• Concept Map--an alternate view (to come)
  • Resources, Links (to come)

Most Prominent Contributors

John B. Watson

Ivan Pavlov

B.F. Skinner

E. L. Thorndike (connectionism)



Tolman (moving toward cognitivism)

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Definition of Learning

  • Learning is defined as change in behavior in the learner (student)
  • Learning is behavior that is predictable and measurable given certain stimuli.
  • Knowledge is action.
  • Learning is maintained and strengthened through feedback and reinforcement

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Description of Theory

  • A very scientific, empirical approach understanding teaching and learning
  • Learning is observable and predictable but can manifest itself both overtly and covertly.
  • Behaviorists believe that all behavior is learned.  We start with a clean slate (tabula rasa)
  • Behavior shaping is accomplished through poitive and negative reinforcement techniques.
  • Lots of (early) behaviorist work was done with animals and generalized to humans.
  • Current proponents seem to think that although its future may have been delayed, behaviorism is making a come-back. (aect handbook)

    Key terms

    • Classical conditioning-Ivan Pavlov
    • Operant conditioning-B.F. Skinner
    • Stimulus-response (S-R)

    Relation to other Theories

    • Precedes Cognitivism
    • Rejects Structuralism
    • An extension of Logical Positivism

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Initial (knee-jerk) Reactions

  • A lot of “truth” and “successful” practice has come from these theories
  • It still represents much of what we do from parenting to teaching in traditional classrooms to the design of instructional technology.
  • Seems to value good ol’ work
  • I like it because it recognizes that knowledge not implemented or acted upon is largely useless or irrelevant.
  • It has its place, but does not adequately account for or describe all learning.

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Relevance to Instructional Systems Design (ISD)

  • Repetition, practice and reinforcement are important tenets of behaviorism.
  • Programmed Instruction
  • Led to the development of our field (ID, IS)
  • Led to development of task analysis procedures and stressed their use in instruction.
  • Specifies the identification and statement of measurable goals & objectives (often behavioral)
  • Outcomes should be assessed and meet standards of reliability and validity
  • A great system for declarative knowledge acquisition.
  • Concerned with performance, not with mental exercises.

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What I Don’t Know yet / Questions

  • Why is behaviorism looked on with such disdain today?
  • If behaviorists believe in “truth” or a “right way”, are they aware that they see it that way?


Source: J. Burton, D. M. Moore, S. Magliaro (1996). Behaviorism and Instructional Technology,
ch. 2 in Handbook of Research for Educational Communications and Technology
. D.H. Jonassen (ed.) NY: Simon & Schuster

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Page last modified: Wednesday, November 6, 2002