Behaviorists Theory of Learning
Behaviorists postulate that learning has nothing to do with the state of the mind. In fact, learning occurs with the acquisition of new behavior. B.F. Skinner, a prominent behaviorist psychologist, well known for his extraordinary work such as experimentation with animals in his so called “Skinner Box,” argues that a measurable learning outcome is only possible if we change the learner’s behavior.
Behaviorists rely only on observable behavior to learn. They do not focus their attention on the mental activities of the learners because, according to them, learning happens when certain conditions are met. These conditions are universal in nature. A good example would be the concept of reward and punishment.
To behaviorists, learning comes from the observation of cultures in the learner’s environment. “The major problems facing the world today can be solved only if we improve our understanding of human behavior” (Henry & Skeptic, 2005). There must be incentives to create the desired responses. According to behaviorism, the incentive may either be a reward for a positive response, or punishment if the response is negative.
Study (Dawning & Bennett, 2005) has shown that the behaviorist methods of reinforcement are very effective in creating and reinforcing positive behavior in almost any learning environment. Nevertheless, while rewards and punishment may have some degree of success in reinforcing positive behavior and deterring errant or negative behavior, this traditional concept of teaching and learning has now been re-examined. Behaviorists are unable to deal with many questions confronting educators regarding the learning process (Joung-Min Kim, 2010) and (Dretsch, 2008)
Psychology is a science and it is the science of behavior. It has nothing to do with the science of the mind. In other words, the behaviorist states that the mind does not help a person acquire knowledge, but instead it is the psychology of the environment which helps a person to learn. After all, the main stimuli of behaviors come from the external environment rather from within the learner.
According to the behaviorist, human beings are like blank slates that can be controlled by stimuli. Learners learn because of the situational interactions (external or environment) which influence the particular individual (learner). Unlike the environment, the mind does not play a significant role in learning. Dewald (1999), as a traditionalist educator, believes that if we can change the behavior of an animal such as a rat, then we can do likewise with the human behaviour
Behaviorists believe human beings do not have their own will, intention, self-determination or personal responsibilities. According to Skinner, we should keep aside modern concepts about freedom and human dignity as man must be controlled to behave in the desired manner. Behaviorists do not believe that it is possible for man to learn purposely and consciously.
Man has no will as far as learning is concerned. As such, according to behaviorists, if we think otherwise, we only show our ignorance about how humans and animals learn. To behaviorists, man’s actions should be controlled. Behaviorists perceive that the minds of humans and animals are alike. There is no difference in the way humans and animals learn (Qais & Zainab, 2008).
From the behaviorist’s view-point, man is like a machine which can be switched on and off. In other words, the human being is, in fact, like an animal, and he has no choice but to adapt to the environment. The theory of behaviorism is, in fact, a simple theory with an extraordinary message: if animals can learn when conditioned by stimuli, so can humans, if conditioned by the appropriate stimuli.