| Watson's proposition in his keynote article
in the 1913 Psychological Review that psychology must be viewed as a purely
objective, experimental branch of natural science with the theoretical
goal of predicting and controlling behavior (Watson, 1913) introduced
the notion of behaviorism into American psychology. Behaviorism is
a psychological perspective whose explanations about learning are based
on the relationship between observable behaviors and environmental events
rather than on internal processes. Behaviorists proposed that psychological
theories should exclusively address the physical stimuli that an organism
encounters and its observable behavioral response to them. Based on the
philosophical belief that there is a single reality, and objective knowledge
can be acquired, the goal of behaviorism, a study of science of behavior,
is "to discover the lawful relationship between environment events
and behaviors" (Gredler, 1997). Thus, within the paradigm of
behaviorism, the study of psychology should be only concerned only with
the objective data of behavior and the behavior could be fully understood
in terms of environmental cues and results. In other words, behaviorism
tends to explain learning in terms of observable behavior, generally avoiding
reference to mental events and entities.
A metaphor of black box is usually described to explain the behaviorist
approach about learning, i.e. the learner is a black box and nothing
is known about what goes on inside. Knowing what's inside the black
box is not essential for determining how behavior is governed by its
environmental antecedents and consequences. The behaviorists believe
that the psychology as a science to develop a reliable and useful theory
of learning have to use observable, reliable data as evidence.
To behaviorism, learning is a behavioral change. The behaviorists put
a strong emphasis on association and analysis on nurture over nature
in determining human and animal behavior. They conduct conditioning
experiments to provide an objective way to investigate associations.
Behaviorism employed the hypotheico-deductive method of scientific study
on animal and human behaviors. Pavlov's Nobel Prize winning research
initiated the views of learning in terms of stimulus-response linkages
and transfer; Thorndike's puzzle box established that a Stimulus-Response
bond is selectively strengthened by its satisfying consequences. Skinner's
work drew attention to the responses of the organism that produce the
reinforcing or rewarding goal object. Skinner described behavioral change
as a function of response consequences. It is the outcome produced by
the action that causes the behavioral change.
Ivan Pavlov's work on the physiology of the digestive system instigated
the behaviorist movement in psychology. His discovery has come to be
known as classical conditioning. The methodological and conceptual framework
employed in Pavlov's observations was adapted by John Watson. Watson's
experiment with Albert, who was conditioned for his fear reaction to
furry animals and objects, demonstrated Watson's belief that human personality
developed through the conditioning of various reflexes. Different from
Pavlov and Watson, Edward Thorndike, another major contributor, focused
his research on voluntary behaviors. Thorndike's experimental interest
lies in the establishment of connections between particular stimuli
and voluntary behaviors. He formulated three laws of Readiness, Exercise,
and Effect to illustrate how human acquire connections productive of
behavior suitable to the environment in which they live (Thorndike,
Arguing that a simple stimulus-response formula cannot explain a large
part of behavior which is not under control of eliciting stimuli, Skinner
made distinctions between respondent behavior and operant behavior.
According to Skinner, acquisition of behavior is viewed as resulting
from a three-component contingent relationship. The interconnected relationship
is between the stimuli that precede a response (antecedents/discriminative
stimuli), the stimuli that follow response (consequences/reinforcing
stimuli), and the response (operant) itself.
Three major theoretical assumptions dominate the filed of behaviorism:
Classical Conditioning, Thorndike's
connectionism, and Skinner's Operant
Pavolv's study of classical conditioning proposed that a response comes
to be established by its association with an environmental stimulus.
In such form of learning, a stimulus or an event can predict the occurrence
of another stimulus and event. In other words, humans develop their
behaviors by a set of stimulus-response associations.
Learning occurs in establishing the S-R association. When the association
between the neutral stimulus and a reflex response to an unconditional
stimulus is established, the nature of the association is transformed
from unconditional to conditional. Anderson (1985) reviewed the mechanism
of associative bonding in classical conditioning, and commented that
this particular theoretical assumption provided an objective language
of stimuli and responses to talk about subjective phenomena. It started
to establish the common ground of the scientific study of behavior.
Aimed to discover the functional relationship between environmental
events and behavior, behaviorists collected their data from controlled
laboratory experiments. Moreover, they emphasized the need for rigorous
experimentation and carefully defined variables. Variables manipulated
in classical conditioning:
- Amplitude: the amount or strength of the response
- Latency: the length of time between the stimulus and the response
Hypothetical processes and relationships include:
- Stimulus generalization: the tendency of similar stimuli to elicit
- Resistance to extinction: the tendency of a response to persist
after the supporting conditions are withdrawn.
