2.2 General Psychology: How is Operant conditioning used in the classroom? What’s the difference between Classical Learning and Operant Learning?

2.2 Examine the use of Operant conditioning in the classroom

2.3 Compare and contrast between Classical Learning and Operant Learning

Use of Operant Conditioning in the Classroom

`1. Controlling behaviour by using positive reinforcement

Operant conditioning can be used instead of punishment when controlling behaviour. Most behaviour occurring in the school situation is voluntary. The teacher should try to find out what the rein forcer for positive behaviour is and use this rein forcer to strengthen and maintain the positive behaviour. Positive rein forcers teachers could use include verbal praise, good grades, etc.

2. Controlling behaviour through negative reinforcement

Negative reinforcement can be used by teachers to maintain and strengthen correct responses while the undesired responses suffer extinction. An example is a teacher who finds learners in his school playing on the highway because the school’s playing field has long grass. The teacher can have the grass cut down in order to encourage children to play on this field instead of playing on the dangerous highway.

Similarities between Classical Learning and Operant Learning

  • Both classical and operant conditioning represent simple forms of learning by association
  • Both follow the same principles in such ideas as extinction that is if the rein forcer is not given, responses weaken and ultimately disappear
  • The principle of reinforcement is central in both
  • Stimulus discrimination where the subject learns to respond to stimuli which are associated with reinforcement and does not respond to those not associated with reinforcement
  • Stimulus generalization for example in instrumental conditioning a bird can be conditioned to peck at a red key or red button and it will peck at buttons with different shades of red but will not peck at dissimilar coloured buttons

Differences between Classical Learning and Operant Learning

  • In classical conditioning the conditioned stimulus and the unconditioned stimulus are delivered to a passive subject. In instrumental conditioning the rein forcer is delivered only if the subject makes the required response
  • Different types of responses are involved. In classical learning reinforcement is based on reflex behaviours like salivation, dilation of the pupil of the eye, fear, shock, etc. These re behaviours that have their release in the autonomic nervous system that is, they are elicited involuntarily. However, in instrumental conditioning the animal moves about – pressing a lever, pecking at a disc, etc. These are skeletal responses with their release in the central nervous system. Therefore these responses are emitted voluntarily
  • In operant conditioning it is the response that the subject gives which operates on the environment to achieve some response (to achieve reinforcement). In classical conditioning reinforcement follows the conditioned stimulus not the animal’s response.



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