Behaviorism assumes that learners are blank slates, and that teaching occurs by presenting a stimulus, seeing a response, and then giving either positive or negative feedback or reinforcement to indicate whether the learner was correct, ultimately creating an automatic stimulus/response relationship.
In a museum setting, an example of an activity driven by behaviorism could be asking students to identify the artists of specific works using a multiple-choice option. When successful, students are demonstrating that they can correctly identify characteristics of an artwork (color, composition, media, etcetera) and make associations between other works that they have seen with similar characteristics, and also recall the names of the associated artists. When a student is correct, the instructor gives verbal praise (a positive reinforcement); when a student is incorrect, the instructor says “that’s incorrect” (a negative reinforcement). In this scenario, the stimulus is showing a student an artwork and offering the multiple choices, and the response is the student’s correct identification of the artist.
One benefit of instruction based on behaviorism is that it encourages recall or memorization of facts, which is useful for establishing a foundation of knowledge on which to build; another is that its emphasis is on measurable outcomes, which gives instructors a built-in assessment tool. A drawback of behaviorism-based education is that it does not support development of higher-order thinking skills; it also does not offer any way to follow the student’s thought process, so the teacher is unable to assess the student’s understanding beyond “they get it” or “they don’t get it”.