What Are Main Limitations of Behavioral Theories?

Behavioral theories fail to account for individual students' learning habits.
••• Ryan McVay/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Behavior theory or behaviorism generally refers to a line of educational and psychological theories tracing back to psychologist B.F. Skinner, who broke learning down to fixed processes that generate measurable results. Skinner’s theories, and the scholarship which built on them, had natural applications in teaching, child development and many social sciences. However, many disciplines have moved way from behavioral theory as their go-to philosophy to describe learning and socialization in and outside of the classroom.

Learning Strategies

One limit to behavioral theories is that people learn in different ways. Recent scholarship suggests that human development is far more complex than once imagined. Albert Bandura, a psychologist at Stanford University, states that numerous factors, ranging from genetics to life experience, shape each individual's optimal learning methods. This means that although two or more people may end up making the same choice on a mathematics test, the factors involved in making that choice could be radically different from one person to the next. Thus, training methods based on behaviorism may work for some students, but fail for others.

Cognitive Abilities

In situations where there is a common challenge and observable result, such as mathematics or vocabulary memorization test, a behavioralist approach will certainly help students achieve a positive result. For example, memorizing multiplication tables will lead to positive results on math tests and quizzes. However, students will encounter many other challenges where success is more difficult to measure. Today, scholars largely agree that learning is both behavioral and cognitive, meaning that it is not only important for students to complete tasks, but also to understand and interpret those tasks.

Open-Ended Challenges

For some challenges, learning methods can benefit from behavioral theories. Skills such as typing and elementary reading and writing will almost certainly improve with repeated training to eliminate errors and develop consistent competence. However, ask students to write a journal about their thoughts on "Charlotte’s Web" or "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," and behavioral approaches begin to break down. Each student will have a slightly different feeling about the book, and none are necessarily wrong. The challenge is cognitive rather than behavioral. The student must not only be able to read and write properly, but also understand the text and develop a unique idea about it.

Continuing Education

When it comes to more nuanced challenges such as writing and analysis, recent scholarship embraces cognitive approaches rather than behavioral theories. According to Linda Flower, who works to develop new theories about learning and writing at Carnegie Mellon University, task-based approaches fail to consider how students overcome challenges. For example, behavioral theories do not account for how a student’s individual memories and experience relate to how they interpret a book or approach a challenge they’ve never been trained to deal with.

Related Articles

Global Warming Topics for a Research Paper
Math Projects for Fifth Grade Gifted & Talented Children
Similarities of Univariate & Multivariate Statistical...
Difference Between Proposition & Hypothesis
The Differences Between Concepts, Theories & Paradigms
How to Make Geometry Proofs Easier
The Difference between Craniology & Phrenology
Five Characteristics of the Scientific Method
Kinds of Reasoning in Geometry
How Do Gorillas Mate?
What Are the Advantages & Disadvantages of Using Graphs...
Is Intelligence a Genetic Trait?
What Is Comparative Biochemistry?
Factors Affecting Performance in Mathematics
Concentric Method in Teaching
Differences Between Conceptual Independent Variables...
Difference Between Correlation and Causality
About Quantitative Methods
The Definition of an Uncontrolled Variable
What Are Deleterious Genes?

Dont Go!

We Have More Great Sciencing Articles!