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Discrete Trial Training (DTT)

Instructional approach with massed or repeated trials with each trial consisting of the teacher’s instruction/presentation, the child’s response, a carefully planned consequence, and a pause prior to presenting the next instruction

Evidence Based
Ages: Skip to Evidence

Steps for Implementation

Adapted from the NPDC

Step 1: Deciding What to Teach

  1. Decide which of the learner’s Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) or Individualized Education Plan (IEP) objectives will be taught using a Discrete Trial Training (DTT) approach.
  2. Discuss the planned use of DTT for the particular learning objective with other team members, especially parents/family members.
  3. Examine the target IEP/IFSP objective and refine if needed.

Step 2. Breaking the Skill Down into Teachable Steps

  1. Complete a task analysis of the skill, identify each step of the skill, and list the steps in sequential order from entry to mastery level.
  2. List the steps clearly so any team member can complete the trials if necessary.

Step 3. Setting Up the Data Collection System Score

Select data sheets specifically designed for the skill being taught.

Step 4. Designating Location(s)

  1. Generate a list of possible locations in which the teaching can take place.
  2. Select location(s) for DTT.

Step 5. Gathering Materials

Assemble materials to be used during the teaching.

Step 6. Delivering the Trials

  1. Assist the learner in transitioning to the teaching location.
  2. Obtain the learner’s attention and, together, select reinforcers.
  3. Provide the stimulus or instruction and wait for a response.
  4. If the learner responds appropriately, deliver a reinforcing consequence or reinforcer and mark the trial as correct.
  5. If the learner does not respond or responds incorrectly, do one of the following:
    1. Provide corrective feedback and begin the trial again, presenting the Sd (antecedent or cue);
    2. Prompt the learner to respond correctly, reinforce, and record the result of the prompted trial; or
    3. Provide another trial, with reduced or no prompting, reinforce appropriately, and record.
  6. Immediately repeat the same instruction in the same way as above for the targeted number of trials: rewarding, correcting, prompting, and recording for each trial.
  7. When DTT instruction for a new skill begins, reinforce every positive response from the learner with both social and tangible reinforcement.

Step 7. Massed Trial Teaching

  1. Begin the teaching episode with a maintenance trial (demonstration of a skill already mastered) and record the result.
  2. Present the teaching step, if the learner passes the maintenance trial.
  3. If the learner responds correctly on the first trial, repeat the teaching step several more times and record the results.
  4. Present a more difficult level if the learner has reached the mastery criterion for the step (e.g., 90% success for three consecutive teaching sessions).
  5. If the learner does not pass the trial step correctly, administer the trial again.
  6. If the learner is successful, repeat items 3 and 4 above until mastery is accomplished.
  7. If the learner is unsuccessful, repeat the trial, adding an increased level of assistance to ensure that the learner performs the skill and is reinforced.
  8. Repeat the step, continuing to add the prompts, 3–5 more times.
  9. If the learner is consistently successful, repeat the trial without the prompt several more times.
  10. If the learner continues to fail the unprompted trials, add the prompt again for several more successful trials before ending the teaching for the day.
  11. Review mastered steps (maintenance trials) once or twice during each session and teach new steps following the massed trials format until all steps of the skill have been mastered.

Step 8. Conducting Discrimination Training

  1. Present the new stimulus to the learner, provide the instruction, prompt the target skill/behavior, and reinforce.
  2. Systematically fade prompts until the learner independently and consistently performs the skill with the one stimulus object.
  3. Present the target stimulus as usual, but also present another stimulus, the distracter, in the periphery; give the instruction; elicit the behavior; and reinforce.
  4. Add a different distracter. Once the learner performs correctly, use all three stimuli for the trials.
  5. Teach generalized use of the skill or concept by:
    1. teaching discrimination of multiple stimuli.
    2. applying the teaching skill to multiple situations.

Step 9. Review and Modify

  1. Continuously review the learner’s progress and modify the program to reflect the progress the learner has made.
  2. Modify the program to reflect the learner’s progress by changing steps (either to higher or lower levels) as needed.
  3. Review mastered programs and continue to teach them as “maintenance” trials.
  4. Specifically target maintenance trials for generalization by practicing trials:
    1. in other settings,
    2. with different adults,
    3. with different reinforcers, and/or
    4. with different instructions/stimuli.
  5. Have the educational team meet regularly to report on the learner’s progress and identify potential changes to the learner’s program.

Research and Outcomes

Research Summary

Age Range: 0-22

Skills: Communication, social, joint attention, play, cognitive, school-readiness, academic/pre-academic, adaptive/self-help, challenging/interfering behavior, vocational

Settings: Home, school, community, clinic

Evidence Rating: Evidence Based

The information found in the Research Summary table is updated following a literature review of new research and these ages, skills, and settings reflects information from this review.

Outcomes Matrix

The Outcomes Matrix shows outcome areas by age for which this evidence based practice is effective
Age: 0-5 6-14 15-22
Academic/Pre-academic Yes Yes Yes
Challenging/Interfering Behavior Yes
Cognitive Yes Yes
Communication Yes Yes Yes
Joint Attention Yes Yes
Mental Health
Play Yes Yes
School Readiness Yes
Social Yes Yes Yes
Vocational Yes
More about Intervention Outcomes

Discrete trial training (DTT) is a one-to-one instructional approach (most typically) used to teach skills in a planned, controlled, and systematic manner. DTT is characterized by repeated, or massed, trials that have a definite beginning and end. Within DTT, the use of antecedents and consequences is carefully planned and implemented. The instructional trial begins when the practitioner presents a clear direction or stimulus, which elicits a target behavior. Positive praise and/or tangible rewards are used to reinforce desired skills or behaviors. Data is typically collected on every trial. Other practices that are used in DTT include task analysis, prompting, time delay, and reinforcement (Steinbrenner, et al., 2020).