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The Importance and Utilization of Time Delay in Pedagogy

Updated on November 13, 2022
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Rhylee Suyom has hopped in three different worlds: the academe, the corporate, and the media. He enjoys being with nature and his family.

Time Delay in Pedagogy


The Importance and Utilization of Time Delay in Pedagogy

The assistance is given to the learner by a parent, teacher, or professional that aims at increasing the response to a stimulus referred to as a prompt. Giving prompts to a child helps in developing his ability to respond and learn faster with fewer mistakes or errors. There are prompts that are classified as controlling prompts, and these are intended to stimulate the learner to respond correctly. This is illustrated in the different gestures the teacher may demonstrate to point out the correct response to the child or learner. When gestures are not effective in eliciting the correct response then physical guidance is tried as prompts. Prompts differ from one learner to another what must be kept in mind is that prompts are still not enough to make the learner master skills and behavior unless the prompts are also reinforced properly.

In line with providing prompts, there is also a particular prompt that has been pointed out as effective in teaching different skills and this is constant time delay prompting. Constant time delays are classified into two levels which are the 0-second delay and the set or constant delay trials. Constant time delay does not change the prompt instead it is the time or the delay, which is changed, and this change is expected to impact the responses.

The Power of Time Delay

Utilization of constant time delay prompts begins with the activities prior to the teaching session. Primarily there are teaching trials allotted with a 0-second delay, then the delay interval is set with ranges from 3 to 7 seconds, this time interval is used for all the subsequent teaching sessions until everyone achieves mastery of the task. The controlling prompt to be used is identified, and then the process is changed from a 0-second delay to the set or constant time interval. If the learner responds incorrectly then the criteria are set back. The stimulus given during the initial sessions is provided together with the controlling prompt. And this is what happens during the 0-second delay. This is done for several sessions, the initial sessions or when the skills are just beginning to be acquired. When the learner shows more correct responses then the constant time delay is commenced. The time delay process provides the opportunity for the learner to respond independently. The duration of the time delay between instruction and the prompt depends on every learner’s ability, so if a learner needs more time then the delay is increased. When a child or learner responds correctly before the prompt then more reinforcement is required. And when the child respond correctly after the prompt was given there is minimal reinforcement needed. Should the responses be incorrect prior to give prompts an informal correction of error is given to the child? But when the incorrect responses come after the prompt or there is no response at all informational correction will be provided.

If the child makes several consecutive errors, consider changing the set delay time. It could either be decreasing the time delay or increasing the time interval between the instruction and the prompt (Demchak, Nevada Dual Sensory Impairment Project, 2016).

What is Time Delay?

The National Professional Development Center (Neitzel, 2009) has defined time delay as a practice that focuses on the utilization of prompts in an instructional activity as a means of reinforcement aimed at increasing the development of skills or behaviors that are deemed useful in the future. The use of time delay is practiced combined with prompt procedures like least-to-most, simultaneous prompting, and graduated guidance. There are two types of time delay as reflected in researches, these are progressive and constant. Under the progressive time delay, the teachers and other professionals involve increasing the waiting time gradually from instruction to any prompts which are intended to elicit a response from the learner like Autism Spectrum Disorder. The constant time delay on the other hand features no time delay between giving instruction and the prompt while the learner is beginning to learn a skill. Constant time delay also features an amount of time at a fixed level that is always used from instruction to the administration of prompts and the learner is moving to the proficient level of learning the skill.

Progressive or Constant Time Delays

Whether progressive or constant, both types of time delay make use of the 0-second trials and delay trials. For both processes, 0-second trials are similar, where the teacher presents first the target stimulus and the direction for the task and then proceeds to give the controlling prompt. This is done before the learner gets an opportunity or chance to respond. The 0-second trials are best used for initiating instruction, for the first few sessions and then the process will move to the delay trials. After the initial sessions, delay trials are used for the remaining instructional sessions. When it comes to delaying trials, there is a difference already between progressive and constant time delay. In constant time delay, giving the controlling prompt is delayed for a minimum of three to a maximum of five seconds. These are often used in teaching learners with ASD to give them time to master the skills. In the progressive time delay, there is an allotted time interval between the target stimulus and the controlling prompt, and this is increased as learning moves from one block to another. The usual pattern or increase is by one second until the final level will be allotted a five- or six-second interval.

