Schedule of Reinforcement

The arrangements of reinforcement delivery are vital in the learning process that involves reinforcement techniques. Such arrangements of reinforcements are termed as Schedule of Reinforcement.  Schedule of reinforcement is a tactic used in operant conditioning that is critical in manipulating behavior. The major objective of this fundamental concept of operant conditioning is to try and decide how and when a desired behavior occurs.


The rate of any behavior occurring repeatedly is increased by the use of reinforcers, and decreased through the use of punishments. Removal of stimulus however renders the behavior to be extinct. Schedule of Reinforcement, as the term defines, is the concept of encouraging any behavior by arranging interval between reinforcers and responses.

There are various ways to introduce schedules, varying from simple ratio and interval based schedules to more complicated compound schedules. Whether the schedules are simple or complicated combined with multiple strategies, all of them are targeted to manipulate behavior.

Types of Schedule of Reinforcement

There are two major types of Schedule of Reinforcement,

  • Continuous Reinforcement Schedule (CRF)
  • Partial or Intermittent Reinforcement Schedule

Both kinds of schedule have certain advantages, and the effectiveness of each method depends on the situation and the individual in question.

Continuous Reinforcement Schedule (CRF)

The schedule of reinforcement in which every correct response is reinforced is called Continuous Reinforcement Schedule (CRF). Example of providing a reward at every specific activity is

  • Giving a chocolate everyday when child finishes math homework
  • Student getting praised every time he receives A+ Grades

Partial or Intermittent Schedule of Reinforcement

Another alternative to maintain responses in a schedule is by intermittent or partial reinforcement. The schedule of reinforcement arranged such that not every correct response reinforced is termed as intermittent reinforcement. Reinforcements are arranged to be presented at certain intervals or ratios. This type of reinforcement is regarded to be more powerful in maintaining and shaping behavior.

There are four basic types of partial reinforcement schedule

  1. Fixed Interval (FI) Schedule
    A fixed amount of time must elapse for reinforcements to be presented. Number of responses or trials is irrelevant.
     
  2. Variable Interval (VI) Schedule
    Reinforcement is contingent on the passage of time but the interval varies in random order.
     
  3. Fixed Ratio (FR) Schedule
    Reinforcement is provided after a fixed number of correct responses have been made.
     
  4. Variable Ratio (VR) Schedule
    Reinforcement is provided after a variable number of correct responses.

How to Choose a Schedule?

Choosing a schedule is an essential part, which has a massive influence on the success rate of the behavior. Continuous schedule works best when trying to teach a new behavior, whereas switching to partial schedule is often more preferred when a behavior has been learned.

Realistically speaking, it might not always be feasible to reinforce a behavior every single time it occurs, as it requires extensive amount of attention and resources. Partial schedules, in this case, might prove more useful. Also, partial schedules make the subject more disciplined and behaviors learned with the technique have been found to be more resistant to extinction.

Different situations might require different forms of reinforcement schedule, and the training activity might also require you to switch from one to another.