Editorials: special issue on behavior analysis & education.
Article Type: Editorial
Authors: Bordieri, Michael J.
Kellum, Karen Kate
Wilson, &.Kelly G.
Pub Date: 01/01/2012
Publication: Name: The Behavior Analyst Today Publisher: Behavior Analyst Online Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Psychology and mental health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2012 Behavior Analyst Online ISSN: 1539-4352
Issue: Date: Wntr, 2012 Source Volume: 13 Source Issue: 1
Accession Number: 292504168

Behavior analysis and education are a natural fit. Basic behavioral principles are ideal tools for teaching. All applied behavior analytic interventions with humans fall under the education umbrella in a general sense, since they are aimed at producing more socially adaptive behavior. For this special issue, however, the editors placed an emphasis on the direct applications of behavioral principles within the education system.

Early in the development of behavior analysis, researchers took an interest in the application of behavioral principles to education. Building upon Sidney Pressey's early work with teaching technology, Skinner developed a teaching machine in the late 1950's that allowed a learner to receive individualized instruction with immediate performance feedback (Skinner, 1961). Skinner expanded on this innovation by developing a system of programmed instruction with James Holland (Holland & Skinner, 1961). The system, based on self-directed learning and immediate contingencies of reinforcement, became the foundation for applied behavior analytic work in education and was formalized in Skinner's 1968 book The Technology of Teaching.

Sid Bijou (1970) argued that behavior analysis integrated well with the goals of the educational system by providing a robust set of empirically supported principles and a clear single subject research methodology. Bijou's work with children with intellectual disabilities during the late 1950's and 1960's offered strong initial evidence of the utility of behavioral interventions in educational settings. In addition, his methodological innovations set the stage for future research in educational settings (Wesolowski, 2002).

In the inaugural volume of the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, Fred Keller (1968) introduced his personalized system of instruction that emphasized mastery based instructional pacing and frequent student interactions with the instructor and peers. Keller's article entitled "Good-Bye, Teacher," made the case for the teacher's role as an educational engineer and contingency manager and downplayed the use of lecture as a means of delivering information. Ogden Lindsley's (1992) precision teaching model introduced the standard celeration chart as a means for assessing changes in fluency as students progress through a structured curriculum. In addition, Zig Engelmann's direct instruction model, based on highly scripted teaching interactions, showed the effectiveness of a behaviorally based curriculum on a large-scale (Engelmann, Becker, Carnine, &Gersten, 1988).

Over that past sixty years behavior analysts have demonstrated the tremendous utility that basic behavioral principles have within our educational system. Despite substantial empirical evidence of efficacy, behaviorally-based educational programs and curricula have not enjoyed widespread acceptance and adoption (Engelmann, 2007). In this issue, the contributing authors offer a variety of ways in which behavior analysis might increase its impact in education through innovative programs, dissemination strategies, delivery techniques, and assessments of learning difficulties.

Central to the design of effective educational programs is the ability to identify and modify sources of inaccurate or inconsistent responding. In the first article, Cipani (2012) provides a literature review of stimulus overselectivity, a phenomena that occurs when a learner responds to a restricted range of features of a compound stimulus. After a review of basic research on overselectivity, the article provides a diagnostic system for detecting error patterns that limit skill acquisition in discrimination learning tasks. Cipani identifies three separate types of overselectivity; identical feature control, irrelevant feature control, and incomplete stimulus control, and discusses implications for the design of instructional systems.

Austin (2000) noted a "relative scarcity of empirical validation for behavioral education methods at the college level" (p. 449). In the years since her review, response cards (e.g., Clayton & Woodard, 2007; Malanga & Sweeny, 2007), student response systems (e.g., Fallon & Forrest, 2011), interteaching (e.g., Saville, Zinn, Neef, Van Norman, & Ferreri, 2006) and guided notes (e.g., Neef, McCord, & Ferreri, 2006) have gained some additional empirical support. Yet, the use of behavioral approaches to teaching in universities remains somewhat limited. The second article of this special issue (Williams, Weil, & Porter, 2012) presents evidence for the use of guided notes with college students and discusses areas for further research with guided notes.

Web-based video-sharing sites like YouTube have increased instructors' access to brief videos to demonstrate course content; however, the quality and accuracy of this content varies (Lim Fat, Doja, Barrowman & Sell, 2011; Richardson, Vettese, Sussman, Small & Selby, 2011). Further, accurate demonstrations of classical conditioning and related principles with humans are still difficult to find. The third article (Phelps, Doyle-Lunders, Harsin-Waite, Hofman& Knutson, 2012) supports behavior analysis in education in two ways. First, the authors provide an evaluation of the use of video demonstration of the habitation of a startle response in a college classroom. Second, the authors have made the video available for other instructors (contact Phelps for details).

Though behavior analysis holds great promise, as Friman (2006) wrote, "the current role of ABA in American education pales in comparison to the role Skinner envisioned" (p. 4). Perhaps examining the conditions under which behavioral methods are adopted can expand this role. The fourth and fifth articles provide descriptions of the successful dissemination of behavioral education that readers might use in their own attempts to influence decisions makers.

