Does The Behaviorist Approach Facilitate Learning In A Classroom

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The aim and objective of this extended essay is to acknowledge and indulge in identification of a link between learning or gaining knowledge and education within the confine of a classroom and the differential perspective of behaviorism and humanism. The Oxford Dictionary in precise terminology defines learning as a process of obtainment of knowledge and skills by studying, gaining experience or being imparted new and relevant information. My purpose of this extended essay is to explore different aspects of the process of gaining education.

I propose to make utility of analytical tools in order to bring home the truth that classroom learning should be devoid of a formalistic approach which is intrinsic in behaviorism and that humanism should be pre-dominant as a methodology in the teaching-learning process.

Education, I am of the conviction should enable an individual to be equipped enough to be in complete awareness of his or her socio-economic and natural environment. Education should help him develop a progressive thought, word and action. Man being a social animal, the process of learning should help him interact with society and sustain life. Learning is a process comprehended commonly as gaining knowledge within the confines of the classroom. The teacher-pupil relationship since time immemorial has been rigid which was believed to get the desired results of merit. Behaviorism as an approach has been practiced limiting the process of learning to be primarily one sided.

Humanism, one the other hand, I am of the conviction that breaks barriers of between the dual parties involved in the process of teaching and learning. Humanism would imply a humanistic approach towards the pupil, establishing a bond of trust and friendship in the process. Knowledge is understood to be limitless and the flow of knowledge ought not to be restricted and a humanistic approach facilitates the unrestricted learning which would not only help pupil learn but evolve a complete individual.

'When we learn in that way, we are whole, utilizing all our masculine and feminine capacities".

Carl Rogers.

Introduction to Behaviorism:

Behaviorism is a pattern or approach of learning based on the idea that all behaviors emerge from conditioning. The approach of learning is rather passive and is initiated by the educator. In accordance to behaviorism, the pattern of behavior could be evaluated in a systematic manner without considering the internal mental state of the pupil.

The two major aspects of bifurcation of conditioning in behaviorism are as follows:

Classical Conditioning: It is a technique utilized in behavioral training wherein a stimulus which is naturally occurring is paired with a response. After this a previously neutral stimulus is paired with a stimulus which is naturally occurring. As an eventuality the previousy neutral stimulus succeeds to evoke a response without the naturally occurring stimulus. The dual elements are then understood or known as the conditioned stimulus and the conditioned response.

Operant Conditioning: As known or referred as instrumental conditioning is a method of learning wherein rewards are given or punishment imposed for behavior. This method creates an association between behavior and a result for that behavior.

In-depth Analysis:

When flipping through pages of a standard psychology book especially of the 60s and 70s, one would in all probability discover that learning was a process defined as a noticeable behavioral transition. For the sake of simplicity, the concept of learning was approached as an outcome or rather the end product of a process. It was visible and recognized. This particular approach make possible to highlight the factor of change as a significant aspect of learning. On conduct of experiment the clarity is undoubtedly visible. There again experimentation may fail to be reliable.

As Merriam and Caffarella pose certain thought provoking question such as does an individual need to perform to prove that learning has taken place or how is it to be comprehended if other factors other than learning have contributed the visible change and if change has taken place, has it the relevance or the potential for further change. The issues if taken into deep consideration could cloud the fact that change in behavior propagates that learning has taken place.

Some debate that if an identifiable change of a permanent nature in behavioral pattern could be associated with experience. Here again, not all the behavioral changes as a resultant of experience could involve learning. In all fairness one could state that if learning has occurred experience could be credited to some extent.

Behavioral change may result from conditioning but the change may just not comprise of experience to draw out new knowledge. What might not be surprising is the fact that many theorists have been minimally concerned with behavior which is overt but with the changes in the modes in which individual comprehend or conceptualize or experience their environment. (Ramsden 1992:4).

Here there is likely to be a difference in the depth or nature of the changes. A few years ago Saljo(1979) indulged in a simple but significant piece of research. He prepared a questionnaire and drew inferences based on their responses to the questionnaire which primarily fell into five categories. The first category states that learning was understood as quantitative increase in knowledge. Learning is also acquiring information or best understood as "lots of learning". The second category states learning as a process of memorizing and storing information available for reproduction as and when necessary. The third category of Saljo's findings state learning as acquiring facts, gaining skills and methods making possible retention and usage when required. The fourth category states learning as a process of abstracting meaning or making sense. Learning involves drawing connections between differing subject matters with that of the real world. The fifth and final category would be learning being a process of interpreting and understanding reality differentially. Learning is also attempting to understand the world by making a reinterpretation of knowledge.

