Reading about Programmed Instruction


ogrammed instruction (PI) was devised to make the teaching-learning process more humane by making it more effective and

␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣- ner’s original prescription, although it met with some success, had serious limitations. Later in- novators improved upon the original notion by

the law of recency, the law of effect, and the law ␣␣␣ ␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣ ␣␣␣ ␣␣␣␣ ␣␣␣␣␣␣␣ ␣␣␣ ␣␣␣␣␣␣- sion for decades. In the 1920s Sidney Pressey, a psychology professor at Ohio State University, invented a mechanical device based on a type- writer drum, designed primarily to automate testing of simple informational material (1926). ␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣ that it could also provide control over drill-and- ␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣ ␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣ ␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣ ␣␣␣ ␣␣␣␣␣ ␣␣␣ ␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣ ␣␣␣ ␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣ ␣␣␣␣ ␣␣␣␣ ␣␣␣␣␣␣␣ ␣␣␣␣ ␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣ ␣␣␣ ␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣- ␣␣␣␣ ␣␣␣␣␣␣␣ ␣␣␣␣ ␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣ ␣␣␣ ␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣ ␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣ (Pressey, 1927). Unfortunately, despite the fact that Pressey continued to develop successful self-teaching devices, including punchboards, that had all the qualities of later “teaching ma- chines,” his efforts were essentially a dead end in terms of a lasting effect on education. How- ever, Pressey lived and worked long enough to participate in the discussions surrounding the new generation of teaching machines that came along in the 1950s.

The movement that had a more enduring im- pact on education and training was animated by a reframing of Thorndike’s behaviorist princi- ples under the label of radical behaviorism. This school of thought proposed a more rigorous definition of the law of effect, adopting the term reinforcer to refer to any event that increases the frequency of a preceding behavior. Operant con- ditioning, the major operationalization of this theory, involves the relationships among stimuli, the responses, and the consequences that follow a response (Burton, Moore & Magliaro, 2004, p. 10). The leading proponent of radical behav- ␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣- ␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣ ␣␣␣␣␣␣ ␣␣␣␣␣␣ ␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣ ␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣

“The original AutoTutor, released in the early 1960s, provided individualized instruction long before general-purpose desktop computers were feasible.”

incorporating more human interaction, social rein- forcers and other forms of feedback, larger and more ␣␣␣␣␣␣␣␣ ␣␣␣␣␣␣␣ ␣␣␣ ␣␣␣␣␣␣␣- tion, and more attention to learner appeal. Although PI itself has receded from the spotlight, technolo- gies derived from PI, such as programmed tutoring, Direct Instruction, and Personalized System of Instruction have compiled an impressive track record of success when compared to so-called conventional instruction. They paved


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the way for computer-based instruction and distance learning. The success of the PI move- ment can be attributed largely to the commit- ment of its proponents to relentless, objective measurement of effectiveness.

Key Quote

Programmed Tutoring. Indiana University psychology professor Douglas Ellson had a life- long consuming interest in improving the teach ing learning process.  he examined PI closely, detected its weaknesses, and in 1960 developed a new approach to address those weaknesses (Ell- son, Barber, Engle & Kampwerth, 1965). Pro- grammed tutoring (PT) puts the learner togeth- er with a tutor who has been trained to follow a structured pattern for guiding the tutee. Like PI, students work at their own pace and they are constantly active—reading, solving problems, or working through other types of materials. The tutor watches and listens. When the tutee struggles to complete a step, the tutor gives hints, taking the learner back to something he already knows, then helps him to move forward again. Thus, learners are usually generating their own answers. And instead of receiving “knowledge of correct response” as reinforcement, they receive social reinforcers from the tutor—praise, encour- agement, sympathy, or at least some attention.

Of course, giving every student a tutor is a la- bor-intensive proposition, but Ellson solved this problem by using peers as tutors—students of the same age or a little older, a role they proved able to play after a little training in how to follow the specified procedures. Not only did tutors serve as “free manpower,” but research showed that it was a win-win situation because tutors showed learn- ing gains even greater than the tutees! By going through the material repeatedly and teaching it to someone else, they strengthened their own grasp of the material.

During the early 1980s PT gained credibility due to its track record in comparison studies (Cohen, J. A. Kulik & C. C. Kulik, 1982 ). It was recognized by the U. S. Department of Education as one of the half-dozen most successful innova- tions and it was widely disseminated (although not as widely as it deserves, as with many of the other soft technologies that have been developed over the years).

TechTrends  March April 2008   Molenda    Programmed Instruction Era, When Effectiveness Mattered.