B.F. Skinner's Theory of learning and how a teacher can effectively apply it in
Psychologists believe that there are many types of learning theories,among them are the Neo-behaviourists,the Gestalt and the Cognitive schools .(Curzon 1985:17)
The neo-behaviourist learning theory is based on the fact that for learning to take place there should be an association made between a stimulus and the response.Also they believe that learning occur in the presence of some sort of reinforcement (Curzon 1985:18)
B.F. Skinner a neo-behaviourist studied animals behaviours by operant conditioning.Experiments associated with his name were based upon the use of the skinner box an apparatus which allowed him to study the responses of a variety of animals.
Operant refers to the fact that an organism would be working on its environment.Curzon (1985:37)"...it is the conditioning of operant behaviour which is of great importance in Skinner's analysis of the learning process..." So ,Skinner was interested in studying the behaviour of animals in a given environment. Usually Skinner boxes had a purpose for placing the animals in a box to ensure complete monitoring within a specified environment.Peresuh etal (1997:37)support that ,"animals can not see or hear anything outside the box so that all stimuli are controlled by experimenter..."
In his first experiment ,Skinner used animals to study their behaviour in a controlled envirnment.A rat was allowed into a box and as it moved around ,accidentally it pressed the brass lever .When the rat presses the bar ,in turn the experimenter would release some food pallets. Curzon (1985:36)adds,".... the rat spontaneously presses a small brass lever ,the experimenter drops a pallet of food from the magazine into a try..."Peresuah etal (1997:37)differ on how the animal recieved the food or was rewarded.They said the box had a simple device which when pressed allow the food pellets to drop then the rat could eat."...has a bar that is easy to press ,food device that would dispense food..."
Although the above sources tend to slightly differ in the way the animal received food both are agreeing that the animal was reward for pressing bar and it implies that continous bar pressing means continous dispensary of food pallets.
A second experiment using pigeons was carried out to clarify Skinner's learning principles. According to Child 1993:97)A hungry pigeon was to be trained to walk in one direction then in another direction inorder to complete a fingure.After that the pigeon is given food pellets.The bird used to move in clockwise direction and the movement was reinforced.However if the bird happens to move anti-clockwise direction the movement could not be rewarded.
In Skinner's experiments the environment is the main source of various sources of behaviour.In this case it is the skinner box .The response was the action of feeding and the reward was the food.
Skinner's learning theory may be effectively applied by the teacher in the way that ,the teacher comes to know that when the learner has done something good , he should be shown by good comments or marks to prove to him that the displayed behaviour is desirable and therefore is worth repeating.
Child(1993)says,"...reward should follow quickly when the response appears..."Lovell (1987)adds,"...reinforce the correct behaviour as quickly and as frequently as possible ..."And Curzon (1985) urgues that the teacher to "...reinforce each correct response in the early ages of the task... learning is seen to occur ,insist upon more correct responses..."The above statement is linked to bar pressing and the rat's recieving of food.
Also the frequency in bar pressing means that the child's behaviour changes according to the response it recieves after the action as said by Zindi etal (1997:37)"...pleasurable response strengthens behaviour while unpleasant consequence weakens it..." This also tells the teacher that if the child has performed well , the teacher must praise the child and if she has done something undesirable ,should be shown the disaproval ,so that the learner notices the difference and leaves out the undesirable behaviour.Curzon has this to say ,"...do not reinforce in any way undesirable behaviour..."
The teacher is once more urged to subject the pupils to discovery learning whereby the learner would be given the the opportunity to learn and discover things on their own and correct the learner.Child supports that ,"...the learner should be given an opportunity to dicover stimulus descriminations for the most likely path to success..."This is related to a pigeon when it was subjected to the box and could learn which bar could be pressed and result in releasing food pallets.
This is how the teacher can effectively apply B.F. Skinner's theory of learning in a classroom situation.
Child D.(1993)Psychology and the teacher
Curzon L.B.(1985)Teaching in further Education :An outline of Principles and Practice,Biddles limited ,London
Gagne R.(1977)The conditions of learning,Bright sun Printing Press,Hong kong
Peresuah M e tal(1997)Psychology for the classroom,College Press,Harare