- Inhibition: the reduction in a response caused by the introduction
of extraneous stimuli
The research was limited to conditioning of involuntary behaviors:
- conditioning of reflex actions, e.g. salivation and finger jerk
- conditions of emotions, e.g. Albert's fear for furry animals
Thorndike (1913) posited that a man's intellect, character, and skill
is the sum of his tendencies to respond to situations and elements of
situations, and it is the different situation-response connections that
make up this sum of the world. He was interested in the doctrine of
association between sensation and impulse.
Thorndike studies voluntary behaviors. His experiment on the animal's
escape behavior in the puzzle box demonstrated an associating process
between a situation and a response in trial and error learning. Gredler
(1997) has pointed out that the importance of Thorndike's research is
to include the effects of the subject's action among the causes of behavior
change. A connection is made between the stimulus of the environment,
the behavior and the consequences. Three major laws of learning to explain
this process include:
- Law of Effect: The strength of the connection is determined
by the state of satisfyingness following the response.
- Law of Exercise: The strength of the connection is influenced
by the use and disuse of the connection. The recurrence of the condition
increases the connection's strength. But when a connection is not
made between a situation and a response during a length of time, that
connection's strength is decreased.
- Law of Readiness: Whether a conduction unit is in readiness
to conduct or not is governed by the states of satisfying and annoying.
According to Thorndike, learning can be explained as a series of the
connections between the environmental stimuli and behaviors followed
by reinforcing consequence, governed by law of effect, law of exercise
and law of readiness.
Skinner's Operant Conditioning
Operant Conditioning, developed by Skinner in 1938, recognizes the differences
between elicited responses and emitted responses. The former are responses
associated with a particular stimulus, and the latter are responses
that act on the environment to produce different kinds of consequences
that affect the organism and alter future behavior. Skinner's research
focuses on the manipulation of the consequences of an organism's behavior
and its effect on subsequent behavior. Learning can be understood by
a basic S (Discriminative Stimulus)-R (Operant Response, the behavior)-S
(Contingent Stimulus, the reinforcing stimulus) relationship. The change
in behavior is operated by the contingencies of reinforcement. A reinforcing
event is any behavioral consequence that strengthens behavior.
Skinner's research focused on the experimental study of behavior. The
underlying assumptions about the research in Skinner's experiments include:
- The lawful relationships between behavior and environment can be
only found only if behavioral properties and experimental conditions
are carefully studied
- Data from experimental study of behavior are the only acceptable
sources of information about the causes of behavior.
Skinner (1938) proposed two laws that govern the conditioning of an
- The Law of Conditioning: If the occurrence of an operant is followed
by presentation of a reinforcing stimulus, the strength is increased.
- The Law of Extinction: If the occurrence of an operant already strengthened
through conditioning is not followed by the reinforcing stimulus,
the strength is decreased.
Based on the leaning mechanism of bridling the S (Discriminative Stimulus)-R
(Operant Response, the behavior)-S (Contingent Stimulus, the reinforcing
stimulus) relationship, the components of instruction includes selecting
stimulus and providing reinforcement. In the learning processes, the
learners learn to discriminate and generalize stimuli in order to respond
Three principles for teaching new and complex behaviors are defined
by behaviorists: shaping, chaining, and fading.
Shaping refers "the reinforcement of successive approximations
to a goal behavior" (Driscoll, 2000). This process requires the
learner to perform successive approximations of the target behavior
by changing the criterion behavior for reinforcement to become more
and more like the final performance. In other words, the desired behavior
is reinforced each time only approximates the target behavior.
Skinner also provided the explanation of the mechanism underlying the
nature of complex learning. He proposed that the acquisition of complex
behaviors is the result of the process referred to as chaining. Chaining
establishes "complex behaviors made up of discrete, simpler behaviors
already known to the learner" (Driscoll, 2000).
According to behaviorists, behaviors are acquired and exhibited because
they are reinforced; non-reinforced behaviors tend not to occur. Individuals
are clearly able to distinguish between settings in which certain behaviors
will or will not be reinforced. The concept of fading refers to "the
fading out of discriminative stimulus used to initially established
a desired behavior" (Driscoll, 2000). The desired behavior continues
to be reinforced as the discriminative cues are gradually withdrawn.
