Operant Conditioning and its Application to Instructional Design The following is an explanation of the relevance of operant conditioning to the

instructional design process, including its history and application in instructional strategies. Operant conditioning is the foundation on which B.F. Skinner explored human behavior. A branch of traditional behavioral science, operant conditioning came to the forefront of research in the 1930's through the work of Skinner. Learning in operant conditioning occurs when "a proper response is demonstrated following the presentation of a stimulus" (Ertmer & Newby, 1993, p. 55). This means that learning has taken place when there is an observable change in the behavior of the learner after the instruction has been delivered. Skinner was preceded by theorists such as J.B. Watson who studied the objective data of behavior and Ivan Pavlov, often referred to as the Father of Classical Conditioning (Burton, 1981; Driscoll, 1994). Classical conditioning focuses on the involuntary response of the learner following a stimulus. Similar to classical conditioning, operant conditioning studies the response of the learner following a stimulus; however, the response is voluntary and the concept of reinforcement is emphasized. The relationship in operant conditioning includes three component parts: the stimulus, a response, and the reinforcement following the response. According to Burton, operant conditioning is based on "a functional and interconnected relationship between the stimuli that preceded a response (antecedents), the stimuli that follow a response (consequences), and the response (operant) itself" (1981, p. 50). Skinner determined that reinforcement following a response would alter the operant, or response, by encouraging correct behavior or discouraging incorrect behavior. Skinner referred to the operant as "any behavior that produced the same effect on the environment" and the relationship between the operant and its consequences was termed "contingency" (Cook, 1993, p. 63). Environmental factors influence learning, but most important is the arrangement between the stimuli and the consequence, or reaction, of the learner in his environment (Ertmer & Newby, 1993). Contingency, according to Cook, is a "kind of 'ifthen' relationship: if the response is made, then the reinforcement is delivered" (1993, p. 63). For example, by eliciting a stimulus- teacher asks a question, the learner responds- child raises hand, reinforcement is issued- teacher calls on student with hand raised. Reinforcement serves one of two purposes: strengthening a response or weakening a response. Types of reinforcement include positive and negative to strengthen a response, and punishment, extinction, response cost, and timeout to weaken a response. Positive reinforcement is the "presentation of a reinforcer (satisfying stimulus) contingent upon a response that results in the strengthening of that response" (Driscoll, 1994, p. 32). An example of positive reinforcement would be praise, a reward, or a gift after displaying appropriate behavior. A negative reinforcer also strengthens a response, but by taking away the aversive stimulus subject to that response (Driscoll, 1994). An example of negative reinforcement would a child finally doing his homework just to stop his parents from nagging. Punishment is used to weaken a response, or decrease an inappropriate behavior. It is what most of us are familiar with. Examples include taking away a favorite toy when a child is acting up or grounding a teenager for coming home past curfew. Other methods of weakening an undesired response include extinction, removal of the reinforcement maintaining a response; response cost, removal of reinforcement contingent

