Learning In The 20th Century Essay

2354 words - 10 pages

Ever since the earliest hominid knew something he wanted to share, the human race has been in an eternal struggle to find slightly more effective ways of conveying knowledge and skills. Thousands of years of evolution, Ancient Greece society notwithstanding, culminated in the invention of the ruler, which was not only a tool to measure the dimension of various objects, but it also doubled as a form of negative reinforcement to incentivize poorly performing and troublesome students.
In the western world, specifically the United States, people began to turn away from physically abusing students and began to look for more effective ways of educating the nation’s larval citizenry. It ...view middle of the document...

F. Skinner, a Harvard professor of psychology, as well as an author, and inventor of the “Skinner Box.” The Skinner Box, though a rather clichéd notion at this point, was groundbreaking in demonstrating the new concept of Operant Conditioning (Schacter, Gilbert, & Wegner, 2010). Incidentally, variations of the original Skinner box experiment are still used today in addiction research. The “operant conditioning chamber,” eponymously named the aforementioned “Skinner Box,” clued Mr. Skinner into the concept we now know as and he called “reinforcement.” Reinforcement was not a new concept in of itself, but it was a new concept to apply the idea of reinforcement to people. What Skinner did was revolutionary then, and since then has become such a fundamental truth that variations of his experiment recreated by school children at science fairs to the point of cliché. The revolutionary act is as follows. Hungry rats were placed in a box that had a rat-controllable push-lever that when pushed would reward the rat with a food pellet. Rats, being unfortunately clever (unfortunate because of the pestilent nature of rats) quickly made the connection between the lever and receiving food and then would repeatedly push on the bar until they were no longer hungry. The key observation to make is that Skinner said the rat “learned” to push the bar. Skinner described the rat’s hunger as the “stimulus” and the rat’s behavior reacting to the stimulus (pushing the lever to get food) was the “response”. Skinner called the reward received by the rat “reinforcement.” This phenomenon reinforced Skinner’s rather stark, personal belief that a human has no real free will and what we call free will is just an illusion and any action carried out by a person was simply a response to one’s environment.
Interestingly, though tangentially, this idea regarding free will, though highly debatable with regard to humans, is a fundamental truth of computers, which are the ultimate simplification of “stimulus-response.” A computer program that is given stimuli (i.e. user input) has no choice but to respond in a predetermined manner defined by the original programmers, which is why computers so reliably produce consistently accurate results… at least accurate relating to the programming they follow. Unlike a human, when a computer acts in what we perceive as erratic or simply wrong, it is a practical certainty the problem lies with the human user, having either entered information incorrectly, given incorrect instructions, or has inaccurate expectations. So I am sorry to inform anyone who is not aware, but if you ever can’t get Microsoft Word, for example, to format a document the way you would like it to be, it is almost certainly not the fault of the computer. It is far more likely that you are not giving the correct instructions, you are expecting something that is not an option, or (occasionally) the humans who wrote the software made an error. Once the software and data are...

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