Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Behaviorism Meets Technology

BF Skinner, a well-known psychologist helped define behaviorism through many studies. “Behaviorism sees learning as the response to an external stimulus” (Lever-Duffy & McDonald, 2008). In this cause and effect relationship, the effect can be positive, negative or neutral. Positive results tend to reinforce a behavior as negative ones help modify or change an undesirable behavior. Some technology applications mirror the behaviorist theory. One tries to navigate the maze and gain the correct weapon to slay the dragon in a video game. If the player slays the dragon, then points are earned and the player moves to the next level (positive). If the dragon eats the player, player dies and the game is over (negative). Player tries again but this time the player modifies his or her choices to avoid being eaten.

After reviewing this week’s resources, I am also convinced that behaviorism is present in instructional technology in classrooms. “Research shows that the level of belief in self-efficacy plays a strong role in motivation for learning and achievement. The instructional strategy of reinforcing effort enhances students’ understanding of the relationship between effort and achievement by addressing their attitudes and beliefs about learning.” (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn & Malenolsi, 2007). Students can use technology such as online rubrics, spreadsheets and graphs, as suggested by Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn & Malenolsi, to track the relationship between their effort and their grades instead of through other methods such as praise from a teacher or their “A” paper being posted in the hallway. Students would be able to monitor and modify their own behaviors to get the desired outcome of better grades.

In addition, behaviorism is seen in a student’s homework and classwork. “Multiple exposures to material help students deepen their understanding of content and become proficient with skills. Typically, students need about 24 practice sessions with a skill in order to achieve 80-percent competency (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn & Malenoski, 2007). As mentioned earlier, most students are tech savvy and relate well in the use of technology. In our resources, they suggest that instructional technology be used to practice and reinforce skills. Students can create spreadsheets to track grades or skill speed and accuracy. Students would be able to see the correlation between practice and increase in speed and accuracy of a skill or lack of practice causes lower times and less than proficient grades. Online tutorials and educational games allow students to practice skills that are specific for that student and offer immediate feedback. Students want to get as many correct answers to win the chance to play the bonus game. Students associate correct answers with bonus games and points, a positive reward.

As students become more technology oriented, instructional technology can help modify or reinforce behaviors. Although behaviorism may have changed its look in the classroom, it still remains alive through instructional technology.



Lever-Duffy, J. & McDonald, J. (2008). Theoretical Foundations (Laureate Education, Inc., custom ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.

Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD


  1. I agree that behaviorism is evident in instructional technology. Other than using the behaviorist learning theory for classroom management, what types of behaviorist learning strategies do you use in your classroom? Do you think they are effective for homework reinforcement?

  2. JLowe,

    I use educational games to reinforce skills. I also utilize an online gradebook that students and parents have access to at all times. Students can monitor their own progress during the semester. They can see on the screen a test score that directly correlates with their study habits. I have always had trouble getting my middle school students to complete homework. Unfortunately, most of the parents do not follow up at home. I recently tried offering a free night of no homework if everyone completes the homework. I will tell the class how many students did not complete the work but never names. The students look around and peer pressure has had some affect. I have seen more assignments completed since I started this. I think that this is a form of behaviorism. No homework is the reward and evil looks from classmates is punishment, especially in middle school. How do you feel about this idea? Do you use behaviorism in your classroom?

  3. JParker,

    You referred to one of our class resources by stating,"Students can use technology such as online rubrics, spreadsheets and graphs" in order to monitor progress in correlation with individual effort. I think this concept has great potentional. I am just curious if you have used any of these in your classroom before. If so, how did you go about doing this?

    Thanks, Robyn

  4. Yes, I have to admit that I use behaviorism in my classroom. I use it for classroom management, but also to reward students that complete their work in class extra computer time for games. I do not assign homework because many students do not have computer access outside of school.