Practical Use of B.F. Skinner’s Learning Theory

Practical use of B.f. Skinner’s learning theory
by Moin uddin Siddique

B.F. Skinner is perhaps the predominant figure in American psychology. He is an experimental psychologist at Harvard who has developed behaviorism as a position in learning (he remains hesitant to use the term “theory”). Skinner emphasizes observable behavior in the study of humans—hence the term “behaviorism.” He rejects any attempt at introspection or use of hypothetical internal processes or structures to account for learning. Instead, Skinner uses the consequences of a behavior to explain why the behavior continues or fades. Many of Skinner’s ideas are built upon Thorndike’s law of effect. Stated briefly, Skinner believes that behavior that is followed by reinforcement (positive or negative) has an increased probability of reoccurrence. Behavior followed by extinction or punishment has a decreased probability of re-occurrence. This is known as operant conditioning. Since learning is implied by a change in behavior, a teacher must first determine what behavioral change is desirable, then manipulate the consequences to alter the probability of the behavior recurring. Through proper use of shaping, the teacher can promote the development of new behaviors. In concept, this is quite simple. In practice, it is a bit more difficult, but quite within grasp, as research and experience with programmed instruction and behavior modification show. Skinner’s ideas about instruction have been very influential on education. After a period of almost total domination behaviorism is beginning to wane, yet its impact will continue to be felt.

Operant conditioning has become a very influential area of psychology, because it has successfully provided practical solutions to many problems in human behavior. Operant principles discovered in the laboratory are now being employed to improve teaching techniques so that even slow or unmotivated students can learn faster and better behavior modification is the...