Operant Conditioning is a learning approach coined by B.F. Skinner, a behaviourist, which recommends change of the behaviour of an individual through the use of rewards as well as punishment. The term operant as used by Skinner implies an active behaviour portrayed by an individual which operates with the given environment to generate consequences. This approach associates the behaviour of the individual and the consequences that come along as a result of that behaviour (Ajzen, 2011). Skinner maintained that it is not possible to examine the internal thoughts of an individual and motivations to enable us explain why the individual is behaving in a certain manner. He recommends through this theory of Operand Conditioning that in order to understand the behaviour of an individual, we should focus our attention on the external causes of human behaviour that is observable.
The focal point of this theory is on how the consequences of the actions portrayed by individuals influenced their behaviour. This theory offers an explanation on the range of learned that are learned that we exhibit in our day-to-day lives (Kazdin, 2012). It is premised on the believe that actions that are accompanied by reinforcements such as rewards will be strengthened and encouraged to keep happening whereas those actions that are strengthened by negative reinforcements such as punishments are less likely to reoccur.
This theory is suitable and can be used by Jane, a teacher who teaches Primary 5 students. The students display operant behaviour by engaging in activities that are under their conscious control. The behaviour of the students characterised by lack of participation in the classroom discussions and failure of the students to complete assignments and homework makes Jane to find it hard managing these group of students (Heimlich & Ardoin, 2008). Moreover, the students are inactive and just stare at the teacher whenever asked questions making it difficult for Jane in handling them. To change the consequences brought about by the unpleasant behaviour of the students, Jane will find the Operant Conditioning theory very relevant and suitable. The logic behind this theory that makes it suitable for the teacher is changing the behaviour of the students by use of rewards as well as punishments.
To change the behaviour of her students, it is of essence that teacher Jane understands the existing difference between positive reinforcement and punishment. The purpose of using positive reinforcement is to increase the chances of a desired behaviour and encourage the students to indulge in positive behaviour such as answering questions in the classroom as well as doing home works and class assignments (Gneezy, et al. 2011). Some of the most common rewards teacher Jane can use to promote classroom participation and doing of assignments is to give rewards such as prizes, praises or treats. Teacher Jane should also use punishment as a reinforcement mechanism to reduce the chances of the students indulging in undesirable behaviour such as failure to do assignments and participate in the classroom (Weiten, 2007).
To promote a suitable classroom environment and manage the behaviour of the students more effectively, Jane should focus more on using positive reinforcement as opposed to punishments and consequences. Nonetheless it is advisable that Jane makes the punishments and consequences known to the students as a way of deterring them from engaging in negative behaviour (Johnston, et al. 2010). For instance, students should be made aware of the consequences and punishments that will come along as a result of failure to do homework, class assignments as well as failure to participate in the classroom during lessons. In ensuring positive behaviour among her students, Jane ought to be cautious to ensure that the methods she employs are delivered in the right way and are geared towards ensuring that it is only the behaviour of the student being dealt with and not the student who exhibits the behaviour.
In coming up with the behaviour management strategies, it is essential for Jane to ensure that the strategies used are able to address specific needs of the specific individuals. This is because the behaviour of students are based on specific individual circumstances that may not be common to all hence the teacher should ensure that the behaviour management strategies used are respectful as well as specific to each student (Stone, et al. 2009). The punishment adopted by the teacher should be directly linked to the behaviour exhibited by the student. For instance, students who do not answer questions in the classroom should be asked questions and made to answer. The punishment will serve no purpose if the student who fails to answer questions in the classroom is made to pick rubbish after the lesson (Olson, 2015). Similarly, the consequences to be paid by the students of teacher Jane whether negative or positive should be consistently and immediately applied once the behaviour is exhibited.
According to Operant Conditioning theory, Jane should not use the consequence to obtain control and power over the student but rather, the consequence should be used to guide the student and enable them understand the reason as to why their behaviour is deemed inappropriate, how to deviate from the negative behaviour and behave correctly as well as the importance of behaving in a correct manner (Pritchard, 2013).
Components of Operant Conditioning approaches that Jane should use
These are the events that encourage the behaviour engaged in by the students. There are two types of reinforcement that Jane can use to change the behaviour of the students in her classroom. They include
To promote good behaviour among her students, Jane should adopt the use of positive reinforcement. These entail using favourable events and outcomes as a reward for good behaviour. This encourages the students who do well to continue doing even better while at the same time, encourages those who engage in unpleasant behaviour to envy and copy from those who behave well (Ivey, et al. 2011). For instance, Jane can promote and encourage participation among her students by praising those who answer questions in her classroom using sweet words such as well done, excellent as well as acknowledging good behaviour such as class participation by asking other members of the classroom to clap for those who answer the questions. Similarly, she can administer gifts such as sweets and candies to those who do their homework and class assignments as well as to those who actively participate in the classroom.
Positive reinforcement can also entail application of good teaching methods. The reason behind lack of participation among the students of Jane could be due to the lack of understanding of the concepts being taught as well as dislike for the manner in which Jane presents herself in the classroom. Therefore, change of teaching tactics could act as a positive reinforcement that will boost class participation and make it easier for Jane to manage her students (Mazur, 2015). For instance, Jane should alter the pace she uses in her teaching to cater for the interests of the slow learners. Similarly, use of teaching techniques such as grouping the students placing slow learners in groups with fast learners will boost the confidence among the students and encourage their participation in the classroom.
