Supporting Lean Learning with Behavioral Skills Training and ACT

Image by Igor Link from Pixabay

Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D, LBA

President, bSci21Media, LLC

According to the Harvard Business Review, corporations spend over $350 Billion each year on staff training.  Yet, only a small fraction of employees believe their trainings improved their performance, or gave them new skills relevant to their job. One solution they proposed comes from Lean methodology – learning just the things you need to know, receiving immediate feedback, and applying what you have learned immediately.

In the behavioral science world, Behavioral Skills Training is a technique that aligns well with Lean principles.  In a previous article we outline the four steps of BST:

1) Instruction: Describing the skills to be trained, their rational, and when they should be used.

2) Modeling: Physically demonstrating the skill to trainees.

3) Rehearsal: Requiring the trainees to physically practice the skill to mastery.

4) Feedback: Immediate positive praise, corrective comments, or even physical guidance, to get your trainees to demonstrate mastery of the new skill.

Today, BST has a well-established research literature demonstrating its efficacy in training staff to effectively implement new skills in an objectively measurable way.  Recently, a team from the University of Southern California sought to further expand on BST by incorporating mindfulness, values, and committed action derived from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or Acceptance and Commitment Training. The team hypothesized that the addition of ACT processes would be ideal given the human service industry in which they were working is noted for high levels of workplace stress, turnover, and burnout.

Details of the study are reported in a 2020 issue of the Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science, but we briefly describe what they did below.

The team worked with three staff trainers at a clinic providing Applied Behavior Analysis services to individuals diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and utilized a train the trainer approach.  In other words, the team trained the three trainers, who would then go on to train other front-line staff. The main advantage of this approach is a more timely and efficient use of resources to train an entire organization.

The team was interested in the percent of opportunities in which the trainers used BST with front line staff.  Given the setting was an autism clinic, the various skills to be taught to the front line staff included overt ways of interacting with children with Autism to manage behavior, and develop language, social, and daily living skills.

The team started with a baseline condition, in which they monitored how the trainers regularly went about training their front line staff, across several sessions.  The team provided no training or feedback themselves during this period.

Next, the team taught the trainers BST.  The team taught definitions of critical BST concepts, physically modeled those concepts to the trainers, which included rehearsal via role-playing.  Finally, the team provided performance feedback to the trainers until they were able to implement BST themselves with at least 90% mastery.

Finally, the team presented the trainers with ACT exercises during a 1-hr session.  The first exercise helped the trainers notice sensations and pay attention to their current environment.  The second exercise prompted the trainers to identify their personal values and link them to their job as a trainer.  Finally, the trainers formed a committed action plan – they set goals for their work that supported their values, and noted any potential private events that may arise in their work, such as anxiety, such that they may work with the anxiety rather than avoid it.

The team found that the trainers used BST with their staff 50-60% of the time without the addition of ACT.  However, one hour of ACT training resulted in trainers using BST nearly 100% of the time, including use with new staff working with new clients in the clinic.  The team noted that “the results support previous research showing that BST is effective and add to the literature by suggesting that the addition of ACT may substantially increase the effectiveness of BST when training trainers.”

For more information, be sure to check out the full article here.

Have you used Behavioral Skills Training or ACT in your work?  How can this work support Lean practices in your company?  Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to subscribe to bsci21 to receive the latest articles to your inbox!

Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D, LBA is a science writer, social philosopher, behavioral systems analyst, and the President and Founder of bSci21Media, LLC, which aims to connect behavioral science to the world in an engaging, non-academic way.  Dr. Ward received his PhD in behavior analysis from the University of Nevada, Reno under Dr. Ramona Houmanfar.  He has served as a Guest Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, and as an Editorial Board member of Behavior and Social Issues.  His publications follow a theme of behavioral systems analysis, organizational performance, theory & philosophy, and language & cognition.  He has also provided ABA services to children and adults with various developmental disabilities in day centers, in-home, residential, and school settings, and previously served as Faculty Director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas.  Dr. Ward can be reached at todd.ward@bsci21.org

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1 Comment

  1. Brilliant read thank you. We are a social entrepreneural company from the UK and have just started using BST and act for our workforce. Great to read we are on the right track. I’m really interested in how they did the act training. Any signposting?

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