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.


44th Annual Convention; San Diego, CA; 2018

Event Details

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Invited Symposium #251
Human Competence Revisited: 40 Years of Impact
Sunday, May 27, 2018
11:00 AM–12:50 PM
Marriott Marquis, Marina Ballroom G
Area: OBM; Domain: Theory
Chair: Ramona Houmanfar (University of Nevada, Reno)
Discussant: Ramona Houmanfar (University of Nevada, Reno)
CE Instructor: Ramona Houmanfar, Ph.D.

Thomas Gilbert’s book (1978) titled “Human Competence” took us beyond training toward a rigorous approach to improving performance in organizations. His behavior engineering model has guided behavior analytic research and applications with an emphasis on parsimony, elegance and usefulness of associated methodologies. Throughout the years, the powerful partnership between Tom and Marilyn Gilbert leading to the publication of Human Competence, and many revolutionary training modules and consulting reports perhaps has not received the well-deserved acknowledgement given its impact and influence. By drawing upon their pioneering work in behavior analysis, Marilyn Gilbert and colleagues will highlight the impact of this partnership by providing an overview and discussion of Tom and Marilyn Gilbert’s unpublished account of human competence during the latter part of Tom Gilbert’s life. Moreover, the presentations will highlight the foundational influence of Gilberts’ Human Competence on recent technological advancements in instructional design and behavioral systems applications.

Instruction Level: Basic
Target Audience:

Academicians, students, and practitioners who are interested in performance improvement in organizations.

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the presentation, participants will be able to: (1) describe the foundation (concepts, principles, methodology) underlying Behavioral Engineering Methodology and applications in organizations; (2) discuss future directions of BEM and emerging trends in Organizational Behavior Management; (3) list behaviors and results that align with the mission of their organization(s) that are worthy performance targets.

Gilbert and the Educational Revolution

MARILYN B. GILBERT (University of North Texas)

This presentation will provide an overview of the Gilberts' contribution to instructional design technologies that have revolutionized teaching practices in many educational settings. Gilberts' model focuses on designing the environment in which the student learns instead of changing the student. With the behavior engineering model, those responsible for performance improvement and maintenance can diagnose for, make priorities among, and plan performance improvement solutions in the classroom.

Marilyn Gilbert studied Latin and mathematics at Montclair University in New Jersey. Her MA from Columbia University was in English and Comparative Literature. But it was a marriage that brought her to behavior analysis. There, she has applied editing and technical writing skills she learned while working in Boston's key engineering firms. She edited the first edition of Schedules of Reinforcement, by Charles B. Ferster and B. F. Skinner. In Indianapolis, she became 'mother' of JEAB after editing and typing the first two editions. She then continued to edit JEAB for the next five years. Tom Gilbert named Marilyn Mathetisist 1, as she and Tom became partners in both life and work. She edited all his writings, including Human Performance, and she and Tom wrote Thinking Metric together. She has published several textbooks on math and writing. Currently, she teaches writing English by ear online at the University of North Texas and plans to publish a textbook for students. She has also developed a course on Tom's Levels of Performance for Tucci Learning's new Teaching Machine. She also hopes to publish unpublished writings that Tom has left for behavior analysts everywhere to read and to use.

The Legacy of Tom Gilbert's Accomplishment Based Performance Improvement

CARL V. BINDER (The Performance Thinking Network, LLC)

Tom Gilbert replaced what he called "the cult of behavior" with a focus on valuable accomplishments produced by behavior, a major contribution that launched a seismic shift for those who followed. This shift has been challenging, not only for applied behaviorists, but also for ordinary people. We are more accustomed to observing and discussing behavior, whether precisely or not, than identifying the valuable accomplishments produced by that behavior, especially when the accomplishments are less tangible than deliverables or widgets, for example decisions, relationships, or recommendations. Another of Gilbert's major contributions, the behavior engineering model, extended the variables of behavior influence from contingencies of reinforcement to a framework including physical and social elements of the work environment, prior repertoire, variations in reinforcement value, and other factors that are seldom relevant in research with starved laboratory animals in simplified experimental chambers. But Gilbert's labels for the cells in his behavior engineering model were not self-explanatory, and open to interpretation, challenging consistent comprehension, communication, and application. The presenter has adapted and refined these two contributions—a focus on accomplishments and a more complete model of behavior influences—using simple visual models and user-tested plain English to enable rapid communication and collaboration among performance experts, their clients and stakeholders. This presentation describes developments based on Gilbert's contributions, as they have evolved over several decades, and summarizes practical implications for enabling leaders, managers, performance professionals, and individual contributors at any level and in any function in organizations to collaborate for continuous performance improvement.