As Paul Ramsden is observant that of the five categories, the fourth and fifth differ from the first three. The first three is in all essence less complex as a learning approach. He further states that the behavioral approach projects learning as an externality to the learner where in learning is rather imposed upon the learner by his educators or his teachers. Learning as a process unfortunately ends up being a process which could be associated with shopping at a mall. Knowledge is then perceived as a possession which is bought at a price. Higher the price better the knowledge is a false notion which grows with way of understanding what learning is all about. Learning should be an activity wherein the mind and the body indulges in with a view to learn about the world and function as an apt individual as a part of the world.

When the behavioral theory is put into practice by teachers different teaching methodologies are adopted. The most common one is the method of instruction wherein the pupil is instructed about what he or she is to understand and learn. Orlich and Harder, 2004 term this approach as being the "teacher-led" one. This method leaves no room for innovation or healthy interaction. The views or counter-arguments if any by the pupils are not taken into consideration. This proves to be a de-motivational factor if the pupils desire to put in their creative inputs.

Direct instruction tends to be autocratic or dictatorial in nature. The pupils here tend to learn with intent to get through the examination and the whole purpose of learning is defeated in the process.

There is suitability in accordance to Snoman and Biehler, (2003) of this process when the learning process is time bound or is extremely technical in nature and requires precision. This approach assumes profitability when the educators is addressing a large class and is expected to cover a wide range of his syllabus. This methods has efficiency in this respect as time is saved and learning process in completed as desired. Fast-paced learning is an important feature of this methodology.

For the sake of exemplification Adams and Engelmann (1996) observe that this mode of learning is best suited in Medical Science in areas where experimentation is concerned or usage of technology which is of a medical nature is required. In such scenarios, the need to indulge in healthy interactions proves futile and to a good extent impossible.

Furthermore, behaviorists such as Coon (2001) opine that learning is a resultant activity of a response followed by a specific stimulus. By the constant repetition of the cycle the organism be it human or animal is expected or conditioned into a repetitive response whenever presented with the stimulus. The behavior could be modified and learning could be measure by observing the transformation in the behavior pattern. He further states that though the results could be as expected but this mode of learning has the tendency to be more mechanical and not voluntary. This method professes good amount of rigidity and in situations where application of knowledge so acquired, then rigidity poses a problematic situation as real life situations have complexities and variation to a higher degree. Involvement of internal psychological processes is almost absent.

For example, if an individual is confronted with a real life situation such as an earthquake, riot or act of terror, he or she should have knowledge and experience and the presence of mind to deal with such scenarios. Teacher-led instructions as far as Human Behavioral Science is concerned if at all imparted at any point of schooling would fail to be useful in wherein he has to react aptly. Such situations demand personal inputs which cannot be learnt in direct instruction modes of teachings.


In this approach the teacher is understood as a trainer who is expected to manipulate and control the situation in order to help the learner learn the correct environmental links. The teacher is expected to impose punishments to deter undesirable behavior and grant awards to acknowledge good and acceptable behavior.

The trainer is perceived as being autocratic and looked at with fear and resentment. The learning process many a times fails to be successful due to the one sided forceful communication.

An Introduction to Humanistic Approach to learning:

The terminology of his learning approach itself is suggestive of the fact that the approach is more human and less mechanical. The involvement of the mind, soul and body in the learning process is given due importance. The propagators of this approach of Humanism as far as learning is concerned believe that this approach stand above all methodologies and approaches as it is less imposed upon, more voluntary and a joyous mode of learning. The knowledge so gained tends to be imprinted on the psyche and is highly application oriented with maximum positive usage of information learnt.

This approach lays emphasis on the fact that humans differ from other species and possess qualities of rarity not found or discovered in animals. The Humanists as they call themselves state that this approach takes into consideration various needs and interests of individual who is learning. He is initiated into interaction in the learning process and the learning process succeeds as a result of the conducive atmosphere created by the teacher along with the pupil. This approach makes the assumption that the human behavior is constructed out of intentions and values. This opposes the of operant conditioning theorists who are of the belief that all behavior is the result of application of consequences or to the beliefs of cognitive psychologists who state that the discovery of concepts or procession of information is a main factor in human learning.

Humanists emphasize that an individual should be studied as a whole, especially when he grows or passes through stages of development over the lifespan. In this approach, the study of an individual self, motivational levels and setting of goals are of great interest.