In shaping. and the consequences that will support the learned behavior. They were "variations of an automatic self-checking technique" and "essentially allowed students to get immediate information concerning accuracy of response" (Burton. The types of learning that are achieved in an operant conditioning environment are discrimination (recall of facts). This involves the gradual withdrawal of the reinforcement as the desired behavior is elicited (1994). association (apply explanations). according to Driscoll. Interval scheduling depends of a set amount of time under which the correct answer is given before reinforcement will be delivered. p. Research conducted on his teaching machines concluded that "errors were eliminated more rapidly with meaningful material and found that students learned more efficiently when they could correct errors immediately" (Burton. Discrimination. Because the learner is reacting to the stimulus in the environment. 1994). fading. Skinner identifies three components necessary for learning: doing. Instructional strategies for teaching these learning outcomes include shaping. there is a difference regarding the reinforcement schedule. 23). A ratio schedule relies on the number of times the appropriate response is made after the stimulus is delivered. the learner "does not passively absorb knowledge from the world around him but must play an active role" (Burton. Shaping is used to teach relatively simple tasks by breaking the task down into small components (Driscoll. These prescriptive strategies aid the instructor in reaching the desired learning outcome. is best learned using fading techniques. 1993). 1994). He emphasized the active role of the learner. After a set number of correct responses. Air Force after World War II. 1994). According to Ertmer and Newby. under what conditions. p. 1994). According to Skinner. 1981. behaviorism in general is widely criticized for promoting a passive role of the learner in receiving information. "the learner is characterized as reactive to conditions in the environment as opposed to taking an active role in discovering the environment" (1993. Both ratio and interval scheduling can be delivered under fixed amounts of responses/times or variable number of responses or times (Driscoll. the reinforcement is delivered by the instructor (Driscoll. 49). 50). 53). Skinner later applied behaviorist theory to the basis of teaching machines and created programmed instruction.S. Skinner used Sydney Pressey's teaching machines as a basis for creating programmed instruction. p. These three components work together to determine what has been learned. This is a misinterpretation of what Skinner believed the role of the learner to be. Skinner's statement is reinforced by the central premise of behaviorism: the learner's change in observable behavior indicates that learning has occurred. and practice (Burton. Chaining is similar to shaping but used to break down complex tasks. . and chaining (automatically perform a procedure) (Ertmer & Newby. 1981. 1994). removing the learner from the environment that reinforces the incorrect behavior (Driscoll. experiencing. whereas with chaining the reinforcement is not delivered until the end and the learner can demonstrate the task in its entirety (Driscoll. Methods of maintenance include a ratio schedule of reinforcement and an interval schedule of reinforcement. In the 1960's. Pressey's teaching machines were popular with the U. p. however. 1981).upon behavior by imposing a fine. Maintenance of the newly acquired behavior is an important part of the operant conditioning theory. and chaining. 1981. Pressey's teaching machines were developed in the mid-1920's first as a self-scoring testing device and then evolved to include immediate reinforcement for the correct answer (Burton. 1981). reinforcement is delivered all throughout the steps. generalizations (define and illustrate concepts). and timeout.

1981. 54). the learner repeats instruction until there are no mistakes. there are several possible answers and larger units of instruction. Behaviorism is influential on the standard instructional design process. Computer based instruction is used currently in training and education based models such as CBT (computer-based training) and CAI (computer-assisted instruction). graphics and speech. problem solving. 1994). the basis of the instruction is primarily behaviorist in nature and based on Skinner's programmed instruction. In branching. eliciting a response. Creators of programmed instruction needed to determine when to begin instruction. and this solved some of the criticism of monotonous and boring instruction. It also provides cueing and shaping techniques to guide the learner to achievement. Computers changed the instruction by allowing for complex branching of content. and they did this by analyzing the learner's prerequisite knowledge. and tutorials (Driscoll. Crowder attempted to alleviate this problem by introducing branching to programmed instruction. but it does provide immediate feedback and reinforcement as in operant conditioning principles. This does not follow the principles of operant conditioning by not requiring an overt response. Whereas Skinner's programmed instruction encouraged the overt response of the learner. but Skinner applied operant conditioning principles to programmed instruction. a method that Skinner thought left chance for mistakes. Although the technology has allowed for a more sophisticated presentation. Skinner required the student to write out the response as this behavior could be observed (Burton. This allows the learner to set his own pace. The fact that learning is measured by the change in behavior and the maintenance of the changed behavior. 1981). record of student response. . Skinner "required students to 'overtly' compose responses" (Burton. namely through teaching machines and programmed instruction. The Needs Analysis phase of the ID process includes both the learner analysis and prerequisite skills. Pressey had used multiple-choice as the method of assessment. This format also allows students to skip over what they already know and to be branched into appropriate advanced or remedial sections (Driscoll. and small steps towards mastery. The learner progresses by responding correctly. The content in programmed instruction is arranged in small chunks and organized in a simple to complex sequence. Computers added more options and variety the instruction. The instruction is linear with no paths diverging from the directed instruction. Crowder reverted to Pressey's approach and gave the learner multiple choice questions at the end of instruction. and providing immediate feedback.Programmed instruction was popularized in the 1960's with Skinner. several studies compared found no differences in the type of response. If the response is incorrect. overt or multiple choice in the performance of the learner (1996). receiving feedback. p. and moving forward. repetition. Computer-based instruction originates from Skinner's programmed instruction. 1994). These computer simulated instructional strategies follow closely Skinner's operant conditioning by presenting a stimulus. According to Burton. it is sometimes characterized as boring because of the monotony. The technique was similar to Pressey's teaching machines in the use of immediate feedback after the response and studentcontrolled rate of instruction. Although programmed instruction is effective in achieving certain learning outcomes. drill and practice. The process of the learner analysis and identifying prerequisite skills in the instructional design process was originated by behaviorists during the development of their instruction.