The Elements of Time Delays

Progressive and constant time delays include three components which are the cue and the target stimulus or the antecedent, the response of the learner or the target skill or behavior, and the consequence or feedback. All of the given components are crucial in the effective implementation of time delay.

The antecedent is the situation in which the learner is to be trained to learn a skill or behavior and respond. In here there is a need for a cue; this is the signal which guides the learner in recognizing the skills or behaviors to be used. The learner's response is basically the target or goal which is either a skill or behavior. If the given cue is clear and correct, then the learners can give an accurate response to the target skill or behavior. With this perspective now, the learners’ responses can either be correct or not.

The feedback is a necessary component in the process, this part is critical in teaching the skill or behavior because through the feedback or consequence it could be determined whether the learner needs further reinforcement or not. In providing feedback to the learners it is delivered in a descriptive and positive way to be able to guide the learners properly if they did well. When positive feedback is given it is more likely to expect that the skill or behavior will be properly applied. However, when the learner did incorrectly reinforcement is needed to correct it and feedback is also given but it is more of a corrective procedure and must be delivered consistently if the correct response is to be achieved.

Giving feedback often involves repetition of the cue and prompts which are important for the learner to master the desired skills or developed the behavior. Time delay is always associated with prompts and reinforcement strategies.

Programs on instruction for children with autism spectrum disorder have included prompting and prompt-removal processes. Studies have defined prompting as providing stimulus that allows functioning individuals to learn skills or behavior, and this include individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD. There are different procedures by which prompting is being done but as mentioned in other studies it may vary from constant prompt delay, progressive prompt delay (PPD), the system of least prompts, and simultaneous prompting, to most-to-least prompts.

In terms of efficiency and effectiveness, using prompts such as time delay could be considered effective when the learners acquired the desired behaviors or skills and efficiency is measured by how fast the learners are able to learn these skills and behavior. Comparing the time, a learner acquires the skills by using simultaneously prompt delay and a system of least prompts, both may lead to the acquisition of the skills however the use of prompt delay has achieved this goal with few sessions only, with this the time delay prompt is the one which is more efficient.

To have another way of evaluating efficiency, instructional methods are considered. The intensity of instructions given with the same number of trials or sessions but if in one teaching condition there were more skills learned or acquired then that will be the basis for efficiency (Wolery B. R., 2011).

Zero-second time delay

The 0-second time delay is being compared to having no errors in teaching. During the first few trials or sessions, the prompts are given to the learners right away. This is to develop in the learners the ability to respond immediately. This will also help in determining whether reinforcement is needed or not. If the learner was able to respond prior to giving the prompt, then a lot of reinforcement is needed. The idea is for the learner to learn to respond to a prompt or stimuli so if the response is already given even without the prompt, reinforcement is needed to be given to obtaining the cue-response idea. But once the learners begin to respond after the prompt is given that is the time when the time interval is given serious consideration. The time interval may be increased depending on how much time the learner is able to respond. And when the response is also coming in quickly the time interval may be decreased again.

The main idea of the time delay prompt is on planning and set the criteria ahead of time. The number of sessions allotted for a 0-second time delay must already be determined from the beginning. It is also important to note how many times the learners are expected to respond or show responses within the day. There is also a need to track down the responses of every learner in order to determine who needs reinforcement and what kind of reinforcement. The data sheet would have information on how many learners have prompted correct, prompted incorrect, unprompted correct, unprompted incorrect, and have not shown any responses. The number of trials or sessions cannot be fixed for all skills and behavior; it is still dependent on the responses of the learners. Some may only take a few trial sessions while others may take some time. But what could be the indicator for the number of trials is the progress of the learners, like how much they have learned so far or who else is still left behind. Just as the responses of the learners vary according to time it must be noted that the succeeding skills or behavior cannot be started without everyone accomplishing the first tasks (Using Time Delay to Fade Prompting, 2017).

