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Learning is the “relatively permanent change in behavior” (Burns, R., 2002) and can come in the form of observable activities and internal processes. Explanations of what happens when these actions occur are known as learning theories. These theories include behaviorist, cognitivist, humanist, social learning and constructivist. In this essay behaviorist and cognitivists will be described, compared and contrasted in order to truly understand their approaches.
BEHAVIORIST ORIENTATION DESCRIBED
The behaviorist approach attempts to study learning and behavior within a scientific tradition and was developed by John B. Watson in the early 20th century. Three assumptions set out its notions: The focus of study is generally observable behavior, the environment shapes behavior, and the principles of contiguity and reinforcement are essential in explaining the learning process (Grippin, P., & Peters, S., 1984). Behaviorists maintain the assumption that we see and experience the world exactly as it presents itself physically, for everyone. This therefore leads to the notion that everything functions according to natural laws, and any change occurring is due to a cause and effect. Hence, this theory focuses on how environmental stimuli elicit behavior and responses.
COGNITIVE ORIENTATION DESCIRBED
Gestalt’s views of Bode, Wertheimer, Kohler, Koffka and Lewin later criticised the behaviorist theory in 1929, through publications. These psychologists proposed “looking at the whole rarther than its parts, and at patterns instead of isolated events” (Ormrod, J. E., 1995).
Soon termed as the cognitive approach, it showed that such learners would gather all resources necessary to solve a problem, and then put them together in different methods until the problem is solved. Insight is gained upon completion, whereas it isn’t apparent if the problem remains unsolved. Finally, evaluation is adopted in order to check correct processing methods. Therefore, the individual is accounting for organized wholes, and not disconnected parts of the individual stimuli under this theory.
COMAPRING & CONTRASTING THE TWO ORIENTATIONS
There are different assumptions in the learning and understanding process for both the behaviorist and cognitive theories. Under behaviorism, one acts on stimulation, whereas in cognitive they act on consideration. Through stimulations, behaviorists are subjected to respond to stimuli through our environment and experiences, and the actions and reactions are automatic. It could be noted that inference and reflection are used to make decisions, but these people are actually predetermined to answer in certain ways. The original idea of free will is imaginary (Buchanan, K 1997). A single action may be the consequence of an individual's childhood or even their formal education, amongst other things. In order to educate students, a behaviorist’s role is to perceive a high response to stimuli. For example, a teacher’s may use reward systems when a student answers a question correctly. If the correct response is constant, therefore the teacher's initial methods of instruction are quite effective. If students do not constantly respond correctly, then the methods may need variation and change. Hence, students are able to learn by building upon stimulus-response affiliations, both for content, skills and abilities. Behaviorists evaluate effectiveness of a teaching procedure through observable behavior (Phillips, D. C., & Soltis, J. R., 1985). A behaviorist wouldn't be content if their students only declared to know the right answer. Behaviorists base their
interpretations and rationale on objective observations. Observable behavior is the measure for behaviorist theory and methods. This then leads to the understanding that a behaviorist doesn't attempt to interpret or forecast the invisible workings of the mind, beyond what an objective measure would be able to distinguish. The factors underpinning behaviorist orientation can defiantly be applied to workplace training and development. The most notable system in place in many of today’s organizations would be the use of reward systems for high achievements of labour. An employee may receive commission or pay rises in the event of high productivity, or possibly their long existing loyalty to the company and reliability to management. The cognitive theory encounters the intricacy of the mind in contrast to this (Greeno, J., Collins, A. M., & Resnick, 1996). Individual humans are observed as people who make considerations, with their own free will. Cognitivists act and respond using judgment and reflection, and are dependant on complicated mental models of concepts (to differing degrees). Teaching through this theory would take the role of aiding students in developing their cognitive capability to store, connect, and recollect thoughts efficiently and effectively (Skinner, B. F., 1978). As an example, a teacher would directly use a visulisation to increase one’s retention and recall rates. Such methods can also be utilised in the workplace, in training and development. A common example of this would be the visual stimulus of signs posted around workplaces reminding workers of their duties and tasks, as well as safety procedures that are currently in place (ie- Occupational Health and Safety). It can be observed that cognitivists are being dependent on mental models, as they cannot objectively distinguish them. Cognitive psychologists substitute this by trying to describe logical stories about mental activity, based on what can be seen. In comparison to behaviorism, this perspective further explains synthesis
and originality much more clearly, because humans are able to combine and extend their mental models (Buchanan, K 1997). These productive actions are much harder to interpret under behaviorism, which seems to underestimate one’s instinctive or experiential-based understandings in free will, motivation, and also vision. Instead, behaviorism does not reduce these understandings, but in turn claims that teachers or facilitators are dependant on observable behaviors in order to demonstrate theories, while educating their students in their appropriate teaching role. The obligation on teachers to pinpoint the most effective ways to condition students is brought forth through behaviorism. In contrast, the cognitive theory places this obligation on students to direct their own mental processes. Therefore, cognitive psychologists appreciate extensive innovation above stepby-step habits, whereas behaviorists assess the habits. The cognitive perspective favors the assessment of applied thinking.
SUMMARY & CONCLUSION OF ANALYSIS
To finalise the analysis of the two theories, one can summarise five important aspects that determine each theory individually, and follow it up by answering the question: ‘Which theory is favoured?’ The view of the learning process for a behaviorist is change in behavior, while a cognitivist views internal mental process (including insight, information processing, memory and perception). The locus of learning for behaviorists is the stimuli in external environments, whereas cognitivists have internal cognitive structuring. The purpose of education in terms of behaviorists is to produce behavioral change in a desired direction, and cognitivists develop capacity and skills to learn better.
The teacher’s role through behaviorists is to arrange the environment to elicit desired response, while a cognitivist may structure the content of a learning activity. And the manifestation in adult learning in relation to behaviorists include; behavioral objectives; competency based education and skills development and training. A cognitivist side would include; cognitive development; intelligence, learning and memory as a function of age; and learning how to learn (Merriam & Caffarella). It is noticeable that the organisational necessity of instructional efficiency and appropriate managing of resources, will tend to favour the behaviorist approach, whereas deliberation of learner characteristics and factors brings teachers to employ more cognitive approaches in educating others (Burns, R., 2002). In conclusion, both the behaviorist and cognitive orientations present unique and interesting theories for education. The applied learning, knowing, and development are complicated notions to adopt, and each assumption has specific advantages and limitations. There is no individual cognitive outcome that is widely preferable. They both endure useful concepts and models for society to implement. Therefore each is priceless in directing and guiding research and appropriate teaching methodology in workplaces today.