Although first ideas on instruction automation can be tracked to even earlier years1), first notable steps in programmed instruction were taken by Sidney Pressey2) in the 1920s and further developed by Burrhus Skinner in the mid-1950s. In Pressey's words, the teacher is
Pressey's ideas were not so well received in the public and due to a lack of financial means he soon had to give up further research, yet in the 1950s his ideas were further developed by Skinner, who believed he can successfully apply operant conditioning not only to animal, but also to human learning.
Skinner's ideas for improving the teaching/learning process were orientated mostly on two facts: first, that learners learn at different speeds, and second, that, in accordance with at the time dominant stimulus-response learning theories, the reinforcement must closely follow the displayed behavior.
This, however is not the case in school settings, where the learners are forced to follow the lecturers speed of information sharing and usually receive delayed reinforcement as the teacher usually needs at least a day to correct their assignments. According to Skinner, in order to achieve efficient mathematical behavior, during the first four years of education, about 50000 reinforcements would be necessary, but in a classroom situation a learner could only get a few thousands of them. In Skinner's words,
Since employing a teacher or tutor for every learner would solve the problem, but would be virtually impossible, Skinner suggested and worked on introducing learning machines, on which each learner could work at his own pace and receive direct reinforcement after solving a task correctly.
The basic principle of programmed instruction for Skinner, aside from reinforcement was behavior shaping - forming desired behavior through a number of small stimulus-response learning sessions.5)
Learning from programmed instruction on a learning machine usually includes:
Various criticisms of programmed instruction proposed so far object programmed instruction method for7):
Research has provided questionable results about the efficiency of the programmed instruction and learning machines. A meta-study8), that summarized results of 36 studies comparing programmed instruction with traditional classroom teaching suggested 18 of 36 showed no statistically significant difference, 17 showed a statistically significant difference in favor of programmed instruction and one study showed a statistically significant difference in favor of classroom teaching.
Other research found that programmed instruction can result in frustration if a learner can't follow the pace of his peers, paying less attention due to overprompting and eventually disliking the concept of programmed instruction.9)
There still is an ongoing yet limited research today examining benefits of programmed instruction as an addition to learning materials.10)
McDonald, Jason K., Stephen C. Yanchar, and Russell T. Osguthorpe. Learning from programmed instruction: Examining implications for modern instructional technology. Educational Technology Research and Development 53, no. 2: 84-98. 2005.
Wleklinski, Nichole. Skinner’s Teaching Machine and Programmed Learning Theory. Retrieved July 15, 2011.
Schramm, W. The Research on Programmed Learning: an annotated bibliography. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, 1964.
Pressey, S. L. A simple apparatus which gives tests and scores - and teaches. School and Society 23, no. 586: 373-376. 1926.