Journal of Nursing Education

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BRIEFS 

Bridging the Gap Between Humanism and Behaviorism in Nursing Education

Ann Kathryn Byrnes, MSN, RN

Abstract

During the past decade, there has been a shift in the field of educational psychology from a behavioral view to a humanistic orientation (Hannum, 1983). These are two somewhat disparate models. The purpose of this paper is to provide an overview of each paradigm with a focus on societal influences, origins, view of man, methods, teacher-learner role, and evaluation techniques. An analysis of strengths, weaknesses, and implications for the teaching of nursing will then be explored.

Behavioral theory has its roots in Skinner's article which appeared in the Harvard Educational Review in the 1950s. This prompted the widespread application of operant conditioning to education (Evans & Le Vine, 1982). Behavioralism arose in society in response to an age of technological orientation. The focus is on the objectively identifiable, observable aspects of man, while the subjective unobservable is disregarded. Behaviorism extends the product, input-output perspective of technology to man himself (Carter, 1978). Concepts of reinforcement of learning, generalization, discrimination, stimulus control and transfer of training are all tied to the behavioral view. To behaviorists, the learner is a malleable organism, responding to environmental influences (Bigge, 1971).

Humanistic theory evolved in education in the 1970s, and draws upon the works of humanistic and perceptual psychologists such as Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow and Arthur Combs (Evans & Le Vine, 1982). This theory arose from the human potential movement - a kind of "backlash" against the impersonal, product oriented, technological aspects of society.

Humanistic education can be defined as a commitment to practice, in which all aspects of the teaching-learning process emphasize freedom, choice, value, dignity, and integrity of each individual (Clute, 1978). Proponents of this theory recognize the learner as an active participant in the learning process - efforts are toward the development of a fully functioning self and self-actualization (King & Gerwig, 1981).

In contrast, behaviorists see man as lacking free will. He merely acts in response to internal or environmental influences. Education (or adopting new behaviors) is achieved through respondent or operant conditioning. In the behavioral mode, teachers expedite learning by arranging contingencies of reinforcement. Educational behaviorism is built upon the premise that optimal teaching involves systematic growth of discrete skills. Programmed learning, behavior modification, task analysis and behavioral objectives are all outgrowths of this view (Hannum, 1983).

In contrast to behaviorism, humanistic theory sees internal and external stimuli as influencing, but not determining man's behavior. Man is free-willed, motivated by his perception of himself, and an active participant in the learning process (Combs, 1978).

According to humanistic theorists, positive change in behavior or learning occurs when there is a change in the learner's perceptions. These changes take place under conditions relevant to basic needs for the enhancement and preservation of self. Learning is optimal when the learner's self is not threatened. For this reason, the humanistic educator creates conditions which minimize threat in interpersonal relationships (Patterson, 1973). These conditions are identified by Patterson as empathetic understanding (understanding another from an internal frame of reference), respect (acceptance of another as a person of value), and genuineness.

Goals in teaching and learning reflect the differences between behavioral and humanistic orientation. Behavioral goals stress changes in behavior. Outcomes are precisely identified in terms of observable behaviors of the learners (Mager, 1962). It follows then, that teaching in the behavioral mode is exemplified by presenting a stimulus to the learner, calling for an active response, and providing feedback (Evans & Le Vine, 1982).

Humanistic educators focus upon more global objectives. They are more interested in the process than the product aspect of learning. Teaching from the humanistic frame of reference extends considerably beyond that…

During the past decade, there has been a shift in the field of educational psychology from a behavioral view to a humanistic orientation (Hannum, 1983). These are two somewhat disparate models. The purpose of this paper is to provide an overview of each paradigm with a focus on societal influences, origins, view of man, methods, teacher-learner role, and evaluation techniques. An analysis of strengths, weaknesses, and implications for the teaching of nursing will then be explored.

Behavioral theory has its roots in Skinner's article which appeared in the Harvard Educational Review in the 1950s. This prompted the widespread application of operant conditioning to education (Evans & Le Vine, 1982). Behavioralism arose in society in response to an age of technological orientation. The focus is on the objectively identifiable, observable aspects of man, while the subjective unobservable is disregarded. Behaviorism extends the product, input-output perspective of technology to man himself (Carter, 1978). Concepts of reinforcement of learning, generalization, discrimination, stimulus control and transfer of training are all tied to the behavioral view. To behaviorists, the learner is a malleable organism, responding to environmental influences (Bigge, 1971).

