Behaviorism, There’s No Escaping it [ID Blog]

Here I was, happily going through life, under the impression that I was a free-thinker making my own choices. This week I learned I am but a pawn of the external stimuli coming at me from all angles, resulting in my desired behavior by various companies.

Behaviorism is the change in the form or frequency of a behavior in response to an external stimulus. More people seem to remember Pavlov’s dog experiments than anything else. I remembered the rats pushing levers in B.F. Skinner’s box. Well, to be honest, I remembered the rats pushed levers and received food, so they kept pushing the levers. I didn’t remember that it was Skinner’s box.

Now that I have done my readings and video viewings for this week, I realize it is all around me (as was pointed out in various examples). I thought I enjoyed getting my specialty coffees (and getting the 7th drink free) because I was a good bargain hunter. After all, I’m going to buy the coffee anyway. Look at me saving a little money by using this program. No! The store is using behaviorism on me. They are using operant conditioning on me; guiding my behavior towards their desired behavior by using reinforcement. Instead of continuous reinforcement (a free drink in a BOGO offer which would cost them more money) they are using partial or intermittent reinforcement. I come to their store and pay for 6 coffees with the mark up from the actual cost covering much more than just the cost of the free 7th coffee that keeps me returning to their establishment.  Also pointed out to me in the YouTube Crash Course video on Psychology #11 was the fact that I also respond to negative reinforcement. Although it sounds like punishment, negative reinforcement isn’t that but actual something good that results in the removal of an external stimulus. In the example revealed to me in this video, I remember to buckle up my seatbelt so I don’t have to hear the obnoxious sound or see the light on my dashboard. In order to stop those things, I buckle up or (more often than not) remind the passenger in my car that they haven’t buckled up. Either way, I am motivated to get rid of the sound and light.

I’m no stranger to behaviorism. I was a dog trainer for the ASPCA and we used clicker training for the dogs. You start out giving the dog a treat when it does something good and at the same time clicking your clicker. Then you make the dog treats less and less frequent but maintain the use of the clicker so the dog knows that you are happy with their actions. Here I thought I was smart, but I am responding to the “clickers” all around me in my own life!

Learning Theories: They are Only as Good as the Latest Research [ID Blog]

Learning theories seem to come and go all the time. Sometimes they build on each other, other times they reject previous theories, and a few just come about on their own, not at all linked to any others. What surprises me is the research used to reinforce some of the theories. For example, I understand when researchers use all women in a study to see if the information from a previous study based on all men, has the same results. But why in the world would they use a homogeneous group in the first place? That, to me, makes no sense.

If researchers begin with two conflicting  positions on the origins of knowledge (empiricism and rationalism) of course there is already a tension between what some believe is the definition of learning. Empiricism begins with Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) and posits the idea that learning and knowledge come from what we continuously experience in sensory perception, until the individual is able to put it all together in meaningful, complex ideas. According to Schunk (1991), Empiricism is the view that experience is the primary source of knowledge.” On the other hand, rationalism originated with Plato (c. 427-347 B.C.) and his belief that what was already in our minds (i.e. experiences) is the source of learning and does not rely on our sensory input. Again, Schunk (1991), boils it down for us to “Rationalism is the view that knowledge derives from reason without the aid of the senses.” What we experience, we come to know and understand from what is already in our minds. We are able to recall memories in order to make sense of this new information and store it in our brains accordingly.

The first major learning theory, originally from Watson but turned into a theory by Skinner, is behaviorism. Behaviorism is soundly based on empiricism and it’s belief that sensory input is an integral part of learning. The famous Pavlovian experiment with the dog and the bell – ringing a bell every time the dog was given food which resulted in the dog salivating upon hearing the bell, is behaviorism. It is “a change in observable behavior that determines that learning has occurred” (Skinner, 1971). But such a wide open statement can envelop situations as learning situations when, in fact, they aren’t. True, behaviorists believe that the stimuli in the learner’s environment must be arranged in order to bring about a change in behavior, it can’t just be happenstance. Personally I think of clicker training with dogs when I think of this theory. You give the dog a command and each time the dog responds correctly you give them a treat while simultaneously clicking the training clicker in your hand. The dog begins to associate the clicker sound with praise and slowly you stop giving the food treats and just use the clicker to reward the dog. However, if I were the dog, I would think, OK, it’s been about 10 days since the last treat came with the clicker sound, what’s up? and perhaps I’d stop being so happy about the clicker. But I’m not a dog. However, it is this association in my mind that makes me think behaviorism, while it has some good points, is not the right basis for learning in humans. Of course, for less complex instruction, such as mastering a skill, this reward type of training works well.

