International Meeting for Autism Research: Evaluation of An Elearning Training Program for Behavioral Therapists

Evaluation of An Elearning Training Program for Behavioral Therapists

Friday, May 13, 2011
Elizabeth Ballroom E-F and Lirenta Foyer Level 2 (Manchester Grand Hyatt)
9:00 AM
A. Najdowski1, D. R. Dixon2 and J. Tarbox2, (1)Tarzana, CA, (2)Center for Autism and Related Disorders, Tarzana, CA, United States

Applied Behavior Analytic (ABA) treatment for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) has been demonstrated to produce significant treatment effects across multiple studies (Eikeseth, 2009; Eldevik et al., 2009). Despite the demonstrated effectiveness of ABA, there continues to be a lack of trained clinicians to provide the treatment. Traditional training approaches include lecture, group discussion, and role-playing formats. However, alternative training approaches may increase the efficiency of training as well as dissemination to remote regions. One such possibility is eLearning, wherein trainees interact with computer programs, rather than, or in addition to, live human trainers.


The purpose of this study was to evaluate an eLearning tool that was developed for training newly hired behavioral therapists in academic knowledge of ABA treatment for children with autism.


A randomized between-groups design was used. Ten training sites across 4 states (Arizona, California, Texas, and Virginia) were included in the study. Cohorts were randomly assigned to either the eLearning training group or the standard in-person training group. The dependent measure consisted of a written examination that was given prior to training and following training. Additionally, participants were evaluated again following a 3-month delay during which time they received hands-on training.

 The eLearning training procedure involved individual trainees interacting with a computer program. The computer program was developed specifically for the purpose of training entry-level employees on the principles and procedures of ABA treatment for children with autism. After trainees completed the eLearning, they attended a two-hour follow-up discussion session with an in-person trainer.

 The in-person training consisted of the standard training procedure for newly hired behavioral therapists that the service provider implemented on a regular basis. Trainers at all sites lectured using the same PowerPoint presentation. Group discussion was conducted throughout the lectures. Following the lecture and discussion for a particular topic, trainees were placed into pairs and engaged in role-playing to practice the procedures that were covered in the lecture and discussion. The topics covered in the in-person training were identical to those covered in the eLearning training and included the same video clips that were included in the eLearning training.


Test scores increased significantly for both groups, with the traditional didactic group achieving scores slightly higher than the eLearning group. The field performance of these therapists was compared to a group of therapists who received traditional in-person training on the same topics. No significant difference between the groups was found following field training, suggesting that therapists trained through an eLearning format can perform satisfactorily, given the proper hands-on experience.


These results suggest that eLearning tools may be a useful strategy for extending training in ABA principles and procedures to settings in which limited or no contact with live professional trainers may be available.


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