The Behaviorist Theory as An Adult Learning Model

Behaviorists view learning as a change in behavior. This is based on behavior theory as proposed by Thorndike, Pavlov, Watson, Guthrie, Hull, Tolman and Skinner. This theory sees locus of learning as the stimuli in external environment. It is the need of the people that drives them to learning.

Adult education is especially driven by the need of people to solve the problems that surround them. The problem becomes the stimuli that stimulate people to learn. This theory views the purpose of education as bringing about a behavioral change. Most of the challenges that people face are as a result of their actions. Therefore it is their behavior that brings the challenges that confront them.

The role of the educator is viewed in this theory as being to enhance the conditions in the environment in order to obtain the desired response. Since people have the desire to learn, the educator makes available the necessary environment for the learners.

In the adult learning process, this theory is evident in its objective to bring about behavior changes intended to increase knowledge, skills, and attitudes to enhance job performance. The behavioral theory defines how the environment should be for optimal learning of the students. For effective learning to take place, the learning environment must be conducive and enabling. This theory sees the external environment as important for effective learning.


In view of learning as a process, the behaviorist theory sees learning as that which leads to change in behavior. The learning process must have an objective for changing the way things are performed. The new knowledge, skills, and attitudes acquired must bring about some change in the behavior of the adult learner.

All learning theories have characteristics that may definitely help adults in their learning process. These theories take into consideration the learning environment, the contents of leaning and the impact of learning to the individual and the society. Therefore they should be the basic theories to consider when putting into practice any adult learning model.

By Shirley J. Caruso, M.A., Human Resource Development


  1. […] behaviorist theory views adult learning as that which should lead to modification of behavior. The cognitivist theory […]

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