Contrast continuous and partial reinforcement
Continuous reinforcement is a process that involves rewarding or punishing certain behavior every time it occurs so as to encourage a desired response. For example, a bank manager may reward employees each time they convince a customer to bank with them. On the other hand, partial reinforcement involves rewarding or punishing a certain behavior randomly. In this concept, the reward or punishment is only on some occasions. These two methods are quite different and can only be used each on a certain situation.
Continuous behavior is normally ideal when instilling a new behavior that was previously not part of the target repertoire. It is especially useful for new or young learners as it is very systematic. It is also effective in establishing an association between the target behavior and expected reinforcement. However, while a continuous behavior is good at creating an association between behavior and reinforcement, it will not succeed in creating long term changes in behavior. Upon withdrawal, the behavior of the target changes rapidly. It can also be noted that, if the method is used for too long, the target may learn to manipulate intervention by engaging in the desired behavior only when reinforcement is required. Some companies use a continuous reinforcement schedule by offering employees tokens, cash, or even points that are redeemable. Daft, Kendrick, and Vershinina (2010) noted that many companies are developing continuous reinforcement processes so that employees clearly differentiate between their behavior and what they hope to be rewarded.
On the other hand, partial reinforcement is not practical in the real world organization. In a real world organization, reinforcing every correct behavior is impossible. Therefore, management will only reinforce correct behavior after some time. There are four types of partial reinforcement schedules which include fixed ratio, fixed interval, variable interval, and variable ratio. Fixed interval schedule involves rewarding employees at prescribed time intervals. For example, if an employee displays correct behavior for a month, he will be rewarded with a bonus after a specified period like at end month. This reinforcement schedule leads to average and irregular performance. Fixed- ratio schedule reinforcement is one that occurs after a certain number of desired responses. For example, paying a salesman a bonus for every ten items sold. This reinforcement schedule leads to very high and stable performance. However, once withdrawn, behavior rapidly becomes extinct. Variable-interval schedule is where reinforcement occurs at random times that are not predictable to the employee. For example, management may perform random supervision of employee’s work in which case the best employee receives a reward. It has the effect of giving moderately high and stable performance. Even upon withdrawal, behavior is slow in extinction. The variable-ratio schedule is one that is based on a random number of desires, as opposed to a given length of time. In this case, the employees are aware they are being supervised, but are not sure when the check will occur. Those who, on a given number of occasions, are found to have done well, say 5 times, are given a reward. This method leads to very high performance. In general, the partial reinforcement schedule is more effective for maintenance of behavior in the long term. The variable-ratio schedule is the most effective among the four types.
From the discussion, the difference between these two types of reinforcement is inherently clear. The continuous reinforcement plan is one method of reinforcement. In this method, the reward is given each time the intended behavior is displayed. Continuous reinforcement is highly effective in inculcating new values or in passing on values to new learners. However, for large organizations that cannot monitor individual employee’s behavior, partial reinforcement will suit them.
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