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Tag Archives: Behaviorism

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – Is it just Around the Corner?

It isn’t everyday that you read a book that makes you feel grateful for not being born sooner or later, but exactly when you were born. It is only once in a long while that you come across a story that makes you look for that inflection point in the history of humanity, which made the world become what it is today.

This isn’t a review that I am posting today. It isn’t even a suggestion or a recommendation that you read this book. It is a short Thank-You-Note to Aldous Huxley who penned “Brave New World”, and made me feel grateful for being what I am and for what I have been given – the freedom of choice. I don’t want to discuss the extent of this freedom; I don’t want to flick out a tape to measure it; I just want to experience it.

Huxley had written this novel in 1931 – a time when Behaviorism had matured, its spread aided by the industry; and a time when scientific advances were being announced every day.

Conceptual Summary of Brave New World

Let me quickly summarize the concept of “Brave New World” for you.

The world has “evolved” (degenerated?) where humans are mass-produced under controlled conditions, using the Bokanovsky process. The humans come in different varieties or castes, each variety suited to accomplish the task that it would be required to perform. Thus the humans range from Alphas (the highest caste) to the Epsilons who are nothing better than zombies. The production as well as the education of humans is the responsibility of the State. Sex for procreation is a taboo, people are expected to spend all their free time in the company of others, and ideas of individuality are considered dangerous.

Ivan Pavlov, Sigmund Freud, and Henry Ford have become icons in this world of the future. The calendar begins with the year of Ford’s birth (the story is set in AF 632 or about 530 years from now.)

Education of all the castes is carried out partly while they are asleep (by making them listen to numerous repetitions of such statements that define the desired behavior) and also makes tremendous use of behaviorist principles (repetition, reward, and punishment.)

The Wake-up Call

The goal of the story is to contrast the life-style and philosophy of the Reservations (places that refused to change) and the world – and it is this contrast that wakes you up. You find yourself wishing that the world had taken a midway approach, and then you realize that you sub-consciously begin to see yourself in both the worlds, wondering how “A Brave New World” is a very real possibility – and how you need not wait 500 years for it to happen.

Returning to my ruminations…

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

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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