Behavioral Learning Essay Research Paper BEHAVIORAL LEARNING

Behavioral Learning Essay, Research Paper


Educational Psychology Journal Article Presentation

Most theorists agree that learning occurs when experience causes a change in a

person’s knowledge or behavior . Behaviorists emphasize the role of environmental

stimuli in learning and focus on the behavior, i.e., an observable response. Behavioral

theories are based on contiguity, classical and operant conditioning, applied behavior

analysis, social learning theory and self-regulation/cognitive behavior modification.

Early views of learning were contiguity and classical conditioning. In contiguity

learning, two events are repeatedly paired together and become associated in the

learner’s mind. Pavlov took this idea one step further in his experiments on classical

conditioning where a previously neutral stimulus is repeatedly paired with a stimulus that

evokes an emotional or physiological response. Later, the previously neutral stimulus

alone evokes the response. In other words, the conditioned stimulus brings forth the

conditioned response.

Operant conditioning is the most applicable of all the behavioral theories to actual

classroom learning. Operant conditioning was developed by B.F. Skinner and states that

people learn through the effects of their deliberate responses. The effects of

consequences following an action may serve as a reinforcement or as a punishment for

that action. Both positive and negative reinforcers strengthen or increase a response.

Punishment decreases or suppresses the behavior. Also, the scheduling of reinforcers

influences the rate and persistence of behaviors. In a paper presented at the Annual

Convention of the American Psychological Association in 1994 the principles of operant

conditioning were evaluated.

This paper discusses the integration of educational and mental health services for

children and adolescents within a psychiatric day treatment setting at the Bradley School

housed in a private psychiatric hospital affiliated with Brown University in Rhode Island.

A 6-week inservice program focusing on the principles of operant conditioning and

positive reinforcement was implemented. The study was designed to evaluate the use of

behavior management strategies in the classroom, and positive results were found in the

decrease in restraints and crisis incidents. Crisis incidents were defined as a child being

required to leave the classroom because of unacceptable behavior, e.g., persistent

noncompliance. As the revised treatment module began to work, community special

education programs began to send students for short term diagnostic placements, and a

plan is in development for “transition classrooms” intended for children who no longer

need intensive treatment but are not yet ready to return to the community.

Applied behavior analysis provides teachers with methods for encouraging

positive behaviors and coping with undesirable ones. Negative reinforcement and forms

of punishments like reprimands and social isolation can help alter behavior, but should

be used with caution. Teachers can reinforce desirable student behavior through

attention, recognition, praise and other reinforcers. An article entitled “Food For

Thought: Teacher Nonverbal Immediacy, Student Learning, and Curvilinearity” touched

on immediacy behaviors as a type of reinforcer.

The article states that teachers can use these immediacy behaviors to

communicate a positive regard and stimulate their students. Immediacy behaviors are

those that enhance closeness to and interaction with others because they reduce

psychological and/or physical distance between communicators, increase overall sensory

stimulation and arousal, and promote liking. Nonverbal immediacy behaviors are

particularly useful to teachers in this regard because most relational messages are

communicated nonverbally, leaving the verbal channel available for messages of course

content. Immediacy is communicated by a set of nonverbal behaviors including

proxemics – decreased physical distance; haptics – socially appropriate touch; vocalics -

vocal variation and vocal expressiveness; kinesics – facial animation, open postures,

gestural activity and body relaxation; eye contact; chronemics – spending more time with

students, arriving early, staying late; and physical appearance – informal but socially

appropriate attire which is not overly conservative. Substantial evidence supports a

linear relationship between teachers’ nonverbal immediacy and students’ attitudes toward

the proposed behaviors and their intentions to engage in the proposed behaviors.

Social learning theorists emphasize the role of observation in learning.

Observational learning occurs through vicarious conditioning and modeling. In an article

obtained online entitled “Been There, Done That, Didn’t Work: Alternative Solutions For

Behavior Problems” the author lists as one of the most important guiding principles for

educators the “understand[ing] that behaviors are communication.” Teachers can use

observational learning to teach new behaviors through the use of providing peer models.

Teachers can also use this type of learning to encourage already-learned behaviors,

strengthen or weaken inhibitions and focus attention. Teachers can use this knowledge

of observational learning to their benefit, e.g., by performing preliminary “grabber”

experiments in front of the class in the anticipatory set of a new science lesson, the

teacher focuses the learners’ attention.

Cognitive theorists have influenced behavioral views particularly with regards to

the importance of self regulation in learning. Students can apply behavior analysis on

their own to manage their own behavior. Teachers can encourage the development of

self-management skills by allowing the learners the participate in setting goals,

monitoring progress, evaluating accomplishments, and selecting their own

reinforcements. Educational Leadership ran an issue on the renewal of schools. One

Article “Results: The Key to Renewal” emphasized just two principles that need to be

carefully followed: 1) regular collaboration focused on well-defined, measurable student

performance goals; and 2) frequent monitoring of progress that enables teams to share

concrete insights and adjust processes toward better results. This kind of

student-involved teamwork is more than causal or informal. It is focused and


Critics of behavioral learning note that these methods could have a negative

impact by decreasing interest in learning by overemphasizing the use of rewards. Also,

since the existence of the mind could not be proven from the observation of behavior,

and since behaviorists were concerned primarily with discovering the laws of human

behavior, the mind was an unnecessary construct in the learning process. The exclusion

of the mind from the learning process by behavioral laws was a primary theoretical cause

of the paradigm shift in learning psychology.


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