Thursday, September 19, 2013

Behaviorism's Influence on Instructional Technology

Last week's angst over how to connect the underlying theories of instructional technology with the other theories that make up my educational experience has been reduced this week due this week's readings on behaviorism. Driscoll (2005) covers a history and overview of radical behaviorism. Saettler (1990) covers a history of behaviorism, in general. Finally, Molenda (2008) is a nostalgic article about technologies related to programmed instruction.

Driscoll (2005) gave me a better appreciation of behaviorism. The reading provided some history, described the theory in organized detail, covered the principles of behaviorism and the types of reinforcements used, and addressed some of the right and wrong ways to use it. What really turned me around on the theory were the sections on its contributions to instruction, mainly because I recognized them in qualities I appreciate about classes I've taken and taught in the past. Behavior modification, classroom management, and instructional objectives applications did not come as a surprise. That is what I primarily think of when someone talks about behaviorism. What I had not attributed to behaviorism were the modules effective online courses are broken into. Another takeaway was that there is not just one type of behaviorism. There was quite a bit of disagreement even among behaviorists and a lot of overlap in different approaches, especially in the 1960s.

Saettler (1990) was quite a bit harder to read. This reading provided a history lesson, but it was all over the place. That inspired me to take learning styles into consideration. Thus, a timeline was born. Tiki-toki allowed me to organize all the information from the readings into an interactive visual representation to lessen confusion. The program also allows for categories, which allowed me to color code the source material for the timeline "stories." Right now, there is a lot of clutter in the heyday of behaviorism. I hope to go back in later to remove some of the less essential "stories" to make the timeline easier to read.

Sometimes, the optional readings professors assign end up being the most interesting. Such was the case last week with the Smith and Boling (2009) article and this week with Molenda (2008). The author provides background information on programmed instruction, and the respect held for PI comes across strongly. Particularly interesting was the section discussing how PI was addressed in presentations and publications, and how it influenced the name change from DAVI to AECT. The sentence that really stood out to me was "The innnovators who followed were similarly motivated to expand human freedom and dignity by giving learners more customized programs of instruction in a humane, caring context with frequent one-to-one contact" (Molenda, 2008).

That sentence, more than anything else I read, made me reconsider my previous perceptions of behaviorism. Behaviorism as a theory is not black and white. There is a lot of grey and a lot of color in there. Behaviorism is made up of a lot of different opinions about how to achieve the goal. Finally, there are many aspects of learner-centered, quality online education that have their roots in behaviorism.


Driscoll, M. P. (2005). Radical behaviorism. In Psychology of learning for instruction (3rd ed.) (pp. 29-69). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Molenda, M. (2008). The programmed instruction era: When effectiveness mattered. TechTrends, 52(2), 52-58.

Saettler, P. (1990). Behaviorism and educational technology. In The evolution of American educational technology (pp. 286-317). Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited.

 Smith, M. K., & Boling, E. (2009). What do we make of design? Design as a concept in educational technology. Educational Technology, 49(4), 3-17.

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