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Skinner's theory

Skinner developed his theory through experimental work undertaken with rats. His approach was typical of the type of 'scientific' psychology experiments which were used to explain learning in the thirties and forties.

Skinner's ideas only had a brief currency in U.K. schools since they tend to result in an inactive, cognitively-limiting kind of mathematics if pursued to the excess of routine and repetition. His ideas tend to emphasise the learning procedures and outcomes of tasks as being all-important at the expense, potentially, of understanding.

However, it is worth noting that a theory of learning does not necessarily 'translate into' a theory of iteaching and in Skinner's defence it should be pointed out that:

'B.F Skinner, has stated categorically that the findings of the behaviourists cannot be used in a conventional classroom to aid learning.' (Sotto, 1994, p. 31)

The key ideas in Skinner's behaviourist theory which is based upon operant conditioning are:

  • Learning is accomplished through a series of small steps. These 'steps' are structured in a linear manner.
  • Individualised learning is the keynote of his theories.
  • Correct responses from a child should be rewarded immediately at every step so as to reinforce correct usage or improving successive approximations to correct usage. This approach was developed from stimulus-response observations in animal experiments. Skinner postulated that similar ideas applied to the human species as well.