In the fourth article, Johnston and Street (2012) discuss the methods and successes of Morningside Academy. The Morningside model includes the integration of frequent assessment in decision making at all levels (i.e., student advancement, teacher evaluation, and development of instructional content and methods). The article describes the laboratory school, summer programs, teacher coaching programs, and other outreach efforts. Further, the authors propose important research questions that may be answered more readily in basic or applied research settings than in their own.

In the final article, Layng and Layng (2012) provide a description of a method that lead to large-scale behavioral implementation in a school district. The authors describe the use of local evidence to facilitate the adoption of educational programs backed by behavioral research and theory. Finally, they provide a model that may be used by others when working with school districts.

While they differ in focus and scope, these articles highlight innovative applications of behavioral principles in education. Given the current state of controversy and declining performance in American's school systems (Usher, 2011), behavioral research offers an established data based method for improving the quality of instruction and learner outcomes. The dream of a widespread mainstream impact in our educational system shared by early behavior pioneers such as Skinner, Bijou, and Keller has yet to be realized; however, the work of modern behavior analysts holds great promise.


Austin, J. L (2000). Behavioral approaches to college teaching. In J. Austin and J E. Carr (Eds.), Handbook of applied behavior analysis (pp. 449-472). Reno, NV Context Press.

Bijou, S. W.(1970). What psychology has to offer education--now. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 3, 65-71

Cipani, E. (2012). Stimulus overselectivity: Empirical basis and diagnostic methods The Behavior Analyst Today, 13, 3-11

Clayton, M. C., & Woodard, C. (2007). The effect of response cards on participation and weekly quiz scores of university students enrolled introductory psychology courses. Journal of Behavioral Education, 16, 250-258

Engelmann, S. (2007). Teaching needy kids in our backwards system: 42 years of trying. Eugene, Oregon: ADI Press

Engelmann, S., Becker, W., Carnine, D., and Gersten, R. (1988). The direct instruction follow through model: Design and outcome. Education and Treatment of Children, 11, 303-217.

zallon, M., & Forrest, S. L. (2012). High-tech versus low-tech instructional strategies A comparison of clickers and handheld response cards. Teaching of Psychology, 38, 194-198.

Friman, P. C. (2006). The Future of Applied Behavior Analysis is under the Dome. The ABA Newsletter, 29, 4-7.

Holland, J. G., & Skinner, B. F. (1961). The analysis of behavior: A program for self-instruction. New York: McGraw-Hill

Johnson, K. & Street, E. M. (2012). From the laboratory to the field and back again Morningside Academy's 32 years of improving students' academic performance The Behavior Analyst Today, 13, 20-40.

Keller, F. S. (1968). Good-bye, teacher ... Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 1 79-89.

Layng, Z. R. & Layng, T. V. J. (2012). Building the case for large scale behavioral education adoptions, The Behavior Analyst Today, 13, 41-45

Lim Fat, M., Doja, A., Barrowman, N., & Sell, E. (2011). YouTube videos as a teaching tool and patient resource for infantile spasms. Journal Of Child Neurology, 26, 804-809.

Lindsley, O. R. (1992). Precision teaching: Discoveries and effects. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 25, 51-57.

Malanga, P R., & Sweeney, W. J. (2008). Increasing active student responding in a university applied behavior analysis course: The effect of daily assessment and response cards on end of week quiz scores. Journal of Behavioral Education, 17, 187-199.

Neef, N. A., McCord, B. E., & Ferreri, S. J. (2006). Effects of guided notes versus completed notes during lectures on college students' quiz performance. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 39, 123-130.

Phelps, B. J., Doyle-Lunders, L., Harsin-Waite, A., Hofman, N. & Knutson, L. M. (2012). Demonstrating habituation of a startle response to loud noise. The Behavior Analyst Today, 13, 17-19.

Richardson, C. G., Vettese, L., Sussman, S., Small, S. P., & Selby, P (2011). An investigation of smoking cessation video content on YouTube.Substance Use & Misuse, 46, 893-897.

Saville, B. K., Zinn, T. E., Neef N. A., Van Norman, R., & Ferreri, S. J. (2006). A comparison of interteaching and lecture in the college classroom. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 39, 49-61.

Skinner, B. F. (1961). Teaching machines. Scientific American, 205, 90-107

Skinner, B. F. (1968). The technology of teaching. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts Jsher, A. (2011).Adequate yearly' progress results from 2010-11. Washington, D.C Center for Education Policy.

Wesolowski, M. D. (2002). Pioneer profiles: A few minutes with Sid Bijou. The Behavior Analyst, 25, 15-27.

Williams, W. L., Weil, T. M., & Porter, J. C. K. (2012). The relative effects of traditional lectures and guided notes lectures on university student test scores. The Behavior Analyst Today, 13, 12-16.

Michael J. Bordieri, Karen Kate Kellum, & Kelly G. Wilson

University of Mississippi

Author Note: Kate Kellum served as the editor for this special issue with much guidance and assistance from Darlene Crone-Todd (BAT Editor) and Paul Malanga (BAT Associate Editor), and members of the Contextual Psychology Laboratory at the University of Mississippi. The editor would like to thank the many colleagues who served as reviewers and Jeffrey Oliver, who provided much organizational support
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