Humanistic theory evolved in education in the 1970s, and draws upon the works of humanistic and perceptual psychologists such as Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow and Arthur Combs (Evans & Le Vine, 1982). This theory arose from the human potential movement - a kind of "backlash" against the impersonal, product oriented, technological aspects of society.

Humanistic education can be defined as a commitment to practice, in which all aspects of the teaching-learning process emphasize freedom, choice, value, dignity, and integrity of each individual (Clute, 1978). Proponents of this theory recognize the learner as an active participant in the learning process - efforts are toward the development of a fully functioning self and self-actualization (King & Gerwig, 1981).

In contrast, behaviorists see man as lacking free will. He merely acts in response to internal or environmental influences. Education (or adopting new behaviors) is achieved through respondent or operant conditioning. In the behavioral mode, teachers expedite learning by arranging contingencies of reinforcement. Educational behaviorism is built upon the premise that optimal teaching involves systematic growth of discrete skills. Programmed learning, behavior modification, task analysis and behavioral objectives are all outgrowths of this view (Hannum, 1983).

In contrast to behaviorism, humanistic theory sees internal and external stimuli as influencing, but not determining man's behavior. Man is free-willed, motivated by his perception of himself, and an active participant in the learning process (Combs, 1978).

According to humanistic theorists, positive change in behavior or learning occurs when there is a change in the learner's perceptions. These changes take place under conditions relevant to basic needs for the enhancement and preservation of self. Learning is optimal when the learner's self is not threatened. For this reason, the humanistic educator creates conditions which minimize threat in interpersonal relationships (Patterson, 1973). These conditions are identified by Patterson as empathetic understanding (understanding another from an internal frame of reference), respect (acceptance of another as a person of value), and genuineness.

Goals in teaching and learning reflect the differences between behavioral and humanistic orientation. Behavioral goals stress changes in behavior. Outcomes are precisely identified in terms of observable behaviors of the learners (Mager, 1962). It follows then, that teaching in the behavioral mode is exemplified by presenting a stimulus to the learner, calling for an active response, and providing feedback (Evans & Le Vine, 1982).

Humanistic educators focus upon more global objectives. They are more interested in the process than the product aspect of learning. Teaching from the humanistic frame of reference extends considerably beyond that of presenter of information. The humanistic teacher facilitates, assists, and encourages the student's self-actualization ( Carter, 1978 ). This can be done by focusing learner attention to key aspects of the material, helping the learner discover relationships of new material to previous material, suggesting encoding strategies, helping with techniques of information retrieval. Inherent in this philosophy is the development and maintenance of a positive self-concept (Combs, Blume, Newman, & Wess, 1974).

Evaluation in the two modes also differs dramatically. Behavioral science provides us with a number of objective approaches to observation and evaluation, such as behavioral objectives, rating scales, and checklists. It prescribes a measurable, minimum, predetermined outcome (Hannum, 1983).

The effects of humanistic strategies are difficult to measure, and must rely on inference and subjective evaluation. Growth is not measured in terms of minimum or predetermined standards, but rather, may be maximum and unanticipated (Carter, 1978).

The nursing teacher's philosophical beliefs unavoidably affect his or her work as an educator. His or her views on the nature of man, his motivation, goals of learning and teaching, the nature of the teacher-student interaction will play an important part in the way a teacher will carry out her or his responsibilities.

In analysis of the educational paradigms of Behavioral and Humanistic Theory, I find each to have some strengths and some weaknesses. What is needed is a model that selects out the best components of each of the existing theories, but is more expansive than either of them.

Taking the best from each theory, the educator must first reconcile differences in perceptions about free will. Total acceptance or rejection of man as free-willed may not be necessary. The solution may be to recognize that neither model alone represents a complete view of man - that each gives us partial insight into the nature of man. Combs (1978) states that humanistic approaches do not deny the tenets of behavioral approaches - but extend beyond them to deal with man more holistically.

Humanistic techniques offer ways of helping the student assume an active role in the learning process. The application of this in the classroom is reflected in modified teacher and learner roles. The student is expected to assume responsibility for learning and the teacher is expected to facilitate that learning within a supportive environment. This is certainly a more desirable approach than the behavioral approach to the student as a passive organism, to be acted upon. To deprive learners of their share of responsibility for their own learning deprives them of their sense of personal competence and self-direction.

