What Is The Behavioural Learning Theory? What Are Its Types

The concept of behavioural studies started in the early 1900s. It was assessed as a reaction against introspective psychology that relied heavily on first-person accounts. It was the most prevalent way of looking at learning called behaviourism.

Behavioural learning can be defined as an observable change in behaviour. It was viewed as a scientific approach during past times, in contrast to the introspective or psychoanalytic view of learning that had been prevalent previously. Many behaviourists believed that we can never have a clear idea of what is going on "in an individual's head" and that it is inappropriate to guess or speculate at what cannot be empirically observed. They believed that we should watch for observable changes in their behaviour to determine what people were learning.

The Behavioural learning theory, also termed Behaviourism is a popular concept, which focuses on 'how students learn.'

The overall focus is on the idea that all behaviours are learned through interaction with the environment. This theory states that behaviours are learned from the environment and adds that innate or inherited factors have very little influence on behaviour.

The practice of this theory is vital for educators as it impacts how students react and behave in a classroom and suggests how teachers can directly influence their students to behave appropriately. Additionally, it helps teachers understand that a student's family environment and lifestyle may affect their behaviour, help them see them objectively, and improve. It is also important to understand how to motivate and help students. In general, information is transmitted by teachers to learners in response to the appropriate stimulus. Students engage passively in behavioural learning, and teachers provide information as an element of stimulus-response. They use behavioural skills to teach students how to react and respond to specific stimuli. This should be done at regular intervals for a better understanding of students' behaviours.

In behavioural learning theory, positive reinforcement is the key. The absence of positive reinforcement will quickly abandon students' responses because they may not work. For example, if a student is supposed to get a reward each time they become the score high in a test, and then the teacher stops giving that positive reinforcement, fewer students may score high on their tests because the behaviour is not based on getting a reward, but the rest may lose the zeal of scoring high. As a result, their motivation level may go down.

Thus, it is not wrong to say that both repetition and positive reinforcement goes hand-in-hand with the behavioural learning theory. Teachers often need to work on balancing, i.e., repeating the situation and having positive reinforcement as it shows students why they should continue that behaviour.

What are the types of behavioural learning?

Classical Conditioning

The concept of classical condition was first discovered by a Russian physiologist named Ivan Pavlov during his experiments on dogs' digestive systems. He noticed that the dogs in his experiments used to salivate whenever they saw the white coats of his lab assistants before being fed.

So, according to classical conditioning principles, learning occurs when an association is formed between a previously neutral stimulus and a naturally occurring stimulus. For example, in his experiments, Pavlov paired the natural stimulus of food with the sound of a bell. The dogs would naturally begin to salivate in response to food, but after multiple associations, the dogs would salivate to the sound of the bell alone.

Needless to say, classical conditioning is one of the fundamental ways we learn about the world around us. But it is far more than just a theory of learning; it is also arguably a theory of identity. For, once you understand classical conditioning, you will be able to recognize almost everything, from your favourite music, clothes to even political candidate; all might be a result of the same process that makes a dog drool at the sound of the bell.

Operant Conditioning

Operant conditioning, also called Skinnerian conditioning, or instrumental conditioning, is a behaviour modification method that uses positive and negative reinforcements to shape or modify a person's behaviour. It was first introduced by Edward Thorndike in 1898 but later developed by the behavioural psychologist B.F. Skinner.

Like classical conditioning, operant conditioning relies on forming associations. In this learning theory, associations are made between a behaviour and the consequences of that behaviour. When a behaviour leads to a desirable consequence, it becomes more likely that they will repeat the behaviour in the future. If the actions lead to a negative outcome, the behaviour becomes less likely to occur. 

Skinner describes it with his experiment performed on a rat. The experiment performed in a laboratory where it learns to press a lever in a cage to receive food. Since the rat has no "natural" association between pressing a lever and getting food, it has to learn this connection. At first, the rat may explore its cage, climb on top of things, burrow underthings, and search for food. Eventually, while poking around its cage, the rat accidentally presses the lever, and a food pellet drops in. This voluntary behaviour is called operant behaviour because it "operates" on the environment.

Observation Conditioning

"Learning would be exceedingly laborious, not to mention hazardous if people had to rely solely on the effects of their actions to inform them what to do," wrote Albert in his 1977 book 'Social Learning Theory.' He believed that associations and direct reinforcements could not explain every learning.

In its place, he proposed that much of learning takes place through observation. Children observe the actions of those around them, particularly parents and siblings, and then imitate these behaviours. 

Through his popular Bobo doll experiment, he revealed the ease with which children could be led to imitate even negative actions. For example, children who watched a video of an adult beating a big inflatable doll were then much more likely to copy these same actions when given a chance.

Perhaps more importantly, Bandura noted that learning something does not necessarily bring about a behaviour change. Often, children learn new things through observation but cannot engage in such behaviour themselves until and unless there is a need or motivation to use the information.

Here is a quick snapshot of behaviourist teaching strategies that you can practice in your class.

Practice Mock Drills

You may practice skills using drill patterns to assist students in seeing the repetition and reinforcement that behavioural learning theory uses.

Organize Question and Answer Session

You may use a question as a stimulant and answer it as an answer, gradually becoming harder with questions to help students.

Provide Guidance

You can directly help students overcome problems to give them the reinforcement and demonstration of behaviour you want them to follow.

Regularly Review Materials

Reviews are important to the theory of behavioural learning. Revisiting materials and providing positive reinforcement will help students retain information much better.

Practice Positive Reinforcement

Behavioural classes use positive reinforcement regularly. This may include verbal reinforcement and praise, reward systems, additional privileges and more.


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About the Author
Author: Saniya Khan
Saniya Khan I am Saniya Khan, Copy-Editor at EdTechReview - India’s leading edtech media. As a part of the group, my aim is to spread awareness on the growing edtech market by guiding all educational stakeholders on latest and quality news, information and resources. A voraciously curious writer with a dedication to excellence creates interesting yet informational pieces, playing with words since 2016.

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