A social philosopher Frederic Skinner developed an idea that human actions were results of consequences of these actions. When actions and consequences of actions are good, and a person receives some kind of reward, he or she repeats the action. When actions and consequences of these actions are bad, and a person is punished, he will not repeat these actions one more time.
Skinner developed his own approach and vision towards human behavior, environment, activities and consequences of these activities. He stated that actions are the reasons of consequences on these actions. Skinner created his own approach towards education and its improvement and towards behavior therapy.
Skinner was the developer of radical behaviorism and creator of a school of the experimental analysis of behavior. Radical behaviorism is based on an individual’s actions and consequences. Skinner did not pay attention to emotions and thinking.: ‘Ignorance of that role led in the first place to mental fictions, and it has been perpetuated by the explanatory practices to which they gave rise’ (Skinner, 1974). In his studies, he considered only human’s behavior, activities, and rewards or punishments for these activities. Systematic rewards will not only control people’s actions, but also create ways of living and directions for future activities. Rewarding leads to repeating of the action; punishment leads to removal of desire to repeat the vent, and absence of any positive or negative reward leads to extinction.
Theories developed by Skinner have a significant influence on the process of education. The scientists state that education has two main goals. The first one is teaching to non-verbal and verbal behavior. The second goal is based on encouraging in studies and making education exciting.
Skinner stated that students had a desire to study and to receive new information only when they had stimulus. The scientist in his works described that the behavior (including the desire to receive education) can be formed on the basis of little consequences: ‘the opportunity to move forward after completing one stage of an activity’ (Skinner, 1961).
Skinner stated that students should not just listen to the teacher and receive information. They should be involved in the process of studying. The process of creating and changing of student’s behavior gave more positive results than punishment. Punishment simply leads to searching ways how to avoid it, when creating behavior provides searching for new information and education.
In his The Technology of Teaching, he describes reasons why teachers cannot make education interesting for students and why students do not want to receive new knowledge. Various mistakes of studying are being described in this work. By describing these mistakes, Skinner wanted to show teachers how they should not act and present new information.
One of the main mistakes was using methodologies, which leads to reluctance. No one would like to receive new information if he or she is afraid of something or has negative emotions during education. Such studies become a burden. Students try to avoid them in any possible way.
The second mistake is just telling the information. Skinner wrote: ‘Unfortunately, a student does not learn simply when he is shown or told’ (Skinner, 1968). Just pronunciation of facts does not provide education and understanding of the subject. Students have to understand the teacher and be involved in the process of studying.
Another serious mistake, which can happen during the education process, is when teacher or professor presents information on the level that is higher than the level of students. They just cannot understand and memorize it. A person cannot be involved in the process of studying something if he or she cannot just catch the subject.
The last but not the least mistake is lack of frequently positive reinforcement of received knowledge. A student can hear information, understand it, but without reinforcement he or she can forget obtained knowledge. The whole process of education will, therefore, be useless. Such reinforcement should be positive in stimulating students to further educate and develop their knowledge.
Skinner not just stated problems of the education; he described ways of improvement of the education process and made some advices to teachers.
Teachers should describe new information and clearly. A person should understand what he or she is studying and what he or she should do to receive new knowledge effectively. Only understanding can lead to involvement in the process of education.
Teacher should divide big complicated tasks into small. The process of education will, therefore, not be incomprehensible and obscure. Students should clearly understand what they are doing. If some questions arise, teacher will be able to explain the information. Firstly, students should perform simple tasks and only then – complicated. If very complicated tasks are given on the very beginning, students will feel fear of non-fulfillment and may not even try to perform these tasks.
Each correct step and each correct performing of small task should be supported by encouragement. Students will thus feel that they are moving in a correct direction and receiving some benefits for their efforts. They will be interested in continuation of education. Students should be encouraged in their success and their efforts until they complete their tasks.
Skinner also stated that teachers who use education as a punishment will never obtain positive results. These actions will lead to rebellious intends and actions and development of student’s opposition towards receiving knowledge and the whole process of education.
Today, Skinner’s theories are widely used in schools and educational institutions. His ideas of immediate praise, reward and feedback became very popular and are widely implemented. These methods lead to the development of correct behavior and student’s interest towards education.
Skinner’s theories of the elementary classroom form a background of modern education. Such initiatives as setting up reinforcement schedules for providing most effective intervention; using some form of money for rewarding students; and using enjoyable methods of education, which make it interesting, give considerable results and are implemented into educational methodologies.
Skinner’s ideas make education interesting to students. They enjoy the process and want to get more knowledge. His methodologies bring positive changes in modern educational process.
Skinner made a considerable contribution not only into the process of education, but also into behavioral therapy. The philosopher stated: ‘The steps which must be taken to correct a given condition of behavior follow directly from analysis of that condition’ (as cited in Labrador, 2004). He stressed that only environment and person’s behavior can be examined and observed. Therefore, only these characteristics can be truly considered as forming people’s actions. Skinner stated that behavior is formed under the influence of environment, stimulus and causality. He formulated an understanding of operant condition. ‘Operant conditioning utilizes the principles of reinforcement and punishment to bring about a desired response’ (Behavioral therapy from a Christian perspective). Any consequences of actions lead to various possibilities. Among possible reinforcements are removing of painful characteristic and dispensement of desirable characteristics. Among punishments are dispensement of painful characteristic and removing of desirable characteristic. When a particular behavior leads to particular expected consequences, operant conditions can be observed.
Social learning approach developed by Skinner occurs on the basis of personal respond and adaptation to the outer environment. System of causes and effects is based on behavior, cognition and environment. He stated: ‘The underlying emotion is not a cause of behavior disorders, but a part of them’ (as cited in Labrador, 2004).
Behavior therapy considers a person as creator and creature of his or her own environment. The therapy is based on education and providing freedom to people. Various techniques of self-management help people to analyze their actions, environment and lives and make appropriate modifications. An individual should understand that he can change his life and eliminate existing problems by himself. The main techniques are represented by relaxation and exposure therapy. People learn how to act in complicated situations and how to identify possible consequences of their actions. They are taught how to choose the best, the most positive and healthy direction of their activities. It is notable that individual made a decision considering changes and direction of these changes by himself.
In the modern time, Skinner’s concepts of behavior modification are widely used for treatment of children and adults. Mainly it is implemented for treatment OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), ADHD (attention deficit / hyperactivity disorder), enuresis, various phobias, separation anxiety and anxiety disorder.
Most results are obtained from a technique of positive reinforcement, which form certain individual’s activities and behaviors by using the system of rewards. This system also helps to make contact between a client and a doctor.
Skinner made a considerable contribution into studies of human behavior, actions and consequences of these actions. He also stated that the effectiveness of education depends greatly on students’ involvement into the process of education; their understanding and receiving rewards. He developed various directions for teachers to make education interesting, effective and efficient. Skinner also stated his vision upon behavior therapy. He described links between environment and actions and stated that a person can influence his environment through his actions.