Operant learning is a method of learning that occurs through reward and punishment for a certain type of behavior. The essence of operant learning is to establish an associative relationship between behavior and the consequence of this behavior (Operant conditioning: Positive-and-negative reinforcement and punishment). The idea of operant learning belongs to behaviorist Skinner, so this method of learning is often called Skinner method. Skinner believed that it was impossible to explain behavior by internal thoughts and motivation. Instead, he suggested paying attention to external causes that affect human behavior. Skinner used the term “operant” to describe any behavior that, under the influence of external factors, results in certain consequences. In other words, Skinner’s theory explains how people acquire various daily habits and behaviors.
The main concepts of operant learning are reinforcement, which can be positive or negative, and punishment, positive and negative as well. While positive reinforcement is a reward, such as praise, used to encourage desired behavior, negative reinforcement denotes unpleasant actions that are stopped or reduced to encourage desired model of behavior. An example of positive reinforcement in my life is studying for a test with the hope of getting an excellent mark. An example of negative reinforcement is when I do my homework to please my mother because I know she is displeased when I get bad marks. Punishment is seen as unpleasant actions that are taken in order to stop an undesirable pattern of behavior. Positive punishment involves using an undesirable action to weaken the reaction that follows it. Negative punishment implies the termination of the desired action or the deprivation of the desired object when undesired pattern of behavior takes place. An example of positive punishment is I study badly and my mother scolds me. An example of negative punishment is when I am deprived of my phone for getting bad marks.
Bouton, M. E. (2019). Extinction of instrumental (operant) learning: interference, varieties of context, and mechanisms of contextual control. Psychopharmacology, 236(1), 7-19. Web.
Operant conditioning: Positive-and-negative reinforcement and punishment | MCAT | Khan Academy. [YouTube] Web.