Did Skinner Miss the Point about Teaching?
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The Darwinian metaphor, to which Skinner was an early contributor, has been a commonplace for several years. Operant learning is seen as an interplay between response emission (variation) and reinforcement (selection). In applying his ideas to teaching, Skinner emphasized selection almost exclusively. But the real puzzle posed by non-rote learning, in both animals and humans, is not selection but the sources of variation that cause an action or an idea to appear for the first time. It is in this sense that Skinner’s whole discussion of teaching may have missed the point.
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James B. Duke Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Neuroscience
Until my retirement in 2007, my laboratory did experimental research on learning and adaptive behavior, mostly with animals: pigeons, rats, fish, parakeets. We were particularly interested in timing and memory, feeding regulation, habituation and the ways in which pigeons and rats adapt to reward schedules. The aim is to arrive at simple models for learning that can help to identify the underlying neural mechanisms. I continue to do theoretical and historical work on the power law in