Wednesday, September 06, 2006

As part of this back-to-school theme

You Don’t Know How Hard It Is For Me To Say Something Good About B. F. Skinner

Skinner’s programed learning just incorporates efficiencies into teaching, it wasn’t the grand unified theory he and his disciples believed. A student is taught a small, discreet skill or fact, tested on their understanding and application, instructed to review the immediately preceding frames as needed, retested and then moves on. A good program is built to present a subject in an orderly way, incorporating testing, correction before going on to the next step. It combines efficient study habits with effective, immediate testing and correction so a student will know what to review as they need the review. A student doesn’t have to spend unnecessary time searching for the material that the program is teaching, it is right there.

Some parts of this are found in math textbooks that preceed Skinner, maybe he knew them and got some of his ideas from them. His innovation was to think the process of learning through and eliminating many inefficiencies.

Having tired programed learning back in the olden days I found it pretty effective for certain skills and subjects, basic math being one. To accept it I had to overcome my hostility towards Skinner and the then popular fad of Behaviorism. The programmed workbook used in the early German classes I took were quite effective too, though certainly not able to give a comprehensive grasp of something as large and flexible as language. It was a flop at teaching subjects like history that are too complex to reduce to frames. Well, other than names and dates.

Not being an admirer of B. F. Skinner or Behaviorism I admit his discovery was a good one, just not as great as he might have liked to think.

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