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Term of the Week: Behaviorism

What is it?

A theory of learning based on the idea that all sources of behavior are external (in the environment), not internal (in the mind, in the head). Also known as Behavioral Learning Theory.

Why is it important?

Behavioral learning theory shows us how to leverage important factors such as repetition, positive reinforcement, and motivation to achieve better results from the learning initiatives we employ. The biggest advantage of a behavioral approach to learning is that it focuses on observable, measurable behaviors, making it useful for modifying behaviors in the real world.

Why does a business professional need to know this?

Behaviorists believe that all behaviors are learned through conditioning, (interaction with the environment) and can be described and explained without needing to reference mental events or internal psychological processes.

According to this theory, anyone, regardless of their background, can be trained to act in a particular way given the right conditioning. In short, behavior is a response to environmental stimuli.

Basic assumptions:

  • Behaviorism is primarily concerned with observable behavior, as opposed to internal events like emotions and thinking.
  • Behavior is the result of stimulus-response (i.e., all behavior, no matter how complex, is reduced to a stimulus-response relationship).
  • Behavior is determined by the environment (e.g., conditioning, nurture).

The birth of behaviorism traces back to the work of John B. Watson in the early 1900s(Hauser). Watson believed that objective analysis of the mind was impossible. He was a major proponent of shifting the focus of psychology from the mind to behavior. This approach of observing and influencing behavior by focusing on observable, quantifiable events became known as behaviorism.

Behavioral learning theory helps someone who designs learning programs to apply appropriate instructional strategies to achieve results aligned with the needs of the audience and goals of the organization.

Learning is central to the success of every organization. Every business professional can benefit from understanding and applying principles, such as behaviorism, that make the learning process as efficient and effective as possible.


About Jillian Powers

Photo of Jillian Powers

Jillian Powers, PhD, is an assistant professor of instructional technology at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) for the College of Education. She earned her PhD in curriculum and instruction with a specialization in instructional technology from FAU in 2014. Dr. Powers teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in instructional technology and design. Her research focuses on teachers’ adoption and integration of technology, preparing pre-service teachers to integrate technology, and STEM education. In 2019, she was selected to be an FAU Woman Leader in STEM.

Term: Behaviorism