Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov was researching the digestive processes of dogs when he noticed something completely unexpected. Although the dogs in his lab salivated while being fed, they also began to salivate when they associated a stimulus with feeding. For instance, if they heard a bell or saw a lab assistant when they were fed, they would start salivating anytime they heard the bell or saw the lab assistant – even if they didn’t receive food (“classical conditioning”). B.F. Skinner later discussed “operant conditioning,” where positive/negative reinforcement occurs after the response (Alana Barnett, 2015).

Behaviorism theorizes all behaviors can be (un)learned. Learning is teacher-initiated, performance-based, and focused on visibly-observed external behaviors. It’s useful for standards, mathematical formulas, scientific facts or equations, language vocabulary, or other information that can be memorized and has a clear “right” or “wrong” answer.

Personal Learning Experience:

Design is a skill set that is best learned through some guidance. Instructors might provide scaffolding for learners, building upon existing knowledge. My university design classes took a Constructivist approach, grouping students for collaboration and considering Zones of Proximal Development. We received one-on-one guidance from our instructor to become better designers.

On the other hand, my husband’s design professor took a Behaviorist approach. Students were expected to memorize the “rules” of design and grades were pass/fail based on true/false assessment questions. Sadly, it was not an effective way for my husband to learn design skills. A different approach, such as Constructivism, may have been more appropriate in this scenario.

Read my latest blog post for more.


Alana Barnett. (2015, October 13). Behaviorism: Pavlov, Watson, Skinner. [Video file].

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Keramida, M.Ed., Marisa. (2015, May 28). Behaviorism in Instructional Design for eLearning: When and How to Use.

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