Programmed instruction

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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.[1] 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.[2] 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.

Programmed learning[edit]

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[edit]

Personalized System of Instruction or (PSI), developed by Fred S. Keller, was another idea for how to incorporate programmed learning into the classroom.[3]

Errorless discrimination[edit]

Programmed instruction resulted from early efforts to implement Skinner's basic research findings on learning at Harvard that led to "errorless discrimination"[4] techniques being developed.[5] Programmed instruction had some early success in aphasia rehabilitation.[6]

Programmed instruction today[edit]

While not popular,[6] programmed instruction continues to be used today. Recently, the application of programmed instruction principles was reapplied to training in computer programs,[7][8][9][10] after some popularity in a series of books on functional programming,[11][12][13][14][15] and combined with Benjamin Bloom's taxonomy to teach college students.[16] Some have argued that there is a resurgence of research on programmed instruction due to use of computers and the Internet.[17]


  1. ^ Eigen, Lewis D (1959), "Research", Report (paper) (1), New York: Center for Programed Instruction .
  2. ^ Margulies, Stuart; Eigen, Lewis D (1961), Applied Programmed Instruction, John Wiley & Sons .
  3. ^ Keller, F.S. (1968). "Good-bye, teacher...". J Appl Behav Anal 1 (1): 79–89. doi:10.1901/jaba.1968.1-79. PMC 1310979. PMID 16795164. 
  4. ^ Terrace, HS (January 1963). "Discrimination learning with and without ‘errors’". J Exp Anal Behav 6 (1): 1–27. doi:10.1901/jeab.1963.6-1. PMC 1404228. PMID 13980667. 
  5. ^ Skinner, BF (1968), "Index", Technology of Teaching .
  6. ^ a b Goldfarb, R (2006). "Operant Conditioning and Programmed Instruction in Aphasia Rehabilitation" (PDF). Slp-Aba (entire issue) 1 (1): 56–64. doi:10.1037/h0100186. 
  7. ^ Friedman, Daniel P; Fellesein, Matthias (1998-12-19), A Little Java, a Few Patterns (pbk), Duane Bibby, ill.; Ralph E Johnson, foreword (1st ed.), Cambridge, MA, USA: MIT Press, ISBN 978-0-262-56115-0 .
  8. ^ Emurian, HH (2007). "Programmed Instruction for Teaching Java: Consideration of Learn Unit Frequency and Rule-Test Performance" (PDF). The Behavior Analyst Today (entire issue) 8 (1): 70–88. doi:10.1037/h0100103. 
  9. ^ Emurian, HH (2009), "Teaching Java: Managing Instructional Tactics to Optimize Student Learning", International Journal of Information & Communication Technology Education (PDF) 3 (4), UMBC, pp. 34–49 .
  10. ^ HH, Emurian; Holden, HK; Abarbanel, RA (2008), "Managing Programmed Instruction and Collaborative Peer Tutoring in the Classroom: Applications in Teaching Java", Computers in Human Behavior 24 (2), pp. 576–614 .
  11. ^ Friedman, Daniel P; Fellesein, Matthias (1989) [1974], The Little LISPer (3rd ed.), Scientific Research Associates, Prentice Hall, ISBN 978-0-02-339763-9 .
  12. ^ ————; Fellesein, Matthias (1998) [1987], The Little Schemer (pbk), Duane Bibby, ill.; Gerald J Sußman, foreword (4þ ed.), MA, USA: MIT Press, ISBN 978-0-262-56099-3 .
  13. ^ ————; Fellesein, Matthias (1999) [1996], The Seasoned Schemer (pbk), Duane Bibby, ill.; Guy L Steel Jr, fore & afterword (1st ed.), Cambridge, MA, USA: The MIT Press, ISBN 0-262-56100-X .
  14. ^ ————; Byrd, William E; Kiselyov, Oleg (2005), The Reasoned Schemer (pbk), Duane Bibby, ill (1st ed.), Cambridge, MA, USA: The MIT Press, ISBN 978-0-262-56214-0 .
  15. ^ ————; Fellesein, Matthias (1997), The Little MLer (pbk), Duane Bibby, ill.; Robin Milner, foreword (1st ed.), MA, USA: MIT Press, ISBN 978-0-262-56114-3 .
  16. ^ Crone-Todd, DF; Pear, JJ (2001), "Application of Bloom's Taxonomy to PSI", The Behavior Analyst Today (PDF) 2 (3), pp. 204–15 .
  17. ^ Eyre, HL (2007). "Keller's Personalized System of Instruction: Was it a Fleeting Fancy or is there a Revival on the Horizon?" (PDF). The Behavior Analyst Today (entire issue) 8 (3): 317–24. doi:10.1037/h0100623. 

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