Saturday, September 04, 2004


OK, I'm finally going to respond to a few posts I've read from my peers at BYU about behaviorist learning theories. There's been some great posts and ideas on this topic!

Rich said:
"The point I want to make, however, is that if Behaviorism is to be evaluated or discussed, it should be done using appropriate examples. Citing bad examples of Behaviorism as the reason not to use it ignores those contexts where it may have some useful contributions to the field of education."
I wanted to comment and say (but I can't find out how to comment on your blog, Rich!) that I agree that we often criticize behaviorism by pointing at awful examples that everyone would agree is poor instruction. I think behaviorism can be an effective instructional strategy in some contexts. So the question should not be "behaviorism or constructivism?" but "WHEN do I use behaviorism, HOW do I use behaviorism, and WHAT EXPECTATIONS should I have when I do use this strategy?" We need to stop bickering in our field about whose theory is the best and instead start looking for more applications of each theory. But I do think it is necessary to remember what expectations we can have from each theory. Expecting high level synthesis and analysis (which many teachers do expect) after using only behavioristic methods (which is how many teachers teach) is unrealistic.

So to reframe the debate, does anyone have any ideas about when behaviorism is most appropriate?

I also thought Geoff posted an interesting analysis:
"It seems even our very existence is contingent upon a rewards system, where we have cognitively made the decision to pursue certain careers, choices, life, et cetera."

"Do I believe this is the most effective system? No. But do I think we can escape it? No."
Hmmm, CAN we escape behaviorism? Maybe not completely because it does seem to be human nature to do whatever gets us a reward. But I think we can be optimistic and find ways to use alternative methods and theories to guide our instruction--when an alternative method is more appropriate. I think people can learn to be less behavioristic--isn't that what progression in character is all about? Learning to do, think, and be motivated for more important reasons than to get a reward?

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