Skinner’s Reinforcement Theory! Task – keep them interested and convey the concept. Most lectures surrounding the concept of positive reinforcement focus on B. F. Skinner and the infamous “Skinner Box.” Reference is made to the section in the text with accompanying illustration depicting the apparatus with the explanation of how it works. The faces of the students reflect the notion that they are hearing you, taking notes and possibly understanding the theory. The students say that they understand. No questions are asked, no further explanation is requested, and above all, no emotions are displayed. The consensus of the group is that they are ready to move on. Well, do they understand, or are they just hoping they can fool you into thinking they do? Who knows??
You may want to switch gears by using an explanation of another kind. In comes Baby! Now you have turned the tables toward an aspect of reinforcement theory that most of the students are familiar with (value and group cohesiveness). When you explain that a baby will connect the pacifier with a pleasurable experience…the child is instantly reinforced and will be inclined to repeat that behavior in order to get the same result – happy and contented! Expect some anecdotes about students’ personal experiences. You may even find a few students to beginning to think of other instances where a similar event took place with their child. Now you are getting involvement from the class! They are talking, sharing stories, and shaking their heads in agreement. You may even notice a few more light bulbs starting to glow! You’re getting there. Quick! While you have their interest, do something else ingenious!!
Most students are part of a group that is YouTube savvy. They are also TV addicts. Use this to your advantage. This clip from The Big Bang Theory, “Operant Conditioning,“ is one of the best explanations of reinforcement theory I’ve ever seen.
When you recruit the Big Bang cast to help illustrate your point, it’s amazing how the class instantly and in unison grasps the concept. They are drawn in because so many of them are fans of the show. They are engaged. Sheldon and Penny make the theory come alive for them in a way they can identify with and relate to immediately.
They laugh, bring in other examples, mention other episodes. For the first time in this lecture, you know – they get it!!
I am sure that most of us remember lectures we sat through like the ones described in the first paragraph. With all the resources we have available to us now, our lectures can really make lasting impressions with students and will create learning environments which are exceptional.
Take a few minutes to search for these little gems of learning. You just may be surprised a what you find.