Staff Training That Clicks

Guest Blogger: Rachel Thomas

Respondent Conditioning

Auditory stimuli used for changing behavior dates back to the 1890s when physiologist Ivan Pavlov studied the effects of associating a bell tone with meat powder to elicit salivating in dogs. Though dogs are born with the reflex of drooling in the presence of stimuli that will satisfy their hunger, bells are not one of those stimulating food items. Repeatedly pairing the bell and food, however, brings about drooling. This is known as classical or respondent conditioning (Pavlovian conditioning).

Learning Through Consequences

Reflexive or involuntary behaviors are learned through classical conditioningVoluntary behavior is learned through a different process, operant learning. Humans and animals learn through the consequences or effects of their behavior on the environment. Some consequences increase the likelihood that they will engage in a specific behavior in the future (reinforcement), others decrease the likelihood (punishment). Operant learning/conditioning happens to each of us all day long.

Clicker Training for Human Performance

Some behavior is difficult to shape and consequate, especially in fast-paced, multi-step sequences (performing surgeryswinging a golf club). One common teaching method involves consequating the targeted behavior with an audible click (TAGclicker training). It acts as a conditioned reinforcer and provides quick, direct feedback on the behavior of interest. In animals, the click gains value by being paired with a treat; in humans, it acts as the equivalent of being praised for correct performance. Clicker Training has helped coaches break complex movements into parts, isolate them, and train them until executed correctly. Once each precise point of the sequence is mastered, individuals perform the entire movement with few errors and under increasingly difficult conditions.

Clicker training is also productive in shaping workplace behavior. Herron, Lotfizadeh, & Poling (2018) used auditory guidance to train the clinical skills of behavior therapists. Researchers targeted several key skills: immediately delivering a reinforcer, implementing a correction procedure, interspersing targeted and mastered trials, and obtaining a client’s attention before presenting work. Participants made significant improvements in implementing all procedures, and their skills were retained in two- and five-week follow-ups.

Clicker and Behavioral Skills Training

Most clinicians familiar with Behavioral Skills Training (BST) can easily find places to integrate acoustical guidance with BST (Instructions, Modeling, Rehearsal, and Feedback), even for training staff. Both are inexpensive and effective methods for developing a complete behavior- change program. BST provides an overarching framework and procedure for teaching new skills while clicker training assists with shaping behaviors during Rehearsal and Feedback.

Learn More

We offer two CEs on Behavioral Skills Training taught by Joshua Lipschultz, MA, BCBA and Kristin Myers-Kemp, Ph.D., BCBA-D.


Rachel Thomas is a second-year master’s student at Florida Tech studying Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and Organizational Behavior Management (OBM). Originally from Pennsylvania, Rachel has years of experience working in public schools and in an early intervention clinic. She also worked as a Lead Sales Consultant for Best Buy Mobile refining her OBM expertise and interests (networking, public speaking skills). Rachel hopes to enter a Ph.D. program and pursue Verbal Behavior research for individuals with intellectual disabilities. Rachel was a TA for OBM Applied!, April 2018.


Herron, M.A., Lotfizadeh, A.D., & Poling, A. (2018). Using Conditioned Reinforcers to Improve Behavior Change Skills: Clicker Training for Practitioners, Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, 38:2-3, 172-190, DOI: 10.1080/01608061.2018.1454874

TAGteach International. (2004). Using positive reinforcement and targeted feedback to empower your student and strengthen your program. Boston, MA: Author.