Behavior Analysis Meets Online Gifted and Talented Education

Disclaimer: This post is the first of what I hope to be a series of updates over years. There’s far too much to communicate in a short blog, so we’ll have to take them one at a time! My intention for this post is to share some of the resources that will influence this blog line.

For a couple years my good colleague, Mark Malady, and myself explored the depths of the behavior analytic literature – from the depths of our various flagship journals of the Behavior Analytic community all the way down to the esoteric chapters and books found in random bookstores across the United States. Three lessons were learned from this experience:

  1. There is a lot of behavior analytic work that was completed and it is underrepresented in our community (Zing Yang Kuo, H. Pronko, Paul H. Schiller)
  2. There are a lot of references that have been extremely valuable in practice that I doubt I would have ever stumbled across in a training program (e.g., Goldiamond & Thompson’s The Blue Books) and
  3. There are a lot of well-designed programs for helping with various world problems that achieved great success in their respective time, but that just didn’t quite make it into the mainstream (e.g., Cohen & Filipczak’s A New Learning Environment: A Case for Learning).

Our quest started because we felt that we needed to know as much as possible about the history of the field, but over the years it started to shift into “What can we do with all of this?” The answer took us a few years to formally sort out, and appeared in the form of numerous plans and grandiose ideas, but is now in the form of a business called the Institute of Meaningful Instruction, LLC.

“Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.”  – Peter Drucker

While exploring the literature we were lucky to meet a passionate professional in Reno, Nevada – Bryan Hallauer – who saw the power of behavioral technology and shared our vision to expand it into non-traditional populations. The past 1.5 years we’ve been focusing on a product called Exploring Tomorrow (ET). ET is a 4-week online course that teaches self-management skillsets to gifted and talented students through goal selection and measurement relative to each parent-student dyad’s unique situation, interests and values. (For more info on gifted and talented see the National Association for Gifted Children’s website). The curriculum is delivered online and covers the following topics:

  1. Values clarification (Relational Frame Theory, The Art and Science of Valuing in Psychotherapy)
  2. Goal setting: How can I work towards goals that align with my stated values? (Ramnero & Torneke, 2015)
  3. Committed & measurable action: What can I do TODAY that can help me achieve my goals and align with my values? (Relational Frame Theory, The Precision Teaching Book)

The following areas of literature have been some of the most influential in the creation of our services: distinguishing between behavioral technology and technology, non-linear instructional design, and precision measurement – each are described briefly below with additional sources to follow for those looking to explore more.


There are various ways that the term “technology” has been used in our field historically. The most practical solution that we’ve stumbled across is that of Layng & Twyman (2013). Technology can be used in two ways:

  1. Technology of Tools (hardware, software, sensors, devices, etc.)
  2. Technology of Process (teaching & learning instructional design)

This has been extremely helpful in developing numerous programs and curriculum over the past years. It has allowed us to clearly differentiate between the tools and the behavioral technologies (i.e., processes) that are embedded into our service. We believe that leveraging this definition along with various evidence-based teaching practices or kernels is the future of large-scale behavioral technologies. (For more on evidence-based kernels see, Embry, 2004; Embry & Biglan 2008; Twyman, 2014).


NLID is the process of identifying relevant learner outcomes, entry repertoires and sequences using design principles identified and tested over the past 40 years. The process is completed in a non-linear fashion (i.e., doesn’t match the way students experience the program, it’s reticulated in nature) to assist in creating the highest quality product for achieving student outcomes. Performance metrics are embedded to allow the design to continually improve after each person completes the program. Pioneers of instructional design, such as Robert Mager, Susan Markle, and Philip Tiemann can be explored through a number of fantastic references: Mager (1997), Markle (1969), Markle (1990), Tiemann & Markle (1991), with the key reference for NLID being Twyman, Layng, Stikeleather & Hobbins (2005) – a truly life-changing line of reading for behavior analysts in our opinion.


In the late 1960s and early 1970s Ogden Lindsley and his students intensively studied the visual display of data that they collected while implementing Precision Teaching. Their findings included guidelines for establishing and implementing what remains to be the most robust measurement system (what we’ve come to call Precision Measurement given it’s not just housed in the teaching world) and tool in visual analysis to date called the Standard Celeration Chart (SCC).

