Behaviourist Approach to Learning
This approach to learning is based on the idea that learners respond to stimuli in their environment. The role of the learning facilitator, therefore, is to provide relevant and useful stimuli so that the learner responds to and gains the required knowledge or experience.
The behaviourist approach to learning centres around the belief that appropriate behaviour can be taught through constant repetition of a task combined with feedback from the facilitator. Positive feedback encourages and reinforces success while negative feedback and immediate correction discourages the repetition of a mistake or undesirable behaviour.
In 1927 Ivan Pavlov conducted a famous experiment with dogs. Pavlov ‘taught’ the animals to salivate on hearing a ringing bell by linking the time of their feeding to the bell being rung. Later he stopped feeding them in this way, but the dogs continued to salivate when they heard the bell. In other words, the learned behaviour was a result of a sequence of events experienced, rather than a conscious thought process. Pavlov discovered what is now termed ‘classical conditioning’.
This kind of conditioning can be used to develop repetitive actions within training, for example looking in the mirror and putting your seatbelt on before driving off in a car.
The association between stimulus-response can be made more effective by reinforcement. It is this idea that underpins the theory later developed by B.F. Skinner (1957). Reinforcement can work in both positive and negative ways. A positive reinforcer is anything that strengthens the desired response. In training, where the aim is learning, for example, this might be stimulated by verbal praise, a good mark, or a feeling of achievement. On the other hand, if verbal praise is withdrawn, this will have a negative effect and motivation to learn will decrease.
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