Humanismthe next major learning theory, seems to fly to the opposite end of the spectrum from “all you have to show is an observable change in behavior” as a sign that learning has occurred, all the way to self-actualization or becoming a fully functioning person. Quite the leap there. Carl Rogers (1983) started the student-centered learning approach with the teacher no longer “banking” knowledge into empty student vessels but rather working more as a guide or facilitator-helping the students discover the learning themselves. His five principles of significant learning: (a) has a quality of personal involvement (b) is self-initiated (c) is pervasive (d) is evaluated by the learner and (e) its essence is meaning, are major thoughts behind instructional design models. Even though Gagné and his theory of instructional design came out of the cognitivist theory. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs posits that the learner needs to take care of the basic physiological needs, then safety issues, needs to feel love and belonging, and have good self-esteem before moving to the final place of self actualization. In Maslow’s view, the learning process takes the whole person, from the molecular level of basic scientific needs, through emotional and spiritual happiness, to the freeing of the mind to absorb the knowledge. At least that’s the impression that I got (in a much simplified version). But sometimes you can move back and forth between the levels of the triangle and you may need to repeat some levels as you face life’s challenges, so who is to say if it’s a linear move up the triangle?

Although based in humanism, Knowles theories of andragogy are much more, dare I say, logical. His belief that:

  1. People are more open to learning when they are respected
  2. It is important for participants to be placed in a sharing relationship at the outset
  3. People learn more from those they trust than from those they mistrust, so it is important to establish a climate of mutual trust.
  4. People learn better when they feel supported rather than judged or threatened.
  5. A climate of openness and authenticity is also essential. When people feel free to be open and natural, to say what they really think and feel, they are more likely to be willing to examine new ideas.

The rules above are one of those times where I think to myself “Well, that is so obvious, why did they have to write it out?”  Which reminds me of a story my pastor once told. While in seminary he would see different preachers of mega churches on TV. Mixed in with their scriptural teaching was an overabundance of telling audience members things such as “you are a good person”, “you have the ability to do this”, “you can, and will succeed”. He couldn’t understand why people would tune into these shows week after week unless they were vain. Then one day he realized, not everyone comes from a happy home; sometimes people’s childhood’s are filled with stress and disappointment, they don’t do well in school, they don’t have a support system at home. What these TV preachers do is fill that void, that emptiness in them that these folks need for their own self-esteem. He realized also that you can’t come to learn about scriptures or anything else if you don’t see yourself as someone who can succeed, as someone who can do anything, if you don’t believe in your worth.  To me, that incorporates Knowles 5 principles as well as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Mezirow’s Theory of Transformational Learning (1991) is based on development. Along humanist lines this means that as we age and go through life’s experiences, we change and we learn. The learning is continuous. In my paper, I proposed that the adult learner is every adult, because whether our training and/or instruction is formal or not, we are constantly being placed in life’s situations which cause us to make choices from which we learn. Sometimes the outcome teaches us that we should have made the other choice, sometimes it reinforces the choice we did make. This goes along with Mezirow’s (1978) point “transformation can lead developmentally toward a more inclusive, differentiated, permeable, and integrated perspective and that, insofar as it is possible, we all naturally move toward such an orientation. This is what development means in adulthood….”

Although the next theory out the gate, cognitivism, once again shifted the focus of learning. The behaviorists were using stimuli in the environment, the humanists were using the whole person, but cognitivism moved toward the process within the mind: what goes on inside our heads that allows knowledge to enter. Probably the most famous of early cognitivists is Piaget and his 4 stage model of development:

  1. Sensory-motor response to stimuli (infancy)
  2. Representing real objects via symbols and words (preoperational)
  3. Understanding concepts and relationships (concrete operational)
  4. Abstract thinking and hypothetical reasoning (formal operational)

Like any theory, Piaget’s was built upon and changed. Others came along with more steps or different steps, others focused on one of his stages, yet all remained within the cognitivist realm. According to Driscoll (2005, p.74), “When learning occurs, information is input from the environment, processed, and stored in memory, and output in the form of some learned capability”. This is represented in the summational evaluation of instructional design models. It also incorporates Knowles humanist view of respecting the memory and experience that adult learners bring with them to the point of instruction.

