Programmed instruction is the name of the technology invented by the behaviorist B.F. Skinner to improve teaching. It is based on his theory of verbal behavior as a means to accelerate and increase conventional educational learning.
It typically consists of self-teaching with the aid of a specialized textbook or teaching machine that presents material structured in a logical and empirically developed sequence or sequences. Programmed instruction may be presented by a teacher as well, and it has been argued that the principles of programmed instruction can improve classic lectures and textbooks. Programmed instruction allows students to progress through a unit of study at their own rate, checking their own answers and advancing only after answering correctly. In one simplified form of PI, after each step, they are presented with a question to test their comprehension, then are immediately shown the correct answer or given additional information. However the objective of the instructional programming is to present the material in very small increments. The more sophisticated forms of programmed instruction may have the questions or tasks programmed well enough that the presentation and test model—an extrapolation from traditional and classical instruction—is not necessarily utilized.
This idea was later adapted by Robert M. Gagné, who invented programmed learning for use in teaching in schools. The terms programmed learning and programmed instruction are used synonymously by most people but some give the terms a more nuanced meaning. For them, the difference between programmed instruction (PI) and programmed learning (PL) is that PI is intended to modify behavior, whereas PL is used for teaching facts and skills. To the behavioral psychologist the learning of facts and skills are definitely modifications of behavior. The learner's behavioral repertoire has been expanded by the knowledge of facts and skills. Some use the term programmed instruction to imply the increase (or decrease if that is the desired outcome) in the probability of emitting the behavior, such as when an autistic patient is taught and reinforced to make eye contact. However, those who make no distinction between the terms would say, for example, that a programmed instructional unit to teach calculus to calculate a minimum or maximum of a parabola increases the probability that the technique will be used when confronting problems with parabolas.
Personalized System of Instruction
Programmed instruction resulted from early efforts to implement Skinner's basic research findings on learning at Harvard that led to "errorless discrimination" techniques being developed. Programmed instruction had some early success in aphasia rehabilitation.
Programmed instruction today
While not popular, programmed instruction continues to be used today. Recently, the application of programmed instruction principles was reapplied to training in computer programs, after some popularity in a series of books on functional programming, and combined with Benjamin Bloom's taxonomy to teach college students. Some have argued that there is a resurgence of research on programmed instruction due to use of computers and the Internet.
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