Adding more duration to a behavior can sometimes be difficult, even for teachers who are good at shaping.
When the teacher changes the criteria for reinforcement, the learner may wonder, “Should I do MORE of this same behavior? Or, am I supposed to do a DIFFERENT behavior?”
If the learner engages in other behaviors, this makes building duration more difficult. This variability can also result in unwanted behaviors getting accidentally reinforced.
Recently, I’ve been thinking about different strategies for building duration. One strategy that I wanted to explore further involves using a chain to build duration. I decided to see if I could model this idea in PORTL.
Here is the basic strategy:
The teacher has a certain goal behavior that the teacher wants the learner to do for a long duration.
The teacher starts by building a chain of two behaviors:
Goal Behavior –> Cue for Behavior 2 –> Behavior 2 –> Reinforcement
Next, the teacher adds duration to the goal behavior by delaying the cue for Behavior 2.
Once the learner can do the goal behavior for a sufficient amount of time, the teacher can start reinforcing the goal behavior directly, rather than giving the cue for Behavior 2.
The chain is used as a tool. The second behavior is used to help build duration, but it doesn’t have to be part of the final goal behavior.
What does this look like in PORTL?
This spring, I’ve tried this idea with a dozen different individuals. The following video explains this strategy and shows two PORTL examples: holding an object very still and turning an object upside down over and over again.
Why does this work?
Once the learner understands to wait for the cue for Behavior 2, the learner is much less likely to try other behaviors. My experience trying this in PORTL is that once the chain is established, the learner rarely, if ever, offers unwanted behavior, as long as the teacher increases the duration in reasonable-sized steps.
This strategy works because the chain gives the goal behavior a clear beginning and end. Once the learner understands to wait for the cue, this predictable sequence helps communicate that the goal is “keep doing this same behavior,” rather than “do something else.”
More video examples
Here are two more videos showing how chains can be used to build duration.
In this next video, the goal is to teach the learner how to pinch open a clothes pin and hold the clothes pin open for several seconds. This can typically be a difficult behavior to shape. The learner often tries opening and closing the clothes pin.
Think about the two examples you saw in the previous video. How could you use the ideas from those examples to build a chain that involved pinching open a clothes pin? Then, how could you use the cue for the second behavior to build duration? Think of your own solution before you watch the video below.
In this final video example, the goal is to have the learner touch the top of a car with one finger and hold his finger on the car. This behavior is challenging to shape, because most learners are very eager to push the car. Of course, this makes sense, because “push” is the typical behavior associated with a toy car.
Spend a few minutes thinking about this goal.
Can you come up with a solution for how to teach the learner to hold a finger on the car for some duration? How could use use a chain of two behaviors to achieve this goal?
I have plenty of ideas regarding how this strategy can be used to teach both people and animals. In fact, I know some people who are already taking advantage of this idea in their teaching.
I would like to encourage you to think about how you could use this strategy to build duration.
Do you have ideas already?
If so, please leave a comment on this post or send us an email. After you try your ideas with your learners, let us know what happens!