Tiered Model of Education
Background and Goals
In 2020, the ABAI Executive Council appointed the “ABAI Task Force of Education”. Its charge was to define standards of education for behavior analysis training programs around the world. The Task Force included representatives from Brazil (Martha Hübner), Colombia (Wilson Lopez), India (Smita Awasthi), Italy (Fabio Tosolin), Japan (Kanako Otsui), Mexico (Daniel Gomez), Norway (Ingunn Sandaker), South Africa (Ilana Gerschlowitz), Spain (Gladys Williams), and the United States (Mike Dorsey, VCS Board Coordinator; Michael Perone Accreditation Board Coordinator; Maria Malott, ABAI CEO; Peter Killeen, ABAI Past President). The Task Force considered training programs in their countries as well as programs in other countries around the world. To complement the Task Force’s efforts, a specialized committee focused on identifying experiential learning standards embedded in training programs. These two combined efforts resulted in the “ABAI Tiered Model of Education”. Below is an overview of the Tiered Model of Education, including the characteristics of each tier and an overview of the standards.
The primary objective of the Tiered Model of Education is to establish a quality-based recognition system for all types of behavior analysis training programs worldwide. The goal is to aid programs in moving from an administrative coursework review system (e.g., a VCS) to a comprehensive evaluation of the entire training program (e.g., accreditation).
The Tiered Model of Education offers recognition of quality academic training programs. The Model is based on the ABAI Accreditation Board standards (Tier 1) and includes four tiers, or levels, of recognition, leading toward ABAI accreditation. Accreditation indicates quality training in the science and application of behavior analysis. Further, the Council of Higher Education (CHEA) recognizes ABAI’s accreditation system for master’s and doctoral programs in the United States.
Programs in Tier 1 are accredited by ABAI and have achieved the highest level of quality recognition in behavior analysis. Tiers 2a through 4b specify approximations to ABAI accreditation, taking into consideration different programmatic structures and offerings. Given the range of program capabilities and structures that exist internationally, the tiers offer recognition of quality training by those programs not able to meet the accreditation standards. At the same time, the tiers offer a road map for programs that aspire to eventually seek accreditation.
The tiers are organized by three factors: whether the program is housed in an institution of higher education, whether it produces academic degrees, and whether it includes supervised experiential learning. A non-degree program may be referred to as a certificate or post-graduate program; it is essentially a coursework-only program that does not result in an academic degree/diploma.
The purpose of supervised experiential learning is to develop skills in professional practice and/or research. It can take place on or off campus, and the experience can be in basic or applied research involving behavior change interventions. Experiential learning may include, but is not limited to, activities that meet certification and licensure requirements. Programs may offer some or all the experience to meet credentialing and licensing requirements, though it is not required. At the graduate-level, completion of a thesis, thesis-equivalent, a dissertation, or other relevant activities may also fulfill the supervised experiential learning requirement. Additional details of supervised experiential learning are described below in Standard 9. Table 1 shows an overview of the tiers with descriptions further below.
Overview of Tiered Model of Education
Tier 1: Accreditation with Experiential Learning
Tier 1 is ABAI accreditation as it currently exists and is approved by CHEA. The ABAI Accreditation Board accredits bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs with supervised experiential learning. Accredited programs will also be recognized as Tier 1. Programs applying for initial accreditation and re-accreditation must demonstrate they meet the necessary eligibility criteria and accreditation standards. Accreditation applications will continue to go through the accreditation process and review by the ABAI Accreditation Board. Additional details about supervised experiential learning are described below in Standard 9.
Tier 2a: Recognized Degree Program with Experiential Learning
Tier 2a recognizes bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral, and equivalent degree programs that include supervised experiential learning as a program requirement. Doctoral programs may only seek recognition under Tiers 1 or 2a. Complete and established degree programs might consider applying for initial recognition via tier 2a as a step towards accreditation. Additional details about supervised experiential learning are described below in Standard 9.
Tier 2b: Recognized Degree Program
Tier 2b recognizes bachelor’s, master’s, and equivalent degree programs that do not require supervised experiential learning. Students and graduates interested in obtaining experience to meet credentialing and licensing requirements might do so independently from the program.
