We all know that Elvis has left the building (and Fraiser too). But has Pavlov also left the building?
Recently back home from Clicker Expo in San Francisco, we continue to puzzle over what seems to be an emerging trend among some of the presenters at the conference. In traditional learning theory we view learning from two perspectives; i.e. that of classical conditioning and operant conditioning. In a number of presentations at the conference we found an approach to learning that was purely operant, seemingly disregarding the aspects of learning that are classically conditioned. In fact, one presenter even argued that we might as well disregard classical conditioning altogether as all learning, from his point of view, is really operant. This presenter proceeded to show a video clip of a counter conditioning session (done by someone else) and argued that the dog’s emotional response was not being changed but that it was simply learning a new operant response. Another presenter spoke of establishing the association between a neutral stimulus and an unconditioned stimulus, in this case done in order to condition a secondary/substitute reinforcer, as an operant process, that could be viewed “as a behavior that you can reinforce”. In contrast to this purely operant approach, renowned presenters like Susan Friedman and Kathy Sdao continue to use the terminology of both operant and classical conditioning when speaking of the different aspects of learning and different ways of changing behavior. Hence, the reason why we feel inclined to ask the question; “Has Pavlov Left the Building?” After all, a conference on training and learning must be the very place to present and discuss the various aspects of learning in all its nuances, not a place to cut corners or trivialize the importance of knowing one’s tools and techniques.