Disclaimer | By: Gavin Cosgrave | Reading Time: 4.5 minutes

Multiple Exemplar Training

What is Multiple Exemplar Training?

The term "multiple exemplar training" - sometimes referred to as "multiple exemplar instruction" - basically means using multiple examples when training (or teaching) a child. The use of multiple exemplars is an important element of any educational programme and is not limited to an Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) intervention.

An Example of Multiple Exemplar Training

Say you’re teaching a child to identify the uppercase letter “A”. If you were to use only one kind of letter type (font) then this would be using just one exemplar. If you were to use a number of different types of fonts then this would be using multiple exemplars.

Comparison between one exemplar and multiple exemplars of the upper case letter A.
One exemplar and multiple exemplars of the uppercase letter A.

Why are Multiple Exemplars Important?

Using the uppercase letter example, it would be important to use multiple exemplars in this instance because it ensures the child learns exactly what defines an uppercase letter A.

By using different fonts it makes sure the child knows the uppercase letter A can "look" slightly different and doesn't think that it is only one very specific thing.

If the child didn’t have a full grasp of what defines an uppercase letter A then they are likely to have difficulty reading because text is written in many different font styles.

Using various different fonts to show how multiple exemplars are needed in reading sentences.
Each of these sentences is written with a different font but you can still read them because you understand that letters can appear differently.

The next time you walk through a town or city, have a look at all of the different types of fonts used in signs and advertising. This might help you realise how important it is to use multiple exemplars in an educational programme.

The hypothetical example in the video below can further highlight why multiple exemplar training is important.

Multiple Exemplar Training Definition

Multiple Exemplar Training is a form of ‘instruction that provides practice with a variety of response topographies [which] help to ensure the acquisition of desired response forms and also promotes response generalisation in the form of untrained topographies. This tactic typically incorporates both stimulus and response variations’ (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007, pp.628).

Multiple Exemplars and Generalisation

There are two types of generalisation, the first is stimulus generalisation and the second is response generalisation (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007). Generalisation occurs when you do something that you were not specifically trained to do or identify something that you were not trained to identify.

Stimulus Generalisation

To describe stimulus generalisation, consider what it might be like when you go into a shop to buy a new pair of scissors. This shop is unlikely to have a specific pair of scissors that you have ever seen before. Yet you would be very capable of identifying a pair and buying them.

How is this possible? How is it that you know what a scissors will look like and be able to pick one out?

Although you would never have seen the exact pair of scissors you will buy before, you would still know they were scissors because you know that in general scissors have a handle for your fingers/thumb and have two blades that swivel around a fixed joint.

Stimulus generalisation shown through the ability to realise these are all types of scissors.
Your ability to recognise that these are all types of scissors indicates you have generalised your understanding of what a pair of scissors is.

A pair of scissors is a type of stimulus and because you have seen numerous other examples of scissors in the past then you know what defines them and so your ability to identify scissors has generalised.

Response Generalisation

Generalisation also works for different responses. As an example, when you bump into someone you know they will generally say something like “Hi!”. Your response to this might be to say “Hi” back, but you could also have said “Hello”, “Hi there”, “Hey”, “How are you?” or “Oh hi, nice to see you!”.

Generally, your responses back are not “trained”. In other words, no-one sat you down and told you all of the different ways you might greet someone. These are all forms of generalised responses as they are all different but they all serve the same underlying function.

Examples of Response Generalisation

Example 1: Mike’s mother has bought him some Lego blocks and showed him how to build a house with them. One day she arrives home and sees that Mike has built a car with the blocks. Mike has generalised the idea that blocks can be used to build more than just a house.

Example 2: To make hot chocolate Tom first warms up some milk. To do this he’s been using a saucepan and a hot stove. One day he decides that his microwave heats things up too and uses it to heat up his milk. The underlying goal was to have hot milk and Tom has generalised the idea of how to heat it up by using a different method.

Example 3: Janice has learned to play a song on the guitar by playing chords in a specific order. She decides to change the way she plays these chords and creates a different song. Janice has generalised the playing of these chords and realises they don’t have to be played in one specific way.

Example 4: Emily has learned to drive her Ferrari and her Lamborghini. She decides she wants a Porsche now and goes to the dealer. She buys the car, hops in and drives it away. Although Emily had never driven the Porsche before she knew how to drive in general and so was able to generalise her knowledge of driving her Ferrari and Lamborghini to driving a different car.


  • Cooper, J., Heron, T., & Heward, W. (2007). Applied Behaviour Analysis. New Jersey: Pearson Education.