Classic Programmed Instruction Design and Theory

Classic Programmed Instruction Design and Theory

Robert S. Owen (Texas A&M University, USA) and Bosede Aworuwa (Gloria Domini Academic Consultants, Nigeria)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5888-2.ch239
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Although researchers have long shown interest in studying and advocating programmed learning and feedback devices since at least the 1920s (e.g., Pressey, 1926; Peterson, 1930), interest picked up greatly in the 1950s and 1960s with the behavioral psychologist Skinner’s (e.g., 1954, 1958) experiments before again waning (c.f., Benjamin, 1988; Gentile, 1967; Petrina, 2004). In the midst of a period of widespread interest in machinery that enabled programmed learning methods, Finn (1960, p. 371) quotes himself as saying:

It is now possible not only to eliminate the teacher but the school system.

The complicated machines and very specialized programmed books of those days rendered neither school systems nor teachers obsolete as interest in such “latest instructional technology” began to fade through the 1960s.

Some might believe that currently cheap and easy distribution of lectures to tens of thousands of people via the Internet MOOC (massive open online course) holds the same promise made by Finn (1960). But like earlier machine-assisted learning technologies, the MOOC movement has experienced complications beyond cheap and easy distribution with doubts about how well it might eventually perform (e.g., Mackness et al., 2010; Pappano, 2012). While MOOCs might be problematic with the “mass teaching” aspect, they might be an answer to the problem of smaller-class teachers who are technologically challenged in online teaching environments (cf., Wallace, 2004).

Excitement over current technologies could give way to experiences of new technologies in the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. Fusco (1960) compared the mass distribution lecture of televised instruction experiments with programmed learning methods, noting that televised lectures were good for teaching a large number of students, but that programmed learning methods put the individual student in control of learning. The present authors note that lectures broadcast wirelessly via free “educational TV” is now a forgotten experiment that bears a remarkable resemblance to issues of MOOC lectures received via wireless Internet. A technical difference between these two eras, however, is that we now have a means to concurrently broadcast individualized instruction exercises that are based on the principles of programmed learning.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Frame: A small piece of information or a statement to which the student is exposed, such as a page with a single question. In linear programmed instruction, a frame includes a stimulus, a response, and reinforcement (positive feedback).

Formative Feedback: Feedback that is intended to change the learner’s thinking in order to improve motivation and learning.

Operant Conditioning: Learning through immediate positive feedback (reinforcement) regarding the correctness of an answer; the student learns to respond in a particular way to a particular question or issue (stimulus). Fading can be used by gradually reducing stimulus cues in subsequent frames when material is repeated.

Hierarchy of Learning: The concept that learning can be sequentially ordered along a continuum from lower-order to higher-order. “Bloom’s Taxonomy” is one of many that have been proposed.

Linear Programmed Instruction / Learning: A design whereby a series of frames are presented to the student in a specific sequential order. The student actively responds to stimuli in each frame and receives immediate feedback to that response. Learning results through operant conditioning.

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