In order to achieve mastery. (1993.One of the most important contributions of behaviorism to the instructional design process is the identification and measurement of learning. The learner needs to grasp the basic information prior to moving on to more difficult tasks. The sequencing of practice from simple to complex and the use of prompts are strategies Skinner applied in his research of operant conditioning. Paradigm shifts in designed instruction: From behaviorism to cognitivism to constructivism. This is based on the reinforcement Skinner believed essential to learning. (1994). 19). 1999. and how the learner will be measured. NY: Simon and Schuster. In the instructional design process. October).. the programmed instruction is using the instructional strategies based on operant conditioning: reinforcement and feedback (Ertmer and Newby. Moore. (1996). M.P. Successive approximations are reinforced until the goal has been reached (Driscoll. (1993. Instructional designers take this sequence into consideration when developing material. Driscoll. Finally. the learner is given feedback on each answer. The influence of behaviorism to the instructional design process is significant and still apparent in current design.A. Behaviorism and instructional technology. They must first determine the prerequisite knowledge and then lay out the steps of the new content in a format conducive to achieving mastery. Boston: Allyn and Bacon. 46-67). Behaviorists agree that "learning has occurred when learners evidence the appropriate response to a particular stimulus" (Smith and Ragan. & Magliaro. performance objectives describe what the learner will accomplish. In D. the use of practice and shaping in instruction has its roots in behaviorism.A.K.M. New York. D. shaping. Educational Technology. Jonassen (Ed. The cognitive perspective has added to the instructional strategies and finds itself combined with behaviorism when technology-based instruction is delivered. This process takes place in the Task Analysis phase of ID.. S.H.).. 1993). Instructional designers also use instructional strategies of cueing. This technique encouraged mastery learning. it is necessary that the content be organized from simple to complex. Educational Technology. Behaviorism evolves. 55). 12-19. 1994). pp. Before moving ahead with instruction. programmed instruction is widely used and modified to suit individual needs. Psychology of learning for instruction. Cooper. Cook. 33(5). References Burton. . These components are included in the Task Analysis phase of the ID process and the assessment of the learner at the end of instruction. p. 62-77. J.. under what conditions. Although some techniques have changed and technology evolved. Operant conditioning has influenced education and continues to be a guide in developing instruction. May). The reinforcement of the learner impacts his performance. The emphasis on producing observable and measurable outcomes led to the creation of performance objectives (Driscoll. P. By encouraging the learner to achieve the correct response and discouraging incorrect answers.G. In programmed instruction. the learner is required to pass each section before continuing to the next segment of instruction. Handbook of research for educational communications and technology (pp. and fading to guide the learner through the instruction. D.

cognitivism.J... P.J. (1996). (1999).A. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. (1993). Instructional design.. What have behaviorists accomplished--and what more can they do? Psychological Record. Smith. .L..Ertmer. J. & Ragan. T. 50-72.H. Performance Improvement Quarterly. & Newby. 46(1). Behaviorism. constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective. Kunkel. 6(4). T. P. 21-38.