Develop Reinforcement Techniques
To reinforce means “to strengthen”. In education, we use reinforcement techniques to provide students with feedback on the acceptability of their performance and thus, to strengthen desirable performance and minimize or eliminate undesirable performance. The specific techniques used to reinforce behavior or learning may vary with relation to what the instructor finds most effective. Be aware of the effects each technique can have on adult learners.
There are three reinforcement techniques I will address in the article. The first type of reinforcement is rewarding. This is classified as Positive Reinforcing. The next type of reinforcement is punishment. This is classified as Negative Reinforcement. The final type of reinforcement is extinguishing. This is done to eliminate a behavior and is designed to encourage or discourage behaviors or learning. Another term for this is behavior modification.
A positive reinforcer is any action by the teacher that encourages the student to behave in the desired way. Reduced to its most basic form, positive reinforcement (reward) theory states that when a student performs some act, such as giving a correct answer to a teacher’s question, and he/she is rewarded for it by the teacher, he/she is more likely to repeat the act in the future.
The purpose of the positive reinforcement is to reward the correct behavior that took place immediately before the reinforcement. The effect is to make that behavior more likely to recur. As the student repeats the response and is given further rewards, the behavior becomes more firmly established until it is “learned”.
Rewards may take the form of special privileges or personal approval. Often, the rewards for learning will come from the reinforcement provided by the learning outcomes.
I will use a real life example to validate the use of positive reinforcements. In the Administering Medication Class, the focus was on vocabulary building. Medical terminology can be difficult for students to learn if they are not familiar with it. By creating a game out of learning the vocabulary words and rewarding the student with “bonus points”, the students were exposed to an enjoyable learning experience. The students were able to increase a lower grade when these “bonus points” were applied. The results were two-fold. Not only did the students gain knowledge but they were also receiving compensation (improved scores on exams.)
Research demonstrates that if learning is to take place, the following four guidelines must be followed:
- The subject matter must be presented to the student at his/her own level.
- The subject matter must be presented in a logical sequence.
- The student must know when he/she is making correct or incorrect responses.
- Reinforcements must be given as the student gets closer and closer to the defined goal.
Positive reinforcement is by far the most useful and effective type of reinforcement to use while teaching subject matter. Positive reinforcement creates an atmosphere that is inductive to learning. It also makes the learning processes quicker and more efficient. When you have only a limited variety of reinforcing words, expressions, motions, and rewards available to you: it is advisable to use them well.
Negative and Extinguishing Reinforcements
I mention these techniques only for purposes of information. They can be less desirable methods to use and the affects can be detrimental or threatening to the student. Caution is recommended when considering one of these.
A negative reinforcement is used to discourage undesirable behavior through the use of punishment as consequences. This procedure is generally used with children and not recommended for use with adults. Since most adults work and/or have limited time, it is not feasible to “keep them after classes” or referring them to the school administration for reprimand.
When a student behavior is not followed by any reward or other reinforcement, that behavior is likely to occur less frequently. This kind of “no reinforcement” tends to reduce the behavior to extinction and is, therefore referred to as extinguishing. The most common form of extinguishing is ignoring the student behavior concerned. This is another procedure that I would not recommend for your adult learner.
Other Effective Techniques
Verbal and Nonverbal Cues
There is a striking relationship between teacher behavior that is stimulating, imaginative, and physically animated and student learning. Gestures, facial expressions, and movement seem to help students comprehend the structure of the lesson, to direct their attention to the important ideas as they occur, and to stimulate attention. They also reinforce desired student behavior by letting students know when you approve of their questions or comments. Make sure that the message you wish to relay is displayed in the appropriate verbal and nonverbal cues you use.
Two effective strengthening techniques I will mention are summaries and reviews. Summaries and reviews both allow students to look at material again (either with the same focus or from a different perspective) in order to help them grasp the key concepts and retain them. In summarizing a lesson, you
- Condense the important points covered into a brief summary,
- Review with the students all the important points covered,
- Encourage students to ask questions or express ideas, and
- Use students’ responses to reinforce or clarify the important concepts.
Summing it Up
Important points to remember:
- A positive reinforcer is something that increases the probability of the behavior being repeated.
- Positive reinforcement must follow the desired behavior, not precede it.
- The reinforcement should follow the student’s response immediately or very shortly afterward.
- At first, the positive reinforcement should be given for every correct response, then less frequently.
- The reinforcement must be omitted when the desired behavior does not occur.
- Negative and extinguish reinforcement techniques are not recommended for reinforcing adult learners.
- Use both verbal and nonverbal cues to reinforce student behavior.
Once you have decided to incorporate your method of reinforcing your students, remember to strengthen the techniques with summaries and reviews. Your students will appreciate the extra effort.