A scientist put a laboratory mouse in a box with six rooms. The mouse
soon learned the cheese was in room three. Therefore, it always ran
directly to room three upon being put in the box. One day the scientist
put the cheese in room five. Upon entering the box, the mouse ran
directly to room three. "Hmmm...no cheese." The mouse looked around.
Tried room four. No cheese. Tried room five. "Ah-ha! Cheese!"
What would a human
being have done? He or she would have continued to return to room three
again and again and again — expecting and then demanding cheese. "Where
is my cheese!? This is where it has always been. It's supposed to be
here! I want it NOW — GIVE ME MY CHEESE!!! I have rights you know. Blah,
blah, blah." And so the complaining was heard through the night in the
now-dark laboratory. Meanwhile, the cheese remained in room five.
So what is the
difference between mice and people? Mice get their cheese.
— Author unknown
fable reflects a society dependent upon rewards and external praise as
viable methods to alter behavior. Even though our organizations require
more advanced information processing skills, behaviorism is so pervasive
that most of us don't question its validity or use in our lives. Because
of this bond, it would be naive to assert we should stop using
behavioral instruction altogether.
Behaviorism suggests that (1) teachers ensure learners attain defined
learning objectives, usually specified as observable, behavioral
outcomes. (2) Learning activities are sequenced so that learners move
through a series of carefully designed, progressively complex
operations. (3) Educational activities are evaluated as successful when
the defined learning objectives are achieved.
educators don't realize B. F. Skinner said shortly before his death in
1990, "The worst mistake my generation has made is to treat people as
if they were rats."
fact that Skinner, himself, recanted his basic premise has had little
effect on those who persist in thinking of minds as vessels to be filled
with disconnected facts. Behaviorism still
dominates formal education despite mounting evidence that it leads to
long-term problems and few short-term gains.
has behaviorism not dominated our lives? Most of us were raised
in families offering tokens for completing tasks. We grew accustomed to
external rewards and altered our behavior to acquire more.
Schools carried this approach forward by offering grades, stars, and
attention based on the way we behaved. Shrewd students noticed that
well-behaved children were treated better than those who misbehaved. As
adults, companies pay and provide bonuses to those who follow the rules.
Entrenched in behaviorism, you may even be wondering, "What's the
problem?" Many of us only change our behavior, challenge what we know or
think, and try something new when a 'carrot' dangles before our eyes.
we didn't compete in the market, would businesses be re-engineering
their tried-and-true work practices? Would we be wanting to learn about
learning if we didn't know it would bring us some financial gain?
of us don't ask ourselves why we do things and what we want to do
differently in the future. We lock into routine tasks and low-level
cycle continues because we learned to rely on drill and practice,
the most common behavioral method for teaching new facts and responses.
Do something enough and it stays with you for a lifetime. Control what
we practice and teachers control what we learn.
Behavioral instruction offers little opportunity or context to develop
independent thought. Behaviorists haven't proven that condition and
response techniques transfer to other situations or materials.
Adult education often capitalizes on these despite the facts. Authors,
such as Robert Mager, advocate behavioral objectives that break tasks
into small, measurable pieces. His books profoundly influence the
instructional technology field despite the fact they can instruct
educators to measure things too narrowly. They teach novice
instructional designers a limiting approach to development.
not that Mager encourages anyone to do anything wrong. Without the
requisite expertise in instructional design, however, readers may not
know when these approaches shouldn't be used. They may not have a
thorough enough understanding of their changing business needs to know
when this approach will end up inhibiting learning. As a result they may
use this methodology in all of their courses.
Behavioral objectives, sometimes referred to as performance
objectives, learning objectives, or terminal objectives, inform learners
know what will be measured. This type of objective reflects the belief
that at a pre-determined, externally controlled time, a learner will
know or be able to do something new. The time and place are vital
because the test of a behavioral objective lies in its ability to be
measured. Often you need to, "Define two of this" or "Name twelve of
Measuring is not the problem. After all, who hasn't heard the phrase,
"What is measured gets done"? Limiting the working knowledge of a
subject to a finite number of tasks or facts, however, seems
misguided in many cases.
give the illusion of testing something useful, objectives may state
something such as, "The learner will be able to identify the correct
actions to take when such and such happens." This approach is only
useful when learners continue to do those specific actions.
