Behaviourism in the 21st century

The question posed in this activity is whether behaviourism is still valid in the 21st century. One of the “new” learning theories presented in the readings is connectivism. I will respond to the activity question by reflecting on behaviourism’s relationship to connectivity.

I like the theory of connectivity as explained in the reading by Seimens. They way I read it, connectivism allows students to question everything. Or at least it is a theory that achnowledges that students’ learning will be impacted by everything in their lives. If there is conflict between what a student learns from one source and what they learn from another source, connectivism explains that a student is likely to form an opinion based on learning from a third source, or a fourth, or a fifth. In the 21st century, we, as lecturers, need to accept that we are not the only source of information for students. They may believe they know more than us, and they might! What connectivism allows us to do, as lectures, is set up students so they know how to question, or what to question.

My teaching area is Media Writing. From a behaviourist perspective, I teach the students rules about writing, they learn those rules and apply them in writing. If the writing illustrates the rules, the student is correct. If the writing does not illustrate the rules, the student is incorrect. For media writing this has been an accepted approach. As a lecturer I can draw upon examples of media writing to prove that the rules exist.

Within connectivism, students can easily check what I am teaching them. And they do. We have many discussions on writing styles, whether to use a single quotation mark or double quotation mark, how to introduce a news article, and many other examples.

Does this affect the way I teach? Absolutely! Until I completed the readings on connectivity, I was not aware of the terminology, but I absolutely agree with it. As a lecturer, I encourage students to question, and my understanding of connectivity theory allows me to acknowledge that the questioning will be constant from students who live in a digital age. Rather than frightening, it is liberating! I can encourage student activities that critique the content they have just been taught. Students can use their natural connectivity to find the responses, thus using a constructivism approach. And by the fact that I set the task, and apply boundaries to it, I am still working within a behaviourist framework.

In answer to the question posed in this activity “Is behaviourism still a valid learning theory?” I say yes. However, the context has changed. The setting has changed. And the students have changed. As we were taught at the beginning of this Theme, not one learning theory will apply completely. So it is with behaviourism. If we view behaviourism through its 1940s lens, then it is most certainly not valid. But if we view behaviourism with a knowledge of how learning takes place today, then yes.

I use behaviourism as a learning theory. And I maintain that I need to use behaviourism because students need to know the “rules” about media writing. I need to set boundaries for the students, otherwise assessment would be inconsistent and moderation impossible. But I do not use behaviourism in isolation. I use it with constructivism, which recognises students’ individuality, and connectivity, which acknowledges students’ exposure to myriad sources of information.