Pritchard (2009) states that “the adage of practice makes perfect seems to hold good for behaviorists.” I remember being in face to face classes all the way into college where we did the same thing each day. We had a lecture or watched a movie, then we did a worksheet to practice (sometimes to critically think) about what we just heard or saw. While I achieved well in school, I always realized that I would have these short exercises, then perhaps in a week or so a review of all the short exercises, then I could move on. This made school somewhat mindless…at least to some degree as I knew what to expect (what Pritchard says is the practice makes perfect manner of learning). In many ways, after seeing an example or two (ie, in math) I would be ready to start my work, but was often hindered by the classroom teacher attempting to maintain control and have all students on the same page and paying attention to her before we could start on our work. Interestingly, according to Burton, J. K., Moore, D. M., & Magliaro, S. G. (1996), “Generalization is the act of responding in the same way to similar stimuli, specically, to those stimuli not present at time of training.” So my responses to classes were conditioned behavior based on years of the same. I personally feel this is a definate advantage in online courses where I can start engaging in content (or practice perhaps) when I’m ready without having to wait for the instructor to finish the lecture and this is but one way my behavior has changed in an online course.
I have also adjusted my own behavior in that I no longer wait for the last minute to do assignments and I must be clearly more organized. One other change noted in online is the fact that I can also have time to review materials over and over again (which, personally, I need) and on my own time when I’m mentally prepared to learn. This ability in an online course has not only given me a different perspective on learning, but has also shifted the onus on me to critically think and engage personally with the content more regularly as I do not have an instructor to ask. In other words, there is noone conditioning a response in my learning and the mental processes are all on me (something not necessarily accounted for in behavioral learning theory). While it may not be an efficient way to acquite knowledge in some disciplines, for the social sciences and a broad field such as educational technology, I think this approach works rather well.
While the view is that constructivist thought and cognitive psychological theories are more prevalent in today’s education, especially in an online course (ie, practice worksheets and completing problems after having watched a video lecture) many behaviorists theories are still practiced and seen in today’s education. While it seems that there are flaws in these theories of learning because it does not account for the mental processes involved, I do not necessarily believe that behavioral learning methodologies are passive in nature. As Burton, J. K., Moore, D. M., & Magliaro, S. G. (1996) learners that are engaged in knowledge are, in fact, being active. In fact, B.F. Skinner, one of the champions of this psychological theory even stated that a learner, does not passively absorb knowledge from the world around him but must play an active role.” Behaviorists also believe that learners learn by doing and engaging with content (page 11), so I’m unsure why these theories have received this type of negative reputation.
While behavioral theory does seemingly include mental processes as noted in Burton, J. K., Moore, D. M., & Magliaro, S. G. (1996) citing Skinner state that “operants include both private (thoughts) and public (behavior) activities,” in reflecting upon my own educational experiences, one thing that stands out is how little we did critical thinking activities. The focus seemed to be on observable behaviors (did I get the correct answer to mostly factual questions). Also, the ones we did do, I do not remember them being difficult or nearly unmanageable until I got into high school where we were expected to analyze or, at times, synthesize information (with lots of scaffolding and second chances). Since I went to school when the behavioral practices were in practice and I only now feel that I can synthesize information, I might conclude that the focus on scientific observations so central to these theories might fall somewhat short of the target of education. So design wise in a course, something that could be done in an online course might be to consider the age of the student and also the type of learning activities that they do and scaffold those learners with materials that might help them be both successful and critically think about the content. Also, making sure to provide regular reminders to stay on task might be beneficial as this is typically a regular part of face to face instruction. These considerations in design might bridge the gap between typical face to face activities and those that are online.
Burton, J. K., Moore, D. M., & Magliaro, S. G. (1996). Behaviorism and instructional technology. In D. H. Jonassen (Ed.), Handbook of Research for Educational Communications and Technology (pp. 46-73). New York: Macmillan.
Pritchard, A. (2005). Ways of learning: Learning theories and learning styles in the classroom. Independence, KY: David Fulton Publishers.