Using behavioral objectives allows training departments to report
they've succeeded in educating. "We did it!" they may declare. "Your
employee learned. We're useful." Instead, the department has only
demonstrated that when they provided a stimulus, the employee responded
in a programmed way.
behavioral approach to instructional design is teacher-centered. An
instructor who makes unilateral decisions, regardless of their merits,
is in effect saying that the class doesn't belong to the learners.
People don't usually cheer when things are done to them.
Authentic learning and lasting behavioral change comes as a result of
adapting to our environment and experiencing new things. To evolve,
we must be flexible and adaptable when needed.
Testing from behavioral objectives proves just as problematic. Drill
and practice programs are only moderately effective at increasing test
scores and reinforce educational practices with little bearing on the
Employers don't need performers who can pass tests. They need people who
get the job done. It would be more profitable to measure employee's
ability to adapt and evolve as things change.
need learners who have acquired a very different skill set than those
required to solve multiple choice problems under the pressure of a
stopwatch. Education programs should expose
us to new models, help us see things in new ways, and build links so we
know where to find additional information when we needed it.
this imply there is no place in the field of adult education for
behaviorism? Not quite. There are some tasks that lend themselves to
drill and practice, as well as condition and response.
Stephen Brookfield, a leading adult education theorist, wrote in
Understanding and Facilitating Adult Learning:
[Behaviorism] is seen most prominently in contexts where the
objectives to be attained are unambiguous, where their attainment can
be judged according to commonly agreed upon criteria of successful
performance, and where a clear imbalance exists between teachers' and
learners' areas of expertise. Examples might be learning to give an
injection, learning a computer program, learning accountancy
procedures, learning to swim, or learning to operate a sophisticated
machine. Although no learning is without elements of reflection or
emotive dimensions, these examples are all located primarily in the
domain of task-oriented, instrumental learning, and it is this domain
that fits most easily with the behaviorist approach.
There are few examples in business today, however, where objectives are
unambiguous and success can be commonly agreed upon by the learner, the
teacher, the organization, and the content. In the information age,
rules change daily. If we face variation, we may need a different
Teaching methods based on research in cognitive science are the
educational equivalents of the polio vaccine and penicillin. Yet, few
outside the educational research community are aware of these
breakthroughs or understand the research that makes them possible.
— John T.
Bruer, The Mind's Journey from Novice to Expert
Cognitive psychology is the study of how our minds work, how we think,
how we remember, and ultimately, how we learn. There is more to
education than cognition, but studying what goes on in the brain can
drive progress, help us make decisions, and improve educational
innate cognitive architecture remains the same no matter what subject we
try to master. Learning about that structure can improve the way we
learn. The implications are staggering for learning technologies
based on how the brain deals with ideas.
study began in 1965 when psychologists, linguists, and computer
scientists met at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for a
symposium on information science. The
three-day meeting started the cognitive revolution in psychology, a
revolution replacing behaviorist psychology with a 'science of the
mind.' The revolutionaries maintained that human minds and computers are
similar enough that a single theory —
the theory of computation —
could guide research in both psychology and computer science.
basic point of view inhabiting our work," wrote two of the participants,
"has been that the programmed computer and human problem-solver are both
species belonging to the same genus IP."
Both are species of the genus information-processors. Both are
devices that process symbols.
Cognitivists describe learning as the building of an internal schema
(knowledge structure) or the modification and extension of existing
schemata. Our schemes consistently evolve with use. In time, certain
actions require little or no thought. The actions become automatic.
Education doesn't always distinguish between what we should memorize and
what we need to comprehend. Programs don't address the need for
different learning strategies.
Cognitivists view learning as a developmental process. We test our
notions about the world against new information before we make it our
own. Our prior experience, knowledge, and expectations are key to
build bridges between new information and what we already know.