To encourage change of behaviour among her students, Jane can also use negative reinforcement. This entails the withdrawal of an unfavourable event or outcome immediately it is noticed that the students are engaged in unpleasant behaviour. For instance, one of the reasons as to why Jane’s students fail to do their homework is watching movies. Jane can talk to the parents of her students to draw a timetable whereby time for watching movies is reduced and introduce study time among the students while at home (Mitchell, et al. 2009). Nonetheless, it is essence that in such withdrawal, the students are made to understand the reason why such a measure is taken and not make it appear as if it is a way of parents exercising control over the children.
Punishment is also a good mechanism which Jane can use to promote change of behaviour among her students. This entails presenting an adverse event or outcome to the students that will reduce the negative behaviour. There are types of punishment that Jane can use to improve the level of class participation among her students and ensure that the students do their assignments and home works (Richey, et al. 2010). These punishments include;
Through the use of positive punishment, Jane will be able to reduce the response that comes as a result of introduction of an unfavourable event or outcome. For instance, to ensure that no student fails to do assignments and homework, Jane should embrace the use of punishment by application such as giving more assignments to those who fail to do the assignment given to them. This will make them desist from the behaviour of not doing the tasks assignment due to the fear of being given more tasks to accomplish.Negative punishment
To ensure responsible class participation and doing of tasks assigned, Jane can withdraw a favourable event or outcome from the students. For instance, the students can be barred from going out for break until they answer questions.
The use of both negative and positive reinforcement leads to a change of behaviour among learners in a classroom. However, the reinforcement works effectively when accompanied by verbal validation which enables the student know why they are being rewarded or punished. Through verbal validation, the student is able to receive further instructions that help them perform better in the classroom.
Albert Bandura in his theory of Social Learning maintains that children behave in a certain manner as a result of how they see others behave within the society. If those around them portray pleasant behaviour, then the child is likely to imitate and behave in similar pleasant behaviour (Horowitz, 2014). On the other hand, if the adult engages in unpleasant behaviour, the child will most likely engage in a similar manner since they imitate the adults and from those around them.
Operant Conditional theory by Skinner is more suitable to a learning environment than this theory by Bandura. This is because, in his theory, Skinner acknowledges that children are likely to engage in unpleasant behaviour due to varied factors. However, Skinner unlike Bandura offers a solution that if applied will see the children who have adapted unpleasant behaviour due to several factors such as social learning change to pleasant behaviour through reinforcement.
Nonetheless, this theory could make children to be materialistic and irresponsible at the same time. The child only works heard or engages in good behaviour due to the prospect for a reward or fear of punishment but not out of their own drive and sense of responsibility. Immediately such reinforcement is withdrawn, there are high chances of such a child engaging in worst behaviour.
Erikson in his theory of Social and Emotional Development points out the various stages through which an individual passes through as they develop. He also points out the significance of social experiences of the individual in the various stages of development and how the social experience shapes the behaviour of an individual as they develop (Mazur, 2015). His theory contradicts Operant Conditioning theory which maintains that the behaviour of an individual is shaped through reinforcements both negative and positive.
However, Opera Conditioning approach criticized from the point of view Erikson’s Social and Emotional Development theory, it fails to explain the genesis of the behaviour of an individual. Instead, it only explains how behaviour can be changed from unpleasant to pleasant through reinforcement. Piaget in his researches concentrated on adolescents and observed that the behaviour of children is determined by age where he observed that children in the same age bracket portrayed similar behaviour. Criticizing the theory of Operant Conditioning from Piaget’s perspective, reinforcement makes the child not to portray their original behaviour. The individual adopts a fake behaviour for the sake of reinforcement.
Ajzen, I. (2011). Theory of planned behavior. Handb Theor Soc Psychol Vol One, 1(2011), 438.
Gneezy, U., Meier, S., & Rey-Biel, P. (2011). When and why incentives (don't) work to modify behavior. The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 25(4), 191-209.
Horowitz, F. D. (2014). Exploring developmental theories: Toward a structural/behavioral model of development. Psychology Press.
Heimlich, J. E., & Ardoin, N. M. (2008). Understanding behavior to understand behavior change: A literature review. Environmental education research, 14(3), 215-237.
Ivey, A. E., D'Andrea, M. J., & Ivey, M. B. (2011). Theories of Counseling and Psychotherapy: A Multicultural Perspective: A Multicultural Perspective. Sage.
Johnston, J. M., Pennypacker, H. S., & Green, G. (2010). Strategies and tactics of behavioral research. Routledge.
Kazdin, A. E. (2012). Behavior modification in applied settings. Waveland Press.
Mazur, J. E. (2015). Learning and behavior. Psychology Press.
Mitchell, C. J., De Houwer, J., & Lovibond, P. F. (2009). The propositional nature of human associative learning. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 32(02), 183-198.
Olson, M. H. (2015). An introduction to theories of learning. Psychology Press.
Pritchard, A. (2013). Ways of learning: Learning theories and learning styles in the classroom. Routledge.
Richey, R. C., Klein, J. D., & Tracey, M. W. (2010). The instructional design knowledge base: Theory, research, and practice. Routledge.
Stone, D. N., Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2009). Beyond talk: Creating autonomous motivation through self-determination theory. Journal of General Management, 34(3), 75.
Weiten, W. (2007). Psychology: Themes and variations: Themes and variations. Cengage Learning.
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