APPLICATIONS OF OPERANT CONDITIONING
In the 1947 report, The Presidents Commission on Higher Education described
the primary goal of the education system as the full, rounding and continuing development of the person.
This might seem to be worthwhile and appropriate goal for education, but on
closer inspection, the statement provides little specific information regarding what an educated person should be like. (What would you say is the Goal of Education) Teach to
Think, Reason, Problem Solve.
The Presidents Commission report is a good example of Word Magic. It sounds nice, but we eventually realize that we dont have a clue as to what the
words really mean.
When and if we dont know exactly what our educational
goals are, we dont know what or how to teach, nor do we know whether instruction is effectively accomplishing its
goal. This is why specific educational or behavioral objectives are necessary.
Ideally, behavioral objectives have three components:
- Stated Outcomes: outcomes that are observable and measure behavior
- Specific Conditions: conditions
under which the behavior should be exhibited
- Criteria for judging: the acceptable performance of the behavior.
EXAMPLE OF GOOD BEHAVIORAL OBJECTIVES
Some verbs such understand, appreciate, know, be award of, and remember should
not be used in behavioral objectives because they tell us little, if anything, about what a student should actually be able
Other verbs such as write, compute, list, describe, and select clearly communicate
observable responses. They should be used in writing behavioral objectives.
An example of a properly stated outcomes objective might be as follows:
Stated Outcomes The student
will describe the major causes of Political unrest in
An example of specifying conditions in behavioral objectives might be as follows:
Specifying Conditions Given the
formula for a computing time and distance,
the student will correctly compute the travel time and distance
New York to San Diego.
In Many cases, behavior is not strictly Right or Wrong. In cases where right
and wrong behaviors are not obvious, a behavioral objective should specify the criterion for acceptable performance, perhaps
in terms of a certain percentage of correct answers, a certain time limit, or the degree of acceptable deviation from the
An example of a behavioral objective that properly states the Criteria for
Judging performance might be as follows:
Criteria For Judging On
weekly written spelling tests, the student will correctly spell
at least 85% of the years 500 spelling words.
Given a sheet of 100 addition problems involving the addition
of two single digits numbers, including all possible combinations
of the digits 0 through 9, the student will correctly write the
answers to these problems within five minutes.
CURRENT PERSPECTIVES ON INSTRUCTIONAL OBJECTIVES
Much criticism has been aimed at current behavioral objectives because they
focus on lower-level skills (rote memory, facts) rather than higher-level skills (complex synthesizing information). Cause or
Effect. Why Civil War? Black Labor!
This occurs because writing behavioral objectives that cover every goal can
be difficult, if not impossible. Consequently, many educators have decided that
writing a smaller number of general, non-behavioral objectives provide an acceptable alternative.
There are times when objectives reflecting basic knowledge and skills are appropriate,
but objectives reflecting sophisticated levels of learning are desired, especially as student get older.
In such situations, taxonomies of objectives are useful. A taxonomy is a way of noting behaviors we might want to see the student demonstrate, often listed in order
of increasing complexity. For example Blooms Taxonomy of Educational Objectives
describe six levels of knowing and using information. These six levels are listed below.
Knowledge: rote memorizing of information in basically word for word fashion
Comprehension: translating information into ones own words; for example, paraphrasing
Application: using information in a new situation; for example, applying psychological
theories of learning to educational practice.
Analysis: breaking information down into its constituent parts; for example,
discovering the assumptions underlying a philosophical essay or identifying fallacies in a logical argument.
Synthesis: constructing something new by integrating several pieces of information;
for example, developing a theory or presenting a logical defense for a particular point of view.
Evaluate: placing a value judgment on data; for example, critiquing a theory
or determining the appropriateness of conclusions drawn from a research study.
PROGRAMMED INSTRUCTION AND COMPUTER ASSISTED
As you might recall, from the perspective of Operant Conditioning, reinforcement
must occur immediately after a response to have a significant impact on behavior.
Yet many reinforcers of classroom learning are delayed by hours, days, or,
in the case of high school diploma or college degree, even years.
To provide a means by which responses can be reinforced immediately, Skinner
developed Program instruction.
Program instruction or PI: consist
of several standard features two of which are:
- material to be learned is
presented in frames
- Instruction is self-paced
allowing for individual difference in learning rate
permitting students to progress through an instructional unit at their own
The earliest form of programmed instruction was a linear program: All
student proceeded through the same sequence of frames in exactly the same order.
