Behaviourism – Rough notes on role in elearning – H817 Activity 10

Behaviourism ratThese are my rough notes on the area of Behaviourism as a theory for learning. On the H817 course I am studying, our tutor group, was split into three and we were asked to consider strengths, weaknesses and applications to eLearning of one of the three classic areas of learning/development.

Skinner discussing his ideas:

Thorndike and his ideas


Many of the concepts are relevant to learning:

Controlling environment (Skinner): The environment a person is placed in and how that environment forces them to interact has an impact on their learning. USE Design and develop learning to reinforce positively the learning process.

Shaping (Skiner): Change in reward and therefore behaviour is gradually adjusted over time to create a new form or target behaviour. USE: The concept of baby steps and small adjustments are impacted by this idea.

Isolating behaviour or Reductionism (Skinner): Single out individual behaviour and focus on changing one thing at a time. USE: Quite common in learning, particularly around mechanistic processes i.e. IT usage. Also connects to the ideas of mini habits, a simple single thing that can be changes is more powerful than a whole, where nothing changes.

Law of effect (Thorndike): Any behaviour that is followed by pleasent conseuences is likely to be repeated and any behaviour followed by unpleasent consequences is likely to be stopped. USE: In design and delivery of courses to esure positive reinforcement. Gamification is based around of this concept.

Whilst the animal experiments that are connected to this approach to changes are horrid, they have supported new ways of managing personal change and are a foundation for behaviour therapy and modification.


Complexity: Human beings of all ages are significantly more complex than a range of animals that have been used in experiments. This means that the application of the concepts may only have partial success or impact.

Learning: Animals are unable to remember or think about their experiences. They also lack patience and self comfort which are also essential to learning. Humans are able to learn and reflect on past experience.

Insight – Humans are able to have flashes of insight and this comes from a lifetime of learning. Clearly not currently occurring in animals.

Beyond behaviour – A lot of the work around this area is pure behaviour change. Learning exists though to impact a person in many ways. Vroom’s Taxonomy of learning shows this:

Taxonomy of learning

At the end of the day, no one model or area of practice explains everything.

How does it exist in the understanding of elearning

Most of the elements of behaviourism are, in my experience, seen in the way learning has been developed over time. Elements of the strengths can be used to support elearning: positive reinforcement, baby steps, simplified design and positive learning environments are the key ones that come to mind.


I tend to link in posts directly. Here are some of the things I dead as part of this work:

Strengths and Limitations of Behaviorism for Human Learning,+Cognitivism,+Constructivism+%26+Connectivism

A little light reading from HERE:

Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Ferster, C. B., & Skinner, B. F. (1957). Schedules of reinforcement.

Kohler, W. (1924). The mentality of apes. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Skinner, B. F. (1938). The Behavior of organisms: An experimental analysis. New York: Appleton-Century.

Skinner, B. F. (1948). Superstition’ in the pigeon. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 38, 168-172.

Skinner, B. F. (1951). How to teach animals. Freeman.

Skinner, B. F. (1953). Science and human behavior.

Thorndike, E. L. (1905). The elements of psychology. New York: A. G. Seiler.

Watson, J. B. (1913). Psychology as the Behaviorist views it. Psychological Review, 20, 158–177.

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