The theory of B.F. Skinner is based upon the idea that learning is a function of change in overt behavior. Changes in behavior are the result of an individual's response to events (stimuli) that occur in the environment. A response produces a consequence. When a particular Stimulus-Response (S-R) pattern is reinforced through reward, the individual is conditioned to respond (Gagne, Wager, Golas & Keller, 2004).
The distinctive characteristic of operant conditioning relative to previous forms of behaviorism is that the individual can emit responses instead of only eliciting response due to an external stimulus. Reinforcement is the key element in Skinner's S-R theory. A reinforcement is anything that strengthens the desired response. It could be verbal praise, a good grade or a feeling of increased accomplishment or satisfaction. Operant conditioning has been widely applied in clinical settings as well as teaching and classroom management including instructional development (Gagne, Wager, Golas & Keller, 2004).
Vygotsky's thought and language theory focuses on cognitive development and the zone of proximal development, a level of development attained when children engage in social behavior. The range of skills that can be developed with adult guidance and peer collaboration exceeds what can be attained alone. Scaffolding learning provides students with steps that decrease as the students' understanding increases. To optimize learning, teachers provide students with necessary skills, independent problem-solving models, ideal academic behaviors, or dialogues (Gagne, Wager, Golas & Keller, 2004).
Application of Behavioral Learning Theory in the Classroom
The operant model has greatly influenced education and resulted in a variety of teaching models and techniques. These include the use of behavioral objectives, contingency contracts, applied behavior analysis, mastery learning, programmed instruction, and early forms of computer-based instruction. The Madeline Hunter (decision-making) model, Instructional Theory into Practice (ITIP), as well as direct instruction, which emphasizes modeling and practice, draw heavily from the operant conditioning model (Argosy University, 2012).
In a classroom setting, the teacher is responsible for structuring interactions and developing instruction in small steps based on tasks the learner is already capable of performing independently which is an instructional strategy known as scaffolding. The instructor is also charged with providing support until the student can move through all tasks independently. In order for teachers to guide students through the tasks associated with learning a concept, they must understand how cognitive tasks fit into the child's cultural activities. These tasks are called scaffolds, which are tasks or levels on which the teacher builds to develop learners' zones of proximal development (Argosy University, 2012).
Vygotsky suggests that these connections do not have to take place immediately. Vygotsky describes the teacher's role as assisting students in the recognition of decontextualized, systematic concepts. Within the classroom, the person who is more knowledgeable is not always the teacher; students can also be placed in collaborative groups with others who have demonstrated mastery of tasks and concepts (Gagne, Wager, Golas & Keller, 2004).
Identification of Defects in Modern Education
Skinner believed that it is in bringing correct responses under stimulus control that the greatest inefficiency of current teaching procedures occurs. Education today constantly designs and redesigns the curricula in a desperate attempt to provide a liberal education while refusing to employ engineering techniques which would build the interests and knowledge which are the goals of education (Gagne, Wager, Golas & Keller, 2004).
Skinner noted the following weaknesses in educational practices:
1) Behavior is dominated by aversion stimulus.
2) Too great a lapse of time exists between behavior and its' reinforcement.
3) A skillful program of reinforcement that moves forward through a series of progressive approximations to the final complex desired behavior is lacking.
4) Reinforcement of desired behavior occurs much too infrequently (Gagne, Wager, Golas & Keller, 2004).
Vygotsky's theory of language and development constantly mentions the importance of not only the teachers, but also the parents' role of education. Parents must also provide children with experiences hat are within their respective Zones of Proximal development- activities that challenge children but which, with sensitive adult guidance, can be accomplished by children (Argosy University, 2012).
Vygotsky's would probably feel that the main weakness in educational practices today would fall on the lack of parental guidance. Parents must provide their children with learning experiences and engage their children in many problem-solving activities. This does not fall solely on the shoulders of teachers (Gagne, Wager, Golas & Keller, 2004).
Measures to Address Defects in Modern Education
First, behavior must be established. Meaning, a decision about what behavior will be taught to the students must be made. Second, decide on what rewards will be available and what type of rewards are appropriate in certain situations. For example, verbal, monetary, etc. Then, an efficient scheduling of reinforcements must be established. To schedule reinforcements efficiently means to make them contingent upon the desired behavior (Shrock, n.d.).
Lack of parent involvement has long been a defect in today's educational system. Parents must be educated on the importance of their role in education and how much of an impact they make on their student's success during school and later in life. Training can be offered to the parents, but participation may eventually become an issue that will need to be addressed (Shrock, n.d.).