A more recent trend is to use a branching program. Branching programs typically progress in larger steps than linear programs and allows students to move
through the program at different rates. Slower students who might have to do
remedial work will not impede progress of better student want to move on to new information.
COMPUTER ASSISTED INSTRUCTION
Computer-assisted instruction or CAI: is programmed instruction presented
by means of a computer.
ADVANTAGES OF COMPUTER ASSISTED INSTRUCTION
No pen or pencil needed
Branching is automatic: Present
correct frames based on response
Graphic: Complex moving
visuals can be displayed
Record / Maintain on going data: indicates who needs help, and how you
Continuous delivery: Can provide instruction when the teacher is not
be delivered to rural and distances otherwise unable to reach.
As one might expect, PI and CAI is shown to be superior to traditional
based instruction in terms of academic achievement and improved student attitudes toward schoolwork.
Mastery Learning: is an approach to instruction in which student must
learn one lesson well before proceeding to the next lesson.
Mastery Learning include the following components:
Small, discrete units: Course content is broken up into a number of
or lessons, with each unit covering a small amount of material.
A logical sequence: Units are sequenced such that basic concepts and
learned first. More complex procedures are learned later. The
process through which the component parts of course content
are identified and sequences, going from simple to complex, is
called task analysis.
Demonstration of mastery at the completion of each unit: Before graduating
from one unit to the next, students must show that they have
mastered the current unit, for example, by taking test on the
content of that unit.
A concrete, observable criterion for mastery of each unit: Mastery of
a unit is
defined in specific concrete terms. For example, to pass a
unit on adding fraction with at least 90% of the items correct.
Additional remedial activities for students needing extra help of practice:
Students do not always demonstrate mastery on the first try.
Additional support and resources, perhaps alternative
approaches to instruction, different materials, workbooks,
study groups, and individual tutoring are provided for students
KELLERS PERSONALIZED SYSTEM OF INSTRUCTION
Personalized System of instruction (PSI) or the Keller Plan was developed
to remedy the weakness of college instruction which does not immediately reinforce
PSI encompasses the following features:
Emphasis on individual study
Supplementary instructional techniques
Use of proctors
EFFECTIVENESS OF MASTERY LEARNING AND
Research findings indicate that mastery learning and PSI facilitates
student learning and often leads to higher
achievement than more traditional approaches. Furthermore, students in
mastery learning programs often retain the things they have learned for longer periods of time.
However, mastery learning and PSI are not without their problems. In many cases, students who learn quickly receive less instruction than their classmates,
raising a concern about possibly inequitable treatment of these students. Furthermore, for logistical reasons, faster-learning
students must sometimes wait until their slower classmates have also mastered the material before they can proceed to the
next unit, as a result, they learn less than they might otherwise.
Program instruction and Mastery Learning applies to education for large
groups. When learning or behavior of a single student is of concern, a contingency
contract is often more practical.
A contingency contract is an agreement (usually written) between a student
and a teacher that specifies certain expectations for the student and the consequences of the student meeting those expectations.
APPLIED BEHVIORAL ANANYSIS
Applied behavioral Analysis (ABA) sometimes known as behavior modification,
assumes that behavior problems are the results of past and
present environmental circumstances.
ABA encompasses a number
of procedures whereby an individuals present environment is modified to promote the reinforcement of acceptable behavior and
to ignore inappropriate ones.
COMPONENTS OF APPLIED BEHAVIORAL ANALYSIS
- Both the present behavior
and the desired behaviors are specified in observable, measurable terms.
- An effective reinforcer is
- A specific intervention or
treatment plan is developed
- Behavior is measured before
and during treatment
- The treatment is monitored
for effectiveness as it progresses and modified if necessary
- Measures are taken to promote
generalization of newly acquired behavior
- Treatment is phased out after
the desired behavior is acquired
CRITICISMS OF USING REINFORCEMENT IN
Even though instructional techniques (i.e. PI, CAI, Mastery Learning,
PSI) based on operant conditioning principles are clearly effective, such techniques are not without critics. Some criticisms are probably ill founded, while others should be taken more seriously.
Some of the ill-founded complaints are as follows:
- Reinforcement is bribery
- reinforcement develops dependence
on concrete, external reward for appropriate behavior.
- Reinforcing one student for
being good teaches other student to be bad.
- Changing a problem behavior
does not change the underlying cause of that behavior; other behavioral manifestations of the underlying cause will appear.
- Attempts to change behavior
ignores cognitive factors that may be interfering with learning
- Reinforcement of particular
predetermined behaviors sometimes interferes with maximal learning and performance over the long run.