Running head: LEARNING THEORY: B.F.

SKINNER 1










Learning Theory: B.F. Skinner
Paper 2 – Final | Application Paper
Michelle K. Stuyt
California State University – Monterey Bay






IST520 Learning Theories
Professor Nancy G. Lockwood
May 13, 2014
LEARNING THEORY: B.F. SKINNER 2
TABLE OF CONTENTS
INTRODUCTION .......................................................................................................................... 3
ENCOUNTERED TRAINING SITUATION ................................................................................ 3
KEY PRINCIPLES AND CONCEPTS .......................................................................................... 4
Representative Theorist ............................................................................................................... 4
Factors Influencing Learning ...................................................................................................... 4
Role of Instructor ........................................................................................................................ 5
Strategies to Exemplify Theory................................................................................................... 6
Strengths and Weaknesses .......................................................................................................... 6
ILLUSTRATION OF APPLICATION .......................................................................................... 7
TARGET AUDIENCE ................................................................................................................... 8
REAL WORLD CONSTRAINTS .................................................................................................. 9
CONCLUSION ............................................................................................................................. 10
REFERENCES ............................................................................................................................. 11


LEARNING THEORY: B.F. SKINNER 3
INTRODUCTION
Since the 1920’s new forms of learning, other than classical conditioning, were becoming
more influential. Of those, perhaps the most important was the behaviorist theory of Burrhus
Frederic Skinner (B.F. Skinner). B.F. Skinner believed that the best way to understand behavior
is to look at the causes of an action and its consequences (Skinner - Operant Conditioning, 2014).
This approach is known as operant conditioning.
In learning today, B.F. Skinner’s theory of operant conditioning has played a key role and
my perception is that it will continue to evolve into the future. The foundation of my perception
is supported through the fact that there are three types of responses that can follow a behavior.
Responses may include neutral operants, reinforcers, and punishers. Although B.F. Skinner’s
theory may not explain how we learn, it certainly developed the foundation for how we begin to
learn.
ENCOUNTERED TRAINING SITUATION
In the dairy industry, knowledge is wealth considering personal safety is the primary
concern. As I have been raised on the family dairy, most learning occurs “on-the-job” and in
“real time” versus in a classroom setting. Employers stress the importance of learning by doing;
therefore, each employee is learning from their own actions, whether they are positive or
negative. Animals respond to the senses of sight, touch, and hearing; therefore, the employee
receives an immediate response from the animal depending on their actions. For example, if an
individual antagonizes a bull, the bull may become intimidated and charge. This industry
provides a unique ability for individuals to be cognizant of their actions, for they always have a
direct consequence. This is basic behaviorist learning.
LEARNING THEORY: B.F. SKINNER 4
KEY PRINCIPLES AND CONCEPTS
Representative Theorist
American psychologist, Burrhus Frederic Skinner (B.F. Skinner), is best known for
developing the theory of behaviorism. Born in Pennsylvania on March 20, 1904, in the small
town of Susquehanna, B.F. Skinner developed an interest in building different gadgets and
contraptions (B.F. Skinner Biography, 2014). In 1928 B.F. Skinner decided to pursue direction
for his life in the field of psychology. B.F. Skinner decided to follow the approach of John
Watsons, behaviorism. Both B.F. Skinner and Watsons had a belief that psychology had the
potential to become a science if psychological research focused on behavior (Gredler, 2009). “A
radical behaviorist, B.F. Skinner later developed the theory of operant conditioning; the idea that
behavior is determined by its consequences, be they reinforcements or punishments, which make
it more or less likely that the behavior will occur again” (Soylent Communications, 2014).
Factors Influencing Learning
The key factor which influenced B.F. Skinner’s learning was The Skinner Box. This was
an operant conditioning apparatus developed to help study behavior; more specifically, an animal
interacting with its environment. Initially, B.F. Skinner studies rats, seeing how rodents
discovered and used to a level in the box, which dispensed food at varying intervals. Later, B.F.
Skinner examined the various behavior patterns of pigeons using the box (Miller, Langendoen
and Katz, 1980). Consequently, the pigeons pecked at a disc to gain access to food. As B.F.
Skinner examined the results, he concluded that some form of reinforcement was critical in the
learning and development process of new behaviors (B.F. Skinner Biography, 2014).
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(Skinner - Operant Conditioning, 2014)
Through the observations, B.F. Skinner identified three different types of responses
which included neutral operants, reinforcers, and punishers. According to Skinner – Operant
Conditioning, Neutral operants are defined as “Responses from the environment that neither
increase nor decrease the probability of a behavior being repeated,” reinforcers are “Responses
from the environment that increase the probability of a behavior being repeated; reinforcers can
be either positive or negative,” and punishers are defined as a “Response from the environment
that decrease the likelihood of a behavior being repeated; punishment weakens behavior”
(Skinner - Operant Conditioning, 2014).
Role of Instructor
In an effort to receive a variety of results which can be examined with a beneficial
outcome, instructors should prepare their material in question form. The inquiries should be
developed in a form in which responses will always be viewed as accurate no matter what the
learner says. The justification of doing this is to provide positive reinforcement to the student as
opposed to negative. It should also be the role of the instructor to provide the learner several
LEARNING THEORY: B.F. SKINNER 6
opportunities to respond, thus giving the instructor a chance to provide feedback more
frequently.
Strategies to Exemplify Theory
Even with today’s technological advancements, it is increasingly difficult to analyze
human behaviors. Although the operant conditioning theory has been outstanding when it comes
to the analysis of how to fold a shirt, it can become increasingly more difficult when trying to
understand more complex behaviors such as stock market prices. It goes without saying that
there are definitely limitations with B.F. Skinner’s learning theory.
Strengths and Weaknesses
B.F. Skinner developed the constructivist theory to promote the idea that when an
