Behaviorism versus Humanism

Article excerpt

Behaviorism Versus Humanism

It's a classic debate: Which method of training is better, behaviorism or humanism? Today, the question takes on new importance. Workers of the 1990s must reach new levels of performance if their companies are to succeed in the competitive global marketplace.

A typical exchange between a behavioristic trainer and a humanistic trainer might go something like this:

Behaviorist: Let me get right to the point. After reading this article, the reader should be able to

* contrast at least two approaches to learning

* select training techniques that best suit the tasks and workers of the nineties

* create a successful teaching strategy to develop peak performers in at least eight of ten attempts...

Humanist: Stop! You behaviorists always start with mechanistic assumptions about what people should learn. As a humanist, I insist that we go back and address the readers' needs. I want to assure them that they will find valuable nuggets to apply in their work. I also want to help them feel comfortable with the learning environment and the flow of topics.

Behaviorist: The flow of the topics is sufficiently defined in the proper sequence of learning objectives.

Humanist: Perhaps. But as a humanist, I want to have a dialogue about the readers' expectations. Let me demonstrate with this exercise...

Behaviorist: Wait! What you are doing proves my point. Your soft, laidback techniques waste time. Furthermore, they set expectations that cannot be met in the lesson plan, and they pander to the non-expertise of the learners. Worst of all, they border on "woo-woo" training.

Humanist: On the contrary, my dear doctor, humanistic techniques engage the learner in an intense, personal way. They draw upon the wisdom and experience of the participants.

They are based on proven successes in counseling, therapy, and personal growth, while your behavioristic techniques manipulate people into learning things that they don't care about. And the worst of it is that they do not account for real human behavior, which is thinking.

Behaviorist: Let's talk about the kind of behavior needed by workers in the nineties. Clearly, the new diverse workforce includes more workers who need basic skills, even literacy skills, than those who need a challenge to think. And basic skills are best taught by proven, behavioristic principles.

Humanist: Well and good. But change is upon us. As Peters, Kanter, Porter, and others tell us, business will change rapidly in the nineties. We will need a self-educating workforce that is capable of the kind of peak performance described by Charles Garfield.

The challenge is that training must stimulate new thinking. And new thinking is developed through humanistic techniques.

Behaviorist: That's the trouble with you warm, fuzzy humanists. You are easily swayed by the latest business-school jargon.

Let me cite my own list of authors such as Watson, Skinner, and Thorndike--not to mention such heroes of our profession as Robert Mager and Thomas Gilbert. Those are real scientists; they have carefully studied what works and thoroughly endorsed the behavioristic approach.

The changing business world requires high performance, which, in turn, requires excellent behaviors. In order to perform excellent behaviors, one must first identify them and perceive a reward in performing them. Learning and rewarding behavior is the forte of behaviorism....

Three approaches to


And so the battle rages. In the meantime, we can discover value in both points of view that can further the business of learning.

First of all, there are three, not just two, approaches to learning: behaviorism, humanism, and cognitivism.

Behaviorism. The behavioristic approach is based on the premise that learning occurs primarily through the reinforcement of desired responses. …


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