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Behavioral Learning Models
Behaviorists explain learning by developing models of how stimuli can
produce relatively permanent changes in behavior. Contiguity learning and
classical conditioning are two behavioral learning models that focus exclusively
on the role of eliciting stimuli in producing learning, while operant conditioning is
the behavioral learning model that uses antecedents and consequences to explain
“A combination of stimuli which was accompanied by movement will on
its reoccurrence tend to be followed by that movement” (Guthrie, 1935, p.
26). 6 This quotation from the work of Edwin R. Guthrie (1886-1959) describes
the contiguity principle, which is the basis for contiguity learning. Contiguity
learning occurs when an eliciting stimulus and response become connected
because they have occurred together. As a result of this connection, when the
eliciting stimulus occurs in the future, the connected response tends to occur. In
classrooms, this often is accomplished by having students practice the desired
response when the eliciting stimulus occurs. For example, students learn to
respond to fire alarms by practicing certain responses during fire drills. They may
learn their math facts by producing the correct response to the eliciting stimulus
of a flash card or worksheet. Practicing them together connects the problem
(stimulus) and answer (response).
As can be seen from the example, contiguity learning often occurs in
classrooms through “drill and practice” activities. Drill and practice activities
have been criticized because they tend to emphasize the learning of low-level
skills at the expense of meaningful, conceptual understanding. For example,
knowing that two times two is four does not mean that a student understands why
two times two is four. Although this criticism has merit, it also can be argued that
a conceptual understanding of mathematics will not guarantee that math facts
have been committed to memory (Harris & Graham, 1996). Although contiguity
learning may 7 not be the best choice for all learning objectives, it is a good choice when the goal
is simply for students to connect a response to an eliciting stimulus, as is the case
for simple factual learning.
Classical conditioning is the second behavioral model that explains how
eliciting stimuli can produce learning. Classical conditioning typically involves
situations in which two stimuli become associated, and as a result, they both now
elicit a similar response (Bigge & Shermis, 1999; Domjan, Cusato, & Villarreal,
2000; Simpson, 2000). Although Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936) is usually credited with
the discovery of the classical conditioning model, he was assisted greatly by
colleagues in his laboratory. Also, as sometimes happens with scientific
discoveries, similar findings were recorded independently of Pavlov and at about
the same time (Windolz, 1993). (See Enriching Your Understanding 2.1)
While studying the salivation response in dogs, Pavlov and his colleagues
noted that the dogs in the laboratory starting saliv...
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This document was uploaded on 03/29/2014 for the course EPS 324 at N. Arizona.
- Spring '08