Monday, February 4, 2013

Differences between Operant Learning and Observational Learning


 Learning is a relatively permanent change in behavior that is the result of experience. During the first half of the twentieth century, the
school of thought known as behaviorism rose to dominate psychology and sought to explain the learning process. The three major types of learning described by behavioral psychology are classical conditioning, operant conditioning and observational learning.

Operant Conditioning

Operant conditioning is a learning process in which the probability of response occurring is increased or decreased due to reinforcement or punishment. First studied by Edward Thorndike and later by B.F. Skinner, the underlying idea behind operant conditioning is that the consequences of our actions shape voluntary behavior.

Observational Learning

Observational learning is a process in which learning occurs through observing and imitating others. As demonstrated in Albert Bandura's classic "Bobo Doll" experiments, people will imitate the actions of others without direct reinforcement. Four important elements are essential for effective observational learning: attention, motor skills, motivation and memory.

The Father of Operant Conditioning

B.F. Skinner

Behavioral or Operant conditioning describes learning that is controlled and results in shaping behavior through the reinforcement of stimulus-response patterns. 

Skinner conducted experiments with pigeons and rewarded them when he saw them behaving in a desired manner. When a stimulus-response pattern occurs, such as a pigeon turning (the stimulus), a reward is given (the response). Eventually Skinner was able to teach pigeons to dance using this technique. Ultimately, he taught pigeons to engage in tasks such as bowling and ping pong (as shown below). 

Skinner believed that people shape their behavior based on the rewards or positive reinforcement they receive. He believed human behavior is based on stimulus-response theory. He observed that when children made attempts at sounds, parents smiled and reinforced that behavior. Eventually, the child learns to say the word correctly as parents and others reinforce her efforts. 

Many forms of computer-based instruction and educational software are based on Skinner's operant conditioning. They provide positive reinforcement when a desired behavior occurs and negative reinforcement when the student does not provide the desired behavior. For example, when the correct answer is given, the software program provides positive verbal and visual feedback for the student's correct response. 

Here is a fun video from The Big Bang theory that shows how operant conditiong can be used to maneuver human behavior.