Tier 3a: Recognized Non-Degree Program with Experiential Learning
Tier 3a recognizes undergraduate and graduate non-degree programs that include supervised experiential learning as a program requirement. Examples of this arrangement may include certificate and post-graduate programs. Additional details about supervised experiential learning are described below in Standard 9.
Tier 3b: Recognized Non-Degree Program
Tier 3b recognizes undergraduate and graduate non-degree programs that do not require supervised experiential learning. Examples of this arrangement may include certificate and post-graduate programs. Students and graduates interested in obtaining experience to meet credentialing and licensing requirements might do so independently from the program.
Tier 4a: Recognized Non-Degree Program with Experiential Learning (non-HEI)
Tier 4a recognizes undergraduate and graduate non-degree programs that include supervised experiential learning as a program requirement and are housed outside of higher education institutions. Tier 4a is only available for training programs outside the United States. These programs are strongly encouraged to develop consortia agreements with a higher education institution using the component standards specified in the Administration standard. Additional details about supervised experiential learning are described below in Standard 9.
Tier 4b: Recognized Non-Degree Program (non-HEI)
Tier 4b recognizes undergraduate and graduate non-degree programs that do not require supervised experiential learning and are housed outside of higher education institutions. Like Tier 4a programs, Tier 4b is only available for training programs outside the United States and are strongly encouraged to develop consortia agreements with a higher education institution using the component standards specified in the Administration standard.
The Tiered Model includes nine standards areas: Mission, Curriculum, Outcomes Assessment, Administration, Resources, Faculty, Student Services, Public Disclosure, and Degree/Non-Degree Program Requirements. Each of those standard areas have additional components; in total there are approximately 50 components across the nine standards. The entirety of the standards and the corresponding components follow the accreditation standards and are detailed in the Tiered Model of Education application resources located on the Apply for Recognition website.
All programs must complete the application in its entirety and provide evidence of each standard, regardless of prospective Tier. Special considerations for may be made based on the evidence provided by the program and consultation with ABAI. Some components of a standard might not be applicable or might require special considerations for certain tiers or regions – each component standard contains additional details and considerations.
Standard 1: Mission
The program has a mission, which is its specific purpose for existing. All programs applying for recognition must demonstrate they meet the Mission standard. A mission statement is significant and should be general enough to align with ABAI, the institution, and the program, yet remain appropriate to the science and practice of behavior analysis.
Standard 2: Curriculum
The program implements a clear and coherent curriculum plan that provides the means whereby all students can demonstrate substantial understanding and competence in areas pertinent to the program’s mission and recognize the value of lifelong learning. Programs applying for recognition must provide evidence for all the components of the Curriculum standard, especially those related to supervised experiential learning (Tiers 1, 2a, 3a, and 4a).
Standard 3: Outcomes Assessment
Essential to the recognition review process are the outcomes of the program’s training efforts. Fair and reasonable outcomes assessment protects the interests of the program and the public. The program’s overall outcomes are assessed in the context of various outcome measures. Programs applying for recognition must provide evidence for all applicable components, unless otherwise indicated by ABAI.
Standard 4: Administration
The program is an integral part of its sponsoring institution, and it is governed by its faculty as led by a qualified core member of the faculty. Programs applying for Tiers 4a and 4b are strongly encouraged to develop consortia agreements with a higher education institution using the component standards specified in the Administration standard.
Standard 5: Resources
The program has fiscal, physical, and learning resources adequate to fulfill its mission. All programs, regardless of tier, must demonstrate they have sufficient resources to accomplish its mission.
Standard 6: Faculty
Program faculty are sufficient in number and quality to fulfill the program’s mission. Special considerations for some components of the Faculty standard may be given to Tiers 3a through 4b, on a case-by-case basis, based on the availability of doctoral-level behavior analysts.
Standard 7: Student Services
Students enrolled in the program have the academic credentials, experience, and skills necessary to successfully complete the program in a timely fashion. Policies and procedures facilitate completion of the program. One of the components of the Student Services standard may not be applicable to programs applying for Tiers 2a through 4b, and if so, special considerations may be given.
