounding, as well as background, is dominant as compared to his or her genetics whilst determining human behavior. This theory gives the example of a child’s surrounding and notes that classical conditioning can shape a child into any kind of person that is sought. In order to provide a similar experiment that is similar to a Pavlov’s dog digestion, Watson purposed to train a child into fearing a rat (Olson, 2015). In any instance when the child met the rat, the child made a loud noise because of being startled. As such, Watson noted that he was able to make the child to fear the rat, thus making him capable of creating any situation, and even any response that he wanted. This then indicates that a learner should be obligated to take the role of adapting to any form of conditioning (Pavlov, 2018).

On the other hand, Skinner brought forth the idea of operant conditioning, and he stressed that all behaviors are modelled using complex patterns of reinforcement from the environment. Operant conditioning entails behavior reinforcement through provision of reward or punishment (Skinner, 2011). In this regard, positive reinforcement leads to a provision of a reward, thus increasing the response, whilst negative reinforcement leads to a provision of punishment, thus decreasing the response. Skinner notes that reinforcement significantly follows behavior, and previous situations, and these aid in developing human behavior. Notably, behavior enlarges in various areas, where they are positively reinforced, and as such, a teacher should be obligated to ensure that a learner is controlled, in a bid to creating behaviors, which are desired. Skinner went ahead and used a tool referred to as “Skinner box.” This tool was used in observing behavior in various tested situations, including in operant conditioning experiment (Walker, 2017). For instance, when operant conditioning is conducted in a mouse, to push the lever, in order to receive a food reward, it is evident that the mouse will continually push the lever, to enable it to get the treat. This then implies that the mouse can significantly respond to stimuli well, and as such, gets a reward. Based on this experiment, Skinner concluded that behavior can be changed easily through provision of reinforcement, based on response (Swim, 2015).

Moreover, based on Skinner’s view, humans engage actively with the environment, and this is contrary to classical conditioning, where they passively wait for the environment to produce its stimuli for effective response. In this regard, the main idea that Skinner emphasizes on is that human behavior can be based on past behavior consequences. Watsonian perspective notes that external stimuli triggers behavior (Skinner, 2011). On the other hand, Skinner’s perspective notes that internal stimuli can elicit behavior too, due to past internalized experienced. In this regard, operant conditioning is noted to be a kind of learning where a future behavior can be determined, using past behavior consequences. Overall, Skinner makes it clear that learning often occurs through significant manipulation of only positive reinforcement, as well as punishments (Losh, 2017). New behaviorist theorists acknowledge the fact that the two types of conditioning (classical and operant) were developed on close interdependence of each other, and they are also interconnected. Considering real-life situations, the two learning processes often occur simultaneously.

Application of the theory in a classroom practice

Noteworthy, all behaviors that are learnt and later produce abnormal results in a classroom practice are regarded to result from faulty learning. It is significant to note that a teacher is able to apply the aforementioned principles (classical conditioning and operant conditioning) of behaviorism in a classroom setting, in order to bring the classroom setting in order. Based on classical conditioning, a teacher can apply the following techniques, in ensuring that primary school learners adapt to the conditioning (Kay & Kibble, 2016). A teacher can use attractive learning aids, which may make the learner to adapt to learning in such an environment and consequently enhances his or her understanding. Secondly, a teacher can instruct and encourage learners to learn in small groups when a difficult learning task has been issued to them. This would encourage easy and significant learning. Thirdly, a teacher can form a habit of greeting learners and smiling at them whenever he or she enters the classroom. Significantly, this creates a positive environment for learning (Klein, 2018). Fourthly, a teacher can purpose to inform the learners specifically regarding quizzes formats, tests, as well as examinations, to build in them a positivity when they are handling tasks, and that forms a basis for learning. Fifthly, a teacher can decide to make learners understand all the classroom rules, in order for them to understand the environment in which they operate in. Finally, a teacher can provide sufficient time for learners to prepare themselves prior to handling various learning tasks. This enables them to have a favorable environment for learning (Mason, 2017). Overall, when these forms of classical conditioning are used in a classroom, they aid in the improvement of the learning process.

On the other hand, operant conditioning can as well be used in managing a classroom. A teacher is obligated to shape many behaviors, in order to come up with an orderly classroom. Notably, some classroom behaviors need to be shaped in a bid to enhancing an effective learning process (Olson, 2015). For instance, a primary school learner should be given negative punishment for eating in class when learning is ongoing. Notably, eating in class pulls a learners attention, and operant conditioning contradicts such acts by increasing attention and also increasing the focus on learning. On the other hand, a primary school teacher can use praising strategies or providing extra credit for learners who demonstrate the fact that they use the newly implemented strategies in trying to shape their behaviors (Lattal & Rutherford, 2013). One significant key to be noted by teachers is that they should ensure that the consequences come quickly after a learner shows a wrong behavior, and this poses as a challenge. It is clear that learners that use spacing, for instance, often have to do a lot of work, and for a longer time prior to receiving any form of reinforcement (Dietrich & Feeley, 2016). On the contrary, learners who purpose to cram a night prior and thus manage to pass their examinations often receive immediate positive reinforcement, which then makes them to engage in such behaviors repeatedly. Overall, it is significant that primary school teachers should use social reinforces, in order to bring forth a desired classroom behavior, as well as learning. Notably, a social reinforcement, specifically praise often forms a powerful tool for teachers. Praise is not often given frequently and as such, most learners enjoy receiving it from their teachers, whilst teachers also enjoy giving it to learner (Moore, 2017). In order for social reinforcements to be effective, they should be given only in an instance where a sincerely praiseworthy accomplishment occurs. When a teacher issues a praise, it needs to be informative, and should also aim at specifying significant particulars regarding the noteworthy performance or even behavior, which consequently assists learners to understand their successes (Cohen & Waite-Stupiansky, 2017). Overall, when these forms of operant conditioning are used in a classroom, they aid in the improvement of the learning process.

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Based on the above explanations, it is evident that an implementation of the behaviorist learning theory is just like a conventional method, in which case learners incline to passiveness in the learning process whilst the learning center is the teacher, owing to the fact that the teacher purposes to provide significant learning practice, as well as feedback. Primary school learners get reinforcement from their teachers, in order for them to do whatever the teacher intends. In an instance where a learner responds to a teacher’s stimuli appropriately, he or she can receive rewards such as treat, and food. On the other hand, punishment is meant for negative feedback, which learners receive in an instance where they cannot respond well to the stimuli. For instance, is the provision of punishment such as extra chores, or taking away an item from a learner. It is worth noting that behaviorist learning theory assists a teacher in a classroom setting in various ways. Majorly, is that fact that the theory assists the teacher to have significant and smooth management skills in the classroom, thus enabling the learners to work hard, in order to achieve their greatest potential, whereas learners are made to behave in appropriate ways.


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