individual is rewarded for positive behavior, they are more likely to continue the good behavior.
Without reward or positive reinforcement, there is no motivation to continue the desired
behavior. If an individual is representing negative behavior, there should be negative
reinforcement or consequences which are designed to strengthen the positive behavior.
Consequently, reprimand after acting a particular way will lessen the likelihood to model that
behavior again. Mentally, an association between good behavior with rewards and bad behavior
with punishment will produce a wanted result.
Operant conditioning is based on students starting at a low level of thinking, and by the
process of reinforcement, eventually moving up to a higher level. The disadvantage of this theory
is that there is a distinct behavior being analyzed; good or bad. Meanwhile, there comes a point
when the same positive behavior no longer needs to be recognized. The goal is to continue good
behavior after reinforcement ends. After the recognition becomes extinct, the child may also lose
LEARNING THEORY: B.F. SKINNER 7
motivation to continue the desired behavior. Contrarily, if misbehavior becomes the norm,
continuous punishment may result in a complete loss of motivation to improve behavior.
ILLUSTRATION OF APPLICATION
According to the Farmer Today online magazine, “Dairy farming is among the most-
hazardous occupations with high rates of injury, illness, and employee turnover” (Farmer Today,
2013). “More specifically, the cattle industry had a modestly higher injury rate of 5.3, with beef
and dairy industries experiencing rates of 6.5 and 5.4 per 100 full-time workers respectively.
From 2003 through 2009, a total of 110 people were killed while working on U.S. dairy farms”
(Progressive Dairyman Magazine). The magazine proceeded to say “Recent studies demonstrate
the two main causes of worker injuries (fatal and non-fatal) are incidents involving machinery
and animals.”
The application of operant conditioning will be done through several forms. As indicated
in the above statistics, the dairy industry is an empowering industry which is faced with several
risks. Getting employees to understand the severity of their actions is crucial. The behaviorist
theory is already highly beneficial on our family dairy. My intentions however are to further
implement this theory and strategically aligning both the goals and outcomes to result in lower
rates of injury, illness, and employee turnover.
The intention of the behaviorist theory on our dairy was to have my parents, the
employers, work alongside the employees to ensure policies and practices were being followed.
This procedure was outstanding for quite some time because employees received immediate
feedback for what they were doing really well and what they needed to improve on. The positive
reinforcement developed good, safe habits and the safety concerns the employers were
LEARNING THEORY: B.F. SKINNER 8
intimidated by ultimately faded. The result of immediate feedback was effective and employee
morale was high.
The comfort and confidence the employees instilled in the employers granted the
opportunity to work unsupervised and at their comfortable pace. This is the current, actual
application. The commonality that has been noticed is that employees are taking the freedom for
granted and are not being receptive to the concerns the employers are demonstrating about their
performance. Although both positive and negative reinforcement are being exhibited on a daily
basis, there seems to be a lack of motivation to change the behavior.
Recognizing this change in performance has altered the method in which day to day
activities need to occur. The employers should go back to working alongside the employees and
raising awareness to both their good and bad habits. Moving forward, I would like to suggest
perhaps a different approach in presenting the feedback.
TARGET AUDIENCE
Learners could vary in age from young adults in high school, minimum age of 18, to
mature grown adults. Based upon the employees on The Stuyt Dairy, and surrounding dairies,
the target audience is primarily adults from the age range of 24-30. Most employees come into
the dairy industry with some type of prior dairy experience. This is highly beneficial because
they then have a general understanding of the different types of equipment, terminology, and
daily work requirements. The training then can focus more of the safety related to these different
fields as opposed to training them to what everything is. The age range is set higher because
employees are now returning from college or a break from school and have more flexibility.
Furthermore, it is a commonality in the dairy industry that employers provide their employees
LEARNING THEORY: B.F. SKINNER 9
with housing in exchange for compensation; therefore, this field attracts older individuals with
families.
The primary reason this theory is appropriate for this audience is because this industry is
a “learn by doing” field. When employees work alongside the employer, the employer provides
suggestions, recommendations, and real life scenarios to enhance the importance of being aware
of safety precautions and understanding consequences. Good behavior is recognized through no
accidents, resulting with recognition in the forms of both verbal and monetary. Naturally,
accidents do occur; however, receiving the opportunity to learn from other’s mistakes is an
invaluable lesson. Speaking on behalf of The Stuyt Dairy, recognition and appreciation is given
on a daily basis to ensure employees feel appreciated, respected, and valued; this is our
representation of positive reinforcement. All employees also understand that negative behavior,
such as not following instruction, results in negative reinforcement.
REAL WORLD CONSTRAINTS
As identified earlier, the primary real world constraint is employees taking the employers
for granted. There was a time where monetary appreciation was given; however, that is
something that employees should no longer expect. The employers should embark on a new
method of showing appreciation whether it be more sporadically or only on occasions where
something was done really well. The change in performance seen on The Stuyt Dairy aligns with
one of the weaknesses of the behaviorist theory.
The primary constraints that were occurring included budgetary and time concerns. The
employers continued to reward poor behavior because they were fearful that the employees
would walk away from their current position and the employers would be required to pick up
LEARNING THEORY: B.F. SKINNER 10
their tasks. Not only is this fear damaging to their budget, but it is also damaging to the quality of
work being provided. An additional constraint is time. Seeing as the employers are deciding to
take on additional tasks to improve the quality again, these tasks are cutting into their time
availability. Both constraints are fixable with effective communication and a plan which still
makes everyone involved feel appreciated, valued, and heard.
CONCLUSION
The behaviorist learning theory helps to explain both how and why we can learn from our
surroundings and the impact that feedback has on our learning process. The idea that positive
reinforcement is a great tool for shaping behavior is still a valued idea in numerous settings
where there is an opportunity to learn. As an outside observer, this speaks volumes that with
persistence and perseverance, our society can shape one another to being outstanding and
successful individuals.

