Application of Behaviorism in Classroom

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Behaviorism is among the learning theories that focus on objectively observable behaviors while discounting any independent activities of the mind. According to behavioral theorists, learning is nothing more than the acquisition of new behaviors following the environmental conditions. The school of behaviorism began in the 1910s and was led by John B. Watson. Behaviorists are only concerned with the observable behaviors with their explanation of personality being focused on learning. Some of the scholars who proposed important behaviorist theories include B.F. Skinner, Walter Mischel, and Albert Bandura.

Concepts of the theory

The behaviorist theory maintains that learners are mostly passive and responds to environmental stimuli. According to the theory, learners’ starts off as a clean slate or tabula rasa and their behaviors are shaped by negative or positive reinforcements. The two reinforcements increase the chances that the antecedent behavior will occur again. Punishment on the other hand, either positive or negative reduces the occurrence of the antecedent behavior (Mason, 2017). Additionally, the theory emphasizes the role of environmental factors in influencing behavior, to the near exclusion of the inherited factors. This means that we learn new behaviors through operant or classical conditioning.

Behaviorism in the Classroom

When applied to a classroom setting, behaviorism mainly focuses on conditioning student’s behaviors with different types of behavior consequences as well as reinforcement known as operant conditioning. Four main types of reinforcement can be used in a classroom setting:

Positive reinforcement

Negative reinforcement

Presentation punishment and

Removal reinforcement

The teacher can alter classroom activities to incorporate behaviorism theory in different ways. To start with, the teacher can compliment good behaviors once they occur. This is also important as it motivates students to do good (Ormrod, 2011). Positive reinforcement can be applied through praising students once they have behaved well or have completed a task. For instance, the teacher can use the system of offering gold stars which later result in small prizes once enough have been earned.

Another way of incorporating the theory into a classroom setting is supporting praise with evidence. Different research works have indicated that saying good things to student’s works fine for a while, but they eventually stop believing unless they are shown exactly why their behaviors qualify to be praised in the first place. Teachers can do this by pointing out specific acts as well as explaining why they were so important (Mason, 2017).

Additionally, behaviorism can be incorporated into a classroom setting through utilizing negative reinforcement.  However, it is worth noting that this does not mean punishment. Instead, it involves rewarding good behavior by taking away something that the student considers to be negative. This is also important as it motivates students to do good. After removing something that students find to be negative, the teacher reinforces separate positive behaviors.

The last way of incorporating behaviorism in a classroom setting is applying unpleasant consequences when necessary. Punishment is sometimes vital as it discourages undesirable behaviors (Ormrod, 2011). However, the teacher needs to be more careful not to go to extents that would embarrass the student.

How the theory will impact classroom management and student learning

The way a teacher manages his or her classroom is an essential part of attaining efficient learning environment.  Behaviorism theory is based on the idea that learning is among the functions of change in overt behavior. Different elements of the theory lead to changes in student’s behaviors as a result of their responses to events happening in the environment such as rewards and punishments (Olson, 2015). When the teacher rewards the stimulus-response pattern, students will be conditioned to respond similarly in the future thus positively affecting their learning. The key to this theory is reinforcement as well as anything else strengthening the desired response.

Additionally, through immediate praise, rewards, and feedback the teacher will be able to change troublesome behaviors and will also be able to correct behaviors in the classroom. For instance, when a particular student gets out of his or her seat frequently, the teacher can set a timer for five minutes. Every time the student stays in his or her seat for five minutes, the teacher should reward him either through a token or any other reward.

Moreover, the theory can positively impact student learning through encouraging the use of good study strategies. However, it is worth noting that student must be shown direct consequences of using the strategies (Olson, 2015). For instance, the teacher can give students practice using their strategies and then request them to study small bits of material using the new strategy being taught. Different research works have indicated that understanding how behaviorist principles work helps the teacher to better understand reasons as to why his or her students fail to change their studying behaviors immediately. Additionally, the principles offer ideas on how the teacher can slowly shape the behaviors which will lead to better studying.

Ways of differentiating instructions to meet students needs

One of the ways of differentiating instructions to meet the needs of every student is differentiating the content as well as the rewards and punishments given to students. Content involves knowledge, skills, and concepts needed by students to learn based on the curriculum effectively. To start with the teacher can differentiate content by making use of various delivery formats like readings, videos, and lectures. Different rewards can be used to motivate different students (Staddon, 2016).For example, the teacher can use mystery motivators to some students which will only be opened once they meet the specified criteria for the desired behavior. Additionally, the teacher can motivate students to learn through grouping them by shared interest, topics as well as the ability for assignment. Moreover, the teacher can engage in product differentiation through giving choices where students pick or propose their desired rewards.

Ways of managing and motivating students

Different research works have indicated that teachers more than any school program have the most power to understand different ways of motivating and managing their students. The behaviorist theory outlines different ways of managing and motivating students which includes:

Praising students in ways big and small- this involves displaying perfect work in the class, recognizing work in class, sending parents positive notes as well as holding weekly awards (Moore, 2017). However, teachers need to understand that they should always be free with praise and constructive in criticism. For instance, they should ensure that negative comments only pertain to certain performances, not the performer. Additionally, the teacher should always offer nonjudgmental feedback, find new ways of stimulating advancement as well as avoid dividing students into sheep and goat.

The second way of managing and motivating students is giving them a sense of control. Guidance from the teacher is always essential as it keeps students motivated and on task. However, allowing them to have some control and choice over what is happening in the classroom is the best way of ensuring that they are always engaged. For instance, the teacher can allow students to choose the problems they would wish to work on or the type of assignment they want to do. This will eventually motivate them to do more (Staddon, 2016).

Creating a threat-free environment is also a major way of managing and motivating students. However, students need to understand that there will always be consequences for their actions. Creating a safe and supportive environment for the students makes them motivated to do more work.

Why learner and professionals identify with behaviorism theory

Most of the people associate with this theory as it helps in motivating change in the short and long-term. Students always work hard to earn rewards at the end of the day which positively affects their grades. Since the theory uses positive reinforcement, it has demonstrated long-term positive consequences. The theory also tries to understand and change human behaviors something which most people wish to do (Moore, 2017). The theory resolves the undesirable behaviors through dealing with their mental source. This means that at the end of the day, the theory will have improved a person’s self-belief as well as self-confidence. The behaviorist theory can be used to enhance the confidence of other students. This is through helping them to think differently as well as more positively about the challenges they are facing in school.


It is evident from the discussion that behaviorism is among the theories of how human beings behave the way they do. It is also clear that the theory mainly focuses on the observable behaviors that can be measured. When it comes to learning, the theory emphasizes stimuli that create a response. Lastly, the theory is action- oriented which means that it does not involve emotions or thoughts related to the behavior.


Mason, S. A. (2017). Behaviorist Theory. Encyclopedia of Autism Spectrum Disorders, 1-3.

Moore, J. (2017). John B. Watson's Classical S–R Behaviorism. The Journal of Mind and Behavior, 38(1), 1.

Ormrod, J. E. (2011). Human learning. Pearson Higher Ed.

Olson, M. H. (2015). An introduction to theories of learning. Psychology Press.

Staddon, J. (2016). Theoretical Behaviorism, Economic Theory, and Choice. History of Political Economy, 48(suppl_1), 316-331.

October 30, 2023

Education Psychology



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Student Classroom

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