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Behaviourism and Piaget’s Educational Theories Essay



Learning is, essentially a change in behaviour and understanding. Various learning theories attempt to explain how people and animals learn. Right from the time of Aristotle, various philosophers and theoreticians aimed at defining it. As a result, a number of schools of thoughts emerged. Behaviourism and the cognitive theory of Piaget are chief among them.


Behaviourism studies visible features of human behaviour. It is a theory of learning which believes that all behaviours are acquired on account of conditioning. Conditioning occurs subsequent to a person’s interactions with his environment. All behaviourist theories hold that it is the stimulus-response association that determines behaviour in man.

John B. Watson and B. F. Skinner are the two major discoverers of behaviourist approaches to learning. Behaviour is essentially actions; not thoughts or emotions. Response to stimulus can be observed quantitatively. Behaviourism ignores the possibility of thought processes occurring in the mind with regards to responses ( Watson, 1997).

Behaviourism is based on the assumption that behave is what organisms do. It is a scientific study of behaviour which aims at answering how behaviour gets modified.

It has been observed that “behavioural psychology claims that behaviour can change as a result of extrinsic motivators such as incentives, rewards, and punishments. Behaviourists advocate influencing behaviour through the systematic adjustments of stimulus-response reinforcements” (Weiner et al., 2003, p. 404)

Classical conditioning

The Pavlovian Classical Conditioning Theory led to the real beginnings of behavioural theory. It is a form of associative learning. In order to explain his famous Classical Conditioning theory, Pavlov employed food, a dog and a bell. He taught a dog to relate a tone with a food-reward.

Along with a stimulus of some significance, Pavlov presented a neutral stimulus too. He could envisage that dogs would salivate when food was placed in the mouth through a reflex called the “salivary reflex”.

The Pavlovian experiment was simple. The dog was given food just after ringing the bell. Every time the dog heard the ring, it expected food. Following that, the dog began to salivate. Pavlov continued this practice for a number of times.

After some days, he rang the bell without giving any food, but he could note salivation in the dog. It clearly shows that the dog has been conditioned to salivate.

Operant Conditioning

Skinner is the only major figure in the history of behaviourism. Keith Cameron states that the theory of B.F. Skinner believes that education is the prime factor that stimulate change in overt behaviour. It is well understood that any changes in one’s behaviours is the after effect of his or her response to events (stimuli) that happen around him/her (Cameron, 1999).

Skinner is of the view that changes in the pattern of one’s behaviour are the result of an person’s reaction to events that occur in the surroundings. These events work as stimuli. Reinforcement has been accepted as the key term in Skinner’s theory.

Each organism operates in accordance with the environment. During this process, the organism comes across a special kind of stimulus, called a reinforcing stimulus. It is otherwise called as a reinforcer.

Piaget’s Educational Theories

Dissatisfaction with the behaviourist theories caused the emergence of many theories. There were many shortcomings in the existing theories. Behaviourist approach neglects complex human activities such as planning and communication. The cognitive development theory has tried to level the loopholes of those theories.

Piaget conducted a number of experiments to answer the question how knowledge develops in human organisms. His interest was in the intellectual development of children.

Jean Piaget is famous for his theory of cognitive development. He studied how intelligence operates in young children and old people. After some experiments, he stated that children are not less intelligent than adults. They simply think differently. The idea that children’s thinking is qualitatively different than adults comes from Piaget

Piaget’s stage theory describes the cognitive development of children. The process of cognitive development includes changes in cognitive procedure and capabilities. Piaget remarks that “early cognitive growth is composed of activities on the basis of procedures and later developments into alternations in mental operations.

There are different stages in the Intellectual Development of children and teenagers” ( Wagner, n. d.). Based on some experiments with dogs, the classical conditioning theory could put forward that learning takes place automatically.


The cognitive school has much in common with the behaviourist school. It is factual to say that Piaget has integrated both behaviour and cognitive aspects in one developmental theory. In his theory, he puts forward four primary developmental stages.

Behaviourists pay more attention to relationship between the environmental surrounding of an individual and how it inspires a person’s performance. This approach has a tendency to ignore mental processes. The following points are meant to discuss how different Behaviourism is from Piaget’s cognitive theory:

  • Both Behaviourism and Piaget’s cognitive theory attempt to explicate human behaviour
  • Both the theories have been taken in to educational philosophy.
  • Both cognitive theory and behaviourism are viable learning theories.
  • Both include examination, disintegration, and generalization of responsibilities in order to formulate instruction and make them easier and more competent
  • Both employ strategies to stimulate, attract, and centres around attention.
  • Both value meaningful learning and realistic contexts for application of knowledge and skills


Each theory has its own way of looking at things. Behaviourism and Piaget’s Cognitive theory has many differences between each other.