Humanistic techniques promote ways to help students develop a more positive and appropriate self-concept, so that their overall adjustment and openness to learning will increase (Carter, 1978). Embracing this aspect of humanistic philosophy focuses the educator's attention upon the importance of the affective aspect of the student-teacher relationship and the need to develop positive interpersonal skills and a non-threatening environment for learning. It is not enough that the teacher be a knowledgeable, well-informed person. Teaching is a human relationship - and educators must possess an accurate understanding about people and their behavior (Combs, et al, 1974).

Traditionally, nursing programs have focused primarily upon the cognitive development of the student. Humanistic education is concerned with the expansion of that goal to include affective development.

With the humanistic approach, emphasis is placed on the acquisition of general principles and underlying structures. Behaviorism, on the other hand, has been successful in using behavioral techniques of task analysis and behavior modification to train students to perform specific tasks, but has been plagued with the inability to help students generalize or transfer knowledge (Bruner, 1960). Based on this analysis, an important implication for teaching would be to fit the teaching method to the type of material being taught and consider the individual student's learning style and developmental stage. Each model has something to offer - if the teacher is adept at fitting the model to the task at hand.

One limitation of the humanistic approach is the difficulty of evaluating gain. The effects of humanistic teaching strategies are difficult to measure and must rely upon inference (Evans & Le Vine, 1982). In order to offset such subjective observations, behavioral science has provided us with a number of objective approaches to observation. If we can incorporate both behavioral observation and humanistic inferences we can create a more meaningful evaluation of outcome.

Nursing has both an intellectual and practical aspect. If we expect the student to achieve a certain level of cognitive development and mastery of pragmatic skills, we must be able to use observable behavioral outcomes as part of our objective evaluation of fulfillment of those expectations. Likewise, nurses have a particular caring relationship with humans. If we expect the student to practice nursing from a holistic and humanistic frame of reference, surely we must attend to her personal development with a humanistic orientation.

In conclusion« it seems crucial to maintain a delicate balance between humanistic and behavioral education in nursing. Considering the variety and multiple levels of skills, tasks, theory application and synthesis involved in the nursing curriculum, and considering the diversity of the student population, each educational approach has some inherent merit.

It is important for the nurse educator to keep abreast of evolving theories and philosophies - to develop his or her own personal philosophies and to remain open minded in his or her thinking. The nurse educator must also develop techniques of evaluating which theory works most effectively for each different type of educational setting (lab, clinical areas and classroom), and each individual student.

As holistic theory deals with the uniqueness and totality of the person, perhaps this concept can be applied in dealing with the uniqueness and totality of each learner, each different learning situation, and for ourselves as teachers.

References

  • Bigge, MLL. (1971 ). Learning theories for teachers. New York: Harper and Row.
  • Bruner, J.S. (I960). The process of education. New York: Vintage Books.
  • Carter, S. (1978). The nurse educator: Humanist OT behaviorist? Nursing Outlook, 9, 554-557.
  • Clute, M.J. (1978). Humanistic education: Goals and objectives. A report of the association for supervision and curriculum development, Washington, D.C.
  • Combs, A. W. (1978). Assessing kumanistic objectives: Some general characteristics. A report of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Washington, D.C.
  • Combs, AW, Blume, R.A., Newman. A.J., & Wess, H.L. (1974). The professional education of teachers: A kumanistic approach to teacher preparation (2nd ed.) Boston: Allyn & Bacon, Inc.
  • Evans, M. & LeVine, E. (1982). The humanistic, behavioral and cognitive-developmental approaches to education: A call for a synthesis. Contemporary Education, 53(4) 202-206.
  • Hannum, W (1983». Recent developments in learning theory: The implications for curriculum and instruction. High School Journal. 1983, 66. December/January. 117-122.
  • King, V. & Gerwig, N. 11981 L Humanizing nursing education. Wakefield, Massachusetts: Nursing Resources. 1981.
  • Mager, R. (1962). Preparing objectives for instruction. Belmont, California: Fearon.
  • Patterson, CH. (1973). Humanistic education. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc.

10.3928/0148-4834-19860901-11

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