operant conditioning in education

operant conditioning in education - Ask any behaviorist to...

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Ask any behaviorist to cite a classroom-based example of operant conditioning and the same unverifiable and likely untrue story is evoked. As goes the tale, a university class of students who, while learning about operant conditioning, trained their professor to lecture from atop a trashcan by using a reinforcement-punishment cycle of attention and applause for getting progressively closer to the trashcan and inattention for moving further away. Using this chaining system, students had the professor lecturing while standing on top of the trashcan by the end of the year with him none the wiser. While this humorous anecdote is almost certainly an urban myth, operant conditioning is in actuality employed in classroom settings as an effective tool for students. In fact, upon its utilization, several studies indicated a great overall improvement in several educational areas. Five key educational innovations are attributed either directly or indirectly to the principles of operant conditioning. These five areas – instructional objectives, programmed instruction (and by extension, computer-assisted instruction), mastery learning, contingency contracts, and applied behavior analysis – all include elements of operant conditioning in order to strengthen the educational effect on students in the system. Each one is built to work on a cycle of reinforcement and punishment and evokes the prime basis of operant conditioning. That is, behaviors that are desired to increase are reinforced while behaviors sought to decrease are punished. The caveat being, of course, that for the latter to work, the punishment must be effective. In operant conditioning, it is a prerequisite that terminal (i.e. desired) behaviors be specified in precise, observable terms prior to the beginning of conditioning 1 . Rather then referring to educationally based goals as “instructional objectives”, then, the sought for ideal is a “behavioral objective” with three basic specified components: an observable 1 Skinner, (1901)
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and measurable outcome, explanation of the conditions under which the behavior should be exhibited, and the criterion for judging the acceptable performance of the behavior 2 . An example of the later criterion would be that a student performs above a reasonably assigned goal on examinations. Utilizing objectives in this way allows teachers to make clear goals for their students. This aids both the teacher and student with the former having a more clearly outlined lesson plan with defined outcomes and with the latter having a detailed plan as to what should occur following the lesson. In addition, objectives can be easily communicated between teachers, students and, in the case of younger, elementary-aged students, their parents. These objectives also facilitate evaluation of a student’s performance and also lend weight to an administrator’s criticism of an instructional program 3 . The focus also shifts from lower-level skills like simply understanding – such as a student being able to summarize a story in his or her own
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This essay was uploaded on 04/16/2008 for the course PSYC 101 taught by Professor Graham during the Spring '07 term at UCSD.

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operant conditioning in education - Ask any behaviorist to...

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