Skinner and learning (English)

Skinner influenced education as well as psychology. He was quoted as saying, “Teachers must learn how to teach … they need only to be taught more effective ways of teaching.” Skinner asserted that positive reinforcement is more effective at changing and establishing behavior than punishment, with obvious implications for the then widespread practice of rote learning and punitive discipline in education. Skinner also suggests that the main thing people learn from being punished is how to avoid punishment.

Skinner says that there are five main obstacles in learning:

  1. People have a fear of failure
  2. There is a lack of directions
  3. There is also a lack of clarity in the direction
  4. Positive reinforcement is not used enough
  5. The task is not broken down into small enough steps

Skinner suggests that with all of the obstacles out of the way any age appropriate skill can be taught using his 5 principles:

  1. Have small steps
  2. Work from most simple to most complex tasks
  3. Repeat the directions as many times as possible
  4. Give immediate feedback
  5. Give positive reinforcement

Skinner’s views on education are extensively written about in his book the Technology of teaching. It is also reflected in Fred S. Keller’s Programmed System of instruction and Ogden R. Lindsley’s Precision Teaching.