LEARNING THEORY: B.F. SKINNER 11
REFERENCES
Boeree, C. G. (2006). B. f. skinner. Retrieved May 13, 2014 from
http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/skinner.html
B.F. Skinner Biography. (2014). Bio.com. Retrieved May 11, 2014, from
http://www.biography.com/people/bf-skinner-9485671#awesm=~oEcq5F971MiDnV
Dairy-industry safety examined. (2013, September 12).Iowa Farmer Today, Retrieved from
http://www.iowafarmertoday.com/news/dairy/dairy-industry-safety-
examined/article_1b276360-1afa-11e3-b475-0019bb2963f4.html
Gredler, M. (2009). Learning and instruction. (6th ed.). Columbus, Ohio: Pearson.
Miller, G. A., Langendoen, T., & Katz, J. J. (1980). Readings in philosophy of psychology .
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e_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false.
Progressive Dairyman Magazine. (n.d.). Welcome to Progressive Dairyman Magazine. Retrieved
May 14, 2014, from http://www.progressivedairy.com/
Skinner - Operant Conditioning. (2014). B.F. Skinner. Retrieved May 13, 2014, from
http://www.simplypsychology.org/operant-conditioning.html
Smith, M. K. (2003). Learning theory. Retrieved May 13, 2014 from
http://www.infed.org/biblio/b-learn.htm
Soylent Communications. (2014). B. F. Skinner. Retrieved May 13, 2014, from
http://www.nndb.com/people/297/000022231/