Edward Thorndike called it the stimulus-response theory of learning. Skinner labeled it operant conditioning. Still others refer to it as the theory of behaviorism. No matter what name you choose to use, the conditions are the same: engage a learner in a concept, repeat the concept in various forms, and positively reinforce students when objectives are obtained (Smith, 1999).
Introducing a new concept, and having students retain that information, can be challenging for teachers. The variation of learning styles and levels in the classroom can increase the difficulty of successful retention. According to Marzano, “students need about 24 practice sessions with a skill in order to achieve 80% competency (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, & Malenoski, 2007). With this in mind, it is evident that a student’s success is based on the amount of time spent connecting back to the initial concept. A coach always emphasizes that practice makes perfect. A teacher should base their emphasis on the fact that practice makes permanent. Practice trains the brain to connect this knowledge to future concepts.
Teachers must provide time for students to apply what they have learned. This practice can be obtained in various ways. The traditional homework assignment gives students the opportunity to practice what they have learned independently. Allowing time in class to begin homework assignments allows teachers to monitor the understanding of their students. This initial feedback can limit any immediate misunderstandings that a student may have. To accommodate the different styles of learning, teachers must build homework assignments that fit the needs of each individual, while still working to achieve the established goals of the lesson. Incorporating collaborative work sessions with specific group structure can accommodate the special needs of various students.
Technology is a tool that can enhance skills by implementing various styles of practice. The internet has a variety of resources that accommodate multiple disciplines. This can be found in a gaming format, tutorial sessions, interactive simulations, or a set of drills, such as math equations. The benefit of using these sources is the immediate feedback that is given to a student. The other benefit is that students can continue to use this practice outside of the classroom, and it engages them in media tools that they are familiar with. This familiarity to technology engages students in their learning and motivates them to continue practicing their skills. Other forms of practice that technology assists with are student projects. Research and presentation are ways for students to continue to apply the concepts that they have learned.
With any sort of practice comes reinforcement of learning. This reinforcement is a critical component to successful and accurate retention. Teachers are faced with many responsibilities that sometimes postpone the immediate feedback given on homework assignments. Technology minimizes this delay. The quicker a student is able to see their success, the easier it is for them to begin to retain the new concept. The theory of behaviorism is a strategy that can be implemented by every teacher, not just for classroom management, but as a way to achieve successful retention in learning.
Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Smith, K. (1999). The behaviourist orientation to learning. In The encyclopedia of informal education. Retrieved from http://www.infed.org/biblio/learning-behavourist.htm.