Applying behaviorism to teaching

Behaviorism is the system of belief that learning is a process through which experience causes semi-permanent changes in behavior. It relies on the assumption that learning has occurred only when behavior (performance) changes. Thus learning must be measured by something external to the student.

Although this contradicts other (alleged) learning theorists, Piaget and Vygotskiy (neither required the measurement perspective), it is the main method by which students are measured in today’s school systems. And to some extent, the behaviorist beliefs have to be adopted because of the focus on grades would keep students from being honest about their self-assessments of learning.

So how does this apply to the classroom? How does this apply to teaching business skills? How can I use the behaviorist set of beliefs to benefit my students?

Behaviorists posit that learning can be enhanced by shaping, which is the process of providing successive experiences that help students build their skillset to accomplish something previously beyond their capacity.

I experienced two types of shaping last Friday. I taught an accounting class as a substitute and I used successive approximations. I also shadowed a keyboarding class where the approach of the entire course is chunking.

In accounting, I was reviewing posting end of year accounts to income statements and balance sheets. This takes making adjustments to many asset accounts and updating liability accounts. We started by showing the overall goal: posting to balance sheet and income statements and finding net income. Then we took the process step by step: determining the total of each asset, liability, and equity account; determining what our year-end amount on asset accounts on the balance sheet should be; making adjustment to asset and liability accounts; posting these adjustments on our worksheet; transferring balances to income statements or balance sheets as appropriate; totaling income statement; discovering the imbalance between debits and credits; doing the same for balance sheet accounts; determining the imbalances were the same number but in opposite directions; labeling the imbalance as net income.

The keyboarding class I shadowed started by teaching four left-handed keys, and then added four right-handed keys. Each week it has added a new chunk of keys and had several drills reinforcing each chunk. This chunking methodology has helped the students develop almost the entire keyboard worth of use by this point (I’ve shadowed this class since September).

But successive approximations and chunking can be used to reinforce and determine learning. It will be up to me as a teacher to ensure students have sufficient repetitions to more permanently alter their learning.

About the author: Lee J

Lee J Hinkle spends his days writing video game code. It was never a job he expected to have. Check out Rogue Invader online. Any search will send you to the right spot. Unless the language is foreign. Then maybe 50% will be right. He tries to be a devout member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and hopes his Father recognizes his efforts.