  • Behaviourism goes beyond cognitive domain; Cognitivism emphasises mostly on the cognitive area
  • Behaviourism put importance to the stimulus-response feature; cognitivism attempts to rely on the way in which information is organised
  • Technology deployed in the behaviourist school of thought is more seen as answer-feedback/response; whereas technology employed in the cognitive approach more like presentation.

Behaviourism adheres to the statement that it is the environment that determines the behaviour of an organism. Behaviourists assume that analysing the intelligence is not the best or way to comprehend behaviour.


  • Behaviourism states that behaviours are learned as a result of reinforcement.
  • The physical environment plays a crucial role in the behavioural approach.
  • Behaviourism focuses the observable behaviour of an organism in a specific environment.
  • Behaviourism is naturalistic-it believes that everything can be studied in terms of natural laws.
  • Behaviourism says that the human brain responds to the external stimuli and it determines the behaviour.
  • Behaviourism states that man is nothing more than a machine that responds to conditioning.
  • Behaviourism only concerns itself with the behaviour that can be observed.
  • It believes that when events happen together, they become related.
  • Behaviourist theory is simple to understand.
  • The classical conditioning theory of Pavlov rejects the idea of the conscious mind.

Cognitive theory

  • Piaget’s cognitive theory assumes that learning occurs within the learner, at a cognitive level, and may or may not involve behaviour.
  • Cognitive theory of Piaget studies human behaviour through developmental stages.
  • Cognitive theory is concerned less with observable behaviour and more with the thought processes behind it.
  • Piaget’s cognitive theory studies memory and decision making too.
  • Learning includes the development of psychological associations that are not unavoidably reflected in clear behaviour.
  • Cognitive theory believes that it is essential to change a person’s thoughts and beliefs in order to change his or her behaviours.
  • It supposes that people are invariably logical beings that make them to take decisions rationally and those decisions make sense to them
  • Cognitive psychologists are of the belief that the inner thoughts of individuals and the imaginary atmosphere they build in their minds, their perception, prove that they are not the eventual output of positive and negative support
  • This theory rests upon certain complicated terminologies.
  • Individuals learn by listening, watching, touching, reading In cognitive learning,

To add, so many other differences can also be traceable on a keen investigation.

The Behavioural approach

The behavioural approach claims that people, as able-bodied as their accomplishments and problems, can be accepted celebratory their behaviour. The approach assumes that afterwards bearing all human beings are similar.

Therefore, pattern of personality is abundantly accompanying to the surrounding environment, which is to appearance and bring up the individuals. The supporters of the behavioural approach refuse retrospective means, and assert that behaviour is decided by merely outside factors, such as stimuli of the external environment ( Mouton, 1975).

The cognitive approach

This approach presumes that the processes of thinking and cognition as important constituents of one’s behaviour. Cognition is the procedure of knowing. It implies the mental processes of an individual and includes thoughts, awareness, recollection, analysis, decision, imaging, philosophy, and talking (Atkinson, 1990).

This is acknowledged to be the most important one in contemporary psychology. The founders of the cognitive approach believe that the concepts of behavioural approach are not sufficient enough, because they assert that nothing about how inidividuals process information and psychologists have suggested various theories of human thoughts and problem solving.


Both the Behaviourist and cognitive schools have contributed much to field of educational psychology. While they resemble in many aspects, they show tendency to vary in their very outlooks.

Cognitive theories and Behaviourist theories are the two major approaches to psychology. There are many aspects which tie them together. Both the schools of thoughts ultimately explore the process learning in human beings.

Reference List

Atkinson, L. R., Introduction to psychology. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Florida,1990

Cameron, K., CALL & the learning community. Intellect Books, Exeter,1999

Mouton, S. J. and Robert Rogers Blake. Instrumented team learning: a behavioral approach to student-centered learning, Scientific Methods, Texas, 1975

Wagner, V. K., Background and Key Concepts of Piaget’s Theory, About.com (No Date) <>. Retrieved

Watson, B. J., Behaviorism, Transaction Publishers, New York,1997

Weiner, B. Donald, K. Freedheim, Theodore Millon, Melvin J. Lerner, John A. Schinka. Handbook of Psychology: Personality and social psychology / Theodore Millon, Melvin J. Lerner, volume editors, John Wiley and Sons, New Jersey, 2003

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Behaviourism and Piaget’s Educational Theories." May 17, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/behaviourism-and-piagets-educational-theories-essay/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'Behaviourism and Piaget’s Educational Theories'. 17 May.

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