According to the study conducted, a constant time delay is a strategy, a prompting strategy specifically that is designed to give prompts in a systematic way using the dimension of time. Aside from the inclusion of a controlling prompt, the two defining features of constant time delay prompt lie in the number of trials involved which shows the target stimulus and the manner of delivery of the prompts; and the time factor. The delivery of the prompt begins with a 0-second time delay which later progresses into a fixed-time delay. Based on the reports gathered in the study, the utilization of constant time delay prompts had been applied to discrete behaviors which were analyzed and identified. The framework of the study was on the demographic variables such as types of subjects, settings, behaviors, instructors, and instructional arrangements that were also determined as parameters of the study. The strategy was deemed effective and the measures of the results have been summarized. The methodological adequacy of constant time delay research has been examined and implications for practice and for further exploration are recommended (Wolery, et al., 1992).

The strategy of time delay focuses on the systematic use and removal of prompts in an instructional activity. It is actually the delay between the initial instruction stage and the prompts or additional instructions. A time delay may be progressive or constant. The progressive time delay is often used for adult learners with Autism Spectrum Disorder. It entails an allotted waiting time for the learner to respond to an instruction. This is illustrated in a situation wherein the teacher gives an instruction first and then a time delay is applied until the learner develops proficiency in the skill that was just taught. This is applied as intervention strategies for preschoolers, to adult learners of ages 19-22 years with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Time delay has been acknowledged as an effective strategy too in teaching social, school-readiness, communication, behavior, joint attention, academic, motor, play, cognitive, and adaptive skills (Texas Autism Conference).

Time Delay in Pedagogy

Aside from using time delay prompting for learners with ASD, investigation on the effectiveness and efficiency of constant time delay has also been investigated by Doyle, Wolery, Gast, Jones, and Wiley (1990). This time the sessions, errors, percentage of errors, and minutes of instructional time have been factored in among the criteria. Time delay has been applied to preschoolers, particularly in teaching sight words. The researchers assessed the relationship between the acquisition of relationship between the expected behavior and the information that has been previously learned. Two sessions have been allotted to administer the procedures. Parallel treatments were conducted involving two children, one is given 16 words and the other 12 words. And from the results, the strategies applied reflected the same level of criterion in an instructional setting, however, the use of time delay prompts have shown results with fewer errors, fewer trials or sessions, and the time that direct instruction is needed is less too. Both strategies have the same frequency of follow-up, the same turned out similar generalization in terms of instructors and materials, and both strategies showed a transition from expressive to receptive, and the word's identification transcended from function to match it with the appropriate image of reference (Doyle, Wolery, L.Gast, Ault, & Wiley, 1990).

More than applying time delay for teaching in a normal group of learners, researchers have been focused more on applying time delay, or constant time delay in dealing with learners with disabilities or specifically learners who are diagnosed with autism or with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Constant time delay has been compared again to another strategy, the least-to-most prompting in order to determine the effects on the disruptive behavior of learners with autism. In this research, Heckaman, Alber, Hooper, and Heward (1998) dealt with the occurrence of disruptive behavior of 4 students with autism. The study was divided into two phases, where Phase 1 includes the easy and difficult tasks that are presenting the tasks that are associated with disruptive behaviors. In the second phase, the least-to-most prompting procedure was compared to time delay prompting. As instructions were recorded, response prompts noted, feedback statements and the student’s disruptive behavior have been observed, the results showed that time delay prompt produced fewer errors and lower rates of disruptive behavior among the students. During the implementation of the time delay prompt the disruptive behavior which was associated previously with the given tasks also decreased. The results have proven that the disruptive behavior of the students had been effectively addressed through the effectiveness of the response prompts which diverted the attention of the students to responding rather than to their behavior (Heckaman, Alber, Hooper, & Heward, 1998).

