Although elements of theory existed before, behaviorism began in earnest with the publication of The Behavioral Learning Theory by Watson in 1913. This book was largely responsible for psychologists moving from away from functionalism towards the then budding field of behaviorism (Overskeid, 2008). This was one of the first publications to study the relationship between the environment and organisms. In the early years of the field, studies were conducted almost entirely with animals, but recent decades have this applied to humans, particularly students in the classroom. That is, “Behaviorists view learning as a process that results from the connections created from a stimuli-response relationship, and the desire to learn is assumed to be driven by these relationships” (Weager & Pacis, 2012).
More specifically Behavioral Learning Theory suggests that there are three different kinds of learning: behaviors, skills, and self-regulation. Behaviors can be divided into desirable ones such as completing homework or being on time and undesirable ones such as cheating or fighting; skills can be split into social such as sharing and helping their peers and motor such as playing sports; and self-regulation which is comprised of goal setting like self-instruction, self-monitoring, and self-consequences. All of these types of learning are simply ways to adapt to their environment, by looking for positive reinforcement and avoiding negative, as explained by classical and operant conditioning. “Learning these behaviours, skills and self‐regulatory abilities enables a person to gain rewards and favourable outcomes (e.g. praise and admiration) and avoid punishers and unfavourable outcomes (e.g. criticism and being laughed at)” (O’Donnell et al., 2017).
Significance to the Teacher
Successful teachers know how to utilize the above to their benefit and the benefits of the students. When designing a curriculum and lesson plans, teachers should realize to make all the instruction goals clear, behavioral, and observable. That is, a lesson consists of the teacher being the focus of the presentation and of the all the interactions, and the students’ job is to absorb the instructions and various material in order to use them to create measurable performances that will elicit either a positive or negative response from the teacher. One of the most important aspects that teachers can derive from this theory is that students’ willingness to learn and perform are driven by positive responses and avoiding negative responses from their environment, mainly their peers and teacher.
In the Classroom
More specifically, this can be used in the classroom by using the concepts of modeling, shaping, cueing, and behavior modification. Modeling, or observational learning, suggests that children acquire behavior based on watching other children they identify with and the responses they receive. For example, one student being late to class often leads to other students showing up late. Therefore, the overall environment needs to be managed to elicit the correct behavior, as even one student can serve as the model for positive or negative behavior. Furthermore, shaping is the process of slowly changing a response, with the goals of eventually reaching the desired behavior. This is done in step by step increases of the positive reinforcement. For example, students coming in and sitting earns a small positive reinforcement, but the next day, to get the same reinforcement, the students need to sit down and also be quiet.
Moreoever, cueing is the process of reminding students of the desired behavior before doing it incorrectly. For example, a student that continually forgets to raise his or her hand before answering can be cued by the teacher by him or her saying to do so after asking the question (Standridge, 2017). Strategies such as these, although they may seem small, are an essential step in managing a classroom and creating an environment that is conducive to producing productive behavior.