Individualized instruction is not the same as a one-to-one student/teacher ratio or one-to-one tutoring, as it may seem, because economically, it is difficult, if not impossible to have a teacher for each student. Even the most expensive public school system in the United States (Washington, DC, 2003, approximately $11,000 per student per year) would require at least 5 students per teacher to pay teacher salaries, without anything left for buildings or non-teaching staff.
In a traditional classroom environment, lectures consume approximately 80% of an average teacher's in-class time, to say nothing of the time needed to prepare lessons. Yet lecturing is an inherently inefficient method of conveying information. The average student retains only approximately 10% of what is presented in a lecture, but without substantial reinforcement that figure falls to an abysmal 2%, or less, within 24 hours.
Therefore, throughout the history of education the notion of lecturing has been challenged as a time-effective method of teaching, and alternative pedagogical models have been proposed. For example Educational Research Associates has concluded that placing greater reliance upon well-designed instructional materials – whether audio, video, multimedia Computer-assisted instruction (CAI), or simply a good textbook – can hardly be less efficient than the lecture method, but yields a huge net benefit by freeing teachers to focus upon the needs and problems of individual students.
In this way, individualized instruction is like direct instruction, which also places greater reliance upon carefully prepared instructional materials and explicitly prepared instructional sequences. But where direct instruction is very rigidly structured for use with children in primary school, individualized instruction is recommended only for students of at least junior high school age, and presumes that they have greater self-discipline to be able to study more independently. Thus, individualized instruction has points of contact with the constructivism movement in education, started by Swiss biologist Jean Piaget, which states that the student should build his or her learning and knowledge. Individualized Instruction, however, presumes that most students of secondary school age still lack the basic knowledge and skills to direct most of their own curriculum, which must be at least partially directed by schools and teachers.
In a traditional classroom setting, time (in the form of classes, quarters, semesters, school years, etc.) is a constant, and achievement (in the form of grades and student comprehension) is a variable.
In a properly Individualized setting, where students study and progress more independently, achievement becomes more uniform and time to achieve that level of achievement is more variable.
Where implemented according to Educational Research Associates' recommendations, Individualized Instruction has been found to improve student accomplishment substantially even while reducing cost dramatically. (Oregon Department of Education, 1976)
The coming of computer- and Internet-based education holds the promise of an enormous increase in the use of individualized instruction methodology.