Dr. Carl Binder is CEO of The Performance Thinking Network, LLC, where he develops performance consultants, leaders and managers in organizations worldwide. Starting in 1970 as a student with B.F. Skinner at Harvard, he worked for ten years in B.H. Barrett's Behavior Prosthesis Lab, conducting laboratory and classroom research and training teachers. An early contributor to Precision Teaching, he was mentored by Ogden Lindsley and Eric Haughton. In 1982, he founded his first consulting firm, Precision Teaching and Management Systems, Inc., and became active in the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI) where his mentors included Tom Gilbert, Joe Harless, Robert Horn and Donald Tosti. He founded Product Knowledge Systems, Inc., a Boston consulting firm specializing in sales enablement for Global 1000 companies. Carl is currently known for Six Boxes Performance Thinking, a plain English viral approach to organizational performance improvement. APA Division 25 honored Carl with the Fred S. Keller Award (2004), ISPI recognized his contributions to performance improvement with Honorary Lifetime Membership (2009) and the Thomas F. Gilbert Award (2012), and the OBM Network gave him its Lifetime Achievement Award (2015). Contact Carl at and learn more about his work at and

Mathetics for Instructional Design and Delivery

KENT JOHNSON (Morningside Academy)

Although only briefly mentioned in Human Competence, Tom Gilbert wrote extensively about his method for teaching learners new concepts, principles, facts and skills, which he called mathetics. Mathetics included a generic instructional delivery procedure with three phases: (a) demonstrating skills, concepts, and principles to learners; (b) guiding learners as they practice; and (c) testing students to see if they have achieved mastery. Mathetics also incorporated procedures for designing instructional materials, such as how to identify and organize stimuli and responses from instructional goals, and how to incorporate behavioral procedures such as shaping and back chaining during instruction. I will describe mathetics and how it has been adapted as the core of instructional delivery in Engelmann's Direct Instruction and our own Morningside Model of Generative Instruction (MMGI). I will also describe the content of two important unpublished chapters that Gilbert wrote, which contain new ideas and procedures for mathetical design and delivery.

Dr. Kent Johnson founded Morningside Academy, in Seattle, Washington, in 1980, and currently serves as its Executive Director. Morningside is a laboratory school for elementary and middle school children and youth. Morningside investigates effective curriculum materials and teaching methods, and has provided training and consulting in instruction to over 140 schools and agencies throughout the USA and Canada since 1991. Over 50,000 students and over two thousand teachers have used the Morningside Model of Generative Instruction. Dr. Johnson is also a co-founder of Headsprout, Inc., a company that develops web-based, interactive, cartoon-driven instructional programs, including Headsprout Early Reading and Headsprout Reading Comprehension. Examine them at Dr. Johnson is recipient of the 2001 Award for Public Service in Behavior Analysis from the Society for the Advancement of Behavior Analysis, the 2010 Edward L. Anderson Award in Recognition for Exemplary Contributions to Behavioral Education from the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies, the 2009 Ernie Wing Award for Excellence in Evidence-based Education from the Wing Institute, the 2006 Allyn and Bacon Exemplary Program Award from the Council for Exceptional Children, Division for Learning Disabilities, and the 2011 Ogden R. Lindsley Lifetime Achievement Award in Precision Teaching from the Standard Celeration Society.

Gilbert's Behavioral Engineering Methodology as Foundation for Behavioral Systems Engineering: Control Systems to Interlock Behavior


In high reliability organizations (HROs), procedural adherence to highly structured work plans is crucial to achieving organizational goals and averting catastrophes. BP's oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico (Macondo) was a bellwether event signaling the importance of managing interlocking human factors in HROs. Gilbert's BEM and vantage points provide a strong foundation for behavioral systems engineering to establish and maintain adherence to work routines in highly engineered, highly technical environments (e.g., aviation, nuclear power, oil & gas exploration, medicine). Two behavioral challenges face managers of HROs. First, crews need to follow well established procedures with little deviation to achieve milestones. Second, on occasion, crews encounter anomalies not addressed in standard work instructions. During these crises, crews must stop following standard procedures, assess changing conditions and adapt their behavior to the unexpected events in order to avert catastrophe. Behavioral systems engineering integrates human behavior with automated systems to adapt complex processes to changing contexts. Thus management of human behavior is one factor in a highly engineered system that can be designed to respond to both challenges (maintain routines, adjust to crises). This paper considers Gilbert's analysis for designing control systems of crew members' behavior in HROs.

Mark P. Alavosius, Ph.D. is President of Praxis2LLC, providing behavior science to high performance organizations. He is a graduate faculty in psychology at the University of Nevada, Reno and was a faculty member at Western Michigan University and West Virginia University. He earned his BA from Clark University (1976) MS (1985) and Ph.D. (1987) in Psychology from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He is on the editorial boards of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management and Behavior and Social Issues. He was president of the Nevada Association for Behavior Analysis and program coordinator for the CSE (Community, Social, Ethics) area of ABAI. He helped found BASS (Behavior Analysis for Sustainable Societies, an ABAI SIG) and served as the first chairperson. He has been a Trustee of the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies for many years and chaired their Commission for the Accreditation of behavioral safety programs from 2010–2016. His interests are in developing behavioral systems to improve work performance in the areas of health, safety and the environment. Dr. Alavosius was PI of Small Business Innovations Research Grants from CDC/NIOSH to test behavioral safety technologies for small employers. Dr. Alavosius has over 30 publications and 150 conference presentations.



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