The digital transformation of behavior analysis.

By Dr. Rick Kubina, BCBA-D | Director of Research

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The pace of technological change in our society has occurred at a breathtaking speed. The change everyone feels is called exponential growth. When new technologies seem to come out of nowhere, or technology we’re accustomed to becomes obsolete 2 years later, we encounter exponential growth: meaning the rate of change has gotten faster. All industries have felt the impact of this digitization of products and services in one way or another.

The science behavior, or behavior analysis, has also experienced the reverberations of exponential growth of technology. Digitization typically happens first when something changes from a physical product or service to ones and zeros represented in the binary numeric system. As an example, behavior analysts use graphic displays of data to analyze data and make intervention decisions. For many years, behavior analysts have visually inspected data on a paper medium. Furthermore, the information on paper materialized from a process of someone physically entering the data with pencil and graph paper.

As spreadsheets began to emerge on programs like Lotus 1-2-3 and Microsoft Excel, behavior analysts had the option to move from physical to digital — but spreadsheet use required knowledge and training, and did not receive field-wide adoption. With the advent of more affordable computers, tablets, and smartphones, new companies with specialized graphing programs — such as CentralReach — have transformed how behavior analysts enter, analyze, and consume data. Today’s landscape of widespread data collection practices (e.g., using smartphones or tablets for data entry) and decision making (e.g., computer-rendered graphs and algorithms to calculate trend lines) looks very different than it did in the past.

Time and resources benefits.
Beyond data collection, many behavior analytic organizations are increasingly adopting technology to digitize their processes. Those processes can include statistical analyses of client and staff performance, electronic record keeping, billing, and more. The shift from paper to digital stems from the many benefits of dematerializing products.

Cost savings is one obvious and important advantage of technology. An examination of how much organizations pay for paper processes seems shockingly high — until you take a closer look at what it entails. Paper processes require staff to devote significant time to copying, managing, filing, storing, disposing of, retrieving, and recycling documents and other records. Ancillary costs associated with paper include postage, shipping, equipment, and supplies (e.g., pencils, binders, printers, copy machines, and toner cartridges).

Storage costs include filing cabinets, which can cost $1,000 for a five-drawer lateral filing cabinet. Then, charges accrue with the price per square footage of space consumed by cabinets and storage units. An average filing cabinet uses 15.7 square feet. The U.S. average office space comes to $25 to $35 per square foot (though places like New York, $85 per square foot, and San Francisco, $93 per square foot, are staggeringly more expensive). Therefore, an office with 70 filing cabinets comes to $27,500 to $38,000 a year for space alone. Yet, 150 gigabytes (GB) has the storage capacity equivalent to that of 70 filing cabinets. Cloud storage for 150 GB comes to $30 a month.

The cost savings of running a business that embraces technology has other advantages. Staff can access records from remote locations. Behavior analysts can retrieve old data in a fraction of the time it would have taken to track down a physically stored file. Audits that occur for various reasons also take significantly less time. And the management and monitoring of client and staff behavior means anyone with access can review data. Many other benefits could make the list. But what is critical to think about is the fact that the less time spent interacting with paper, the more time behavior analytic staff can interface with other mission-critical job duties: seeing clients, reviewing data, writing reports, or assisting colleagues. Digital transformation will continue to positively impact behavior analysis and those who make use of, and leverage, technology.

About the Author

Dr. Rick Kubina, BCBA-D
CentralReach Director of Research

Richard M. Kubina Jr., Ph.D., BCBA-D is a Professor of Special Education at The Pennsylvania State University and teaches courses on methods for teaching reading, behavior analysis, and experimental design. Rick graduated from Youngstown State University where he had Steve Graf as an advisor and then received a Masters and Ph.D. from The Ohio State University under John Cooper.

Rick conducts wide-ranging research in the area of Applied Behavior Analysis and Precision Teaching. He also served as the editor of the Journal of Precision Teaching and Celeration. He has dedicated his professional career to helping behavior change agents such as teachers, behavior analysts, and other helping professionals efficiently change behavior through effective teaching and measurement such as Precision Teaching. Rick co-founded a software called Chartlytics. Chartlytics merged with CentralReach where Rick has assumed the role of Director of Research.

At CentralReach, Rick explores how technology can accelerate superior outcomes for all those seeking to engender professional and personal success.

Read more of Dr. Kubina’s publications.