competent learner model

ABAI’s Students’ Right to Effective Education: Fundamentally and Foundationally Embedded in the Competent Learner Model

This is the second in a three part series looking at how the Competent Learner Model is disseminated daily in accordance with the Principles laid out in ABAI’s 1990 Bill of Students’ Rights.

In 1990 several pioneers in the field of Behavior Analysis got together to define a bill of rights for education. Many of these pioneers worked directly with Vicci Tucci as she developed the Competent Learner model. Kent Johnson, current ABAI council president and co developer with Vicci Tucci, of the Fluency Flashcard App was a member of the original committee.  As was Julie Vargas, daughter of B.F. Skinner and head of the Skinner Foundation who has commented favorably over the years about the efficacy of the Competent Learner Model. The resulting document: “Statement on Students’  Right to Effective Education” was adopted by ABAI as its official policy.  Vicci Tucci took these ‘rights to effective education’ and put them front and center while developing the Competent Learner Model.  

Discussion of how these rights are embedded in the Competent Learner Model as commitments to learners continue in Part II of this three part series.


  1. Behavior team who respond to each learner’s behavior in a timely fashion.

The behavior technician identifies the pattern(s) of responding and arranges and re-arranges the necessary contingencies to effect change, as soon as possible.  If a more thorough functional analysis is required, it should be started within 72 hours of the occurrence of the initial behavior.

Teamwork is crucial for an effective CLM team.  A high level of timely communication among team members is key to the success of the learner. Collaborative consultation is built into the CLM Model. Any changes to the behavior program must be approved by a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) that is familiar with the learner. 

What this looks like: 

  • All members of a CLM team are coached to identify typical patterns of behavior. This means that if the learner is not successful after 3 tries, the way instruction is delivered and /or the criteria is re-evaluated to ensure the learner will succeed. This happens as soon as possible so that the learner does not become frustrated and learning becomes aversive. 
  • The use of online data systems allows team members to review data from any location and provide feedback and communicate the next steps in programming and identify possible next coaching topics. 
  1. Learning situations [instructional conditions] that promote the development of desirable social behaviors.

All instructional conditions must be arranged to set the occasion for desirable learner response. If any learner continues to engage in escape or avoidance behaviors (e.g., injurious), the instructional conditions and the required supplemental contingencies must be arranged and delivered to bring about the desired social behaviors.

CLM implementers are coached to be able to arrange the learning environment and rearrange it; if necessary.  This ensures that the learner is able to successfully participate in their own learning.  For example, new skills are presented in a teacher-directed instructional condition in a 1:1 context and continuous -> intermittent schedule of reinforcement. Once these skills are ‘newly firmed’, they are presented in a semi-directed instructional condition which is designed to have the learner participating with an intermittent schedule of reinforcement, the instructor is 3-5 feet away and the learner requests assistance when needed.  There are also peer-directed and non-directed instructional conditions. 

What this looks like: 

  • The learner will perform a task with an instructor and build independence as the task becomes more mastered. At that time, the instructor distances themselves from the learner and provides a meaningful reinforcer for the learner when they complete the task.  Initially the learner will be reinforced for every successful step. Once the steps become better learned, the learner will receive reinforcement for every second, third, etc. response. This helps create more independent learners. 
  • Tasks are expected to be performed across four different common situations.  For example, for cleaning up toys after playing with them; clean up is first taught in a 1:1 way to ensure that the learner can do every step to clean up. There is lots of reinforcement provided so that the learner knows they are doing the expected behavior. Once the learner knows all of the steps to clean up, the instructor distances themselves from the learner, but keeps watching the learner so they can assist the learner to clean up; if needed.  Cleaning up toys are also taught with peers as this is a natural play situation.  Lastly, cleaning up toys after free play time is important as well.  When a family member tells the learner that it is dinner time, the expectation is that the learner will clean up and transition to the table to eat.

Rae-Ann Arevelo

Rae-Ann Arevelo, Certified CLM Coach


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