Behavioral Curriculum TheoryBehaviorism was the dominant school of though in psychology through the 1950's. With proponents of the theory that included Pavlov, Thorndike, Skinner, Watson, and Premack, the theory adheres to a view that identified the learner as a passive participant to environmentally produced stimuli. The act of an individual responding to an environmentally produced stimulus becomes conditioned overtime as dependent upon reinforcement. Behavior is therefore based on an external stimulus and response (Learning Theories Knowledgebase, 2010).
Operant behaviorism as prescribed by Skinner and Keller (as cited in Becker, 1991) is often the most associated approach aligned to curriculum theory. An operant behaviorist approach to learning is measured by the ability to condition an individual to react or respond in an intended manner based on experience or stimulus. To influence learning is to control the type and frequency of an experience to arrive at an intended response by the individual (Ormrod, 2008). As it applies to curriculum, the behaviorist includes processes of discrimination learning, chaining, and verbal learning that when carefully sequenced and explicitly taught lead the learner into the ability to apply and address additional complex cognitive structures (Becker, 1991).
The theory's current influence on curriculum and instruction is frequently associated with Response to Intervention; a model that applies carefully structured assessment and progress monitoring practices with a tiered approach to curriculum and instruction (National Center on Response to Intervention, 2009). Curriculum that subscribes to an operant behavioral approach such as Direct Instruction programs, are often successfully used where all else fails; with our most at-risk students identified as needing the most effective and intense instruction available (Engelmann, 2007).
Becker, W.C. (1991). Toward an integration of behavioral and cognitive psychologies through instructional technology. Australian Journal of Educational Technology, 7(1) 1-18.
Engelmann, S. (2007). Teaching needy kids in our backward system: 42 years of trying. Eugene, OR: ADI Press.
Learning Theories Knowledgebase. (2010). Behaviorism at Learning-Theories.com. Retrieved from www.learning-theories.com/behaviorism.html
National Center on Response to Intervention. (2009). What is RTI [Fact Sheet]. Retrieved from www.rti4success.org.
Ormrod, J.E. (2008). Human learning (5th ed.). Upper Sadler Reiver, NJ: Pearson Merrill Prentice Hall.