B. F. Skinner
B. F. Skinner's (Burrhus Frederick Skinner) elaboration of the theory of reinforcement and his advocacy of its application to learning helped to establish the Behaviorism and Programmed Instruction movement. Programmed instruction is characterized by clearly stated behavioral objectives, small frames of instruction, self-pacing, active learner response to inserted questions, and immediate feedback regarding the correctness of a response. Individualized instruction in essence replaces the teacher with systematic or programmed materials. Individualized instruction can be print-based, computer-based, or can use other media as long as the instruction is based on the concepts listed above. It is linear, in that the author of the materials decided what step to present next, and that step is presented, no matter what the learner wants. Although logical subject matter is easier to individualize into programmed materials, researchers have not found any subject matter that could not be programmed.
During his 60-year career, Skinner discovered important principles of operant conditioning, a type of learning that involves rewards and punishments. Skinner believed that operant conditioning could explain even the most complex of human behaviors. His theory is referred to as radical behaviorism as he focuses on the functional analysis of behavior -- the relationship between environmental events and a particular response (Bootzin, Loftus, Zajonc, Hall, 1975). This exclusive focus is known as Radical Behaviorism as it makes no allowance for cognitive or symbolic process.
In 1958, Skinner built a rote-and-drill teaching machine. Individualized instruction was originally presented in book form, and sometimes still is. In order to prevent students from looking at the answers in the book ahead of time, Program Instruction became automated by inserting it into a teaching machine. Teaching machines are devices that house, display, and present printed programmed instruction. Feedback is given when the program is advanced through actuation of a lever and the correct answer comes to view.
Programmed instruction is linear, in that the author of the materials decided what step to present next, and that step is presented, no matter what the learner wants. Later, in 1958, Norman Crowder developed what is called “intrinsic” or “branching” programming, in which the learner's possible responses are multiple choice, and the program branches according to the response chosen. In this way students could skip steps they already knew, or study remedial material on information already presented.
Skinner's work has also had wide influences on other fields, such as Organizational Development. O. B. Mod (Organizational Behavior Modification) is based on the idea that behavior is based on its consequences in that behavior that is accompanied by favorable consequences (reinforcement) and tends not to repeat behavior that is followed by unfavorable consequences.
From Walden Two
Since our children remain happy, energetic, and curious, we don't need to teach “subjects” at all. We teach only the techniques of learning and thinking. As for geography, literature, the sciences -- we give our children opportunity and guidance, and they learn for themselves. In that we dispense with half the teachers required under the old system, and the education is incomparably better. Our children are not neglected, but they're seldom, if ever, taught anything.
Education in Walden Two is part of the life of the community. We don't need to resort to trumped-up life experiences. Our children begin to work at a very early age. It's no hardship; its accepted as readily as sport or play. A good share of our education goes on in workshops, laboratories, and fields. Its part of the Walden Two code to encourage children in all the arts and crafts. (Skinner, 1948, p. 119-120).
Bootzin, R., Loftus, E., Zajonc, R., Hall, E., (1975). Psychology Today: An Introduction. New York: Random House.
Newstrom, J. & Davis, K., (1993). Organizational Behavior. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Skinner, B. F. (1948). Walden Two Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company.