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Discrete Trial Training 


Discrete Trial Training is a teaching procedure used in applied behavior analysis, that involves repetition of a specific  instruction in a controlled setting.  DTT utilizes the following components:

  • Break down of a skill into small short steps or targets. 

  • Mass trial or repetition of a target. 

  • Systematically incorporating distractor targets and maintenance skills, as the introduced skill becomes mastered.

  • Typically uses reinforcement with access to tangibles.

  • Run in a table setting or controlled environment. 

  • Utilizes systematic reduction of prompts.

DTT can be completed in a variety of different ways regarding the components listed above. The DTT steps should be specific to how the individual learns. Majority of ABA programs will combine DTT with other learning procedures.  DTT can be run with either receptive or expressive skills. Receptive skills refer to processing language, such as following instructions. Expressive skills refer to the individuals ability to communicate a response. 

Example of  a Receptive DTT Style Lesson:

Step 1. Mass Trial Alone: For receptive skills (Such as "Give me crayon." - DTT can use a field of objects.) During this teaching step there is only 1 item in the field. An example of criteria required before moving to Step 2 may be "80% across 2 caregivers."

Step 2. Mass Trial w/Distractor: This time the field will have a distractor item (such as blocks). The teacher instruction will continue to be the same. The criteria before moving to Step 3 may be the same or different as Step 1. Some lessons recommend returning to Step 1 if the individual is not meeting mastery criteria. 

Step 3. Random Rotate: This step involves the instruction changing from trial to trial the instruction will either be a mastered instruction or the current target instruction.


  • Reinforcement: The process of increasing a behavior to occur more often. 

  • SD: Discriminative Stimulus (The instruction presented each trial.

  • Response: The behavior that the learner does after the SD is presented. 

  • Prompt: Assistance given by the teacher to help the learner respond correctly to the SD. 

  • Mastery Criteria: The score an individual must get before the skill can be considered mastered. 

  • Maintenance: The ability to maintain a skill after the skill has met mastery criteria. 


DTT first started in 1970 with Dr. Lovas and his work with children with autism. 

DTT may target language, cognition, social, play, or motor skills. 

Utilization of repetition in DTT allows for multiple opportunities of practice. 

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