Standard 8: Public Disclosure
The program demonstrates its commitment to public disclosure by providing written materials and other communications that appropriately represent it to the relevant parties. Programs must accurately represent their recognition status as awarded by ABAI.
Standard 9: Degree & Non-Degree Programs
Programs are recognized at the doctoral, master’s, and bachelor’s level, or appropriate equivalent academic-levels for non-degree programs (i.e., undergraduate, or graduate-level contents). Each program has objectives appropriate to its level as well as requirements for instruction in specific content areas. Distance (online) education components are expected to meet the same standards as on-campus delivered components. In each area the scope of training is expressed in terms of hours of contact with the instructor. Programs are allowed flexibility in terms of how they achieve the prescribed contact hours.
All tiers must meet the same content hours and areas of the coursework requirements. Each program must have objectives appropriate to its level and demonstrate it meets the instructional requirements in six content areas and supervised experiential learning (when applicable). The content areas include Principles of Behavior, Research Methods, Conceptual Analysis, Basic Behavior Analysis, Applied Behavior Analysis, Ethics, and Electives (for doctoral programs). Furthermore, the supervised experiential learning hour requirements, thesis, thesis-equivalents, and dissertation requirements vary by degree/program level.
In each content area the scope of training is expressed in terms of hours of contact with the instructor. Programs are allowed flexibility in terms of how they achieve the prescribed contact hours. ABAI expects each program that applies, regardless of the tier, to complete the recognition application in entirety, though some tiers may have varying component requirements within each standard area (as indicated in the application system).
Supervised Experiential Learning
Supervised experiential learning is an important component of a training program; its purpose is to develop skills in professional practice and/or research. At the graduate-program levels, the experiential learning requirement may be fulfilled with the completion of a thesis, thesis-equivalent, a dissertation, or other relevant activities. Supervised experiential learning can take place on or off campus. Examples of off-campus settings include laboratories, educational settings, clinical settings, and organizations. The experience can be in basic or applied research involving behavior change interventions. The experiential learning requirement can be met through the student's professional employment if an appropriate level of supervision is provided by the program faculty. Programs applying for Tiers 1, 2a, 3a, and 4a must have experiential learning as a requirement for obtaining the degree or completing the non-degree program.
ABAI’s supervised experiential learning requirements permit arrangements to meet some or all the licensure and credentialing bodies’ fieldwork requirements, though it is not required. ABAI’s standards do not prescribe how many direct, indirect, supervision, or total applied hours must be accrued. Typically, those requirements are determined by licensure boards, credentialing bodies, and training programs. ABAI will instead assess whether the Tiers 1, 2a, 3a, and 4a meet the following five components of the supervised experiential learning standard:
The program defines practicum opportunities, learning objectives, and an evaluation system consistent with the contemporary science of behavior.
The program specifies skills and objectives that are differentiated by the level of the degree program or education.
iii. Learners' Evaluation
The program provides an opportunity for learners to evaluate their training experience and to offer suggestions that may contribute to its improvement.
Sites are sufficient in number, are spacious, and provide a good range of training experiences. In addition, they have a sufficient number of professionals who may provide supervision to support the achievement of learning outcomes and program objectives.
The program assesses experience, qualifications, and availability of site supervisor(s).
In conclusion, programs must provide evidence for how they meet the standard and components with each of their experiential learning sites (on or off campus). ABAI does not review the operations of service providers, only behavior analysis training programs.
Dissertation, Thesis, or Thesis-Equivalent
The purpose of a dissertation is to demonstrate independent scholarship in the context of an investigation that produces an original contribution to the basic, applied, or conceptual analysis of behavior. The purpose of a thesis or equivalent is to develop competence in defining a research problem, designing a method to address the problem, and conducting and reporting an investigation that carries out the method to conclusion. The requirements for a dissertation, thesis, or thesis equivalent are specific to the program level (e.g., doctoral, master’s, etc.). Additional resources and examples of theses and equivalents will be available soon.