The ABCs of Fluency Training
“In an American school if you ask for the salt in good French, you get an A. In France you get the salt.”
– B. F. Skinner
As existing organizations look to evolve and new organizations look to gain an edge there will be an ever-present demand to maximize the use of training technologies. Successful businesses achieve results through the performance of their employees. High-level employee performance is established and maintained over time by creating a workplace that provides the tools and support essential for success. Paramount to this is ensuring each individual has the knowledge and skills necessary to do their job at optimal performance levels.
Many traditional training programs focus on providing large amounts of information, with limited opportunities for learner responding and even fewer opportunities for immediate feedback specific to each response. At most, these training programs might train to a level of mastery where the end result is simply a demonstration of accuracy. However, research has shown that using feedback and frequent reinforcement to train performance to fluency results in faster acquisition, better accuracy, and higher retention (see Bucklin, Dickinson, & Brethower, 2000). Fluency training adds a speed criterion to an established mastery requirement to ensure the learner can respond accurately and without hesitation. Research has also demonstrated that training a skill to fluency will not only impact the acquisition of these initial skills, but it will increase the rate of learning for more complex skills as well (Binder, 1996, Johnson & Layng, 1992).
What we know about behavior can drastically impact the true success of our training programs. And we have nearly a century of research on the laws of behavior to guide the development and application of these training programs. The foundation of our knowledge of fluency training centers on our ABCs: Antecedents, Behavior, and Consequences. First, we’ll look at what the science tells us about behavior.
The Science Behind Behavior
Identifying the essential skills that will benefit the participants will not only add value to the program for the participants but will also help ensure that the training will effectively transfer to the workplace. If the behaviors being demonstrated and acknowledged during training are similar to the behaviors performed in the workplace then the participant will see the impact of their learning efforts. Often when developing training programs, trainers either overlook these critical behaviors or they are overshadowed by an excessive amount of nonessential content. Once a skill deficit has been identified, the goals and objectives of the training must be established. A learner should be able to demonstrate learning in a meaningful way that increases the chances that this new learned behavior will also occur when they are back at work.
Once you have identified a valued skill and broken it down into specific component behaviors, fluency technologies can allow for these behaviors to be shaped, continuously assessed, and trained to a level of fluent responding. But these behaviors still need to be performed by the participant...so how can the science of behavior help us in this regard? How will a participant demonstrate learning? What type of responding will be required? These are all important questions that are central to evidence-based fluency programs.
How will a participant demonstrate learning?
What type of responding will be required?
Advancements in computer technologies allow for the type of responding made during a training program to be generally matched to the type of responding in the workplace. Training content should be developed using realistic work situations that will occur in the learner’s workplace. For example, in the workplace environment are there multiple examples for the worker to select from or simply a pair of examples? Is the worker required to respond to a direction from another individual or to a situation in the environment? Are there a certain number of correct options or a single correct option? The way you present answer options to a learner during a fluency training program can impact how well your training transfers to the workplace.
The Science Behind Antecedents
With properly designed antecedent information, fluent responding will help ensure the learner responds correctly to similar situations in the workplace. The science of behavior shows us that antecedents will serve two purposes in our instructional systems: 1. to help the learner distinguish correct options from incorrect; and 2. to help motivate the learner. Given that instructional systems contain a wealth of critical information (i.e., antecedents) our training programs need to be developed according to these principles.
Seeing right from wrong
We are trying to give learners the tools that will help them perform at a higher level. This means that we are trying to present the learner with a specific piece of information that is designed to prompt the learner to make a correct response. Poorly designed instructional content will have vague and lengthy content with limited opportunities for the learner to respond. This does not allow learners to respond to particular information, thus will not allow for the high rate of learning and retention offered through properly-designed fluency training programs.
“What’s in it for me?!?”
The Science Behind Consequences
Interactivity is the key to success...
When the speed component is added after reaching mastery, fluent responding must take place quickly and without hesitation. Thus, the time between questions must be short, allowing for a brief affirmation of the accuracy of a response prior to moving on to the next question. As fluent responding emerges, learners should also be starting to see the value of the training through the positive results achieved at the workplace and through the praise received from supervisors and peers responding to their successes.
Using the ABCs to Benefit Your Organization
Binder, C. (1996). Behavioral fluency: Evolution of a new paradigm. The Behavior Analyst, 19, 163-197. Bucklin, B. R., Dickinson, A. M., & Brethower, D. M. (2000). A comparison of the effects of fluency training and accuracy training on application and retention. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 13(3), 140-163. Ingvarsson, E. T.; & Hanley, G. P. (2006). An evaluation of computer-based programmed instruction for promoting teachers’ greetings of parents by name. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 39, 203-214. Johnson, K., & Layng, T. (1992). Breaking the structural barrier: Literacy and numeracy with fluency. American Psychologist, 47, 1475-1490. Skinner, B. F. (1953). Science and human behavior. New York: Macmillian. Skinner, B. F. (1958). Teaching machines. Science, 128(3330), 969-977. Tudor, R. M., & Bostow, D. E. (1991). Computer-programmed instruction: The relation of required interaction to practical applications. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 24, 361-368.
Nic WeatherlyAs a consultant, Nic provides sustainable performance-improvement solutions across a wide range of industries. His writing and research have centered on topics related to organizational assessment, consequence management, programmed instruction, and performance fluency. Nic is currently the President-elect of the Association of Professional Behavior Analysts. In his spare time, Nic enjoys playing guitar, fishing, and spending time with his wife and daughter.
Published April 24, 2014