Principles and Objectives of Humanistic approach to teaching:

The main emphasis of education incorporating a humanistic approach in accordance to Huitt's (2009) systems framework of human behavior is the regulatory and affective/ emotional system. Unfortunately, the educational system of today which is time bound and target oriented fails to look into these important aspects. The regulatory system which is a part of Humanistic approach performs the function of a filter connecting the environment to the innate thoughts and further connecting these internal thoughts or feeling to knowledge and prompting action. The affective or emotional system adds color, embellishes or modifies all the information which is received through the regulatory system or sent form the cognitive system to action. Our current environment is presents a high amount of unpredictability and uncertainty and thereby what assumes importance is the crucial development of knowledge, attitudes or perceptions and skills. This equips an individual to not only survive but deal with any kind of situational confrontation either pleasant or otherwise.

Gage and Berliner (1991) state that there are five objectives which form the basics of humanistic views of education:

Promotion of self-direction and independence positively as per the regulatory system. Here one is expected to utilize all that he has learnt over a period of time during his schooling years to self-direct himself or rather guide himself independently and positively. This practice build tremendous self-confidence and goes a long way in the evolvement of the individual which is so required taking into consideration the competitive scenario of today wherein each is expected to outperform the other in order to succeed in universally accepted scales.

One should develop the ability to take responsibility. Regulatory and affective systems implicitly state that an individual should accept responsibility and act promptly and aptly. Failure to do so would mean failure on the part of the individual. Several situations in life do emerge wherein an individual must have to rise and accept responsibility. When he does so the learning process initiated by the humanistic approach proves successful.

Creativity which happens to be the divergent thinking aspect of cognition forms and important part of humanism. Every individual is gifted with some hidden potential. This hidden potential provides a certain direction of life for the person concerned. The need to discover this hidden potential arises. Educators should focus the process of teaching on the discovery the creative aspects of their pupils. Pupils should be encouraged not only to learn what is taught but they should learn to explore their very selves and discovery some creativity or hidden talent which might help them emerge a winner.

Curiosity which is better understood in the terminology of humanism as exploratory behavior is the catapulting factor which leads individuals in the much desired direction. Every individual ought to be curious of his very self. This urge of self discovery could lead to several revelations. Humanistic theorists believe that learning about one self is a great way of attaining knowledge about oneself which could lead to betterment of life and progress.

Desire for Art to develop the affective or emotional system is crucial. Art help an individual draw himself away from a monotonous and mechanical way of life. Art enriches the soul and gives meaning and purpose to life. Learning art is heavily emphasized by the humanistic approach of learning. Art helps individuals to learn about several aspects of life which may not be available as knowledge in textbooks or other learning materials. Art bring human close to the environment and people. Art is that aspect of learning which is controlled by the heart and not the mind. Art motivates people to learn and proves to be a great motivating force.

Humanistic approach of learning leads to high motivation which in turn proves to be a boon for the individual who is learning in the truest sense. For clarity of comprehension Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of motivation should be analyzed. As per his theory, physiological needs are at the lowest level whereas self-actualization is at the highest. On complying with the lower needs, one can move to the next level. He further states that the motivation at lower levels is higher than that at higher levels. Tennant (1997) summarizes these as follows:

Level one: Physiological needs such as hunger, thirst, sex, sleep, relaxation and bodily integrity must be satisfied before the next level comes into play. If these needs fail to be satisfied then the motivation to learn further by moving on to the next level is practically absent. An individual understands these needs as basic and fulfillment of these needs is mandatory in order to make the learning process progressive and uninterrupted. Lack of fulfillment of these needs lead to dissatisfaction and motivation to learn declines.

Level two: An individual needs to have a sense of security or feel safe. A mind and heart which is fear ridden would not have the capability or desire to learn or seek knowledge. The element of safety needs call for a predictable and world which is orderly. Failing to satisfy this, an individual would look to organize his worlds to make provision for the highest degree of safety and security. If satisfied, people will come under the force of level three.

Level three: Love and belonging creates a healthy soul satisfying environment and the need to reach out to more people arises. Here learning is initiated by the feeling of love and belonging. People learn as they believe their learning about different aspects of life would help them seek love and a sense of belonging. This factor triggers the process of learning in an accelerated way.

Level four: A high self-esteem would mean respect for one's own self. Learning which is directed and improving an individual's self-esteem of his own self proves to be a nevertheless a good motivating factor. Every individual would love to take pride in visualizing himself as being flawless. If he happens to see certain shortcoming within himself, he devises ways of learning which would make do for his shortcoming or convert those shortcomings into his strength. This level is definitely important in the transitional process of an individual. Self-esteem needs incorporate the desire for strength, achievement, adequacy, mastery and competence. They also comprise of confidence, self-dependence, reputation and pride.