Educational programs help us do this by offering meaningful organization
and contexts to store and retrieve new information. As a result, we
effectively build on what we know.
Children follow this model intuitively when they learn to walk. First
they roll over. Then they sit up; next pull up. They try to balance,
using their arms, feet, and trunk. Once they master balance, they let
go, then take one step, and fall. Not liking the feeling of falling,
they try to step again and put the other foot out to balance. After two
steps, they try three. Soon they can run.
the cognitive model, learning is the process for novices to become
experts. They differ in understanding,
storing, recalling, and manipulating knowledge as they solve problems.
Novices and experts differ in their problem-solving behavior, not just
in the knowledge they possess.
Novices hold naive theories about how things work. For example, computer
novices may fear they will break the machine. Children often think
teachers don't go to the bathroom! Highly educated adults used to think
the moon was made of cheese. These theories don't reflect the novices'
intelligence, but rather their lack of necessary information and
These theories so influence how we interpret instruction that even
directions can be ineffective when we're new to a subject. For instance,
programs are often designed with input from subject matter experts (SME)
who offer how they currently perform tasks or solve problems.
Wanting to share their wisdom, experts can leave out the vital chunks
and situations that led them to that expert level. They identify the
behaviors that learners should possess and envision reinforcing
activities for the novices. A better way to develop curricula based on
cognitive research would be to build from, address, and then correct
these naive theories so that learners can overcome their naive beliefs.
Novices see individual parts. Experts, in contrast, see chunks of
relevant information. The experts' more effective, more information-rich
chunks allow them to see a larger scope and choose more appropriate
areas to turn their attention. Because of this chunking, experts
process more and better information in the same amount of time.
Novices and experts learn by altering long-term memory structures.
Cognitive psychology suggests that if education helps novices structure
their new information, they will be able to use the structures
throughout the life of that knowledge. Unlike behavioral 'condition and
response' techniques, these mental structures can even adapt and grow.
modify these structures when we come across problems that our current
rules (or scripts) can't solve. We recognize the information we
need and process it to build more accurate or up-to-date rules.
learners modify their structures automatically while others need some
help. Learners who can't modify on their own need direct instruction
about the relevant facts and about the strategies to use. With the right
approach, we can progress from relative naiveté, through a series of
partial understandings, to eventual subject mastery by understanding
facts, strategies, and when to use each.
the early 1980s, researchers noticed that some people learn new
subjects and solved new problems more expertly than most regardless
of how much knowledge they possess on the topic. Called
intelligent novices, these people seem to control and monitor
their thought processes. This suggests that there is more to expert
performance than topic-specific knowledge and skills.
Cognitive psychologists called this new element of expert performance
metacognition. Metacognition defines the ability to think about
thinking, to be consciously aware of ourselves as problem solvers, and
to monitor and control our mental processing. When we think about
how we think, we can reflect on our learning styles, what methods and
techniques work best for us, and how we've successfully learned in the
There are several keys to metacognition. They include (1) our awareness
of the difference between understanding and memorizing material and
which mental strategies to use at different times; (2) our ability to
recognize difficult subjects, where to start, and how much time to spend
on them; and (3) our aptness to take problems and examples from the
materials, order them, and then try to solve them. Others are (4)
knowing when we don't understand so we can seek help from an expert; and
(5) knowing when the expert's explanation solves our immediate learning
Metacognitive skills all involve problem solving awareness and control.
We can learn metacognitive skills by working through one topic, but can
then apply them when trying to learn a second topic.
research tells us that metacognition is probably the most important
lifelong learning skill. Incorporating these skills into educational
programs (and our day-to-day work habits) is vital to our growth. While
topic-specific knowledge and skills are essential to expertise, programs
must also be metacognitively aware, informed, and explicit.
need to create and maintain educational environments where learners
smoothly journey from novice to expert and learn to become intelligent
novices. To do that, we must rethink (or at least re-evaluate) education
policy, classroom practices, standards, and teacher training.
