Scheduled teaching according to BF Skinner

In 1954, Burrhus Frederick Skinner, the famous behaviorist who developed the operant conditioning paradigm, began to design a “teaching machine” that could promote learning more effectively than traditional educational methods, which the author deemed ineffective and criticized with remarkable success.

This way Skinner created a programmed teaching method based on operant conditioning which would have a significant impact on the educational context of the second half of the twentieth century. In this article, we will explain what exactly the Skinnerian programmed teaching consisted of.

    Skinner’s Criticisms of Traditional Teaching

    Skinner thought that traditional teaching was too based on punishment; in operational terms, he said that students’ behavior in the classroom was mainly controlled by aversive stimuli. This means that children have learned to act in a way that avoids bad grades, criticism from adults or teasing from peers.

    However, research by Skinner and his supporters has clearly shown that reinforcement is more effective than punishment for learning new behaviors. In this regard, he identified not only an excessive use of punishment, but also a low frequency of reinforcements; attribute this fact to the excessive number of pupils per teacher.

    Moreover, according to this author, on the rare occasions when reinforcements were administered to students, it occurred with a long lag from the execution of the relevant responses. Another basic principle of operant conditioning is that reinforcement is most effective when it appears immediately after the behavior.

    The last of the main flaws in traditional teaching that Skinner pointed out was the absence of systematization in educational programs. The father of operant conditioning believed that teaching should be based on the method of successive approximations, by which increasingly near-goal responses are reinforced.

      Principles of programmed education

      Skinner’s method is probably the best known in the field of programmed instruction; however, it is not the only one that exists.

      It is characterized by its linearity, as it follows a fixed sequence of contents (What sets it apart from Crowder’s hip programming), as well as for its four basics.

      1. Set clear goals

      Unlike many teaching methods prevalent at the time, Skinner’s programmed teaching attached great importance to defining the objectives of the educational program to be designed. In this way, it was possible to optimize the tasks and the presentation of the content according to different aspects, mainly the difficulty.

      2. Division of educational content

      In Skinner’s method, successive divisions of educational material are made: programs are separated into modules, and these into frames or frames with specific content. As we will see in the next section, the teaching was done through a linear succession of texts (or other materials) and assessment exercises.

      3. Increased learning difficulties

      Another central aspect of Skinnerian programmed instruction is that the learning material is presented progressively according to the relative difficulty of each of the segments. Since we are in the context of the operative paradigm, we can speak specifically of the molding or method of successive approximations.

      4. Active participation of students

      The fourth basic principle of Skinner’s educational model is the relevance given to the active participation of students in their own teaching process. This clashes head-on with the receptive and memorial learning techniques of traditional teaching, which do not promote student motivation at all.

      Skinnerian teaching machines

      Skinner called the teaching machine he designed “GLIDER”. It was a mechanical device that allowed automatic control of the learning process, since it was strictly planned in a linear progression. In this way, he developed programs for teaching spelling, mathematics and other academic subjects.

      Teaching using these machines consisted of a typical behavioral orientation reinforcement program. We say it was linear in character because the texts and exercises were presented in a fixed sequence, determined mainly by the difficulty of the segments of material that the students were to learn.

      Individually, students read a short segment of material (a frame or a painting). Then they have to answer a question; the answer is in the absent word format, which consists of filling in an empty space. The teaching machine immediately informs the student if they have failed or passed, Which is a reinforcement.

      When the student responds correctly to the assessment exercise for a specific content, they move on to the next frame and possibly receive another type of reinforcement. If he fails, he will be able to review the learning materials until he succeeds in doing it correctly and continuing the training program.

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