Behavioral Theories: Programmed Instruction

* Content adapted from Maddux, C. D., Johnson, D. L., & Willis, J. W.  (1997).  Educational computing: Learning with tomorrow's technologies.  Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

During much of the 1970s and 1980s, when computers were being placed in the classrooms of many schools for the first time, behavioral theories were very popular. As earlier innovation, programmed instruction (PI) was also based on behavioral theories. Today tens of thousands of educational software products such as Word Gallery are based on behavioral models of instruction. Recent software such as Word Gallery takes advantage of technological advances that were not even dreamed of in 1961, but the underlying theory of learning is the same.

The examples below illustrate some of the types of programmed instruction programs available today. You can read the explanation of how these programs work or download a version of the program to try it out on your computer.


Ultimate Language Tutor v.3

This program allows users to learn Spanish, French, German, and Italian. It has built-in tests and flashcards modules.

From the pull-down menu under "Learning", users choose among nouns, verbs, conjugation, miscellaneous vocabulary, or phrases. Once the unit decision is made, and the waiting time is selected, users can back up to the very beginning, pause, or simply follow the sequence of flashcards without too much other choice. The following is a screen shot of the second flashcard out of twenty three within the "phrase" unit. It shows the Spanish spelling followed by the English spelling. The other units are taught in the same way.

The users of the Ultimate Language Tutor may choose to take tests on each different units. Both multiple-choice and filling-the-blank types of tests are offered. But the users will be surprised that the test questions are exactly the same as the taught in the flashcards, only with some change in the order, as seen on the following screen shot.

Ultimate Language Tutor keeps tracks of the test results of up to a number of users. It reports on the date the test was taken, test units, numbers of correct and incorrect answers, and finally the percentage of correct answers.

To try out this demo program, you must first click on  ultlang.exe on the ET-IT CD-ROM under the programs/lang/ subdirectory through File Manager or Windows Explorer.

Click here to know more about  installation.


DollarSkills is a step-by-step demo program for solving real life math and business problems.

There are five problems to each round. The program breaks down the process of answering a problem into four steps: numerical evidence, strategy, operation, and solution, as seen on the following screen shot.


Once the learners start the program, DollarSkills first presents a diagnostic question to decide the learners' knowledge levels. The sample question shown on the following screen capture is: "Friendship Bank charges a fee of $.30 for each one hundred dollars in traveler's checks for depositors with a balance of $500.00 or more. What would the service fee be for a customer buying $9,500 in traveler's checks?" The hint shown on the following box is: " What is one number you would use to solve this problem?" Learners are supposed to calculate the answers somewhere else and type in the answer instead of picking up a number from a group of answers. There is no on-line calculator provided as some other software would.

After the initial diagnostic question, Dollar skills then branches out to different difficulty levels depending on the results of the diagnostic question. The lessons are conducted in questions, answers, and explanation formats. The question shown on the following screen capture is: "The On-The-Town Limo SErvice charges $16 an hour for its services. It is six miles from the airport to midtown. It takes 75 minutes to get to midtown during rush hour and 30 minutes during non-rush hours. How much less is the charge during non-rush hours? The learners may pick up an answer from the four possible answers provided.

Each lesson is self-correcting and the program provides record keeping for multiple students.

To try out this trial program, you must install it on your computer's hard drive. To do that you must copy the folder called dollar to your hard drive. That folder is on the CD-ROM in the subdirectory called programs/dollar/. You might create a subdirectory on your computer named EDSoft (only if you do not already have one). Then you could copy dollar into the EDSoft  subdirectory. Once you have copied dollar over to your hard drive you can use the standard Windows procedure to install that program by clicking on install.exe in the EDSoft/dollar/ folder on your hard drive. Then follow the directions on the screen.

Click here to know more about  installation.

Windows in the Jungle

Windows in the Jungle, aiming at young children, is a working demonstration software of a tutorial for Windows 95.

Like most other behavior simulation software will do, Windows in the Jungle begins with an overview summary of Windows 95 comparing and contrasting with its predecessor, Window 3.1. It then breaks down the lessons into smaller units such as My Computer, Task Bar, desktop, find files, and so on.

Windows in the Jungle provides some animations. For example, its cursor moves to point to My Computer icon when it talks about locating the My Computer icon.

