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A second look at behaviorism Op-Ed to American Educator By David Collins-Recorder, Lisa Ziska-Marchand-Explorer, Kelly Buell-Coordinator

, Alex Velez-Elaborator While behaviorism has strongly influenced instructional design, with its focus on the observable, we believe it is time to re-evaluate the theories based in behaviorism and take into consideration other perspectives such as cognitivism and constructivism. It may help to remember that at the time behavioral theories were being developed, psychologists were using an unscientific form of introspection to analyze internal thought processes (Seels & Glasgow, 1990). Behaviorism, in general, and B.F. Skinner in particular, then, sought to bring the scientific method to the explanations of behavior and stuck to only aspects of behavior that could be observed, i.e. the environment and the subjects response to the environment. (Reiser & Dempsy, 2012). Long criticized for essentially removing the subject from the outward behaviors, theories based solely in behaviorism often came from studies with animals. Dogs, rats and birds are easily trainable using operant conditioning but aren’t we humans just a bit more complex than a dog salivating for his dinner? One thing we have noticed about the dependence on behaviorism is the unexpected outcome it has had on children in public schools. For example, because behaviorism is an effective way to produce desired results, the public school system has come to rely on it as the primary approach to teaching our youth. Students are being trained to do what they are told when they are told to do it. So, when a student takes a multiple-choice exam and chooses all the correct answers, they earn an “A” on the exam; but have they developed the necessary discrimination skills needed to apply that knowledge to other situations? The student has been rewarded for a specific behavior, over time; however, the only skill the student has developed is the ability to choose the correct answer, given a series of choices. This scenario shows the result of an overapplication of behaviorist principles in public education that has been detrimental to students’ creativity and ability to think critically. Even though, the behaviorist theory has contributed significantly as a discipline to Education and the Social Sciences, we cannot solely rely on the behaviorist theory as an explanation for all learning. “Our history of reinforcement is often too impoverished to determine uniquely what we do or how we do it [...]” (Grahm, 2010). In order to solve or research a complex issue such as the ability to learn or be taught, we believe that one should consider an interdisciplinary approach. Under behaviorism, students are not the owners of their education. A studentcentered approach that goes beyond behavior and reward would help to empower students with the necessary set of skills to build on their knowledge for internal rewards.

References Graham, G. (Fall 2010 Edition) Behaviorism, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Retrieved Sept. 16, 2013 from: <>. Reiser, R. A, Dempsey, J. V. (2012) Trends and issues in instructional design and technology (3rd ed). Upper Saddle River, NJ. Pearson Education, Inc. Seels, B. & Glasgow, Z.. (1990) Psychological Basis for Instructional Design. Foundations on Instructional Design (pp. 24- 37) Retrevied Sept. 16, 2013 from: -glasgow2.pdf