Admittedly, we don't know everything about how the mind works, how
people best learn, or how to design the best training programs. On the
other hand, cognitive science shows us strategies we can apply to
improve our programs and our futures.
Leading technologies are often ill-defined and under constant
construction. Because the techniques needed to stay ahead in the
information age will, most likely, not change as quickly as the
technologies that sustain us, the way we learn technology must
Peters writes that, "We must abandon our old beliefs about learning
to just keep up with change." We must
(1) collaborate with one another, (2) draw wisdom from data to be able
to (3) articulate what we believe, why we believe it, and (4) be willing
to gather new information when it is time to change what we believe.
Constructivist approaches work well when we operate with constantly
changing information. If education is to become the soul of the new
information systems industry, we must learn better ways to deal with
the unstructured, the undefined, and the unknown.
warned, however. Constructivist approaches don't lend themselves to
computer-based training or evaluation where structure is a requisite
part of design.
Constructivism is presented here to offer ideas about what to do when
facing uncertainty and how to use different approaches in different
times. Constructivism works best when technology is new, very complex,
and there isn't time or structures set up to build media solutions. It's
arduous to test what no one knows.
constructivist model comes from several contemporary cognitive theorists
who began questioning the benefit of cognitive instruction for unknown
information and knowledge. They adopted a different way to look at
learning and understanding knowledge. Constructivists assert that
knowledge is what we make of it. Without minds there would be no
knowledge — it's a function of how we create meaning from our
Because of the 'Thriving on Chaos' mentality of the late 1980s and early
1990s, constructivism received increasing attention in the field of
training and instructional design.
Constructivists emphasize the flexible use of pre-existing knowledge
rather than the recall of prepackaged schemes.
the definitions of words change meaning based on how we understand the
context, so too will ideas continually evolve with new use. For this
reason, it is critical that constructivist learning (much like cognitive
learning) occurs in realistic settings and that the selected learning
tasks be relevant to the learner's life experiences. To be successful,
meaningful, and lasting, learning must involve actions, understanding
concepts, and working knowledge of culture.
example, a typical constructivist goal wouldn't be to teach novice Local
Area Network (LAN) Administrators unique facts about LAN topologies, but
to offer them an opportunity to use these facts as they would on the
job. By recreating their reality, they learn.
Cognitive learning environments can effectively transfer basic skills
and help learners attain advanced knowledge if the information is well
defined and available. Much of what needs to be learned today involves
advanced knowledge in ill-structured domains.
LANs, for instance, vary wildly. Needs change daily.
Constructivists encourage learners to construct their own
understanding, based on their reality, and then validate their
new perspectives though social negotiations. We must talk with
others about what we've learned to find out if we're missing something.
Dialogue helps us clarify the subtleties of our thoughts. As we
uncover naive theories, we begin to see our activities in a new light,
guiding us toward conceptual re-framing and learning.
Content can't be pre-specified. Computer-based training, for instance,
wouldn't work as we know it today. Instead, technology indexes
information and cases, and is accessed when needed from the learning
example, constructivism has been widely used in the education of
doctors, architects, lawyers, and artisans. Strategies can involve (1)
cognitive apprenticeships where experts model and coach a learner toward
expert performance; (2) presenting multiple perspectives and using
collaborative learning to develop and share alternative views; (3)
social negotiation so debate and discussion can take place; (4) using
examples as realistic illustrations; and (5) reflective awareness.
theory proves challenging, if not impossible, when done individually.
This is a model to consider as more people within organizations need to
overcome the unknown and consortiums assemble individuals from different
organizations facing similar challenges.
information age requires a self-educating workforce capable of peak
performance. Our challenge is to stimulate new thinking. Humanism, the
theory of individual growth and development, offers us techniques to
think in new, creative ways. It is the predominant paradigm of practice
within the literature of North American adult and continuing education.
Drawn from the work of humanistic psychologists and the study of
andragogy, this theory encompasses teaching and learning assumptions
that profoundly influence the field. Humanist activities facilitate
collaborative learning with strong emphasis on learners and instructors
negotiating objectives, methods, and evaluative criteria.
