Dr. Marcie Driscoll
John C. Bradley Jr.
September 18, 1990
A major concern about learning that is shared by teachers, instructional designers, and researchers alike is how to reliably improve performance. Assume the role of a teacher, designer, or researcher (only one, not all three). As the teacher or designer, describe a learning goal, an audience to whom it would be taught, and how you might employ various operant principles (or contingencies of reinforcement) to maximize learners attainment of the goal. Or, as the researcher, pose a question about learning and describe how you might investigate that questions and what predictions you would make from the perspective of radical behavioralism. Whichever role you assume, be sure to use only the language and assumptions of behavioralism.
My undergraduate degree and past seven years of professional experience have been in health education. Health education is the process of producing behavior changes in an individual that result in decreased morbidity and mortality. For this essay, I will assume the role of a instructional designer of health education curriculum.
There are a number of behaviors that an individual can engage in, or refrain from, that lead to increased morbidity and mortality. These behaviors are termed "modifiable risk factors." Some major examples of modifiable risk factors are consumption of dietary fat and cholesterol, consumption of dietary fiber, aerobic exercise, smoking, seat belt use, and alcohol consumption.
For this essay, I will focus on one of these risk factors--aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise is any exercise that forces the body to consume more oxygen than it can immediately obtain through respiration. The chief physiologic effects of aerobic exercise are rapid heart rate and respiration. Typical aerobic exercises include jogging, rapid walking, swimming laps, playing racquetball, rowing, jumping rope, and aerobic dance. A number of studies have demonstrated that the risk of heart attack is significantly lower in individuals who in engage in at least 20 minutes of aerobic exercise at least three times per week.
With this information in mind, my instructional goal is: "As a result of the instruction, the learner will engage in rapid walking for at least 20 minutes at least three times per week."
Anyone can benefit from aerobic exercise. However, let us assume that the instruction is targeted at middle-income men and women, ages 18-65. Further, let us assume that the instruction will be offered to residents of Leon County as part of a community health promotion pilot project (Living Well in Leon) sponsored by the Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The instruction will be delivered via walking clubs that will be offered in a number of locations and at a variety of times in order to reach as many residents as possible. Each club will meet once per week for instruction and group walking. Club members will be expected to engage in walking "on-their-own" for the remainder of the week. The clubs will continue for an indefinite period of time. If the curriculum is successful, it will be published by CDC and distributed nationwide.
Use of Operant Principles
Positive reinforcement is providing a pleasant stimulus as a result of a particular response in order to strengthen the response. In this case, a reward could be offered to the learner upon walking for 20 minutes, three times per week. However, it should be determined what type of reward will be reinforcing to the target audience for this behavior. Is it a trophy, a "Living Well in Leon" tee-shirt, or public praise?
The Premack Principle states that a behavior that is engaged in more frequently by the organism can be used to reinforce a less frequent behavior. This principle can be used to reinforce aerobic walking. For instance, if the learner listens to music more frequently than she walks, listening to music on a Sony Walkman would reinforce her walking. Or, if a learner engages in conversation with another person more frequently than he walks, talking with a companion while walking would be reinforcing.
Negative reinforcement is removing a noxious stimulant contingent upon a particular response in order to strengthen the response. In this case, an instructor can use the principle of negative reinforcement by gently nagging a learner until she engages in the desired amount of aerobic walking. Once the leaner engages in the desired amount of aerobic walking, the nagging would stop.
Punishment is presenting a noxious stimulus contingent upon a particular response in order to weaken the response. In the case of aerobic walking, since our desire is to strengthen the behavior of aerobic waking, punishment cannot be used to directly modify this behavior. However, punishment might be used to weaken behaviors that compete with the target behavior. For instance, if the learner watches television during times of the week when he should be engaging in aerobic walking "on-his-own," the instructor might humorously criticize him, either in private or in the presence of others.
Extinction is removing the contingency between a response and a reinforcer in order to weaken the response. Since our desire is to strengthen the behavior of aerobic waking, extinction cannot be used to directly modify this behavior.
Response cost is removing a pleasant stimulus contingent upon a particular response in order to weaken the response. Since our desire is to strengthen the behavior of aerobic waking, response cost cannot be used to directly modify this behavior.
Time-out is removing the subject from a reinforcing environment in order to weaken a response. Once again, since our desire is to strengthen the behavior of aerobic waking, Time-out cannot be used to directly modify this behavior.
Shaping is the reinforcement of successive approximations of a desired behavior. In this case, the terminal behavior desired is aerobic walking for 20 minutes, three times per week. The learner could be rewarded for gradually increasing the time that she walks. For instance, during the first week she might be rewarded for walking for one 10-minute period. During the second week, she might be rewarded for walking for one 20-minute period. During the third week, she might be rewarded for walking for two 20-minute periods. The amount of walking time required would be gradually increased until the desired amount is achieved.
Chaining is the linking together of a series of behaviors. Chaining is applicable in the case of aerobic walking because several preliminary behaviors must be engaged in prior to the walking. A probable chain of behaviors might be:
1) changing into comfortable walking attire
2) traveling to the walking course
4) engaging in aerobic walking
This chain of behaviors could be taught each class period by requiring learners to come to class dressed for exercise, journeying to the walking course as a group, stretching as a group at the start of the course, and finally, walking the course as a group.
Fading is used to gradually establish discrimination of stimuli. For instance, suppose a learner used to derive pleasure from going to happy hour everyday after work. If the learner begins to derive greater pleasure from engaging in aerobic walking after work, his attendance at happy hour will diminish or disappear.
Initially, the learner should be praised each time she engages in the desired amount of walking (fixed ratio). However, once the desired pattern of behavior is established, the leaner should only be rewarded infrequently for the desired behavior (variable ratio). Switching from a fixed-ratio to variable-ratio schedule will help ensure that the behavior does not diminish quickly.