The SCC allows a user to graph anything that a person does that occurs at a frequency of once per day to one thousand times per minute. The standardization of the tool allows for comparisons across different responses to compare results with others (or more typically, standard norms for a skill), as well as place values to change measures (e.g., doubling in frequency each week is indicated by a “X2” meaning twice the growth per week). For more on Precision Teaching and the Standard Celeration Chart check out the following: Binder, 1988; Binder, 1993; Kubina & Yurch, 2012; Lindsley, 1992; Pennypacker, Lindsley, & Gutierrez, 2003.


  1. Check out our blog for more information on the first year achievements.
  2. Follow our Newsletter.
  3. Partner or reach out to us.


Until next time!




Andronis, P. T. (2002). The Blue Books: Goldiamond’s functional analysis of behavior. Retrieved from:

Binder, C. (1988). Precision Teaching: Measuring and attaining exemplary academic achievement. Youth Policy, 10(7), 12-15.

Binder, C. (1993). Behavioral fluency: Evolution of a new paradigm. The Behavior Analyst, 19(2), 163-197.

Dahl, J. C., Plumb, J. C., Stewart, I., Lundgreen, T. (2009). The art and science of valuing in psychotherapy: Helping clients discover, explore, and commit to a valued action using acceptance and commitment therapy. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Dewsbury, D. A. (1994). The comparative psychology of Paul Schiller. The Psychological Record, 44(3), 326-330.

Embry, D. D. (2004). Community-based prevention using simple, low-cost, evidence-based kernels and behavior vaccines. Journal of Community Psychology,32(5), 575. doi:10.1002/jcop.20020.

Embry, D. D., & Biglan, A. (2008). Evidence-based Kernels: Fundamental Units of Behavioral Influence. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 11(3), 75–113.

Hayes, S. C., Barnes-Holmes, D., & Roche, B. (2001). Relational frame theory: A post Skinnerian account of human language and cognition. New York: Plenum/Kluwer.

Kubina, R. M., & Yurich, K. K. (2012). Precision Teaching Book. Greatness Achieved Publishing Company.

Kuo, Z. Y. (1976). The dynamics of behavior development: an epigenetic view. New York and London: Plenum Press.

Layng, T. V. J., & Twyman, J. S. (2013). Education + technology + innovation = learning? In M. Murphy, S. Redding, & J. Twyman (Eds.), Handbook on innovations in learning (pp. 135–150). Philadelphia, PA: Center on Innovations in Learning, Temple University; Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

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

Mager, R. F. (1997). Making Instruction Work (2nd ed.). Atlanta, GA: CEP.

Markle, S. M. (1969). Good frames and bad: A grammar of frame writing. Champaign, IL: Stipes Publishing Company.

Markle, S. M. (1990). Designs for instructional designers. Champaign, IL: Stipes.

Pennypacker, H. S, Lindsley, O. R., & Gutierrez, L. A. (2003) Handbook of the Standard Celeration Chart, Deluxe Edition. Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies: Cambridge, MA.

Pronko, N. H. (1988). From ai to zeitgeist: A philosophical guide for the skeptical psychologist. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, Inc.

Ramnerö, J., & Törneke, N. (2015). On Having a Goal: Goals as Representations or Behavior. The Psychological Record, 65, 89–99.

Tiemann, P. W., & Markle, S. M. (1991). Analyzing instructional content. Champaign, IL: Stipes.

Twyman, J. S., Layng, T. V. J., Stikeleather, G., Hobbins, K. A. (2005). A nonlinear approach to curriculum design: The role of behavior analysis in building an effective reading program. In W. L. Heward, T. E. Heron, N. A. Neef, S. M. Peterson, D. M. Sainato, G. Cartledge, R. Gardner, III, L. D. Peterson, S. B. Hersh & J. C. Dargig (Ed.), Focus on behavior analysis in education: Achievements, challenges, and opportunities. (pp. 55-68). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Twyman, J. S. (2014). Envisioning education 3.0: The fusion of behavior analysis, learning science and technology. Mexican Journal of Behavior Analysis, 40, 20-38. 

Ryan O’Donnell is a graduate of Florida Institute of Technology’s applied behavior analysis master’s program.  Prior to attending Florida Tech, he received his bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Nevada, Reno. His major interests are precision teaching, philosophical positions of the science of behavior, dissemination of behavior analysis, successful applications of technology to increase the efficiency of behavior analysts, and large-scale practical applications of behavioral technology.  He works as a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) at High Sierra Industries where he oversees the implementation of behavioral assessment and treatment to adults with a variety of disabilities in a day program.



  1. Many thanks for the interesting post, I think it will come in handy to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Henry – feel free to reach out if you want to discuss more!


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