This site will look much better in a browser that supports web standards, but it is accessible to any browser or Internet device.

Skip Navigation skip menu and banner
University of Wyoming

Learning based on Behaviorism

Behaviorism is a theory of animal and human learning that only focuses on objectively observable behaviors and discounts mental activities. Behavorists define learning as nothing more than the acquisition of new behavior.

Theories of Learning by Wiley G. Barnetts, Ertmer and Newby

The strict Behaviorists would say for learning to have occurred, then there would have had to have been a change in the form or frequency of observable performance.

The learner is characterized as being reactive to conditions in the environment as opposed to taking an active role in discovering the environment.

Principles of application

  • Repetition, small, concrete, progressively sequenced tasks (break down skills and information into small units).
  • Positive and negative reinforcement (check student's work regularly).
  • Consistency in the use of reinforcers during the teaching-learning process.
  • Habits and other undesirable responces can be broken by removing the positive reinforcers connected with them.
  • Immediate, consistent, and positive reinforcement increases the speed of learning.
  • Once an item is learned, intermittent reinforcement will promote retention.
  • Direct or "teacher centered" instruction (lectures, drills, demonstrations)

The Paradigm

  • Learning is passive
  • Students must learn the correct response.
  • Learning requires external reward.
  • Knowledge is a matter of remembering information.
  • Understanding is a matter of seeing existing patterns.
  • Teachers must direct the learning response.
  • Applications require "transfer of training" which requires "common elements" among problems.

Final Thoughts

Critics say that behaviorism oversimplifies human behavior and sees the human being as an automaton instead of a creature of will and purpose.

Regardless of what the critics say, the behavioristic approach has exerted a strong influence on psychology.

Behaviorism has had major influence in the learning field and it will continue to play an important part in it.