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Behaviorism – Have the Behaviorist Methods Lost their Potency in the New Age of Learning?

23 Sep

Can you stop reading?
Yes, I mean now.

Checking out Operant Conditioning:

Now pick up your phone and dial your parents, or grandparents if possible. Ask them whether they were ever punished in the class – and then ask them whether they now think of the punishment as unnecessary.
My take is that they’d gloat over those days of spanking and knuckle warming. I believe that they’d tell you that they owe their success to those teachers who beat some sense into them.
My parents do, and I do too.

We were conditioned to accept punishments as corrective measures. We were also motivated to learn for the rewards of non-material (parental-acceptance,) and the material (movies/ice-creams) kind!

Checking out Classical Conditioning:

Call your parents again. Pester them to tell you about the homework they used to get and the lines that they had to do. Do they think they learned by doing their homework?
My parents and I – we feel that we did. About three-decades ago, my Grandmother used to tell me about how she became so good at Mathematics (She’d help me solve Math problems when I was in my final year of school.) She told me that she’d spend hours solving mathematical problems and the repetition made her an expert at it. Note that she did solve different kinds of problems and so there was a lot of cognitive processing involved – but expertise is a direct function of practice.
We were conditioned to accept repetition as a reinforcement mechanism.

Our grandparents, our parents, and some of us too, went to school when Behaviorist methods of imparting learning were a norm – and we learned. We learned better and we learned without hired help teaching us extra hours. We managed to do it because nothing beats practice – and because we knew that learning would help us avoid punishment and it might even lead to a reward.

The Behaviorist Framework helps Structure Learning Experiences:

As children, if we were expected to learn without the framework of reward and punishment then despite those beautifully crafted, highly relevant examples (cognitivism) we’d find no reason on earth to spend extra time and effort to make that learning our own! No punishment to avoid, no reward to obtain!

As kids, if were allowed to come up with our own interpretations (constructivism) and then our teachers would’ve guided us towards the correct conclusions; without repeatedly going through the logical connections that led to those correct conclusions – we’d lose ourselves completely in the woods of new learning.

I speak of us as children, because as adults we always have a strong reason in form of an immediate application, which drives us to learn despite the absence of behaviorist frameworks. However, it doesn’t mean that what applies to children wouldn’t apply to grownups.

The Behaviorist framework enables us to motivate the learners by structuring rewards, punishments, and also practice into a learning experience. Thus in the case of children, a behaviorist framework often becomes the only motivator that establishes a habit of learning; while in the case of adults, it becomes and add-on motivator to the adult-learner’s internal motivation derived from an immediate need.

~~o~o~o~~

Instructional Design Principles Referred in this Post:

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