The pop up window displays: "The task bar will let you go between WordPad and the Paint Program. Click on either of the two buttons located on the task bar."  The learners are supposed to click on the correct box highlighted in red and nothing else. Once this is done, another pop up window shows: "Good! Now try the other button -- the Paint button -- on the task bar." The learners are supposed to click on the correct box highlighted in red.

While teaching learners how to find files, the program is waiting for the learners to type in a certain pre-decided words in the blank box, then click on the highlighted red box. It will not progress if the learners fail to do either of these two.

To try out this demo program, you must first click on  jungle.exe under the programs/jungle/  subdirectory on the ET-IT CD-ROM through File Manager or Windows Explorer.

Click here to know more about  installation.

InSight from Curriculum Associates

InSight is a learning tool to help users:

All of these personal insights are going to be gained through activities. As the following screen capture shows, there are three main activities in this program:

In Explore you develop your profile of interests and plans, and search for matching occupations. The following screen asks learners to identify the subjects which are of high interest to them.

The following screen asks learners to identify the subjects which are of no interest to them.

An important feature of the InSight program is its ability to store users' preparation and interests and compare with the built-in job bank requirement to see if the learners plans are compatible with their strength.

When you have specific occupational interests, you can search for alternatives that have similar requirements. You can also search for occupations by titles. InSight has a comprehensive list of job titles. For example, as shown on the following screen capture, the "A" category includes around seventy five job descriptions, ranging from accounting clerk to automatic tune-up mechanic. As you explore occupations, you learn how your interests and plans affect future opportunities.

To explore more about a specific occupation, learners may click on the Examine Occupation button to learn what is expected from that occupation. The job titles are drawn from the Directory of Occupational Titles (DOT). The code DOT: 620. 281-066 as shown on the lower left hand corner of the following screen capture is the DOT code for Automotive Tune-up Mechanic.

The computer also lists many related requirements about that occupation: education, training, and important subjects for that occupation. As a result, learners may have a clearer idea of the skills they see themselves using in the future.

In Plan, learners compare their profiles and choose a limited number of "target" occupations. It then compares the profiles with identified areas where the learners need to change their plans. It helps learners to set goals and clarify what is required to reach those goals.

InSight develops learners' decision-making skills by letting them freely experiment. It emphasizes the importance of trying new ideas and remain open to suggestions. At the end, after the sessions, InSight encourages learners to consider the results, gather more information, and discuss ideas with other people.

To try out this demo program, you must first click on  insight.exe under the programs/insight/  subdirectory on the ET-IT CD-ROM through File Manager or Windows Explorer.

Click here to know about download and installation.

 Additional Information:

The Programmed Instruction home page at the University of South Florida

This page offers a brief introduction of programmed instruction. It first tries to explain the question of "What is Programmed Instruction?" Programmed Instruction, according to this web site, is a teaching technology incorporating instructional principles and techniques derived from laboratory and applied research in the field known as the Experimental Analysis of Behavior. Such techniques include active student responding, priming, prompting, fading, and shaping. Instructional materials are "programmed" when they are delivered in carefully crafted instructional sequences. Downloadable shareware programs include: About Programmed Instruction ( which teaches basic learning principles of programmed instruction and the techniques used to create programmed instructional tutorials), Effective Characteristics of Instructional Programs ( which teaches characteristics and features of effective instructional programs), and Programmed Instruction Maker (which helps to convert a text file of questions and answers into an interactive program).


Programmed Instruction Mid-1950s to late 1960s

This web page lists the Teaching Machine, Skinner, B.F., and Pressy, Sidney as the incoming influence for programmed instruction, and Individualized Instruction, and Systems Approach as its outgoing influence. The paper argues that programmed instruction springs out of teaching machine and auto-instruction developed by Sidney L. Pressey during the 1920s and the early 1930s and began to decline by the late 1960s. Although the programmed instruction movement did not last very long, it did have important long-term effects on the evolution of educational technology. For example, programmed instruction had a strong influence on the development of the "systems approach".


Toward Combining Programmed Instruction and Constructivism for Tutorial Design

This is an on-line article. In the paper, the author argues that it may seem to be a contradiction to combine programmed instruction with constructivism to create tutorial software. However, it can be seen that programmed instruction is good at helping students learn a set of terms and very structured information, while constructivist approaches help students deal with real problems in ways that enable them to solve problems.


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