Educational Psychology: How is operant conditioning applied in the teaching- learning dynamic today?


2b iv).  Explain the application of operant conditioning in the teaching-learning situation.

Application of operant conditioning in the teaching-learning situation

In operant conditioning, reinforcement is a key element in learning. The principle is that reinforcement strengthens behavior and makes it more probable. This means that reinforced behavior has the chance of occurring again and again.

There are two main reinforces in operant conditioning and these are, positive reinforces and negative reinforces. These two reinforces have the power to strengthen responses that they accompany.

Operant conditioning can be applied in the teaching-learning process in the following ways:

        • Positive reinforcement
        • Negative reinforcement
        • Primary reinforcement
        • Secondary reinforcement
        • Learner involvement


Positive reinforcement

This is the administration of a pleasant event contingent upon the desired response. Positive reinforces are like food, candy or something valued by the learner like a smile, a nod an exclamation of “good”, “great” or even permission to do something the child desires.

Negative reinforcement

Negative reinforcement refers to the removal of a noxious stimulus in order to encourage the desirable behavior. Noxious or unpleasant stimuli include:

        • Annoying noise
        • Harsh criticism
        • A teacher’s nagging.

Students always want to escape from these events. This reinforcement works in the following way; when the child is under negative stimuli like a teacher nagging or harsh criticism he is in a state of discomfort. This state of discomfort reinforces him to do the desired task. When the desired task is done the nagging stops. This type of reinforcement ensures that the desirable behavior is strengthened and repeated by the child in order to escape or avoid the unpleasant stimulus.

Primary and Secondary reinforces

We need to make the distinction between primary and secondary reinforces. Positive primary reinforces are stimuli like food, water, pain avoidance, temperature regulation and sex. These are physiological states that arouse the physiological needs. By satisfying physiological needs we can strengthen behavior both in human being and animals.

Physiological needs are unlearned and survival related.

Secondary needs, on the other hand, are learned or acquired. They are not related to survival. The person acquires these needs as he interacts with other people. Secondary reinforces are things like, the need for money, power or prestige. In school, good grades are very reinforcing. The learner who is achieving well is liked by the teacher and the parents and is also envied by the peers.

Learner involvement

From operant condition, we can also apply the principle of learner involvement. This is because when skinner put the rat in the Skinner box he wanted it to learn actively. The rat had to explore the box and as a result on its own discovered the relationship between bar pressing behavior and food. Likewise, the teachers should encourage learner involvement. The learners should be given the chance to be searchers of knowledge. If they search knowledge it becomes very significant for them. They should be allowed to discover knowledge under conditions of reinforcement.


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