Saturday, March 10, 2012

Can Physics Education Research Learn a Lot From Operant Conditioning?

Some blog followers might be interested in a recent post “Can Physics Education Research Learn a Lot From Operant Conditioning?” [Hake (2012)]. The abstract reads:

ABSTRACT: PhysLrnR’s Diana Kornbrot wrote that “Behaviourism, a la Skinner, questions the usefulness of inferred mental states as an explanatory concept - this has proved a dead-end.”

To which Bud Nye responded]:

“But, behavioral treatments have a strong, extremely well documented history of effectiveness in psychotherapy and learning. The applied behavior analysis research support of behavioral methods is massive, of extremely high quality, and compelling."

And Diana Kornbrot in a later post wrote [my inserts at ". . . . .[[insert]]. . . . . . . . . Skinner. . . . .[[]]. . . made many contributions and his work on operant conditioning is invaluable and makes a strong contributions to this day. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy . . . . .[[]]. . . .. is one of those strong contributions . . . Indeed Physics Education Research (PER) CAN LEARN A LOT FROM OPERANT CONDITIONING since rote learning also has a part to play in learning complex ideas. But the 'responses' that are being reinforced are not merely physical. They may well be verbal responses about the client's mental state.”

I quote (with permission) comments I received from Julie Vargas, daughter of B.F. Skinner, in response to my posts “Could ‘Precision Teaching’ and the Wider Education Communities Learn Something From One Another?” at and Vargas's comments appear to be consistent with the above opinion of Nye. She wrote [my inserts at “. . . .[[insert]]. . . .”; my CAPS]:

“In Behavior Analysis for Effective Teaching (Vargas, 2009) I quote [Eric Mazur]. What I didn't know was that his work was being touted as 'constructivist-oriented' 'Interactive Engagement.' I don't see . . . . [[Mazur's method, see e.g., his YouTube talk at]]. . . . as like Direct Instruction. . . . . . There is no choral responding. . . . . . I'm not sure [Mazur's method] is like Precision Teaching either. . . . . . . . .[[]]. . . . . I didn't see any fluency exercises, nor student graphing. But [MAZUR'S METHOD] IS DEFINITELY BEHAVIORAL in asking for student responding, adjusting according to how they do answer, and in the objectives being stated in clear terms that require 'applying' the principles to every day life in addition to just memorizing them.”

To access the complete 10 kB post please click on

Richard Hake, Emeritus Professor of Physics, Indiana University
Honorary Member, Curmudgeon Lodge of Deventer, The Netherlands
President, PEdants for Definitive Academic References
which Recognize the Invention of the Internet (PEDARRII)
Links to Articles:
Links to SDI Labs:

“People have nowadays . . . got a strange opinion that everything should be taught by lectures. Now, I cannot see that lectures can do so much good as reading the books from which the lectures are taken. Lectures were once useful; but now, when we can all read, and books are so numerous, lectures are unnecessary.”
Samuel Johnson according to James Boswell (1791)

REFERENCES [URL’s shortened by and accessed on 06 March 2012.]
Boswell, J. 1791. Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D, online at

Hake, R.R. 2012. “Can Physics Education Research Learn a Lot From Operant Conditioning?” on the OPEN! AERA-L archives at Post of 10 Mar 2012 09:43:20-0800 AERA-L and Net-Gold. The abstract and link to the complete post are being transmitted to several discussion lists. This post erroneously attributes Diana Kronbrot's statement "Physics Education Research (PER) CAN LEARN A LOT FROM OPERANT CONDITIONING" to Bud Nye : - ( .

Vargas, J. 2009. Behavior Analysis for Effective Teaching. Routledge, publisher’s information at information at, note the searchable “Look Inside” feature- some might be interested in the results of a search for “Mazur.”

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