Behaviourism is the analysis of observable behaviour (Driscoll, 2005, p. 29). There is no doubt about the influence that behaviourism has had on education. It has been used in many situations that call for behaviour modification. These modification methods are taught to adults who will use them to change their own behaviour when they wish to lose weight, quit smoking, or alter another aspect of how they behave.
Behaviourism as a learning approach has many limitations. Proponents of this method would agree that the only evidence we have or require of a learner gaining knowledge is from observing their behaviour. To them, a learner has learned something if he or she can do the task after instruction that they could not do before (Driscoll, 2005, p. 58). Learning is seen as an end product that takes place as a result of reinforcement or operant conditioning (Hiemstra & Brockett, 1994).
What would behaviourists think if they were to discover that behaviourism and the humanistic approach have several elements in common? Would they believe that it is possible to humanize a behavioural learning system to “make it responsive to the needs of the individual student” (Hiemstra & Brockett, 1994), despite the many differences between the two approaches?
We believe the answer to the above questions is yes. In order to bridge the gap that exists between proponents of the seemingly incompatible behaviouristic and humanistic paradigms, this paper will provide a framework for understanding the similarities and the differences between the two. It will offer direction to incorporate the humanistic approach to an adult learning situation, focusing on the similarities. Behaviourists will see that humanism offers learners the capacity for self-direction, limitless possibilities for learning (Hiemstra & Brockett, 1994), and could have significant positive effects on society in the future. It will be apparent to them that their behaviourist belief has lost some of its steam because of an increased recognition about how adults develop or age, and therefore, learn. The idea that adults can be motivated to learn strictly through operant conditioning, reinforcements or punishments as Skinner’s rats did in his experiments, is somewhat outdated, and has been replaced with more complex descriptions and theories of how adult learning takes place.
From Behaviourism to Humanism
Both the behaviouristic and the humanistic approaches believe that learning should focus on practical problem solving. Humanism takes this idea one step further and requires that an individual must take responsibility for their learning, and that this can be applied to the instructional process. To a humanist, the process of learning, and learning how to learn, becomes more important than the outcome. Humanists would say that the assumption of responsibility for learning in and of itself is a learning experience. Behaviourists may reject the assumptions of self or...