Skinner’s Radical Behaviorism explains influence of the environment on obvious behavior, rejects the use of internal events to explain behavior. However, it includes thoughts and feelings as behaviors that need to be explained. This paper discusses radical behaviorism and its critique to theories like schema, meaningful learning, situated cognitive theory and cognitive information processing theory.
Learning Outcome and Radical Behaviorist Approach. B.F. Skinner viewed the internal events as covert and laws of learning as overt. He preferred explaining behavior mainly by referring to the past conditioning experiences (Powell et al, 2008). A radical behaviorist would define learning as modification of behavior resulting from experience. It is this experience that conditions an organism to respond in a particular way to the stimuli in the immediate environment. Acquisition of new responses is therefore learned through experience and association of certain stimulus with particular responses that are rewarding or otherwise.
Behaviorists are concerned with the obvious measureable behavior. Learning outcomes are focused on what the learner will know or be in a position to do at the end of a specific period of time. The learning outcomes are the objectives set by the teacher to be met at the end of the course or set period. Further it entails how the learner will be able to utilize the knowledge and skills gained. For example, upon completing a study on linguistics, the learner is expected to have good communication skills in the languages studied among other outcomes. The learning outcomes concentrate on content, skills, and long term values (Powell et al., 2008).
The argument that would be put forward by a radical behaviorist is that being a good communicator does not depend on the inner processes such as memory, thinking and feelings. In fact, language is behavior that can be learnt by anybody provided the right conditions are created. Skinner emphasizes that humans can construct linguistic stimuli that would then control their entire body as external stimuli does (Eckert, 2006). This instructional control means that contingencies of reinforcement produce no effect on the human behavior with regard to linguistics. Thus, the radical behaviorist would solely argue that communication depends more on the environment (Eckert, 2006).
Radical behaviorism versus Cognitive Information Processing Theory. In radical behaviorist approach the learner is passive. For the learner to learn, he/she must take part in their environment. In cognitive information processing theory, the learner receives information through senses. The proponents of the theory contend that everyone has senses, and Skinner should have included the role played by senses in learning (Vonk & Shackelford, 2012).
The teacher plays the role of providing proper reinforcement that increases students’ desire to acquire better communication skills. In cognitive approach, the teacher’s role is preparing a well organized learning environment facilitated by the use of many senses and structured practices. Knowledge representation in radical behaviorism is in response to a certain stimulus whether there is reinforcement or not. Information pathway and storage is not explained by this theory (Powell et al, 2008). In contrast, cognitive approach has well defined models of how knowledge is processed and stored.
The theorists contend that the inner thoughts and feelings can be explained as responsible for observed behavioral changes but fail to explain them as cognitive theory does (Vonk & Shackelford, 2012).
Radical Behaviorism versus Meaningful Learning Theories
The learner performs considerably different roles in radical behaviorism theory and meaningful learning theory. In meaningful theory, the learner is active in the knowledge that is acquired. The learner willfully looks for associations between past knowledge and new information available. Indeed the learner has a choice on what knowledge he or she acquires (Eckert, 2006). In radical behaviorism theory, the learner is passive in the knowledge acquired. The knowledge acquired is solely dependent on the environment of the learner. Thus, radical behaviorist fail to recognize the fact an individual is often an active participant in the learning process and not merely a passive recipient of new knowledge. Meaningful learning theories explain fills this gap by explaining how a student can acquire new communication skills through active and voluntary participation in the communication activities.
Radical Behaviorism versus Schema Learning Theories. In radical behaviorism, the learner takes a passive role in seeking and acquiring knowledge, as opposed to schema theory where the learners have an active role in knowledge acquisition (Vonk & Shackelford, 2012). The learning process depends on the previous knowledge and the new knowledge. This makes two learners in the same learning environment learn different things. Learners in this context have different life experiences and learn differently. The schema learning theory fills the gap existing in the behaviorists’ theory. Its approach explains the ability of the learner to develop a bigger perspective of the learning process (Eckert, 2006).
The schema theory offers a better teacher role structure to the student than the radical theory does. The teacher connects the student to the previous and the new knowledge by clear understanding of what the learner knows. In addition, proper organizing and other methods are used. This leaves the learner more knowledgeable when compared to the radical behaviorists’ perspective (Eckert, 2006).
Radical Behaviorism versus Situated Cognition Theory. Unlike radical behaviorism, situated cognition theory asserts that learning is authentically tied to activities. The theory further suggests that learning is naturally tied to the authentic activity, context and culture. This produces learners who are more knowledgeable than in radical behaviorism perspective. The learners here develop more thoughtful approach to learning than through storing and retrieval method of radical behaviorism. The learners are challenged to be increasingly effective performers across situations, rather than just accumulation of knowledge as is the case in radical theory (Eckert, 2006).
With regard to effective communication skills as a learning outcome, radical behaviorists are somewhat limited in terms of accounting for students’ efforts to relate their culture, environmental context and experiences. The radical behaviorists failed to recognize the fact that it is through environmentally and culturally familiar situations and contexts that new learning outcomes, such as communication skills, are made possibly effective.
Modified Approach to Achieving the Desired Learning Outcomes. Based on limitations of the approaches discussed, there is a need to develop a new model for achievement of learning outcomes. The role of the learner should be active and participatory. Learning approaches that enable the learner to achieve learning outcomes must be student-centered. The participatory and not passive learning perspectives aid in realization of most of the learning outcomes. In case of acquiring effective communication skills as learning outcome, the behaviorist explanation is inadequate.
The alternative is in creating the environment that facilitates the learners’ participation in their own learning. The active learner should be in a position to respond to sense, stimuli and actively use of the past and new information in learning and gaining new knowledge. The teacher’s role in this model should be creating an organized environment and connecting the learner with information appropriately. The role of the environment and instruction should be taken into consideration in trying to understand various factors that determine the learning outcomes.
The discussion on theories of learning has indeed opened up a multiple of conceptualizations of the learning process. Although the situated cognition theory tends to be multidisciplinary, its limitations, as is the case with other frameworks, warrant efforts to seek alternative approaches. Skinner’s inventions of behaviorism have been significant in opening up studies in relation to learning. An alternative perspective that promotes learning outcomes at all levels is the one in which the learners’ role in their own learning is recognized, utilized and strengthened through student-centered approach. It is only through such an approach that limitations associated with radical behaviorists can be alternative.