Amongst his many contributions
to the study of psychology, B.F. Skinner made a focus on operant condition, gaining
the title ‘father of operant conditioning’. In developing the theory, he stated
that an individual’s behavior is a function of its consequences. This approach
was rooted on a belief that the in attempts to understand behavior, one should
look at the causes of an action and its repercussions, rather than focusing on
internal cerebral events, in order to get the best results.
Operant conditioning is
actualized by the use of operants- intentional actions that have an effect on
the environment of an individual, administered upon a desired response. According
to Skinner, a behavior is likely to be modified through a number of processes.
These are responses
that cause a behavior to occur with greater frequency. The reinforcement could
be positive (reward) or negative (escape).
This is response that
decreases the probability of the repetition of behaviour.Positive or negative,
punishment results in weakened behavior.
Operant conditioning is
based on the assumption that human behavior is learned. Bearing in mind that
the reinforcement theory focuses on observable behavior, it has been used in
many areas of study, including the raising of children and training of
Most of the behaviors learnt
in schools are operants. Examples include following routines, completing assignments,
good handwriting, memorization and recitation of poems, relating well with classmates,
forming sentences and keeping time.
These behaviors in the school
set up are periodically refined by teachers through operant conditioning.
By ensuring teachers
learn to adjust reinforcement or motivation through stimuli, schools in the
Kenyan education system will be guaranteed that teachers are in a position to have
broad understanding of human behavior exhibited by pupils in the classroom
Learners receive a
positive or negative response from teachers depending on their actions.
Reinforcement for good
behavior in the Kenyan education system is in mostly done in form of tangible
items, praise and occasionally, money and tokens.
The most instant form
is praise, whereby the learner receives feedback on the spot every time desired
behavior is recorded. For example, in training students to have etiquette in
communication, the teacher can ask them to lift their hands up when they want
to make verbal contributions and stand up as they speak. Upon recording the
behavior, the teacher praises them, making the leaner have the need to impress
the teacher again, increasing the chances of the student repeating the same
Constant praise is pleasing to the learner,
hence ensures that there are efforts to sustain the desired behavior.
Praise is followed in
rank by tangible rewards, ranging from pens, pencils, books, foodstuff and
others depending on the region. These are mostly given sparingly, for behavior
learnt and recorded over time (e.g. keeping time in reporting attending school,
constant top performance and exemplary leadership). They are especially awarded
during prize giving ceremonies in schools. Tangible rewards make the recipient
have a sense of achievement. The learner sustains efforts of hard work in hopes
to be rewarded again, increasing the probability of recurrence of good
Money and tokens such
as vouchers are rarely used though most appreciated.
undesired behavior ranges from new classroom arrangement to prevent influence (e.g.
noisemaking from over-socializing), verbal disapproval, spanking, pinching,
mild caning, and grounding from trips amongst others, depending on factors such
as gender, intensity of undesired behaviour and the frequency in which it
occurs. In some instances, inappropriate remarks are recorded from teachers,
seeing that since the ban of corporal punishment, there are very few forms of
In the case of praise
or disapproval, teachers can positively reinforce good performance by the use
of symbols such as ticks or ‘good’ and ‘excellent’ remarks on classroom
assignments and exams issued. This instills the message of achievement and encourages
the learner to make efforts to submit similarly satisfying work in future.
Sermons to the office for revision of poor work submitted or an instruction to
repeat the work tempts the student away from making the mistakes again.
To note is that most
teachers apply reinforcement schedules according to what they find practical in
their set up, rather than taking the theoretical approach, which is
To prevent the
exploitation of students, academic institutions within the Kenyan education
system should outline school and classroom rules for the students, ensure that
they are clearly comprehended by the students hence know what is expected of
them within the classroom. In this way, learners can predict what responses
their actions attract and in what circumstances it is appropriate to perform
To identify the method
to be used in operant conditioning, a variety of factors are to be considered.
These include the schedule of reinforcement employed (consistency) and the
Reinforcement can be
continuous or partial.
(a) Continuous reinforcement;
This is rewarding the
learner every time they display desired behaviour during learning sessions.
Continuous reinforcement generates long lasting changes in learning. It is most
applicable in the case of public institutions where top achievers require
constant motivation to maintain healthy competition; else they drop drastically
in academic performance. This is with the consideration that public schools are
(b) Partial reinforcement;
Also called intermittent
reinforcement, the learners are only reinforced occasionally when desirable
behaviour is recorded during the learning sessions. This could be after a number
of set times e.g. 3 after the behavior is recorded .This method keeps the
learners on toes; not knowing if competition will let the reward come their
way, hence ensures constant efforts to maintain good academic performance.
has strength in the fact that it is helpful in the raising of children,
teaching them and shaping their behaviour. Learners rewarded for good behaviour
are likely to continue with good behaviour, while those punished for undesirable
behaviour are less likely to remodel the behavior.
It has a weakness in
that if positive behaviour is reinforced all the time, the reinforcement either
gets exhausted or extinct. Also, the learners may develop dependency to
rewards. For example, if the tangible item offered gives instant gratification
e.g. sweets, the learner may eventually struggle to maintain the positive
behavior without the reward.
In this case, the
choice of reward is to be put into serious consideration. In addition, teachers
should tactfully employ both continuous and partial reinforcement for optimal academic
success of learners.
Also to note is that
inconsistency in disciplining learners through reward and punishment may
confuse them, causing the desired discipline to fail.
With nurturing the student being the focal point of the learning
process, employing operant conditioning methods in the planning of lessons
makes it possible for students to learn good behavior and useful life skills.
If teachers bear a good attitude and take a positive approach in the manipulation
of the operant conditioning theory in class to motivate students and hence reinforce
good and desirable traits within learners, the chances of student achievement
would be greatly increased, proving the theory helpful to the Kenyan education system.
1. McLeod, S. A. (2015). Skinner – operant conditioning.
Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org/operant-conditioning.html
2. Reinforcement. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reinforcement