Humanism begins with the theory that learning occurs primarily by
reflecting on personal experience. The role of instruction is not to put
anything in the mind or repertoire of the learner, but to extract
lessons from the learner's insights and experience — like drawing water
from a well.
can gain new insights into previous experiences if we have the
opportunity and tools to do so. The role of the instructor is to help
learners supplement experiences with new opportunities.
Instruction should ask stimulating questions that help the learner make
new connections and uncover what we already know. Real learning is what
we discover for ourselves, not something we're told or led to by someone
else. This technique took root in the Socratic methods and in Plato's
belief that all knowledge is inherent. Later, it developed under Carl
Rogers' work with self-directed therapies.
Additional techniques include (1) inductive discussion, (2) individual
or group projects, (3) debriefing sessions, (4) action planning, (5)
self-assessment, (6) visualization, and (7) guided reflection.
Humanism stresses that we must feel comfortable with the learning
environment and the flow of topics. The way we feel about a program
influences our commitment to it. If we feel secure, respected, esteemed,
and empowered, we're likely to make a strong effort. If we feel
threatened, anxious, hostile, or demeaned, we're likely to resist.
Humanism engages learners in intense and personal ways. Programs begin
by helping learners identify individual learner-centered objectives
drawn from experience. These objectives don't tell us what we should
know as defined by someone else. We're responsible for our learning.
Instruction involves learners in the planning stages to ensure topics
are relevant and appropriate. Programs rely on self-analysis, team
building, and peer learning using various tools and approaches.
Significant learning leads to insights and understanding of ourselves
and others. Becoming a better human being is considered a valid learning
goal. Rogers believed that anything that can be taught to another person
is relatively inconsequential. Rather, desire to learn must come from
intrinsic motivation, created by the need for personal growth and
Humanism has little structure, can be used with high conceptual levels,
employs self-evaluation, and respects individual differences.
we move along the behavioral - cognitive - humanist continuum, the focus
shifts from teaching to learning. The strategies move from passive
transfer of facts and routines to active application of ideas and
While cognitivists, constructivists, and humanists each view learners as
active participants, constructivists and humanists regard learners as
more than active processors. They believe that learners must elaborate
and interpret information.
we acquire more experience, we progress along a low-to-high knowledge
continuum from (1) being able to recognize and apply standard rules,
facts and operations (knowing what), to (2) extrapolating from these
general rules where problems may occur (knowing how), to (3) developing
and testing new understanding and actions when familiar categories and
ways of thinking fail (reflection-in-action).
Behaviorism can effectively condition learners to do things in certain
ways and familiarize us with the contents of a profession
(recognize/know what). Cognitivism proves useful in teaching
problem-solving tactics where defined facts and rules apply to
unfamiliar situations (extrapolate/know how). Humanism is especially
suited to help us deal with whatever problems come our way
The appropriate instructional approach should be based on the level of
cognitive processing required. Tasks requiring low-level processing
(such as associations, discriminations, and rote memorization) are most
often accomplished with behaviorism. Cognitive strategies fit with
subjects that require more advanced processing, classifications,
identifying rules, procedural exceptions, and problem solving. Issues
that demand high-levels processing are frequently learned best with
critical question is not, "Which is the best theory?" but rather, "Which
theory is most effective in fostering mastery of specific tasks by
individual learners?" What might be most effective when we're novice
learners, meeting complex bodies of information for the first time, may
not be effective, efficient, or stimulating for learners who are more
familiar with the content.
While we can mix strategies, a renewed focus on humanist (and andragogic)
practices help us function well when optimal conditions don't exist,
when situations are unpredictable, and when we need to think on our
feet. Our rapidly growing, changing, organic environments demand
solutions based on inventiveness, improvisation, dialogue, and social
 Discussion Paper Series. Instructional
principles for adult learning. Bedford, MA: National Education
Training Group - Spectrum.
Neo-behaviorism is defined and explained in Appendix B.