Level five: The last level is a self-realization or self-actualization wherein there is full utility of talents and capabilities. For the sake of exemplification, an individual may be gifted with an artistic inclination towards music or painting or dramatics. When he learns about this potential, he could nurture it and in the process grow into an entirely different individual and in all probability be successful his discovered talent which he harbored within himself. When this process is initiated and the individual makes a success of his talent or capabilities he has reached a state of self-actualization which commenced with the process of learning about himself.

Self-actualizers are in a position to submit to social norms without loss of their own sense of integrity or personal independence; that is they may adopt a social norm without their horizons being limited or restricted in the sense that they fail to visualize or consider other possibilities. They might on occasion step into the socially prescribed ways of acting. Attaining this level may mean developing to the full stature of which they have capability. (Tennant 1997: 13)

The process of learning can, thus, be visualized as a form of self-actualization; it contributes to mental well being (Sahakian 1984 in Merriam and Caffarella 1991: 133). Though, self-actualization may seem as the only primary objective, other objectives(linked to the other stages) are also around. These include a sense of accomplishment and the controlling of impulses (Maslow 1970)

Immense criticism has been targeted at this model. For example, 

Is it necessary to satisfy lower needs higher ones come into play? Individuals may well put physiological needs on one side to satisfy the need for love, for example.

Are we all initiated into sorting out the qualities that Maslow identifies with 'self actualization'? To what measure are these qualities culturally specific?

The ideology of a hierarchy of needs, the identification of different needs, and the notion of self-actualization did, however, exert a powerful hold over adult education writers like Malcolm Knowles.

Carl Rogers is credited with the most persuasive exploration of a humanistic orientation in the process of learning. As per his belief and theories, passion for education should be such that it engages the whole person, pupils, with their experiences; for learning that combines the logical and intuitive, the intellect and feelings; found a ready audience.

Facilitator's vs. Trainer

Facilitation theory:

Carl Rogers states that teachers are facilitator who facilitates the process of learning by creating an atmosphere where learners feel at ease to try new ideas and feel no threat by factors external to their selves.

This theory is inclusive of features such as a belief that an individual has a natural eagerness to learn, to resist and give up what is current held to be true and the most important part would be changing one's vision of oneself.

Facilitative Teachers:

They are considerate towards feelings of pupils. They are good listeners and establish good rapport with their pupils and accept feedback, both positive and negative and use it constructively.


Encouragement to accept responsibility for their own learning is imparted to them. They are taught the importance of self-evaluation. They feel free to learn without any shackles whatsoever.


After a thorough analysis of the dual methods of imparting education and enabling pupils learn, it is inferred that the humanist approach is a better option in comparison with the behaviorist approach. The theories presented by several psychologists clearly state that the pupils of today are much different than they were several decades ago. Learning is a process which has undergone a change and learning is more of interacting than having a one-sided communication.


It is recommended that every academic institution should adopt as far as possible a humanist approach and discard the behaviorist approach. Every approach is expected to have flaws and shortcomings but here the merits of a humanist approach seem to outweigh that of the behaviorist approach. The pupils of today are essentially curious by nature and the need of the hour is to acknowledge this factor and make effective amendment to the teaching methodology. Pupils need to be satisfied about what they learn. They fail to accept things which do not appeal to their senses. Educators can no longer impose views on them. This could lead to a rebellion among pupils and nothing is either learnt by them or taught by the teachers. It is recommended that teaches help pupils learn by adopting an informal approach, create a desire with them to learn and motivate them to learn and understand better. Understanding, care and affection could be the tools used to impart knowledge.


On a conclusive note, I am of view or rather conviction that the learning process is with all intent indulged into with the prospect to liberate the mind, the soul and body. Any form of restriction experienced by an individual during the learning process tends to curb his individuality and defeats the purpose of learning. Learning should be voluntary even though it might be presented in a formal set up of the classroom. I believe learning is an ongoing process which never ceases although the pupil out of the confines of a classroom. Our educators need not just be our teachers. Our learning process is in continuity during every moment of our being conscious of ourselves and our environment. We unfortunately understand learning as a process which takes place in academic institutions. We learn from every interactive communication with every member of our social set-up. Such interactions are not direct instructions of learning yet we learn consciously or sub-consciously then why should there be instructive teaching institutions. A behaviorist approach proves to be having futility in comparison with a humanistic approach.

An ideal approach of learning is one that has scope of free expression and this scope has visibility in a humanistic approach than a behaviorist one. In the humanistic approach the teacher too learns from the student. The teacher learns to observe, analyze and interpret the pupil's thoughts, words and actions while teaching and eventually the dual parties i.e. the teacher and the student have learnt to accomplish he objective or purpose of this creative exercise.