The Advantages of a Humanistic Approach in Adult Education

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Behaviourism is the analysis of observable behaviour (Driscoll, 2005, p. 29). There is no doubt about the influence that behaviourism has had on education. It has been used in many situations that call for behaviour modification. These modification methods are taught to adults who will use them to change their own behaviour when they wish to lose weight, quit smoking, or alter another aspect of how they behave.

Behaviourism as a learning approach has many limitations. Proponents of this method would agree that the only evidence we have or require of a learner gaining knowledge is from observing their behaviour. To them, a learner has learned something if he or she can do the task after instruction that they could not do before (Driscoll, 2005, p. 58). Learning is seen as an end product that takes place as a result of reinforcement or operant conditioning (Hiemstra & Brockett, 1994).

What would behaviourists think if they were to discover that behaviourism and the humanistic approach have several elements in common? Would they believe that it is possible to humanize a behavioural learning system to “make it responsive to the needs of the individual student” (Hiemstra & Brockett, 1994), despite the many differences between the two approaches?

We believe the answer to the above questions is yes. In order to bridge the gap that exists between proponents of the seemingly incompatible behaviouristic and humanistic paradigms, this paper will provide a framework for understanding the similarities and the differences between the two. It will offer direction to incorporate the humanistic approach to an adult learning situation, focusing on the similarities. Behaviourists will see that humanism offers learners the c...

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