Adapted from S. S. Dubin and M. Okun (1973). Implications of learning
theories for adult instruction. Adult Education, 24 (1). p. 8.
Stephen D. Brookfield (1989). Facilitating adult learning. In Sharan B.
Merriam and P. M. Cunningham (Eds.),
Handbook of adult and continuing
education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Also see Brookfield's
Understanding and Facilitation Adult Learning: A comprehensive analysis
of principles and effective practices. Jossey-Bass, reprint 1991.
David Thornburg (1994, September). Killing the fatted calf: Skinner
recanted behaviorism. Why can't education? Electronic Learning,
Alfie Kohn (1993).
Punished by rewards: The trouble with gold stars,
incentive plans, A's, praise, and other bribes. Boston: Houghton
John T. Bruer (1993, Summer). The mind's journey from novice to expert.
American Educator, p. 7.
Howard Gardner (1985).
The mind's new science: History of the
cognitive revolution. New York: Basic Books.
Allen Newell and Herbert Simon (1972). Human problem solving.
Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Rob Forshay (1991, May). Sharpen up your schemata. Data Training,
An expert is defined as someone highly skilled or knowledgeable in a
Newell and Simon (1972).
A. L. Brown, J. D. Bransford, R. A. Ferrara, and J. C. Camione (1983).
Learning, remembering, and understanding. In P. H. Mussen (Ed.),
Handbook of child psychology, vol. 3, Cognitive development.
New York: Wiley.
Tom Peters (1994). The Tom Peters seminar: Crazy times call for crazy
organizations. New York: Vintage Books.
Tom Peters (1987). Thriving on chaos: Handbook for a managment
revolution. New York: Harper and Row.
R. J. Spiro, P. J. Feltovich, M. J. Jacobson, and R. I. Coulson (1991).
Cognitive flexibility, constructivism, and hypertext: Random access
instruction for advanced knowledge acquisition in ill-structured
domains. Educational Technology, 31 (9), pp. 24-33.
J. S. Brown, A. Collins, and P. Duguid (1989). Situated cognition and
the culture of learning. Educational Research, 18 (1), pp.
D. H. Jonassen (1991). Evaluating constructivist learning.
Educational Technology, 31 (9), pp. 28-33.
Peggy A. Ertmer and Timothy J. Newby (1993). Behaviorism, cognitivism,
constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design
perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 6 (4), pp. 50-72.
Brookfield (1989). p. 203.
Tom Kramlinger and Tom Huberty (1990, December). Behaviorism versus
humanism. Training and Development Journal, pp. 41-45.
Richard Brostrom (1979). Training styles inventory. In J. E. Jones and
J. W. Pfeiffer (Eds.).
The 1979 Annual Handbook for Group Facilitators.
San Diego, CA: Pfeiffer.
T. M. Duffy and D. Jonassen (1993, May). Constructivism: New
implications for instructional technology? Educational Technology, 31
(5), pp. 13-17.
Donald A. Schön (1987).
Educating the reflective practitioner.
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Ertmer and Newby (1993).
Marcia L. Conner lives in rural Virginia and is the managing
director of the Ageless Learner. She headed large education
organizations at Microsoft and PeopleSoft, and now works with
organizations around the world to create learning cultures. She is a
Fellow of the Batten Institute at the Darden Graduate School of Business
Administration at the University of Virginia.
about Cognitive Apprenticeships in "Cognitive Apprenticeship: Making
Thinking Visible." Allan Collins, John Seely Brown, and Ann Holum. It
originally appeared in the Winter, 1991 issue of American Educator, the
journal of The American Federation of Teachers.
Abbott, President of the 21st Century Learning Initiative provides a
beautiful overview of metacognition in a speech from 1999 entitled
"Battery Hens or Free Range Chickens?"
Another can be found in a
Schools for Thought: A science of learning in the classroom by John Bruer. (Cambridge: MIT
Press, 1993). The review was prepared by Education 2000 (July 1993).
about humanism? Learn more from the
(c) 2002 Marcia L. Conner. It is reprinted here with permission.