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The beginning of the twentieth century was characterised by high levels of industrialisation and rapid technological change. There was a growing realisation of the value of science as a potential benefit for society.  Whereas it was recognised that scientific advances had the power to effect change in the environment, Psychology came into its own as the science that society required to effect change in individuals.  Two main schools of thought emerged: progressivism (aimed at social and political reform) and functionalism (which aimed to improve the adjustment of the mind to the rapid changes in the environment).  Behaviourism eventually replaced functionalism.





Behaviourism was based on the belief that the environment in which a mind develops determines the personality and behaviour of the individual.   Hence, learning will be manifested by a change in behaviour, with an emphasis on stimulus and response.


In the learning environment, there will be an emphasis on:

  • feedback

  • skills development and training

  • computerised and programmed instruction

  • competency based education

The curriculum will be characterised by behavioural objectives and outcomes.  There will similarly be an emphasis on matching teaching methods and assessment methods to the defined outcomes.


Behaviourism falters because it cannot readily account for creativity.  Noam Chomsky, reviewing Skinner's ideas on language, pointed out that creativity in language could not be accounted for by Behaviourist theories.





Ivan Pavlov (1849 - 1936)

Edward Thorndike (1874 - 1949)

John Watson (1878 - 1958)

Burrhus Skinner (1904 - 1990)