Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.

ABAI_Games _202px

How to Avoid Using Spurious Reinforcers: The Importance of Program-Intrinsic Consequences When Building Learning Environments

T. V. Joe Layng, Ph.D. (Generategy)


Layng TVJoe

T. V. (Joe) Layng received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, where he was a student of Israel Goldiamond. Dr. Layng is the co-founder of Headsprout and was its senior scientist. At Headsprout, Dr. Layng and his colleagues designed, tested, and implemented highly successful Early Reading and Reading Comprehension programs, which are based on behavior analytic instructional technology. They also produced a comprehensive interactive whiteboard science curriculum for grades 3–8. He currently is a partner in Generategy, an interactive technologies company that provides educational software based on principles of generative instruction. Through Generategy, Dr. Layng and his colleagues have recently launched Music Learning Lab for iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch that teaches children music fundamentals. These programs have greatly expanded behavioral technology and have directly benefited countless children. Dr. Layng has published more than 30 articles describing, documenting, and analyzing these instructional programs, and has given more than 50 invited presentations of his work in this area both in the U.S. and abroad. He has four patents that reflect his work related to educational applications of behavior analysis. Dr. Layng has held a number of positions in schools, universities, and other public institutions related to instructional design, educational technology, large-scale performance improvement, and clinical behavior analysis. His work also has been well received outside behavior analysis, as exemplified the receipt in 2010 of the CODiE Award for best “online instructional solution” from the Software Industry and Information Association for the Reading Comprehension program, and two different public service awards from the city of Chicago. He also serves on the boards of a number of organizations dedicated to advancing both education and behavior analysis, including the Chicago School of Professional Psychology and Pacific Oaks College. Dr. Layng is a Fellow of the Association for Behavior Analysis International, and his far-reaching work applying behavior analysis in education and other areas brings positive visibility to our discipline as a whole.


Abstract: One of the more prominent features of what is often called “gamification” is that certain behaviors, such as correctly solving a problem, are followed by points, medallions, or awards made contingent on the behavior. But what makes the points or medallions valuable? Is solving the problem really important to the individual? And herein lies the one of the great dilemmas of gamification. The points, awards, etc. are often assumed to be reinforcing in and of themselves. Or, perhaps they are linked to prizes or to avoiding penalties. But are these really meaningful to the person? And if they are, do they derive their meaning from outside the activity being reinforced? Such consequences have been described by Skinner as “spurious,” and by Goldiamond as “program-extrinsic.” The identification and programming of “program-intrinsic,” activity-specific consequences, as contrasted with program-extrinsic, spurious consequences, will be the focus of the breakout. This session will allow participants to design those practices that help learners find the fun in math (and other topics), rather than design practices that simply make math fun.


Back to Previous Page



Modifed by Eddie Soh