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Learning Theory Series 01: Behaviorism

Behaviorism is based largely on the works of Pavlov’s classical conditioning (Stimulus-response) which psychologist John B. Watson and B. F. Skinner expanded to give us the learning theory.

According to behaviorists, learning is dependent on an individual’s interactions with their external environment. As they experience consequences from their interactions with the environment, they modify their behaviors in reaction to those consequences. To enable learning, promote learners’ positive or desired responses (behaviors) by providing appropriate stimuli and continual positive reinforcement.

Since external environment is emphasized, behaviorism largely ignores or disregards the role of internal influences such as experience, prior knowledge or involved mental processes.  When applied as a learning theory, it indicates that the learners are passive participants simply expected to absorb the knowledge transmitted by the teacher/facilitator.  And to promote learners’ positive or desired responses (behaviors), teachers/instructors provide appropriate stimuli and positive reinforcement.

The learner is ‘an empty vessel’ to be filled with knowledge”

It typically states that learning requires a system of routines that “drill” information into a learner’s memory bank by repetitive practice, memorization, question-and-response with continual motivators such as grades, rewards, and praises.

In certain cases, behaviorism can still be a valuable approach in Instructional Designing.

Read more about Behaviorism in Instructional Design.