Learning and Cognition Critique

Learning has been described by various scholars as a process involving change in understanding or behavior. It involves various models/theories, which have been utilized both by the teachers and learners to aid in the learning process. Some of the models/theories include radical behaviorism, cognitive information process theories, the meaningful learning and schema learning theory, and finally, the situated cognition theory. The write up seeks to present a description of a learning outcome and how a radical behaviorism approach can be used to achieve it. The paper will then utilize the different theories listed above to present various critiques of using the radical behaviorism approach in learning. Finally, the write up will create a modified approach to achieving the desired learning outcome based on these criticisms.

A lot of learning theories have been used in an attempt to help in guiding various teaching/learning processes. McLaren (2007) notes that in order to examine any theory of learning, it is normally recommended that one looks at the way the theory explains the transfer of learning. This is because the major aim of all these theories lies in need to increase the understanding on the various ways in which one can increase the transfer of learning. The theories include; radical behaviorism, cognitive information process theories, the meaningful learning and schema learning theory, and the situated cognition theory. This write up will examine the approach that the radical behaviorists can take to achieve a particular outcome, as well as the kind of criticisms raised against it by the other theorists.

Behavioral and cognitive learning theories have existed for decades. According to Naour (2009), they have been the basic theories from which other theories have evolved with each theory seeking to answer one of the fundamental questions of “what is learned?” and “when exactly learning is taking place?”. Narrowing it down to the individual theories, the radical behaviorism involves the association between specific actions and specific events in the environment. It assumes that every action taken by an organism is determined and can never be free. Wayne (2012) noted that the theory also emphasizes on the environment as causing behavior. This is especially indicated by the Skinner’s operant conditioning in which all behaviors are believed to be caused by the external stimuli. It also accepts the mediating structures and the role that emotions play in the learning process.

Practically, whenever one is considering behaviorism, he/she should consider the stimuli and the reinforcement, which come from the environment as a critical part of learning. Naour (2009) noted that whenever an appropriate reinforcement from the environment is lucking, learning would never occur. He added that in cases where the rein-forcers that are present are inappropriate, only the wrong behaviors will be reinforced. Consequently, the result will either be an incorrect learning or no learning at all. This is because behavior can only be learned whenever the same reoccurring stimulus produces the same reoccurring response.

Cognitive behaviorists criticize the radical behaviorism based on the fact that it fails to take into account the mental representation while overemphasizing on behavior. Wayne (2012) notes that instead the cognitive theorists believe that even though the behavior is used to make reference about the mental state, the behavior itself should never be the center of focus. According to cognitive theorists, any information that is to be processed is received through the sensory inputs, either auditory or visual. They, therefore, partly agree with the radical behaviorists on the critical role plaid by the environment in enhancing learning. They point out that the environment setting must be organized and structured. Any failure to accomplish this will impair the learning process.

This study considers an example of a toddler being taught how to use the potty. Such a learning process would be behavioral. For it to be successful, the process has to be done in a structured and organized setting. Additionally, the involved instructor would have to take into consideration how frequent the toddler dispenses of her body fluids and wastes. This means that one will have to consider the use of variable interval schedule of every drink or meal.

The toddler would have to be taught through the issuing of repeated instructions of how to use the potty and the actual repeated use of the potty. Cognitive theorists go ahead to explain that the repetitious process of instructing and informing the toddler to remember and use the restroom can never bear fruit until the time when the toddler is able to remember to perform the task by herself. This would be the time when the toddler is able to break the cycle of releasing her bodily fluids and waste in the diaper into the potty.

The radical behaviorism also rightfully noted that while considering a plan of action, one must determine both the positive and the negative reinforcements. This can involve the use of a special potty dance, a special treat or even a sticker to ensure that the appropriate behavior is performed. After all, in case the outcome of the potty training is not producing the projected behavior, the shaping or the use of the reinforcements may be reconsidered to enable the instructor to receive the appropriate behavior. In cases where a broad approach is to be considered to enable one to teach more than one toddler on the use of potty, Ausubel’s meaningful reception learning approach can be utilized.

Once automaticity has occurred, the toddler behavior can then become meaningful, and the training can then be implemented involuntarily. Those who believe in the schema theory have also pointed out to the failure of this theory to acknowledge and utilize the toddlers’ accumulated/previous knowledge. The theorists have underlined the need to acknowledge that learning occurs by building on previous knowledge. The radical behaviorists have countered this argument by noting that potty training is not something that an individual would be able to pull from a prior memory to build to current knowledge. They note that an individual would only learn the use of potty once, though he/she can be called thereafter to teach another learner on the same.

As the teaching and training for the toddler progresses, what is being taught and learned could be used to build the toddler as she attempts to sleep through the night with possible bed wetting. At this point, one would also construct the graphs and data containing chunks of beneficial information and anchoring new information to previous known knowledge to help accomplish the goal of not wetting the bed during the night. In most cases, it would be vital for the toddler to learn to release all the bodily fluids and wastes before the bedtime.

The situated cognition theorists, on the other hand, criticize the radical behaviorists for narrowing the learning process to an individual. They instead argue that learning is a process that involves enculturation and the various activities in which people within the setting are involved. They view learning as a process through which an individual is transformed into a full member of a given group. They, therefore, emphasize that whenever one is examining a situated learning in a social learning such as in a daycare class, the toddler would most likely practice what she apprehends from her surroundings. These theorists indicate that the training can be reinforced by having the daycare class instructor reiterating potty training to the other toddlers within the class. Their argument is that in this way; the toddler would likely continue with the potty training even within the classroom. This enables the toddler to receive repeated instruction and practice on a full participation level.

It is possible to create a modified approach which can enable the instructor to achieve the desired learning outcome based on the three criticisms above. As evidenced, this is only possible by incorporating the schema, the situated learning, and the cognitive theories in the learning process. This will ensure that besides the environmental factors, other factors like the repeated knowledge accumulated from the onset of the training, the context in which the child is being trained, and finally, the mental representation of the toddler are taken into account.


Even with many criticisms, the radical behaviorism, especially the contributions of Skinner, have continued to be of a great influence in the study of both the child behavior in general and child learning processes in particular. However, some of these criticisms point to the weakness of the theory that when considered can improve the applicability of the theory in explaining the learning processes.

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