LDT100x Instructional Design and Technology: Learning
Published: Oct. 9, 2019
A Behaviorist Approach to Eliminating Filler Words among Public
This learning scenario focuses
on reducing or eliminating "filler words" ("um," "uh," "so,"
"like," overuse of "and," and similar words and utterances) in
learners giving speeches and presentations.
In the learning environment in which this scenario is situated,
behaviorist methods have already been applied with varying
degrees of success. The most widely used method is to appoint a
role-player each time speeches are presented whose job is to
track and publicly report the filler words for each speaker.
This method provides low-level rewards ("you had very few filler
words today") and punishments ("you had quite a number of filler
words today"). This method raises awareness of behavior but does
not go very far in changing it.
Another method is for the role-player to ring a bell or sound a
buzzer every time a speaker utters a filler word. This method
does a bit more to change behavior because the speaker is
embarrassed that his or her filler words cause disruption. This
disruption is a major downside of this approach as it impairs
the flow of each speech and the event in general.
A third method is to collect a "micro-fine," such as (in the US)
a nickel, dime, or quarter for each filler word uttered. The
proceeds are pooled and used toward a fun activity for the
group. This method can also contribute to filler-word reduction,
but the downside is that many people no longer carry coins.
While the first method provides low-key rewards, the the other
two rely on punishment to eradicate the negative behavior. I am
proposing a behaviorist method that is reward-focused rather
This is a hybrid learning environment in which speeches can be
given face to face or online. Learners, however, supplement and
track their learning online.
For this new method, a phone app would be developed that would
interface with each learner's online learning space. Keramida
(2015, para. 13) notes, "An instructional design for eLearning
based on a behavioristic approach sets the type of reactions to
be received by learners, after interacting with the online
training material." Thus, each learner's learning space must
provide content on filler word and tips for avoiding them in
speech. Using the app during a speaking event, the filler-word
role-player would track each learner's speeches for filler
words, with the total number posting in the learner's learning
space. A reward system is created in which the learner earns a
significant badge for eliminating (or nearly) filler words, with
possible interim awards for reduction in filler-word use. Those
who achieve the top filler-word-elimination badge could
optionally be publicly recognized by all learners in the
This method avoids embarrassing and punishing learners and does
not depend on people carrying coins. It fits with current
practices of motivating and rewarding adult learners with badges
(Finkelstein, Knight, Manning, 2013, July 16); Cole, Gray, &
Martin, n.d; Bowen, 2013; Ady, Kinsella, and Paynter, 2015;
Rayhill, n.d.). "Digital badges," writes Rahill (n.d.) "are
compelling because they offer a meaningful way to visually
recognize learning through a narrative."
Keramida (2013, para. 6) asserts that "objectivism is the key to
remember ... to decide whether a behavioristic approach is
appropriate for your eLearning activities or not." Rather than
ask if a single correct answer exists in this filler-word
scenario, we can ask, "does a single correct behavior exist?"
Arguably, yes. Keramida notes that objective facts don't change.
It's difficult to imagine a scenario in which the undesirability
of filler words in speeches would ever change.
Behaviorism pros and cons:
Behaviorism is observable and measurable.
Behaviorism guides learners to pre-established
behavior rather than through mental events (Keramida, 2015,
Behaviorism is suited to certain types of learning
Behaviorism may be overly focused on punishment.
In Behaviorism, knowledge is objective; only one
answer exists (can also be a pro in some cases).
Behaviorism is not workable for "higher-order skills,
such decision-making or problem-solving through analysis,
synthesis or evaluation" (Keramida, 2015, para. 5).