Social cognitive theory built upon cognitive theory but added the idea that much of what we learn comes from social contexts. Whether it is a hobby class, formal schooling, at a craft store demonstration, etc. we are not isolated during our learning experience. We learn and at the same time we are able to observe others. Through this observation we are able to better our skills by watching others and also, we are able to observe and learn the behavioral norms of the group or community in which we find ourselves.

Finally we move to the most often used theory nowadays, constructivism. According to Ertmer & Newby (2013), “Constructivists do not deny the existence of the real world but contend that what we know of the world stems from our own interpretations of our experiences. Humans create meaning as opposed to acquiring it.” Learning takes place within a context and that idea is used in instructional design. Constructivist instruction can help when learners already have knowledge of a subject and their memories of how to proceed in that domain may be wrong or biased. Constructivism acknowledges this prior understanding in the learner’s memory and can help to set it right and build from there.

The Change from the Black Lagoon [ID Blog]

I’ll admit it. I hate change. At least at first. Especially when it’s unexpected. Just as The Creature from the Black Lagoon is something that you’d never expect to come out of your water, change can pop up anywhere, at anytime and there’s no fighting it. Even when it’s for the better. I worked for several years as a librarian assistant in Tampa, FL. Every morning as staff arrived the first thing we would do is check the daily schedule. This was the 90’s so libraries weren’t as technologically helpful as today. Let’s just state right now that my nickname was Major Bellows (after the I Dream of Jeannie character) because my voice carried the farthest when announcing the arrival at the front desk of a patron’s request from the third floor periodical archives. We didn’t have permission to use a microphone for these announcements. Front circulation desk time was taxing, but you were one of three people on the desk so it was sociable and fun. The back circulation desk put you in the Business Science Technology (BST) library, a no man’s land, with unfriendly reference librarians and you as the sole operator of that circulation desk. Utopia was working the stacks aka the third floor periodicals. A pneumatic tube would arrive with a patron’s request, you wandered through the alphabetized newspapers and magazines to find the correct issue, put it and the request slip on the dumbwaiter and sent it down. The public wasn’t allowed up here. The librarian assistant’s all had their desks here. Anyone on a break was in this area and it was a time to listen to the radio and catch up with friends whilst still putting away returned archived items and filling requests. All this explanation to point out that anyone calling in sick or late required the schedule to be changed. I could have 3 hrs on the BST back desk and 3 on front circulation followed by looking for”claims returned” items (books that a patron insists that they have returned but somehow it was never scanned back in). Someone’s absence could change my day to no hours in BST and 3 hours in 3rd floor periodicals, making my day much better but my initial reaction to the changed schedule was an internal bristling. I don’t know why I didn’t immediately go to the happy place.

Of course, sometimes change is not for the better, or at least that is the way you or I perceive it. My mom remarried when I was in 7th grade. I loved where I lived, I had great friends, was in Girl Scouts, showed horses in jumping competitions, etc. My parents were commuting between where we lived on the upper mainline of Philadelphia to where my stepfather lived in central PA outside of Harrisburg. My parents bought a lot of land, built a house and prior to 8th grade we moved. I left behind all that was near and dear to me, and became the “new kid”. It was uncomfortable, and I resisted it, finding fault with all that was new. We’d lived in Devon, PA, home of the Devon Horse Show, and for years I’d dreamed of the day that I would compete there. When we moved we left behind TB, my wonderful horse. She’d been abandoned by her previous owners and left at the stables where I took lessons and also worked. I fell in love with her and rode her all the time and started jumping with her. Her name, TB, stood for thoroughbred, because she hadn’t been a jumper but a racehorse; she even had the racing tattoo inside of her bottom lip. Her owners had named her Misfit but I didn’t like that and just called her TB. She followed me everywhere without a lead. Once, when visiting me at the stables, my mother was scared to find this 16 hand horse (a hand is 4 inches and the way horses and ponies are measured, from ground to withers) following me everywhere, stopping behind me to put her muzzle on my shoulder whenever I stood still. She had no halter on, there was no way I could control her, but I trusted her completely and it was totally reciprocal. As an adult looking back, if it were my daughter, I might be concerned.

