Educational Psychology Review

, Volume 25, Issue 4, pp 549–569 | Cite as

Single-Case Experimental Designs in Educational Research: A Methodology for Causal Analyses in Teaching and Learning

  • Joshua B. Plavnick
  • Summer J. Ferreri
Reflection on the Field


Current legislation requires educational practices be informed by science. The effort to establish educational practices supported by science has, to date, emphasized experiments with large numbers of participants who are randomly assigned to an intervention or control condition. A potential limitation of such an emphasis at the expense of other research methods is that evidence-based practices in education will derive only from science in the hypothetico-deductive tradition. Such a process omits practices originating from and tested through an inductive approach to understanding phenomena. Single-case experimental designs, developed by experimental and applied behavior analysts, offer an inductive process to identify and alter the lawful relations between the behavior of individual organisms and the environmental variables that are causally related to the occurrence or nonoccurrence of the behavior. Such designs have been essential in the development of effective instructional practices for students with disabilities and have much to offer the broader educational population as well. The purpose of the present paper is to provide an overview of single-case research methodology and the process by which this methodology can contribute to the identification of evidence-based instructional practices.


Applied behavior analysis Evidence-based practice Single-case experimental design 


  1. Azrin, N. H., & Peterson, A. L. (1990). Treatment of Tourette’s sundrome by habit reversal: A waiting-list control group. Behavior Therapy, 21, 305–318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bellini, S., & Akullian, J. (2007). A meta-analysis of video modeling and video self-modeling interventions for children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders. Exceptional Children, 73, 264–287.Google Scholar
  3. Cooper, J. O., Herron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2007). Applied Behavior Analysis (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  4. Eisenhart, M., & DeHaan, R. L. (2005). Doctoral preparation of scientifically based education researchers. Educational Researcher, 34, 3–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Fisher, W. W., Kelley, M. E., & Lomas, J. E. (2003). Visual aids and structured criteria for improving visual inspection and interpretation of single-case designs. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 36, 387–406.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Gorman, B. S., & Allison, D. B. (1996). Statistical alternatives for single-case designs. In R. Franklin, D. Allison, & B. Gorman (Eds.), Design and analysis of single-case research. Hillsdale: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  7. Hains, A. H., & Baer, D. M. (1989). Interaction effects in multielement designs: Inevitable, desirable, and ignorable. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 22, 57–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Hall, R. V., & Fox, R. G. (1977). Changing-criterion designs: an alternate applied behavior analysis procedure. In B. C. Etzel, J. M. LeBlanc, & D. M. Baer (Eds.), New developments in behavioral research. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  9. Hartmann, D. P., & Hall, R. V. (1976). The changing criterion design. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 9, 527–532.Google Scholar
  10. Horner, R. H., Carr, E. G., Halle, J., McGee, G., Odom, S., & Wolery, M. (2005). The use of single-subject research to identify evidence-based practice in special education. Exceptional Children, 71, 165–179.Google Scholar
  11. Hudson, T. M., Hinkson-Lee, K., & Collins, B. (2013). Teaching paragraph composition to students with emotional/behavioral disorders using the simultaneous prompting procedure. Journal of Behavioral Education, 22, 139–156.Google Scholar
  12. Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act. (2004). Pub. L. No. 108–446Google Scholar
  13. Ittenbach, R. F., & Lawhead, W. F. (1996). Historical and philosophical foundations of single-case research. In R. Franklin, D. Allison, & B. Gorman (Eds.), Design and Analysis of Single-Case Research. Hillsdale: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  14. Johnston, J. M., & Pennypacker, H. S. (2008). Strategies and Tactics for Behavioral Research (3rd ed.). Hillsdale: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  15. Kahng, S. W., Chung, K. M., Gutshall, K., Pitts, S. C., Kao, J., & Girolami, K. (2010). Consistent visual analysis of intrasubject data. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 43, 35–45.Google Scholar
  16. Kazdin, A. E. (2011). Single-Case Research Designs: Methods for Clinical and Applied Settings (2nd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Kennedy, C. H. (2005). Single-Case Designs for Educational Research. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.Google Scholar
  18. Kratochwill, T. R., & Stoiber, K. C. (2002). Evidence-based interventions in school psychology: Conceptual foundations of the procedural and coding manual of division 16 and the Society for the Study of School Psychology Task Force. School Psychology Quarterly, 17, 341–389.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kratochwill, T. R., Hitchcock, J., Horner, R. H., Levin, J. R., Odom, S. L., Rindskopf, D. M. et al. (2010). Single-case designs technical documentation. Retrieved from What Works Clearinghouse website:
  20. Leaf, J. B., Dotson, W., Oppenheim, M. L., Sheldon, J. B., & Sherman, J. A. (2010). The effectiveness of group teaching interactions for young children with a pervasive developmental disorder. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 4, 186–198.Google Scholar
  21. Maggin, D. M., Briesch, A. M., & Chafouleas, S. M. (2013). An application of the What Works Clearinghouse standards for evaluating single-subject research: synthesis of the self-management literature-base. Remedial and Special Education. doi: 10.1177/0741932511435176.
  22. Mason, R. A., Ganz, J. B., Parker, R. I., Burke, M. D., & Camargo, S. P. (2012). Moderating factors of video-modeling with other as model: A meta-analysis of single-case studies. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 33, 1076–1086.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Neef, N. A. (2006). Advances in single subject design. In C. Reynolds & T. Gutkin (Eds.), The Handbook of School Psychology (4th ed.). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  24. Neef, N. A., Marckel, J., Ferreri, S. J., Bicard, D. F., Endo, S., Aman, M. G., et al. (2005). Behavioral assessment of impulsivity: A comparison of children with and without attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 38, 23–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (2002). Pub. L. No. 107–110, 115 Stat. 1425, 20 U.S.C. §§6301 et seq.Google Scholar
  26. Odom, S. L., Brantlinger, E., Gersten, R., Horner, R. H., Thompson, B., & Harris, K. R. (2005). Research in special education: Scientific methods and evidence-based practices. Exceptional Children, 71, 137–149.Google Scholar
  27. Poncy, B. C., Duhon, G. J., Lee, S. B., & Key, A. (2010). Evaluation of techniques to promote generalization with basic math fact skills. Journal of Behavioral Education, 19, 76–92.Google Scholar
  28. Ricciardi, J. N., Luiselli, J. K., & Camare, M. (2013). Shaping approach responses as intervention for specific phobia in a child with autism. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 39, 445–448.Google Scholar
  29. Sidman, M. (1960). Tactics of Scientific Research. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  30. Skinner, B. F. (1938). The Behavior of Organisms: An Experimental Analysis. New York: Appleton-Century.Google Scholar
  31. Skinner, B. F. (1953). Science and Human Behavior. New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  32. Skinner, B. F. (1968). Technology of Teaching. New York: Appleton.Google Scholar
  33. Wolery, M. (2013). A commentary single-case design technical document of the What Works Clearinghouse. Remedial and Special Education, 34, 39–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology, and Special EducationMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA

Personalised recommendations