Sidman Goes to College: A Meta-Analysis of Equivalence-Based Instruction in Higher Education

Abstract

Equivalence-based instruction (EBI) is a pedagogy based on the principles of stimulus equivalence for teaching academically relevant concepts. This self-paced and mastery-based methodology meets many of the instructional design standards suggested by Skinner (1968), adds generative learning by programming for derived stimulus–stimulus relations, and can be particularly useful in the context of a college course in which students must learn numerous concepts. In this article, we provide the first meta-analysis of EBI in higher education. The authors conducted a systematic literature search that identified 31 applied, college-level EBI experiments across 28 articles. Separate meta-analyses were conducted for single-subject and group design studies. Results showed that EBI is more effective than no instruction and an active control and that studies comparing EBI variants show differences between training variants. Future research should increase internal, external, and statistical conclusion validity to promote the mainstream use of EBI in classrooms.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    As other articles in the present issue make clear, there are other kinds of stimulus relations, and these, like equivalence relations, can provide a foundation for designing instruction. However, because most classroom applications to date have focused on equivalence relations, this term appears to be in common use, and we will stick with convention and use it herein.

  2. 2.

    Specifically, we copied the published graph and pasted it into Microsoft Excel so that a grid could be superimposed on it. The grid was used to determine values for raw data points. Value-by-value IOA was collected to ensure accurate data extraction, with agreement obtained on 41 of 42 values (98%). For the one disagreement, we reviewed the data point and came to a consensus about the value displayed in the graph.

  3. 3.

    The time series design as discussed by Campbell and Stanley (1963) does not reflect the experimental rigor of modern single-subject designs—which were developed after the publication of their book—that include reversals and staggered baselines to control for threats to internal validity. Thus, although Campbell and Stanley categorize time series designs as quasi-experimental, we contend that single-subject designs identified by this search represent well-controlled experimental designs.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Ria Bissoon, Haeri Gim, Radiyyah Hussein, and Rika Ortega for assistance in conducting this study. We thank Drs. Alexandra Logue and Robert Lanson for comments on an earlier version of this manuscript. We also thank the following researchers for providing raw data sets for this study: Dr. Leif Albright, Dr. Thomas Critchfield, Dr. John O’Neill, Dr. Kenneth Reeve, Dr. Ruth Anne Rehfeldt, Dr. Emily Sandoz, and Brooke Walker.

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Correspondence to Daniel M. Fienup.

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Brodsky, J., Fienup, D.M. Sidman Goes to College: A Meta-Analysis of Equivalence-Based Instruction in Higher Education. Perspect Behav Sci 41, 95–119 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40614-018-0150-0

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Keywords

  • Equivalence-based instruction
  • Higher education
  • Meta-analysis
  • Relational frame theory
  • Stimulus equivalence
  • Systematic review