Academic journal article The Behavior Analyst Today

Editorials: Special Issue on Behavior Analysis & Education

Academic journal article The Behavior Analyst Today

Editorials: Special Issue on Behavior Analysis & Education

Article excerpt


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. …

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