Theory into Practice: The importance to
Instructional Systems Design
Behavioral psychology has provided instructional technology with some
basic assumptions, concepts and principles. Three major assumptions
are directly relevant to instructional technology (Burton, Moore, Magliaro,
- The role of learner: knowledge is action. The emphasis is on the
active responding of the learner. The learner must be engaged in the
behavior in order to learn and to validate that learning has occurred.
- The nature of learning: Learning is defined as a change in behavior
due to a function of building associations between the occasion on
which the behavior occurs (stimulus events) and the behavior itself
- The generality of learning principles: The basic processes that
promote or inhibit learning are universal to all organisms.
Burton, Moore, and Magliaro (1996) also states the impact of behavioral
psychology on the tools of the field of instructional technology in
its methodological approach to the learning research and film research
projects in the field.
The influence of behaviorism on instructional systems design is widely
identified in the following aspects (Burton, Moore, and Magliaro, 1996;
Saettler, 1990; Shrock, 1995):
- Task analysis, behavioral objectives
- Teaching machines (Pressey, 1964): Automation has been viewed as
the solution to the problem of providing immediate reinforcement for
correct responses in instruction.
- Programmed instruction (Skinner, 1958): Applying the learning principle
of shaping, the content is arranged in small steps, which progress
from simple to complex and require a response from the learner to
- Computer-assisted learning (Driscoll, 2000): (1) Depending on how
students answer a given question, the frames are branched to other
segments of the program. The use of branching in the instruction increases
instructional flexibility and improve the linear style of the program;
(2) As a result, instructional software is increasing available that
provide drill and practice on various academic skills, simulations
to enhance problem-solving, or tutorials in various subject matters.
- Systems approach to the design on instruction
Driscoll (2000) explains the role of feedback in improving performance
in organizational systems from the perspective of the behavior management
- Feedback is the consequence of a response, typically reinforcement
for an appropriate behavior. Also, feedback provides information to
the learner as to how performance should be.
- Feedback is one of several environmental factors that support or
hinder exemplary performance in an organization. The researchers concluded
that analysis of the work environment is critical for managing performance
- Planning for performance improvement is a process analogous to planning
for behavior management or modification. Once the desired performance
has been determined and the gap is identified between what it is and
what it should be, appropriate rewards and incentives for performance
can be selected. Then a plan is generated, implemented, evaluated,
and revised as necessary.
The concept of chaining, i.e. the acquisition of complex behaviors is
made up of discrete, simpler behaviors already known to the learner,
results in a hierarchical analysis of the desired learning outcomes
in order to design sequences of stimuli-responses reinforcements for
Moreover, the idea of learning as "behavioral changes" gave
arise to the development of behavioral objectives. It is important to
specify desired instructional outcomes in terms of clear, observable
Mager (1962): three component objective: the behavior to be acquired,
the conditions under which the behavior is to be demonstrated, and the
criteria governing how well the behavior is to be performed.
Outcome-oriented instruction was more recognized. From the perspective
of Skinner's operant conditioning, in which learning is understood by
a basic S (Discriminative Stimulus)-R (Operant Response)-S (Contingent
Stimulus) relationship. Moreover, change in behavior is operated by
the contingencies of reinforcement. Thus, instructional strategies,
such as reinforcement, rewarding, and immediate feedback, have been
Skinner is one of the major advocates of teaching machines and programmed
learning. The use of computers to convey individualized learning materials
fits Skinner's ideology of carefully controlled stimulus-response reinforcement.
In the early 1960s, there is an emergence of criterion-referenced testing,
i.e. to measure how well an individual can perform a particular behavior
or set of behaviors, irrespective of how well others perform. Moreover,
criterion-reference testing can be used to assess student entry-level
behavior and to determine the extent to which students had acquired
the behaviors an instructional program was designed to teach.
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Drisoll, M. P.( 2000). Psychology of learning for instruction.
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Gredler, M. E. (1997). Learning and instruction: Theory into practice.
Upper Saddle River: Prentice-Hall.
Saettler, P. (1990). The evolution of American educational technology.
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Shrock, S. A. (1995). A brief history of instructional development.
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Instructional technology: Past, present and future (Second ed.,
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Thorndike, E. L. (1913). Educational psychology: Vol. 1. The original
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Thorndike, E. L. (1913). Educational psychology: Vol. 2. The psychology
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