Teaching the appropriate behavior among retarded children, especially during breakfast serving activities became the focus behavior in another investigation on time delay prompting. In this study, there were six children, severely retarded who were asked to pick up their food trays and go back to their seats. Time delay was applied in teaching them the target behavior. It was done in a way such that time delay has been applied by delaying the food for 15 seconds in order to elicit a response from the children to request food. This has been the cue in this situation. Some of the children needed a model to make the appropriate request and it took them almost the end of the 15-second delay to be able to make the request. The last child took longer in making the request which required additional guidance that includes delays and modeling. This comprises the consequence or feedback component of the time delay prompt. With this situation, there were other inquiries done which were to administer the same delay across different groups of people, from adults and at different meal times. The 15-second delay became the cue for prompting the response and evokes the required speaking skills (Halle & Spradlin, Time delay: a technique to increase language use and facilitate generalization in retarded children, 1979).

Time delay prompts has been widely used by teachers to improve the communication skills of children with ASD. Experiments have been conducted to address the language skills of retarded children and how time delay prompts were able to help in this area. Teachers used this strategy using a multiple-baseline design with 6 retarded children. The results have shown improvements in the verbal initiations of the children and it was proven that the time delays have been the reason behind it. With the follow-up assessment conducted the baseline levels of the children at the end of the ten-week trial reflected a generalization that the use of time delay by the teacher was spent on monitoring untaught opportunities, the delay strategy was a quick way to teach and implement the verbal lessons, the delays have provided the children chances to initiate, and teachers use the time delay to conduct self‐selected situations, and lastly, teachers are capable of maintaining the use of time delay prompts (Halle & Spradlin, Teachers' generalized use of delay as a stimulus control procedure to increase language use in handicapped children, 1981).

Time delay has been investigated through research and it has mainly been focused on using it as one of the strategies in handling cases of retarded or autistic children. Compared to other strategies even prompting strategies, the results may be similar in most aspects but a common generalization of most research was that time delay prompts shows fewer errors and lesser time trial or sessions in order to achieve the target skills or behavior.


Time delay itself whether a strategy or concept because of its components allows for continuity and progression from 0-second delay to a fixed time delay. It also features scaffolding that after achieving the highest interval delay time possible the time delay can be adjusted to a lesser time if the situation requires it. Using this as a strategy in teaching allows the teacher to address the different needs of the students. New skills or behavior cannot be taught unless everyone has mastered the first target, and reinforcement comes in positive and negative ways. But even if it’s a negative reinforcement it is actually just a corrective process in order to direct the child toward the desired target.

It may even be effective in addressing negative behaviors on tasks because time delay prompts encourage the learner to take their own initiative and the responses they give on the prompts are already a way of redirecting their disruptive behavior.


Using Time Delay to Fade Prompting. (2017, January 19). Retrieved October 24, 2018, from the autism

Demchak, J. G. (2016). Nevada Dual Sensory Impairment Project. Retrieved October 24, 2018, from University of Nevada Reno:

Doyle, P. M., Wolery, M., L.Gast, D., Ault, M. J., & Wiley, &. K. (1990). Comparison of constant time delay and the system of least prompts in teaching preschoolers with developmental delays. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 1-22.

Halle, J. W., & Spradlin, A. M. (1979). Time delay: a technique to increase language use and facilitate generalization in retarded children. Journal of Applied Behavioral Analysis, 431-439.

Halle, J. W., & Spradlin, D. M. (1981). Teachers' generalized use of delay as a stimulus control procedure to increase language use in handicapped children. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 389-409.

Heckaman, K. A., Alber, S., Hooper, S., & Heward, &. W. (1998). A Comparison of Least-to-Most Prompts and Progressive Time Delay on the Disruptive Behavior of Students with Autism. Journal of Behavioral Education, 171-201.

Neitzel, J. &. (2009). Steps for implementation: Time delay. The National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders, 1-14.

Texas Autism Conference. (n.d.). Retrieved October 24, 2018, from

Wolery, B. R. (2011). Comparison of progressive prompt delay with and without instructive feedback. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 327–340.

Wolery, M., Holcombe, A., Cybriwsky, C., Doyle, P. M., Schuster, J. W., Ault, M. J., et al. (1992). Constant time delay with discrete responses: A review of effectiveness and demographic, procedural, and methodological parameters. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 239-266.


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