Not to be outdone, my stepfather tried to share the beauty of his part of the state. He said “We might not have the Devon Horse Show, but we have the Pennsylvania Farm Show.” My parents took me, trying to cheer me up about missing the horse show, but I was horrified. The Farm Show is for promoting Pennsylvania’s agriculture as well as a place for 4-H kids to show off their accomplishments. Instead of horse jumping I was walking through rooms full of chickens in cages. I never knew there were so many varieties. This was followed by rooms full of sheep in pens, then rooms of pigs in pens (the piglets were adorable and then I’d see the sign that they’d been bought by a meat company already) and this was followed by the room of cows. Let’s just admit the smell in the place was overwhelming but hey, they are farm animals. I did like seeing these animals, I didn’t like knowing some of them weren’t returning home (kept hoping Charlotte, the spider of Charlotte’s Web fame, would spin a web saying “Some Pig” over one of the pens but no such luck). They did have horses – there was cart pulling and handling the draft horses, and a rodeo exhibit. But no show jumping and dressage, the world from which I came. Being a moody teen at the time,  my disgust boiled down to “these people ride western, I ride English” accompanied by a snobby little tilt of my head. I did enjoy things like the sheep to shawl competition. They literally sheared the sheep, cleaned the wool, carded the wool, turned it into yarn and then they used spinning wheels and made gorgeous shawls which were auctioned off at the end. The farm show is also know for it’s food (not healthy food but great tasting, lots of milkshakes and buttery things, funnel cake and also famous for its donuts).

What does all this have to do with Instructional Design I hear you asking? Maybe nothing. But I look back at this horse show vs. farm show event as an example of a refusal to change, to transform my mind and myself. Granted I was a teenager, not an adult, therefore I give my adolescent self forgiveness for her attitude. But had I been open, had I kept my experiences from the Devon Horse Show but allowed myself to truly experience the new and strange (to me, culturally unfamiliar) events at the farm show, my time there could have been totally different. I didn’t look at it as a new experience to enjoy, rather I saw it as a failure the moment I saw chickens. I was measuring two totally different things against each other. I was not allowing my mind to grow, to transform, to embrace the new. My experiential part was locked and refusing to move forward at that time due to stubbornness and the way my adolescent mind was working. I wasn’t using autonomous thinking, I was securely tucked away in peer pressure and the “that is so not cool” mindset. There was also an element of cultural bias – coming from a world of show jumping and steeplechases, where people owned horses but heaven’s, not swine and cows. Never mind that the people who show their animals at the farm show are the same farmers without whom there would not be food on our tables.

According to Merriam (2004) I lacked the two prerequisites for transformational learning at this time: to critically self-reflect on our own assumptions as well as those of others ” and “to engage in reflective discourse with others…..to examine alternative perspectives, withhold premature judgment, and basically to think dialectically, a characteristic or mature cognitive development”.  Kegan and Lahey (2009) posit that mental complexity continues to grow in adulthood. “Coping and dealing involve adding new skills or widening our repetoire of responses” which is part of the potential trajectory of mental development across the lifespan. At this point in the lifespan I was at the lowest of the three levels: the socialized mind (i.e. seeking direction and reliant on others).

But my job as a librarian assistant was when I was already working, living independently as an adult. Why did I react so negatively to something even when I could see that, at times, the change for me was for the better? Sometimes my schedule wasn’t even changed. Still the mere phrase “Someone called in, they’re changing the schedule” was enough to send me into a cross between slight panic and moodiness. I would like to believe at this point I had moved on to the second stage of Kegan and Lahey’s levels of of adult mental complexity, that of the self-authoring mind. I was living independently, working, paying my own bills, working in dog rescue so my decisions affected not only me but my furry family, etc. My self -authoring mind allowed the information I sought to come through (schedule, any changes, how will it affect me). Unlike the self-transforming mind where one thinks not only of themselves but sees the big picture and thinks how can this relate “upstream”, I was not there. Am I there now? At times. I have glimmers of it, but I fluctuate back and forth between self authoring and self transforming. I find the times I am more on the self transforming end I have calm in my life, I’m not stressed at the moment that I receive news, therefore I need to seek clarity, think before speaking, and allow myself, no, not allow but encourage my self to think of the whole picture before I react emotionally, or in any way. The key to all of it is mindfulness, reflecting before reacting.

