Programmed learning

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Programmed Learning or Programmed Instruction is a learning methodology or technique first proposed by the behaviorist B. F. Skinner in 1958.[1] According to Skinner, the purpose of programmed learning is to "manage human learning under controlled conditions".[2] Programmed learning has three elements: (1) it delivers information in small bites, (2) it is self-paced by the learner, and (3) it provides immediate feedback, both positive and negative, to the learner.[3] It was popular in the late 1960s and through the 1970s, but pedagogical interest was lost in the early 1980s as it was difficult to implement and its limitations were not well understood by practitioners. It was revived in the 1990s in the computerized Integrated Learning System (ILS) approach,[2] primarily in the business and managerial context.[4] Programmed learning remains popular in self-teaching textbooks.

The methodology involves self-administered and self-paced learning, in which the student is presented with information in small steps often referred to as "frames".[2] Each frame contains a small segment of the information to be learned, and a question which the student must answer. After each frame the student uncovers, or is directed to, additional information based on an incorrect answer, or positive feedback for a correct answer.


Daily Oral Language and the Saxon method, a math programme, are specific implementations of programmed instruction which have an emphasis on repetition.[5]

Well-known books using programmed learning include the Lisp/Scheme text The Little Schemer[6] and Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess.[7]


Programmed Instruction has been criticized for its inability to provide adequate feedback on incorrect answers and for its lack of student instigated conceptualization opportunities.[3] It works best in basic courses which introduce the vocabulary of a discipline, heavily fact-based courses, and rule-based technical courses.


  1. ^ Becker, Henry Jay (1993) "A model for improving the performance of integrated learning systems" page 13 In Bailey, Gerald D. (editor) (1993) Computer-based integrated learning systems Educational Technology Publications, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, pp. 11-31, ISBN 0-87778-256-3
  2. ^ a b c Pritchard, Alan (2009) Ways of learning: learning theories and learning styles in the classroom (2nd edition) David Fulton, London, page 12 ISBN 978-0-415-46608-0
  3. ^ a b Ravenscroft, Andrew (2001) "Designing E-learning Interactions in the 21st century: revisiting and rethinking the role of theory" European Journal of Education 36(2): pp. 133-156, page 134, doi:10.1111/1467-3435.00056
  4. ^ Tyre, Terian (1 April 1990) "Integrated learning systems: extending their reach" THE journal : technological horizons in education 17: (excerpt)
  5. ^ Jones, Susan J. (2003) Blueprint for student success: a guide to research-based teaching practices, K-12 Corwin Press, Thousand Oaks, California, page 105, ISBN 0-7619-4697-7
  6. ^ Friedman, Daniel and Felleisen, Matthias (1996) The Little Schemer MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, ISBN 0-262-56099-2
  7. ^ Fischer, Bobby; Margulies, Stuart and Mosenfelder, Donn (1966) Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess Bantam Books, New York, ISBN 0-553-26315-3; and various editions since

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