When NOT to Use Behaviorism (A Personal Learning Experience)

In my previous blog post about Behaviorism as a learning theory, we discussed some of the psychological foundations of behaviorist learning theory. If you read my blog post or are familiar with Behaviorism, you probably already know that it works well for certain learning scenarios, such as:

  •  Memorizing standards
  • Mathematical formulas and equations
  • Scientific facts
  • Language vocabulary
  • or other information that can be memorized and has a clear “right” or “wrong” answer.

Behaviorism works well for science and mathematics courses. It can be an excellent way to memorize equations and formulas. It also comes in handy when learning foreign languages, allowing participants to master vocabulary and basic sentence structures.

However, Behaviorism – like all learning theories – has its limitations. There are some situations where Behaviorism might not be the best approach for knowledge transfer.

When NOT to Use Behaviorism

I can think of a situation when Behaviorism was not the best way to present the learning material, however, when I recall my husband’s tales of his web design professor. Design is a skill set that is best learned through some guidance. The instructor can provide scaffolding for the learners, for instance, and can build upon the learner’s existing knowledge of the subject matter. In my design classes throughout college, we were grouped with other students, allowed to collaborate and learn from each other, and received one-on-one guidance from our instructor to help us become the best possible designers.

My husband’s professor, on the other hand, took the opposite approach and did not offer guidance. Instead, students were expected to memorize the “rules” of design straight from the textbook and grades were based on passing true/false assessments. While Behaviorism works well for some subject areas, I do not agree that it is the best approach for learning creative topics such as design. A different approach, such as Constructivism, may have been more appropriate in this scenario.

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