There are various psychological theories that can be looked at when considering learning in children. Classical conditioning, Operant Conditioning and Bandura’s Social learning theory can be used to explain the process of learning in children. The classical theory attributes learning to a certain stimulus in the environment while the operant learning theory, recognizes that learning in children, just like any other behavior, is likely to be developed following the action taken to reinforce or stop it (Rathus, 2013, p. 23). Bandura’s social learning theory on the other hand, recognizes that children observe behavior in adults and actively decide to imitate everything while seeking the approval of the adult. Operant conditioning is the best learning method for children. This is because unlike classical conditioning, it acknowledges that the children’s actions can be influenced by intentional actions. It is also more applicable as compared to bandura’s social learning theory since children’s thought processes are still developing and cannot be counted on entirely, to influence them towards having positive behavior. Therefore, it creates room for the actions of the teachers to actively modify and influence the child’s behavior as compared to the other two theories (Coon, Mitterer, Talbot & Vanchella, 2010, p. 34)
Classical Conditioning and Operant Conditioning
Operant conditioning is far superior in encouraging children to learn as compared to classical conditioning. The latter, developed by J. B Watson, focuses on the environment created as affecting the learning of students. It emphasizes the fact that behavior is nurtured and so is an involuntary reaction to stimuli. Operant conditioning on the other hand, developed by B. F. Skinner, draws the focus away from nature versus nurture and focuses on the ability of an individual’s intentional actions to affect their environment. In operant conditioning, an individual is thus involved in the development of their behavior (Lefrancois, 2012, p. 89) as opposed to classical conditioning whereby the behavior is an involuntary reaction as aforementioned. This among other factors makes operant conditioning more suitable in learning among young children.
Operant conditioning helps in the development of skills that encourage children to learn. It is the most effective method of teaching new lessons to students. The teacher provides feedback to the student depending on their performance. They encourage, compliment, affirm and react in a predetermined way, in order to influence the student’s learning (Coon & Mitterer, 2007, P. 232). The teacher could apply variable ratio enforcement in order to solicit the best outcomes in student learning. Operant conditioning allows the teacher to introduce operations to the students in a manner that they deem to be most effective. It gives the teacher a sense of flexibility since they can apply the method to students, individually, thereby improving the outcomes for a large number of students. It would be somewhat impossible to achieve this using classical conditioning (Schunk, 2011, p.49).
Classical conditioning has to do with creating an environment which will instigate a desirable reaction from the learner. In such a case, the teacher would need to introduce a stimulus which provokes a reaction from the learner. Classical conditioning might not also create room for the teacher, since it does not allow for the influencing of behavior through intentional actions. Teachers, therefore, might not have the ability to influence children since the environment in which they operate in is the most relevant factor which affects their learning (Plotnik & Kouyoumdjian, 2014, p.69). It would be difficult to adapt such a method to a large number of students since creating a different environment for each of them would be tasking and in some instances impossible. Operant conditioning is thus a more suitable method of learning in children. It allows the teacher to reinforce learning among children, given their unique self. This will ensure that every student has a shot at learning and performing, excellently. In order for the reinforcement to be effective, the teacher has to recognize the most effective method to apply (Charlesworth, 2014, p.87).
Bandura's Social Learning Theory and Operant Conditioning
B.F Skinner sought to improve on J.B Watson’s classical conditioning theory while Albert Bandura made an improvement on Skinner’s operant conditioning. He recognized that children experienced some form of empathy before making a judgment, on whether to imitate behavior or not (Newman & Newman, 2015, p. 143). Both their theories were more or less the same. For instance; Skinner laid the foundations for Bandura in the introduction of the concept of reinforcement. Bandura furthered this concept by suggesting that reinforcement was dependent on the consequences and motivational responses (Chance, 2008, p. 392). If the consequences of imitating a behavior were rewarding in a manner that the child receives some form of satisfaction, then, the child is likely to reinforce it. Operant conditioning edges Bandura’ social learning theory in a number of ways: It is more statistical and factual, It is also more practical making it ideal for learning and it leaves more room for guidance unlike Bandura’s theory (Henton & Iversen, 1978, p.101).
Operant conditioning creates more room for guidance as aforementioned. Skinner focused on three operant actions that followed a behavior including neutrals, rein forcers and punishers (Coon & Mitterer, 2007, P. 231). One would remain indifferent from repeating a behavior in Neutrals, they would increase the chances of repeating a behavior in the case of reinforces or decrease the chances of repeating a behavior respectively given punishment. Bandura, on the other hand, proposes that behavior is learned through observational learning where children observe the models in their surroundings and at a later stage imitate the behavior of the models depending on a number of factors such as; the sex or if the person is easy to identify with, empathy and the choice of whether to reinforce the behavior or punish (Newman & Newman, 2015, P. 142). Bandura leaves all the choices at the hands of the child who may not be trusted with all decision making while the operant conditioning ensures that these children have the proper guidance needed in learning and forming behavior (Tassoni, 2005, p. 121).
Operant conditioning is more practical than Bandura’s theory. Bandura was more interested in the cognitive processes that were internal and believed that most behaviors were innate but he never clearly established the development of such feelings among children. However, Skinners theory takes both external and internal factors into account in explaining learning and behavior. Operant conditioning gives room for the influencing of teachers in learning as aforementioned. Bandura’s theory creates minimal room much like in classical conditioning. Learning in children is mostly attributed to their cognitive capabilities leaving little room for the influence and guidance of a teacher. Children’s ability to think for themselves without proper guidance is not taken into consideration in this theory. As aforementioned, they do not have the full capability to influence their decisions individually, making operant conditioning the most suitable method for learning in children (Jordan, Carlile & Stack, 2008, p.99).
Operant conditioning is the best method for learning in children. It gives room for the involvement of the teacher in influencing student learning. This is very important since the cognitive abilities of children are not fully developed and they are thus not in a position to make certain choices and decisions by themselves. Bandura lays so much emphasis on the cognitive aspect in the learning processes, by bringing in the idea of empathy and the mediation process but it does not provide evidence and facts on the development of the mind and feelings to support this. The teacher or instructor may thus lack room to influence the child. Classical conditioning provides a similar problem in the learning of children. It attributes behavior and learning to the environment and the way the students respond to the stimuli therein. The teacher will have a difficult time creating an environment that is suitable for the learning and development of each student, keeping in mind that it might actually be impossible to achieve, in the first place. Given the discussed arguments, operant conditioning is the best learning method for children since it allows for the guidance and instruction provided by teachers. It can also be applied to a large number of students which will allow many students to benefit and improve on their learning experience as the teacher can attend to each of them differently.
Chance, P., & Krause, M. A. (2009). Learning and behavior: Active learning edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
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Coon, D., & Mitterer, J. O. (2007). Introduction to psychology: Gateways to mind and behavior. Australia: Thomson/Wadsworth.
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Rathus, S. A. (2013). Childhood: Voyages in development. Place of publication not identified: Wadsworth.
Schunk, D. H. (2011). Learning theories: An educational perspective. Boston, Mass: Allyn & Bacon.
Tassoni, P. (2005). Children's care, learning & development. Oxford: Heinemann.
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