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High School Math and Technology

Behaviorist Learning Theory in the Classroom

March 22, 2010 by lonnieashton · 1 Comment · Bridging Learning Theory, Instruction & Technology, Impact of Technology on Education, Work, and Society Master's Class Blog

Behaviorist Learning Theory appears to be used in education two-fold; for class management and in classroom instruction. According to Dr. Orey (Laureate 2008), behaviorist learning theory in the classroom is due to on “operant conditioning” which bases learning on (1) reinforcing desired behaviors and (2) punishing undesirable ones. In order for students to really learn and understand content, they need to be engaged. One way is to show them that they are learning something. In the book, Using Technology with Instruction that Works by Pitler et al (2007), they give educational strategies that is based on Behaviorist Learning Theory in a sections called “Reinforcing Effort” and “Homework and Practice”. This pertains to Behaviorist Learning Theory because in order for our students to do well, they need to be engaged and “effort” is the one factor that the students can control. By reinforcing effort, we are reinforcing desired behaviors. With practice and homework strategies, we reinforce what they have learned and make it part of their “memory bank”. Since behaviorist learning is directed by stimuli (Strandridge 2002), when we reinforce effort and show our students that positive outcomes do occur with their own effort, they will feel confident and even self-motivated to learn and participate.

As described in “Reinforcing Effort” (Pitler et al, 2007), using spreadsheet software and having your students track their effort using an effort rubric given by the teacher, will reinforce learning when they are able to see that effort does produce positive outcomes. This would be relevant especially in math (which is the subject I teach) as I can make it part of my lesson plan. The students can graph their own data and I can meet with each student and give them their current class grade to so they can compare the level of their effort with their progress in the class. They can also convert hand written work into Excel by plotting the points acquired from their work with equations and graphs. In the “Homework and Practice” chapter, there are the PowerPoint games that we can create and post on the class website. It seems very customizable and I can use it to help my students practice math problems and use it as a review for tests. These games will definitely engage students to participate and with practice and drills they will master the content. Computer games and online training are very common. If we use them more in the classroom, the students who already are familiar with them can help those students who aren’t.

As mentioned by Dr. Orey (Laureate 2008), the behaviorist learning theory is very relevant in today’s online technology in the form of educational games and tutorials that students can use to enhance and reinforce new learning and receive instant feedback. With this form of programmed instruction, any person who uses this tutorial is shown a lesson either using visuals, animations or textual instruction, then are presented a series of questions. Based on their answers, they either move on and receive positive feedback on a correct answer, or redirection and another chance to try again. If a goal at the end of the lesson is a “certificate of completion”, then the student and teacher have tangible proof of their success. They can also add speed and accuracy on the form along with a grade. They receive immediate feedback and in order for the students to receive positive feedback and a correct answer, they just need to focus on the instruction and put forth better effort and attention.


Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2009). Bridging learning theory, instruction, and technology. Baltimore: Author.

Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Standridge, M. (2002). Behaviorism. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from: Orey, M.(Ed.). (2001). Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology.

One Comment so far ↓

  • Deb Sharratt

    My one experience with this short term, visuals included, computer-based, isn’t this like a game? model for bringing kids up to speed with reading was not a success. The program is Read180 by scholastic, and my school has given it quite a run, but I have seen no real improvement. Not being an expert, I don’t know why it is not more successful.

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