Behaviourism defines learning as a change in the behaviour of the learner. The learning theory suggests that in order to have learning, the learners must be actively engaged and being rewarded immediately to reinforce their activity. Behaviourism concentrates on the aspects of learning that are overtly observable and measurable.  The desired behaviour is advanced by external stimuli. Therefore, it is mainly based on the stimuli-response associations: given the right stimulus, you will get the right response.

If a learner shows desirable behaviour in class, the concepts op Behaviourism tells us to reinforce this behaviour as a teacher (stimuli), as it will be likely that the desired behaviour will become more probable in the future (response). Likewise, undesirable behaviour that goes unrewarded will be extinguished. All behaviour is acquired by the shaping of behaviour using and anticipating on stimuli-response associations. The Behaviouristic learning theory emphasizes that the response is observable and measurable, as knowledge and skill can be demonstrated through the learners’ observable behaviour. 



Psychologists Pavlov, Watson and Skinner were responsible for the development of the behaviouristic learning theory in the early part of the twentieth century. Watch this video as an extra reference and get more background information on the research each of the psychologists conducted and how their ideas influenced the behaviouristic learning theory. The video will also give you extra insights on the stimuli-response model where the behaviouristic approach is based on.

Key principles and classroom implications

The main principles underpinning the behaviouristic learning theory are:

  • Learning at its best takes place through the teacher taking control over the learning process, who is actively reinforcing learners in order to get the desirable learning outcomes
  • Learning outcomes are measurable/observable
  • Repetition and practice is key to achieve learning, as it strengthens the relation between stimulus of the teachers and the desired response by the learner
  • Feedback is vital to achieve learning, as the teachers stimulates the learner to give the desired response to measure learning outcomes
  • Positively reinforced behaviour (for example, by rewards, praise or recognition) is likely to be repeated
  • Negatively reinforced behaviour (for example, by ignorance) is less likely to be repeated


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Last modified: Friday, 21 Aug 2020, 16:49