Motivation and the Adult Learner [ID Blog]

The readings this week focused on the various motivations of the adult learner. All I can say is that I never realized there were so many reasons, subcategories, barriers and societal impacts that came into play. Wlodowski’s definition of motivation is “why people behave as they do” and  it is interpreted as being purposeful in one’s actions. His theories were largely constructivist and included a lot of biological/neurological side studies, i.e., how the brain reacts positively to self-directed learning. Wlodowski also accepted the premise that thinking and emotions are inseparable. Honestly, I felt that all the neurological information – which parts of the brain react which way to what stimuli, etc., just made the reading a bit confusing. But that could just be me.

In addition to reading  “What Motivates Adults to Learn” (Wlodowski), we also read Merriam and Bierema’s “Motivation and Learning” chapter from Adult Learning:Linking Theory and Practice (2014).  In this reading it was posited that there are extrinsic and intrinsic motivators for adult learners. Extrinsic motivators often have a tangible goal in sight – getting a degree for a promotion, learning new technology in order to enhance your value to your employer, etc. Intrinsic motivators are unique to each student – learning to expand a social circle, to meet others who enjoy what you do, to be a better parent, or even just to learn solely for the sake of learning. I think even if you have an extrinsic motivator (to learn in order to get a promotion) it also incorporates a bit of intrinsic with it (you want to make a better life for yourself and your family in the long run even if the promotion won’t be the final goal) you may still have more to do in order to create this better life.

In Houle’s The Inquiring Mind (1961), he identified three types of learning orientations – goal-oriented learners (a means to an end, a specific goal in sight), activity-oriented learners (learning for the social aspect or activity), and learning-oriented learners who are focused on learning new things just to learn.  You might start out as one and morph into another. Perhaps you take a class at your community center on jewelry making. Many people comment on how beautiful the necklace is that you made, so you take more classes, delving deeper into the intricacies of jewelry making and end up starting your own business. I would think this happens quite a lot just from the many people whom I’ve encountered that start their own jewelry, soap making, and perfume making businesses. Also, as technology and social media grows, people can do their own marketing (yet more ways to learn, either in a formal setting or just doing self-directed tutorials of software and social media applications).

There were so many different theories in the M&B chapter that it was a bit hard to keep straight how each differed. One thing I did like was McClusky’s Theory of Margin (1963). This theory states that “Margin is the dynamic relationship between load and power.” It wasn’t making that much sense reading about it until I saw it illustrated in the table.  So if you put into the load category the demands you’d have on yourself as an adult learner (family commitments, job responsibility, social and civic duties, along with your own goals, values, attitudes and what you expect of yourself) and in the Power category put in your resources or ways to cope with the load (financial status, social contacts, your health, social skills, coping skills, resiliency) you can create a fraction of Power/Load =margin. If your at 1, then your breaking even but less than that you have too many pressures, more than that and you have a great ability to devote time to learning. Although this theory holds true, I don’t know many people consciously do the pro/con listing when considering pursuing adult education. I would think that it is more likely that someone might see, or be told by others, of barriers in their way. Some people will find ways around this barrier while others might see only the barrier, and it may be quite valid. The digital divide still exists. Where I work we have computers for the teens to come and do their homework. We also offer free computer classes for adults because where I work it is the inner city in a very low-income area. If you don’t have a computer at home, and you don’t have a car, even if you can get financial aid, you still may not be able to physically get to the learning location and you can not take blended classes from home either. Sometimes being motivated doesn’t equate to being able.

Wlodowski’s Integrated Levels of Adult Motivation (2008) has four conditions for instructors to use when designing classes for adults. They are: inclusion, developing an attitude of favorability toward the learning, enhancing the meaning of the learning through challenging and engaging experiences, and finally, engendering confidence by helping each of the learners see what they have learned from the instruction. I liked his K-W-L strategy – learner’s identify what they Know, what they Want to know, and finally what they have Learned.  He had 60 strategies listed to accomplish all of this and some are quite simple (e.g. use constructive criticism, allow for introductions, etc.). Most of the strategies fall back to the idea of who the adult learner is: someone who is full of life experiences and wants to learn but does not want another to act dominant over them. They want to be respected and feel that they are valued. They’re used to making their own decisions and thus are better at self directed learning as that is something that they already do every day, whether in the work place, online, across the informal and non-formal domains, and if in school, in the formal domain as well.

As we continue on in this class it becomes clear that when creating instruction for a class one needs to be cognizant of so many factors: who the learners are, their experiences, what their motivators are, what barriers they might have had to overcome in order to get there, and finally, where they lie in the Theory of Margin. How do you design a class when the participants may be so vastly different? I’m hoping I’ll know all of this by the end of my own instruction at UMB.